Masechet Bava Kamma 82a-88b

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19 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 82a-b

According to the Mishnah (79b) raising pigs is prohibited in all places.

Our Gemara quotes a baraita that attributes the prohibition against raising pigs to the following story. After the death of Shlomtzion HaMalkah who bequeathed her kingdom to her son Hyrcanus, his brother Aristoblus contested the decision and succeeded in ousting his elder brother. With the encouragement of Herod‘s father, Antipater, Hyrcanus gathered an army and attacked the city, forcing Aristoblus and his supporters to barricade themselves in Jerusalem. During this siege, which took place in 65 BCE, the Jews inside the city offered to purchase animals for daily sacrifices in the Temple in exchange for large sums of money.

The baraita relates that someone who was there who was knowledgeable in Greek wisdom hinted to the men outside the city that it was only the Temple service that kept Jerusalem from falling. The next day, in exchange for the coins that were sent down, instead of the promised sacrifice the soldiers sent back a pig, which reached out with its hooves halfway up the wall and caused the ground to shake. At that point the sages established an enactment forbidding the raising of pigs in Israel and teaching Greek wisdom to children.

This story appears in Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 14:2), where it is related that the Jews inside the city offered 1000 drachmas for every Pesach sacrifice. The consequence of the story according to Josephus was a storm that destroyed almost all of the harvest in the land of Israel. Perhaps this incident is what the baraita means when it says that “the earth shook.”

Chachma Yevanit – Greek wisdom – does not appear to be secular knowledge generally, but rather refers to knowledge of Greek culture, music, literature, etc. Few people spoke classical Greek, and the story in our Gemara may indicate that the man “knowledgeable in Greek wisdom” was able to hint his intentions to others by presenting his message in a manner that only a select few could understand.

Bava Kamma 83a-b

The eighth perek of Masechet Bava Kamma – Perek HaChovel – focuses on damage done by a person to another person. The first Mishnah teaches that there are five categories of payments that may be applied to situations where a person injures his fellow:

These payments are not made in every case; sometimes all payments apply, in other cases only some of them do.

The Mishnah explains how the value of each of these components is established. To determine the value of nezek, for example, the Mishnah teaches that whatever permanent injury was done – the loss of a limb, of eyesight, etc. – we evaluate what the person’s value would be in the slave market with and without the injury, and pay the difference. Rashi explains that this is the true value of the injury, since if the individual ever needed to sell himself as a slave, this is the amount that he has lost due to the injury. The rishonim explain further, that this method takes into account all of the different variables in establishing the claim – the individual’s health, his age, his professional abilities, and so forth, since these are what make up the value of a slave in the marketplace.

From Rashi it appears that the “sale” being discussed would be selling this person as an eved Ivri – a Jewish slave – whose servitude is limited to a period of six years. According to the Rosh we must evaluate his worth for a lifetime, and so we place him in the imaginary marketplace as an eved Kena’ani – a non-Jewish slave who is sold for life, which appears to be the simple understanding of the Gemara.

Bava Kamma 84a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, our perek focuses on damage done by a person to another person. The first category of damage and payment presented by Mishnah is the case of nezek – permanent damage done to another person that lowers his intrinsic value. The source brought for this by the Gemara is the famous passage ayin tachat ayin (Shemot 21:24) – “an eye for an eye.”

The Torah‘s statement that we punish “an eye for an eye” is understood by the Sages to refer to a monetary obligation rather than a physical punishment. In a lengthy discussion that appears in our Gemara, a number of Sages take turns responding to the Gemara’s suggestion that perhaps the pasuk should be understood according to its simple meaning.

While all the Sages are in agreement that the passage is to be interpreted as payment, not losing an eye, Rabbi Eliezer says “ayin tachat ayin – mamash” – “an eye for an eye – literally.” Rav Ashi explains that he means to say that the person who blinded his friend will pay the value of his own eye, rather than the value of the eye that he blinded. This can be understood as based on the understanding that the payment is not restitution, rather it is in exchange for the punishment that the person really deserves – to lose his eye.

In his Mishna Torah (Hilchot Chovel U’Mazik 1:3-6) the Rambam explains that the Torah chose to use this language, rather than simply state that personal injury will result in monetary compensation, in order to emphasize that someone who injures another really deserves to suffer the same injury that he inflicted on his fellow. This notwithstanding, the laws of the Torah only require restitution, and not corporeal punishment. In a clear attempt to dispel any doubts about this interpretation, the Rambam further states that this ruling was an oral tradition received by Moses on Mount Sinai, and that this was the practical ruling of the courts in the Land of Israel beginning with the time of Yehoshua and Shmuel HaRamati and continuing until contemporary times.

Bava Kamma 85a-b

According to the Mishnah (83b), payment for shevet – loss of wages during the time that the person recovers – is established by paying him the amount that he could have made as the watchman over a cucumber patch. The Gemara brings a baraita that explains that this is a fair wage, since the person who caused the injury has already paid nezek and has therefore already worked out what he owed him for the loss of his normal salary.

Rava continues explaining that this is true for a person who lost his arm. If he lost a leg, the nezek would cover the value of the leg and the shevet would be evaluated based on his being someone who sits and guards an entrance. If he was blinded, he would receive the value of his eye as nezek and would be paid shevet on working a hand mill. If he was made deaf, he is seen as unable to work and the nezek would take that into account.

