Masechet Bava Kamma 96a-102b

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01 Apr 2009
Torah

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 96a-b

According to the Mishnah at the beginning of the perekdaf 93b – the general rule is that a robber will have to pay back the victim according to the value of the object at the time that it was stolen.

Our Gemara presents a case where the ruling appears to be otherwise.

Once someone stole a set of oxen from his friend. He used them for a season of work, using them to plow his fields, to plant his crops, etc. At the end of the season, he returned the oxen to their true owner. When the case came before Rav Nahman, he ruled that the robber must return his profits from the harvest to the owner of the oxen, as well. In response to Rava‘s objections that it was the field that increased in value, rather than the animals, Rav Nachman conceded that he would only have to share half of his profits. When Rava argues that the Mishnah rules that the robber only has to return the stolen object in its original form, Rav Nachman became upset. He told Rava that he should not question his rulings, since Rav Huna has already compared him to Shevor Malka regarding these kinds of rulings. Furthermore, he explained, the robber in this case was a well-known criminal and he felt that he deserved to receive punishment for his actions.

Shevor Malka – Shahpur – was the name of a number of Persian kings. Our Gemara is referring to the first king Shahpuhr, who continued his father’s success in wars against the Roman Empire, capturing the city of Netzivim and arriving at the border of Syria. In the course of a number of attacks, he not only defeated the Roman emperor Velrinus, but he captured him and held him until his death. With regard to internal matters, he was an open-minded leader, and allowed a good deal of freedom of religion. It appears that he showed an interest in Judaism and was on good terms with the amora Shmuel. The simplest understanding of our Gemara is that Rav Huna compared Rav Nachman’s rulings to those of the ruling monarch.

According to Rashi, the comparison to Shevor Malka is not to be taken literally, and it is actually a reference to the amora Shmuel, whose rulings were accepted in monetary matters.


Bava Kamma 97a-b

The Gemara on our daf discusses the return of money in cases where the value of the currency – and, in particular, the coinage – changes while a loan is taking place.

To clarify the question about how to establish the value of coins that have gone out of circulation, Rava brings a baraita that discusses the case of pidyon ma’aser sheni. On certain years of the agricultural cycle, a farmer is obligated to bring ma’aser sheni – to   tithe his crops and take them to Jerusalem where they must be eaten in holiness within the city. The Torah states clearly (Devarim 14:25) that if someone cannot bring those fruits to Jerusalem because of the distance or because of the sheer volume of fruit, he can exchange them for money – specifically for coins – that must be brought to Jerusalem and exchanged for food that will be eaten in the city. The baraita teaches that the coins used for this purpose must be useable coins, which excludes ma’ot kozbiyot, ma’ot Yerushalmiyot and ma’ot shel melachim ha-rishonim.- none of which were used in Jerusalem as legal tender.

While some suggest that ma’ot kozbiyot are coins from a foreign country, most of the commentaries identify them as coins minted by bar Koziba, more popularly known as bar Kochba, leader of the great revolt against Rome. During the short-lived independent Jewish rule in Jerusalem at that time, bar Kochba minted coins. As can be imagined, these coins that celebrated independence were forbidden to be used by the Roman government. The ma’ot Yerushalmiyot were also coins minted by Jewish rulers in Israel that were removed from circulation by the Roman government for political reasons. Ma’ot melachim ha-rishonim – money minted by the early kings – may simply refer to coins that became old and were replaced by new ones.


Bava Kamma 98a-b

Rabbah presents four different cases on our daf, all of which seem to have a common thread. The cases are:

  1. If someone causes his friend’s coin to land in the ocean in such a manner that it can be retrieved, he will not be held responsible, since he can say – “it is before you; go and retrieve it.”
  2. If a person took someone’s coin and flattened it so that the image on the coin could no longer be seen, he is not responsible to pay any damages, since the weight of the coin has not been changed by his actions.
  3. If someone scratches or cuts a cow’s ear, he will not pay any damages. Even though now the cow cannot be brought as a sacrifice, it still remains able to perform most other activities for which someone would buy a cow, so we do not view the damage as significant.
  4. If someone has a document that attests to money that is owed to him and someone else burns it, that person will not be held responsible since all he did was burn a worthless piece of paper that had no intrinsic value.

In all of these cases, Rabbah believes that since no real damage was done the person cannot be held responsible, even though his actions caused his friend to suffer a loss.

Most commentaries understand that these rulings are based on Rabbah’s belief that we do not hold a person responsible for situations of dina d’garmi. Since the accepted halacha is that a person is responsible for dina d’garmi, Rabbah’s rulings are rejected, and the person who caused a loss in cases like these will be held responsible. Rashi and the Ra’avad suggest that two of these cases are not garmi, rather they are cases of grama, where the accepted ruling is that grama be-nezikim, patur – that the person is not held liable for causing damage indirectly. Thus in the case of throwing a coin in the ocean and cutting the cow’s ear, we accept Rabbah’s ruling freeing the man from responsibility.


Bava Kamma 99a-b

The Mishnah (98b) teaches that a craftsman is responsible for damage that he does to an object that was given to him to fix or to build. This ruling leads to a general discussion of the level of responsibility that a person has with regard to professional advice or services that he performs.

According to the Gemara, under ordinary circumstances, if someone pays an expert moneychanger for professional advice in establishing whether a coin is valid or not, and the moneychanger was mistaken in rendering his opinion, he will have to pay damages. An exception to this would be people who are complete experts and are recognized as knowing all that there is to know about the value of coins. If someone like that erred because of a change of currency (not because of a problem with the coin itself), he would not be responsible.

