Sunday, 26 June 2016

Bava Kamma 26: We Are Always Responsible For Our Behaviour

Another truncated blog.  Here's what called out to me.

We have been discussing oxen that do damage.  The ox in question is a person's property.  The rabbis decided that an ox could be tam or mu'ad.  And how would we know when an ox is mu'ad?  Perhaps it has gored three times in one day, or perhaps three times over three days.  When does that ox become tam again?  Perhaps when it has not gored for a period of time under certain conditions - one of those conditions includes when it is petted by children and it does not gore.  I would not be the parent holding my ox to that particular test!

But all of this is about the ox as one's property.  What about when we cause the damage ourselves?  The rabbis teach that we are always mu'ad: we are liable for the damage that we do to others.  What about what we do when we are drunk?  well, say the rabbis, we put ourselves in the situation that allowed us to become drunk, and so we are responsible for the damages that we have done in that state.  

But what about when we are asleep?  This seems to be an exception.  Unless of course we fall asleep within the range of things that we could damage.  In that case, we are fully responsible for damages that we cause when we are asleep.  But what if we ensure that there is nothing we could damage that is close to us while we sleep?  The rabbis say that in that case, we are not responsible for those damages.  They use the example of a person lying beside us while we are asleep.  If we damage that person, we are not legally liable for the damages caused.

Modern society could learn a lot from these ideas.  When we set ourselves up to damage others, we are responsible for the damage that occurs.  That means that when we drive while drunk and we kill someone, we are liable for murder.  That means that if we get drunk and sexually assault someone, we are liable for rape.  And that means that if we get drunk and hurt our families, we are responsible for the damage that has been caused as if we had said and done those things when we were sober.

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