Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Bava Kamma 112: Children's Obligations to Their Flawed Parents

Today's daf continues to ask questions about what a child is responsible for if a father dies having stolen something.  The rabbis are comparing stolen items with items that have been loaned.  How are children obligated after their father's death if he borrowed a cow?  What if he stole that cow?

The rabbis consider the ways that a child might be permitted to use that cow, differences based on the age of the child (a minor or an adult), which day of the week it was, whether the family was 'important', and many other factors.

The analogies used by our rabbis are imperfect.  How might they be necessary to help these great thinkers to analyze the question at hand?  And why is this particular question worthy of such detailed debate?

It seems that our rabbis are aided by the creation of categories - principles, ideas, related halachot.  They look for patterns in order to identify a larger schema.  In doing this, they affirm their belief that all of the Torah - every letter - is meaningful because it is of Divine creation.  The problem is that sometimes the categories are flawed.  The proof texts that our rabbis use are not always convincing.  Further, the categories themselves sometimes seem imperfect, especially from our perspective two thousand odd years later.  

As to the question of a father who dies having stolen an item, my guess is that this question speaks to a larger issue: do we honour a parent who steals? In what way should we do this?  How much responsibility must a child take for his/her parent's behaviour?  Should a child benefit from a parent's bad behaviour?  How long must one honour one's parents?

These questions are still important in today's modern world.  And when the rabbis discuss exactly when a child is responsible for the cow stolen by their deceased father, they are also speaking to when how we should treat property, creditors, and our parents.

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