Saturday, 24 September 2016

Bava Kamma 116: Examples of Complex Ownership

A number of examples help the rabbis explain their understandings of our last Mishna.  

When a barrel of honey and a barrel of wine crash into each other and the honey is salvaged, the wine that is left in the barrel is now subject to ritual impurity.  It may or may not be permitted as a pleasant aroma as wine is sprinkled as an air freshener

If there was a condition stated ("I'll salvage your honey and you pay for my wine"), it is binding unless the honey owner says that he was "fooling".  Similarly, a person fleeing prison agreeing to pay a dinar to a ferry driver could say, "I was fooling around with you" and get out of the contract.

The Gemara provides us with another example: two donkeys are washed away and one is worth 100 dinars. If that donkey is rescued by the other donkey's owner, should the rescuer be reimbursed for his own loss? What if his own donkey rescues itself?

And another example: where a lion is following a caravan in the desert and a donkey is fed to the lion each night.  When one of those donkeys returns, healthy, should its owner reimburse the others who have lost their donkeys to the hungry lion?  In this case the rabbis note that sometimes good things just happen.  It could have been G-d's will that one donkey is saved.

And yet another example: a labourer is hired to deliver a plate of food to a person who is ill but that person dies before his arrival.  Is the labourer still entitled to his payment?

The rabbis continually honour:

  • contracts which have been made prior to the incident at hand, 
  • the rights of labourers who are hired hourly rather than per job, and 
  • payment for effort that has been made rather than payment only for completed work

The Gemara continues to share various examples.  First, a caravan has been attacked by bandits.  They discuss how a ransom is determined (the value of all people's items), and how that changes if a scout has been hired to protect them (each person contributes to the scout).    Donkey drivers are different, for their responsibilities include guarding donkey and their interests are aligned.  Sailors might have to throw things overboard if their ship is up against bad weather.  The rabbis discuss how ownership and reimbursement of items is considered in this type of case, as well.  In all cases, negligence negates the contract.  For example, a ship must be travelling along the expected route.  That includes the different routes that are taken in the months of Nissan and Tishri.

If a person claims that he will rescue the property from a bandit, he is entitled to ownership of that property.  But if he simply rescues the items without a verbal 'contract', he shares the salvaged items with the other victims.  Business partners - joint owners of property - are also discussed in today's daf.

A new Mishna notes that if one robs a field and then thugs rob the robber of the field, the robber must find another field to return to the original victim.  If the thugs were part of a disaster, where entire areas were overcome, then the robber need not return land, for the land would have been lost to the owner regardless of the robbery.  The Gemara wonders about the circumstances of such a calamity.

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