Monday, 26 September 2016

Bava Kamma 118: More Conditions of Repayment; Who May Sell at All

Today's daf introduces four new Mishnayot.  Three of these are in amud (a).  

First, we are told that when a person robs someone or borrows money from him or deposits an item together with that person, the item must be returned in the physical place where the transaction took place.  If it happened in a settled area, the item cannot be returned in an unsettled area.  However, if there was a condition that the recipient return the item to the owner in an unsettled area, it is permitted.  The rabbis do not want people to put themselves in high risk situations where the item might be stolen.  The desert is considered to be a dangerous place as it is generally uninhabited.

Our next Mishna teaches that if a person says, "I robbed you" or "You lent me money" or "we deposited money together" and then "... and I don't know whether or not I paid you back", he is liable to pay back the money that still might be owed.  However, if he expresses uncertainty about whether or not he robbed, lent money to, or deposited money with another person, then he is exempt from payment.  The Gemara notes that an uncertain claim exempts a person from payment.

The third Mishna in today's daf tells us that a person who steals a lamb from a flock and then returns it without telling the owner that he returned it - and then the lamb died or was stolen, the thief is liable to pay restitution for the lamb.  However, if the owner never noticed that the lamb was missing at all, the thief is exempt from payment.  The Gemara describes the different understandings of this Mishna by Rav, Shmuel, Rabbi Yochanan and Rav Chisda.  Each of them attempts to explain what conditions are necessary for exemption and for liability. 

The fourth Mishna in today's daf says that one may not purchase wool, milk, or kids from the shepherds who tend flocks for others.  Similarly, it is prohibited to purchase wood and produce from produce watchmen.  While one may not purchase merchandise from women, minors or slaves unless it is clear that they truly own that merchandise, there are exceptions.  It is permitted to purchase wooden good from women when one is in Judea and linen goods from women when one is in the Galilee and calves from women in the Sharon.  One may purchase eggs and chickens from anyone anywhere, as it is not likely that one would steal these things.  The Gemara explores what number of sheep might be purchased in one transaction.  It also considers where a person should be (in the city or in the desert) when such purchases are completed.

The directives regarding women, minors and slaves helps us understand how men have held power for so long in so many parts of the world.  It is one thing to say that one person owns another person.  It is another thing entirely to deprive that disadvantaged person from accessing the means to emancipation.  If women and children and slaves cannot own merchandise and thus cannot make money from those things, then they are restricted to their inferior status indefinitely.

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