The Gemara tells of a woman who approached Rabbi Chiya and asked him to offer his opinion on the validity of a coin. Rabbi Chiya ruled that the coin was a good one, but the woman returned the next day and told him that it was not accepted in the market. Rabbi Chiya instructed that the woman be paid the value of the coin, and that it should be recorded in his pinkas – his record book – as an undeserved loss. The Gemara explains that although Rabbi Chiya was a high level expert, he chose to pay the woman lifnim mi-shurat ha-din – beyond the letter of the law.

The word pinkas is Greek, and its original meaning was a board on which one could write. Later on, the term came to mean a number of such boards that were bound together to make a small book. During the time of the Talmud, pinkasim came in a variety of shapes and sizes and were made of different materials. It appears that the most popular ones were made of wood covered with a layer of wax that could be written on and erased.


Bava Kamma 100a-b

The Mishnah on today’s daf discusses cases where someone gave wool to a dyer to color, and the wool was not dyed properly. According to the Mishnah in the case of hikdicho yorah – if the wool was boiled at too high a temperature and was burned – the wool is considered entirely ruined, and full restitution will need to be made to the owner. If the dye came out uneven, the owner will pay either the added value of the poorly dyed wool or the dyer’s expenses – whichever is less. If he dyed it the wrong color entirely, Rabbi Meir rules that full restitution must be made to the owner; Rabbi Yehuda rules that the owner will pay the lesser value of either the added value of the newly dyed wool or the dyer’s expenses.

The Ra’avad explains the difference between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda as being based on two different outlooks about the relationship between the owner and the dyer. According to Rabbi Meir, by going against the instructions of the wool’s owner, he gets the status of a thief, and takes possession of the “stolen” object, for which he must pay. Rabbi Yehuda believes that he remains an employee, albeit one that does not deserve to be fully paid for his substandard work.

Regarding Rabbi Yehuda’s position, the Maggid Mishnah understands Rashi to rule – similar to the position of the Rambam in his commentary to the Mishnah – that the owner has the option of demanding full restitution of the value of the wool. The Rambam in his Mishnah Torah (Hilkhot Sechirut 10:4) does not accept this position, since he rules that there is no opportunity for the worker to take possession of the object through his work – en uman koneh be-shevach keli. Thus the owner will pay either the increased value of the wool or the worker’s expenses – whichever is less.


Bava Kamma 101a-b

While discussing the case of the Mishnah (100b) regarding poorly dyed wool, our Gemara asks whether we view the dye that has changed the color of the wool as an independent entity or as something that has become part-and-parcel of the wool. The Gemara explains that this question can be raised, for example, in a case where a person stole wool together with prepared dye, and then dyed the wool with it. If the thief chooses to repent and return what he stole, is it enough to give back the newly dyed wool (i.e. would that be considered returning both the wool and the dye), or do we see it simply as wool and he would have to pay for the stolen dye, as well.

The Gemara suggests that the answer to this question is obvious. Since the wool is now more valuable than it was before, it is clear that the wool contains the value of the dye, as well. The Gemara argues that this is not always the case, since there are times that dyed wool may be the same price as plain wool, or we may be dealing with a case where the product that was dyed was not wool, but kofa.

With regard to the case of kofa, one possibility suggested by Rashi is that the thief stole a monkey and dye, and colored the monkey, whose value would not change because it had been dyed. Rashi’s other approach is that the word kofa means a simple reed basket, whose value does not change if it is colored.

Other commentaries assume that the word kofa means a monkey and offer different interpretations of the Gemara’s response. According to an opinion in the Aruch, the Gemara is suggesting a case where a monkey owned by the thief colored the wool, in a manner that certainly did not increase its value. Tosafot interpret the case as one where the dyeing was done so poorly that the wool came out looking ugly – like a monkey.

Although the Gemara continues discussing this case, it does not reach a clear conclusion about the value of the dye that is subsumed within the wool.


Bava Kamma 102a-b

As we learned in the Mishnah above (daf 100), Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda differ regarding how to treat a worker who diverged from the instructions that he received from the owner and chose to dye wool red instead of black or vice versa. Rabbi Meir believes that the worker takes possession of the object that he misused, while Rabbi Yehuda believes that the owner retains possession of the object, but will pay either the worker’s expenses or the increased value of the object – whichever is less. Our Gemara suggests that the same argument can be applied to other cases, as well.

The Gemara presents two baraitot that discuss a single case –

Someone gives money to an agent and asks him to purchase wheat as an investment, and the agent purchases barley – or he instructs him to purchase barley and the agent purchases wheat.  We find that one baraita says that whatever loss or profit comes from this transaction will belong to the agent; another baraita rules that the agent will suffer any losses that come from this transaction, but if there is a profit then the investor and the agent will share equally. Rabbi Yochanan suggests that we should not see these rulings as contradictory, since they simply reflect two different opinions. According to Rabbi Meir, once the agent chose to ignore the investor’s instructions, the investment becomes his own; according to Rabbi Yehuda, the owner retains his interest in the investment and will share in the profits, but not in the losses.

Most of the commentaries follow Rashi‘s approach to this case, and understand that the original agreement offered the agent some level of partnership in the investment. Rashi suggests that this is the case because of the ruling that the owner and the agent will share any profits, indicating that there was some profit-sharing agreement between them. The Meiri argues that even if the agent were not originally a partner, he would still receive a share of the profits in special circumstances, e.g. if he was instructed to purchase something at a set price and he succeeded in purchasing it for less.


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 www.steinsaltz.org 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.