Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Bava Kamma 29: Leaving Hazardous Objects in the Road

In their conversation about who is responsible when a rock, a knife, or a load is left in the street, the rabbis discuss stumbling.  A person might stumble over one of these objects, then fall, then assess injuries.  Did the injuries come from the stumble, which is the responsibility of the owner?  Did they come from the fall, which is the fault of one's own body?  Or did they come from the result of the fall - for example, being cut by shards of glass that came from the jug which shattered when the person stumbled?

Is a person who stumbles negligent?  The rabbis consider a person who leaves a hazardous object in the public domain liable in the category of pit.  One of the examples they quote comes from a Mishna that we will cover in less than two weeks (Bava Kamma:30).  It says that if someone turns dung in the road (ie. the public domain), they are liable for any damage that is caused by their action.

What I want to know is: what does it mean to "turn" dung?  Is this about drying dung for other uses?  Is this about hiding dung where a person might step on it?  We are speaking about animal dung, right? Our notes don't provide us with any further information about this particular example.

The rabbis ask further questions: did the person intend to acquire something when they were injured? How deep was the pit that was dug?

One of the arguments pits Rabbi Yochanan against the other rabbis of the Gemara.  Rabbi Yochanan believes that a person who puts up hazardous material in a public place is liable for injuries incurred, for example someone harmed by a fence with thorns in the public domain.  Rabbi Yochanan also believes that a person who renounces their ownership of a hazardous item in the public is liable.  Rav Acha ben Ika disagrees.  He asserts that it is atypical behaviour for a person to rub him/herself up against a wall, and so the owner of the fence is not liable for damages incurred in such an action.

Our daf ends with a discussion about whether it could have been someone other than Rav Yochanan who offered the more stringent rungs.  The rabbis determine that Rav Yochanan could have been referring to what is halacha in the public and in the private domains.

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