The Ra’avad explains that even though a person with a permanent injury may be able to perform work that is more specialized – and more valuable – than the jobs described by Rava, nevertheless, once the injured person has been paid nezek on his permanent loss, the shevet that he receives is based on the normal job that someone with his disability can perform. According to Tosafot, Rava’s statement is true for a simple laborer, but if a person will be able to perform more specialized work even after his injury, then the nezek would have taken that into account and the shevet that he will receive would reflect the salary that he would be making at that time.

In explaining the ruling that a cheresh – someone who was deafened – has no value as a worker, the Ra’avad explains that no one will hire him since they cannot communicate with him to tell him what they need done.

Bava Kamma 86a-b

We have learned that one of the five obligations that a person may have towards his friend is boshet – payment made for embarrassment.

According to the Mishnah on our daf, the obligation of boshet only takes effect if it was done with the intention of embarrassing, and it remains in force, even if the person who is embarrassed is naked or sleeping.

A baraita brought by the Gemara points out that although there is an obligation to pay boshet even if the person is naked, the amount that he will have to pay is based on the level of embarrassment, and we can assume that the embarrassment will be less for someone who was already naked than someone who was fully clothed.

The Gemara asks –

“Is a naked person someone who can be embarrassed?”

“Can someone in the bathhouse be embarrassed?”

Rashi explains these questions according to their simple meaning – if someone is not wearing clothing he shows that he is not concerned with even the most elementary issues of personal modesty, so he cannot be embarrassed. Tosafot disagree, arguing that even someone without clothes will suffer embarrassment if someone slaps him or spits on him. According to Tosafot, we are discussing only one type of embarrassment – if someone unclothes his friend. Thus, according to Tosafot, the Gemara’s question is “if he already is unclothed, what further embarrassment can he suffer in this realm?” Or, with regard to the bathhouse, “in a place where everyone takes off their clothing, what embarrassment is there in having one’s clothing removed?”

Rav Papa explains that we are talking in a case where the person was not fully undressed, but that his clothing was lifted up by the wind and his friend removed his clothing completely. Furthermore, Rav Papa argues, the case of the bathhouse must be talking about bathing by the river, where people do remove their clothing, but still are careful about issues of modesty, given that it is a public place.

Bava Kamma 87a-b

Who gets more credit – someone who does mitzvot because he is obligated or someone who does mitzvot as a volunteer?

Although most people’s immediate reaction is to give more credit to the volunteer who has indicated a personal desire to perform mitzvot, Rabbi Chanina rules gadol ha-mitzuveh v’oseh me-me she-aino metzuveh v’oseh – that someone who is commanded to perform a mitzvah and does so is greater than someone who performs the commandment without being obligated to do so. The Gemara reports that upon hearing this teaching, Rabbi Yosef who was blind said that he would throw a party for the sages who ruled against Rabbi Yehuda who says that blind people are not obligated to perform mitzvot, since he wanted to receive appropriate reward for his actions.

Why would this be true? Several approaches are offered by the rishonim.

Tosafot explain that a person who is commanded to perform mitzvot has a harder time doing them because his evil inclination discourages him from doing what he needs to do. A volunteer, who knows that he is not really obligated in the mitzvah and can choose not to do it, does not have to resist his evil inclination when performing the mitzvah. Tosafot Tokh suggests simply that there is less reward for someone who performs an action that may not be God’s will, as evidenced by the fact that he was not commanded to do it.

The Rambam concludes from this Gemara that we cannot discount the actions performed by someone who was not commanded to do a mitzvah, since the Gemara states that such a person receives less of a reward, but clearly he does receive some level of reward for doing what he did. Rabbeinu Tam goes so far as to use this Gemara as a source for his ruling that women who are not obligated in mitzvot asei she-hazman gerama – positive commandments that are time-related – should, nevertheless, recite a blessing upon performing them. This has become the accepted ruling on this matter, at least in the Ashkenazi community.

Bava Kamma 88a-b

Our Gemara discusses the story of a woman who wrote a will, giving her inheritance to her son. After her death, her husband contested the will, arguing that the inheritance belonged to him. Rabbi Yossi bar Chanina concludes that takanot Usha allows the husband to take possession of his wife’s property after her death, even if she sold it while she was alive.

What are takanot Usha?

According to the Gemara in Masechet Rosh ha-Shana (31a), at the time of the destruction of the Temple, as the Jewish people were sent into exile, God joined them by removing His presence from the Temple in a series of stages. In a parallel move, the Sanhedrin gradually removed itself from its offices on the Temple Mount, as well, making its way to the Galilee (see map), where most of the remaining Jews were to live under Roman rule.

The Sanhedrin’s first stop after leaving Jerusalem was the city of Yavneh, which was established as a center of Torah study by Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, and became most famous under the direction of Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh. Throughout its continuing travels, the Sanhedrin was headed by descendants of the family of Hillel.

It appears that the Sanhedrin was moved to Usha in the aftermath of the Bar-Kochba revolt, where a series of rabbinic enactments – called takanot Usha – were established. Under the leadership of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel there was an unsuccessful attempt to return the Sanhedrin to Yavneh, but due to the overwhelming devastation in the southern part of the country, they returned to the Galilee, first to Usha and then to Shefar’am.

Takanot Usha deal mainly with establishing the norms of monetary relationships within families. While these enactments were not included in the Mishnah, they were known to the amoraim based on oral traditions.

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.