Masechet Bava Kamma 68a-74b

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05 Mar 2009

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

Bava Kamma 68a-b

Our Gemara introduces a teaching about the behavior of tzenu’im – modest, or, in the context of our Gemara, uniquely God-fearing individuals – who, when they had a vineyard of revai would set aside money, saying “anything that is harvested (by others) from this vineyard will be redeemed on this money.”

The source for this law is the Mishnah in Masechet Ma’aser Sheni (5:1) that introduces the laws of kerem revai – a vineyard that is in its fourth year of growth.
The Torah commands (see Vayikra 19:23-24) that the first three years after trees or vines are planted, the produce is orlah – any fruit that is grows is forbidden. The produce of the fourth year will be neta (or kerem) revai – it has a unique status of holiness, similar to that of ma’aser sheni, requiring the fruit to be taken to Jerusalem and eaten within the city walls. In the event that the fruit cannot be taken, it can be redeemed and the value of the fruit (plus one-fifth) must be taken to Jerusalem where it is used to purchase food.

The Mishnah in Masechet Ma’aser Sheni teaches that the owner of a field whose trees are orlah or whose fruit is neta revai must make various signs on his property so that the unsuspecting passer-by will not eat any of the fruit. The Mishnah concludes that the tzenu’im are even more careful and arrange for neta revai fruit to be redeemed, so that anyone who takes from the field will not fall victim to eating forbidden fruits.

According to the Rambam, the behavior of the tzenu’im was done only during the Sabbatical year, when the fruit may have been taken by anyone. Others suggest that this was done by tzenu’im in other years, as well, out of concern even for those who took fruit without permission.

Bava Kamma 69a-b

Our Gemara brings a Mishnah that discusses the case of purchasing wine from Kutim and how tithes might be taken from it on Shabbat.

The term Kutim refers to the nations (not all of whom were truly Kutim, as there were people from other nations, as well) that were exiled to the Land of Israel by the kings of Assyria who were interested in populating the land after they had removed the Israelite people from it. According to Sefer Melakhim (see II Melakhim, chapter 17), these nations converted to Judaism because of their fear of lions that had begun attacking them (from which derives the term gerei arayot – “lion converts”), but they continued worshiping their gods at the same time.

Upon the return of the Jews to Israel at the beginning of the Second Temple period, the Samaritans, descendants of the Kutim, were active in trying to keep the returnees from rebuilding the Temple and the walls of the city of Jerusalem. Even so, there were families – including members of the kohanim – who intermarried with the Samaritans.

During the following years there were continued tensions between the two communities, and Yochanan Hyrcanus led his troops into battle against the Samaritans and destroyed the temple that they had built on Har Gerizim. Nevertheless, there were also periods of cooperation, such as the period of the Bar Kochba rebellion. As is clear in our Gemara, the attitude of the Sages towards them differed, although after a period of time a final conclusion was reached and they were ruled to be treated as non-Jews, due to their continued involvement with different types of idol worship.

It is important to note that the Gemara in Yevamot concludes that while a bet din should not accept potential converts whose reason for converting is anything other than a sincere desire to join the Jewish People, nevertheless, if such a person does undergo a full conversion process they are considered Jewish according to halacha. It is possible that the Kutim did not fall into that category because they continued with their idolatrous practices even at the moment of their conversion. Nevertheless, today the community of Samaritans living in Israel no longer worships idols, and there has been some level of acceptance of them into the larger Jewish community.

Bava Kamma 70a-b

The Mishnah on our daf presents a number of cases where the penalties of kefel (double – see Shemot 22:3) or arba va-chamishah (four or five times the value of the stolen animal – see Shemot 21:37) will apply, even though there is reason to suspect that it would not. According to the Mishnah if someone

in all of those cases he will still pay four or five times the value of the animal, for having stolen it and then killing it or selling it.

The list that appears in the Mishnah is carefully written. Based on the Gemara‘s principle of kim lei be-d’raba mi-nei – that when faced with two punishments the more severe of the two punishments will be applied – if the person committed a crime for which he would be killed, then he would not be obligated to pay a fine. Therefore, even if the person who stole the animal sinned during the robbery or when he sold the animal, as long as he did not commit a capital offense, he will still be obligated to pay the penalty.

Thus, when presenting the case of a robbery on Shabbat, the situation that we find is that the animal was sold – not killed – since killing an animal on Shabbat is one of the 39 forbidden activities for which the person would be sentenced to death. Similarly, when presenting the case where the animal was sold to avodah zara, we do not find that the animal was sacrificed to idols, since that would be considered a capital offense. With regard to Yom Kippur, however, since the punishment for killing an animal is karet, a punishment meted out by heaven, and not by the Jewish court of law, the example presented by the Mishnah is that of an animal that was stolen and killed.

Bava Kamma 71a-b

In the context of discussing how halacha deals with actions that will lead to a person being responsible on two different levels – e.g. he will deserve both a death penalty and to pay as a consequence of what he did – our Gemara quotes a Mishnah from Masechet Hullin (14a) which teaches that a person who performs shechita (ritual slaughter) of an animal on Shabbat or on Yom Kippur will receive the death penalty; nonetheless his shechita will be considered good – the animal will be deemed kosher and can be eaten.

