Masechet Bava Metzia 90a-96b

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23 Jul 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 Metzia 90a-b

As we have seen, a farm worker has the right to eat while he is harvesting. A parallel halacha prohibits a farmer from muzzling his animal while that animal is threshing. This Torah law (see Devarim 25:4) is the focus of the discussion of the Gemara on today’s daf, which asks a seemingly simple question – if the animal has a stomach ailment, must we still permit it to eat, given that eating will be harmful to it?

This practical question is defined by the Gemara to mean that we must clarify whether the point of the mitzvah is to benefit the animal – and in the animal’s present condition allowing it to eat would be harmful, or, perhaps, the point of the mitzvah is to keep the animal from becoming frustrated that it sees food but cannot eat. The Gemara responds by quoting Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who teaches that the person leading the animal can feed it karshinin, which are always good for the animal. From this the Gemara concludes that our primary interest is the animal’s well-being.

Karshinin is identified as bitter vetch or Vicia ervilia Wild, an ancient grain legume crop of the Mediterranean region, which can still be found growing in Arab villages.

Quoting Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai as a proof in this context is interesting, since it is well known that he is doreish ta’amah d’kra – he tries to work out the underlying reasoning behind every mitzvah and apply it to the performance of the commandment – an approach that is not accepted by most of the other sages of the Mishnah. The Rosh explains that the idea of doresh ta’amah d’kra is generally rejected when it negates the simple meaning of the commandment. In our case, however, it is clear that the purpose of this mitzvah is to keep the animal from suffering, and we can deduce from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai which type of suffering is of concern to the Torah.

Bava Metzia 91a-b

Our Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that if someone is threshing grain with his friend’s animal and he muzzles the animal so that it will not eat, the person will be held responsible on two different levels –

  1. He will be liable to receive lashes for transgressing the biblical prohibition against muzzling an animal while it is working (see Devarim 25:4), and
  2. He will be obligated to pay the owner the amount of money for feed that the animal would have eaten during that time.

The Gemara objects to this ruling, arguing that it negates a well-known axiom of Jewish law kim lei be-derabah minei. Kim lei be-derabbah minei means that it is enough for a person to receive the more severe punishment. If a person commits an act for which he is liable to receive two separate punishments, Jewish law will only allow him to be punished once, i.e. he will receive the more severe of the two punishments and be freed of the lesser punishment. Thus, if a person performs an act for which he would receive both capital punishment and lashes, he will not receive the lashes, as the capital punishment suffices as punishment for this act. Similarly, once a person receives lashes, he will not have to pay.

Several explanations are offered in response to this question. Abayye simply suggests that this follows the opinion of Rabbi Meir who rules that a person can receive both malkot (lashes) and be required to pay. According to Rav Papa in our case the two obligations take effect at different times. From the moment that the farmer accepted the animal to use for threshing he became obligated to feed the animal; he did not become liable to receive lashes until he muzzled the animal.

Bava Metzia 92a-b

The Mishnah on our daf continues the discussion of the Torah laws that grant rights to a farm worker to eat while he is harvesting the field. Is there any limit to the amount that the worker can eat?

The Mishnah quotes three opinions on this matter:
According to the Tanna Kamma, the worker can eat as much as he wants.
Rabbi Elazar ben Hisma rules that he cannot eat more than the value of his daily wage.
The Chachamim say that a person would be allowed – in theory – to eat as much as he wants, but we teach workers to eat a reasonable amount so that they will not have trouble finding work in the future.

The Gemara also quotes a discovery made by Rav, who found a megillat setarim in Rabbi Hiyya‘s house, where the opinion of Isi ben Yehuda appears. Basing himself on the simple reading of the passage in Sefer Devarim (23:25) Isi rules that anyone who passes a field is allowed to eat from it. Rav objects to this ruling, saying that no farmer would be able to function under those circumstances.

A megillat setarim – hidden scroll – is a collection of notes taken by students during Talmudic times. For generations it was accepted practice that Torah she-ba’al peh – the oral tradition – was not set in writing, and only later was writing allowed due to difficult circumstances (i.e. there was a fear that the oral traditions would be forgotten). Nevertheless, students did take notes on the lectures and discussions for their own use. Since these notes were not publicized, they were referred to as megillat setarim. According to the geonim, they were not really hidden; rather they were simply not available to all. We find a number of places in the Gemara where Rav quotes teachings from Isi ben Yehuda that he found written in this megillat setarim.

Bava Metzia 93a-b

According to the Torah (Shemot 22:6-12), the level of responsibility for which a shomer – someone who accepts responsibility to guard his friend’s object – is liable, depends on the personal gain that the shomer receives. The Mishnah on our daf enumerates four types of shomrim and their level of responsibility. They include:

A shomer chinam – who does not derive any personal gain or benefit from watching the object. In the event that the shomer chinam performs his duty responsibly and the object is lost or stolen, he can take an oath that he guarded it properly and he will be free of any further responsibility (see Shemot 22:6-7).

A sho’el – who borrows the object for his own use, without payment. He is responsible for anything that happens to the animal, and will have to pay full restitution to the owner (see Shemot 22:13).

A shomer sachar – who gets paid for watching the object, and

A socher – who pays rent to use the object. In these last two cases the shomer will be responsible if the object is lost or stolen, but not if an ones – an unexpected accident – takes place. The Torah’s examples of ones are if the animal dies, breaks a leg or is taken captive.

