Thursday, 16 June 2016

Bava Kamma 16: Wild Animals

Tonight is one of those evenings that I wish I had more energy to put into this learning.  The rabbis discuss wild animals and how people might expect those animals to behave.  There are five types of animals that the rabbis name as needing no forewarning.  This means that these animals are never tam; they are always expected to follow their natures which will incur damages.  These are the wolf, lion, bear, leopard, bardelas and snake.  The Gemara wonders whether different actions done by these animals should fall under the categories of Eating or Goring, etc.  Different categories lead to different consequences for the animal and/or its owner.

In addition to a discussion of the hyena, which may or may not be dangerous to humans, the rabbis sneak in a fascinating comment.  Apparently, a male hyena becomes a demon. How? After seven years it become an insectivorous bat.  Seven years later, that bat becomes a herbivorous bat, which becomes a thistle after seven years.  Seven years later, the thistle becomes a briar, and seven years after that, the briar becomes a demon.

Similarly, a person's spine is said to become a snake after seven years.  However, this is only true for a person who does not bow in thanksgiving during the eighteenth blessing of the amidah.  

The rabbis offer no proof texts for these comments.  The closest thing to a proof text in our notes is a comment from Berachot that suggests we should bow our heads during the amidah like snakes.  Tosafot interprets further, saying that we will become like snakes if we do not pray in this way.

A new Mishna asks and answers one question: what is the difference in liability for an ox that is forewarned and an ox that is not forewarned?  The only answer, we are told, is that the owner of an ox that is forewarned pays half of the damages incurred from the sale of the body of the ox.  The owner of the ox that is not forewarned pays full damages from the sale of his "highest" land.

The Gemara asks about "highest" land. This is superior quality land, right?  The rabbis then tell a story about Hesekiah being buried with David and Solomon, in "the best land".  The Gemara continues to tell stories about the burial of king Asa, another king of Judea.  Jeremiah was accused of lying with a zonah, lying with a married woman.  The rabbis argue what this could mean - was the zona a pit?  Or a woman?  Were people simply trying to trap him?  The daf ends with the rabbis noting that king Hesekiah was honoured in his death.

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