Although this ruling is presented as a straightforward halacha, the rishonim are disturbed by the fact that we ordinarily deem a Shabbat transgressor as a meshumad – an apostate – whose shechita should be considered invalid!

Tosafot in Hullin argue that not every violation of Shabbat will give a person the status of a meshumad. In fact, only someone who willfully violates the Sabbath in a public manner would be put into that category. Apparently in our case the shechita was done privately. Another suggestion raised by Tosafot is that chillul Shabbat would cause us to consider the transgressor a meshumad only after the act was done. Thus, the forbidden shechita on Shabbat would be considered valid, even as it would create a situation where any subsequent shechita done by this individual would not be accepted.

In his commentary to the Mishnah in Hullin, the Rambam takes a different approach, arguing that the person in this case performing the shechita on Shabbat must have done so be-shogeg – by accident, i.e. he was unaware that it was Shabbat, or was not knowledgeable in the rules of Shabbat to know that shechita was forbidden. It is clear that someone who accidentally transgresses the rules of Shabbat is not considered an apostate. Were he to have purposefully done shechita on Shabbat, however, the meat would not be considered kosher.

Bava Kamma 72a-b

The Gemara on the previous daf presents a discussion between Rava and Rav Nahman regarding the case in the Mishnah (70a) of the man who stole an animal from his father and killed it before his father died, who will have to pay four or five times the value of the animal to his siblings who are inheriting the estate together with him. Between their conversation in the evening and the next morning, Rav Nachman changed his mind – and his ruling on the case. In explaining why he rejected the previous evening’s reasoning he said that he had not eaten meat of an ox the day before.

Rashi and the Ra’avad understand this statement as an expression indicating that he had not paid close enough attention to the details of the case. The Ra’avad suggests that the reference to “ox meat” was actually a hint to the case itself, which dealt with a question about paying back five times the value of an ox. Tosafot and others accept a simpler meaning – that since he had fasted that day he was weak, which affected his ability to learn. Similarly, Rav Avraham Neimark in his Eshel Avraham interprets the phrase in its clearest meaning – that he had not eaten meat or any other food of substance that day so he was unable to think clearly.

For proper brain function, the body needs to have certain elements present in the blood stream. Some of these elements are supplied by ingesting carbohydrates which are processed by the body and become readily available sugars; there is also a need for a certain level of proteins in the blood. When there is a lack of these elements – due to fasting or improper nutrition – brain function will be weakened. Thus, one approach to understanding Rav Nachman’s statement is that since he had not eaten properly on the previous day, his thought processes were not up to their usual level of clarity and intensity.

Bava Kamma 73a-b:

Dedicated in honor of the yahrzeit of Solomon Noble, Shlomo Zanvel ben Yaakov Asher (15 Adar)

Of all the amoraim, Abayye and Rava are presented as epitomizing the discussions that take place in the Gemara. In all of their arguments in the Gemara, the halacha always follows Rava’s opinion, with only six exceptions. Those six are referred to by the Gemara by the acronym – YAL KGM:

The case that is discussed in our Gemara is when witnesses are found to be zomemim – a second set of witnesses comes to court and testifies that the first group could not be telling the truth, since they were with them in a location far removed from the incident at the time in question. Abayye believes that any testimony that they gave from the time of their original statement can no longer be trusted, since from that time it is clear that they were unreliable. Rava argues that the whole concept of zomemim is a chiddush – a new idea – established by the Torah, since logically there is no reason to trust the second group of witnesses more than the first. Therefore we implement the law only from the moment that it can be applied, i.e. from the time that the second testimony was given.

Bava Kamma 74a-b

Our Gemara relates that Rabban Gamliel accidentally injured his non-Jewish slave, Tavi, blinding him, and that Rabban Gamliel rejoiced – because finally Tavi would be set free – based on the passage in Sefer Shemot 21:26, which establishes that slaves go free if their master injures them by blinding them or knocking out a tooth. Upon sharing the happy news with Rabbi Yehoshua and explaining the circumstances leading to Tavi’s freedom, Rabbi Yehoshua informed him that Tavi would not go free. Since there were no witnesses to the event, and the slave’s freedom was based on Rabban Gamliel’s own admission, the penalty assessed on the master would not take effect, since modeh be-kenas patur – someone who admits his guilt is not assessed penalties – as we learned above on daf, or page, 64.

Tavi is a character who appears throughout the Gemara, identified as the slave belonging to Rabban Gamliel d’Yavneh. In all of these stories he is presented as someone who was well-known for his personal piety and learning. Not only Rabban Gamliel, but other sages sang his praises. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, for example, was known to say that based on Tavi’s Torah knowledge it would have been appropriate for Tavi to be reclining and for Rabbi Elazar to be serving him. Rabban Gamliel tried on several occasions to find a way to set him free, but was stymied in his efforts because of the prohibition to set Canaanite slaves free. Nevertheless, when Tavi passed away, Rabban Gamliel accepted consolation as if he was a family member, explaining that Tavi was different than other slaves – he was a good and honest man.

The Mishnah in Sukkah (20a) closes with Rabbi Shimon’s testimony about Rabban Gamliel’s slave, Tavi, who would sleep under the bed in the sukkah. According to Rabban Gamliel he did so specifically because he knew that non-Jewish slaves were not commanded in the mitzvah of sukkah, from which we can derive that someone obligated in the mitzvah would not be permitted to do so.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.