The Gemara tells a number of stories that illustrate these laws. In one of them we hear of a man named bar Ada who was hired to transport animals. When taking them across the gamla (a narrow bridge) in Neresh, one animal pushed another, and it fell into the river and drowned. Rav Papa ruled that bar Ada was responsible for the death of the animal, and in response to bar Ada’s claim that there was nothing he could have done, Rav Papa argued that bar Ada was hired for his expertise and he should have taken them across the gamla one by one.

A gamla is a unique type of bridge. Ordinary bridges are well-built structures of wood or stone that are made to support people and animals crossing a river. A gamla is a simple piece of wood that is laid across a narrow river. While people can usually cross a gamla safely, it would be difficult to move animals across such a bridge.

Bava Metzia 94a-b

The eighth perek of Masechet Bava Metzia, ha-Sho’el et ha-parah, begins on today’s daf, and its focus is on the responsibilities of someone who rents (socher) or borrows (sho’el) an animal or an object from his friend. Borrowing and renting are qualitatively different than acting as a guard whose job is to watch something for his friend, since the borrower or the renter receives the object with the understanding that he will use it. Thus the owner accepts the fact that there will be normal wear-and-tear on the object. At the same time, the level of responsibility that the borrower or the renter takes upon himself will be greater than that accepted by a normal guard or watchman.

The Torah appears to obligate a borrower – she-kol hana’ah shelo – who derives only benefit from this relationship – in all cases, even in cases of ones where an accident takes place that is beyond his control (see Shemot 22:13-14). The one exception is a case of be’alav imo – when the owner of the animal is there together with the borrower, then the borrower (and, according to the Gemara, all other shomrim, as well) will not be responsible. Defining the situation that is considered to be be’alav imo is one of the tasks of the first Mishnah in the perek.

According to the Mishnah, the rule that the borrower will not be obligated to pay damages for an animal as long as the owner is with him, applies only if the owner was hired before the animal was borrowed or if both relationships were created simultaneously. If, however, the animal was borrowed first and the owner was only hired later on, then the borrower will be held liable for anything that happens to the animal.

The Torah law with regard to a socher is unclear (see Shemot 22:14), and the tanna’im disagree as to his level of responsibility, although all agree that the Torah intends to free the socher from the high level of responsibility that rests on a sho’el.

Bava Metzia 95a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, a borrower will not be obligated to pay damages for an animal as long as the owner is with him. This law is clearly stated in the Torah (see Shemot 22:13-14). Nevertheless, according to the Mishnah (94a), this rule applies only if the owner was hired before the animal was borrowed or if both relationships were created simultaneously. If, however, the animal was borrowed first and the owner was only hired later on, then the borrower will be held liable for anything that happens to the animal, even if the owner is working for the borrower at that point in time.

The rulings that are based on this law demand explanation, and the commentaries offer a number of approaches.

The Torah Temimah explains that freeing the borrower from responsibility if the owner is with him makes sense simply because the owner remains responsible for his own animal, given that he is also involved in using it. It is more difficult to explain why the owner must already be employed by the borrower at the time that he receives the animal in order for this law to take effect. The approach suggested by the Torah Temimah is that if the owner is employed by the borrower it affects the entire relationship, since the borrower cannot be fully obligated to the owner, since the owner is obligated to him, as well. This change of perspective regarding the relationship only makes sense if it occurs at the moment that the animal or the object is borrowed, since if the normal owner-borrower relationship came into effect prior to the owner’s becoming an employee of the borrower, it would not be changed at a later time.

Another possible explanation for this is that the high level of responsibility of a borrower stems from the fact that kol hana’ah shelo. If the owner is working for the borrower and is being paid, we view the relationship that is created at the time that the animal is given to be that of a renter, rather than a borrower.

Bava Metzia 96a-b

Our Gemara presents a number of questions on our daf, relating to the laws of borrowing an animal or an object, and the law that frees the borrower from responsibility if the owner is working for the borrower (for background on these laws, see daf 94 and daf 95).

For example, Ravina presents the following case to Rav Ashi:

A man appoints his friend as his agent – a shaliach – to work for the person to whom he is lending an ox. Do we require that the owner himself work for the borrower in order to apply the rule that frees the borrower from responsibility in such a case (see Shemot 22:13-14), or do we say shaliach shel adam ke-moto – that a person’s agent stands in his stead, and we can view this case as though the owner was there?

The suggestion raised by the Gemara is that this is effectively similar to another case where we find a machloket – a disagreement – between Rabbi Yoshiya and Rabbi Yonatan. If a man who is about to leave on a trip appoints a representative to annul all vows made by his wife until the time that he returns, Rabbi Yonatan says that he has the ability to do so, and the annulments are valid, since shali’ah shel adam ke-moto. Rabbi Yoshiya disagrees, arguing that the Torah limits the power of annulment only to the husband in passages like Bamidbar 30:14 which clearly states that “her husband may let it stand or her husband may annul it.”

Tosafot point out that the parallel between our case of borrowing and the case of annulling vows does not seem to work, since Rabbi Yoshiya’s ruling is based on a pasuk that appears only in the case of annulling vows – in other situations he may agree that shaliach shel adam ke-moto. Tosafot answer that in both cases we find an emphasis on the active participation of the central individual. Just as in the case of annulling vows we find an emphasis on isha – “her husband” – similarly in our case there is an emphasis on be’alav imo – if the owner is with the animal, the rule applies.

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.