Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Bava Kamma 119: What Counts as Robbery?

Today marks the end of Bava Kamma.  We begin the daf with more discussion of what can be bought from whom.  Can people who have robbed in the past be trusted when they are selling what may be their own personal items?  What about informers?  The Gemara then turns its attention to verses that comment on robbery.  What happens to the soul of a robber?  Can a robber ever be trusted?  Does G-d have special punishments for those who rob?

We then learn more about the women, minors and slaves who are not permitted to sell anything in case their goods were stolen from their husbands.  There were exceptions stated in our Mishna, and the Gemara expounds on these circumstances.   Different communities have different customs.  In some places, women would be permitted to sell small items in order to buy materials needed for a cap.

We learn from a note in Steinsaltz that women would wear a kerchief over their heads covered by a cap made of wool or another material to cover their hair.  The Gemara discusses the significant expense of olives in the Galilee, which would push men to have their wives sell olives in the market.  In another place women would throw their jewelry at a charity collector/scholar.  It is said that this was permitted because in that place jewelry was thought of as minor items.  The rabbi's sensitivity to cultural differences is evident here.

Our final Mishna of Bava Kamma is introduced.  It teaches that strands of wood found by a launderer belong to the launderer, but strands of wool found by a carder, one who creates textiles, belong to the customer.  A launderer can take no more than three threads. If they are black threads on a white garment, however, the launderer may take them all.  A tailor must return to the customer a thread long enough to sew with and a piece of fabric more than 3x3 fingerbreadths.  A carpenter owns the shavings left by an adze, but not those left by an axe.  And if the work is done in the customer's domain, even the sawdust belongs to the customer.

The remainder of our daf picks apart this Mishna to understand exactly what is robbery and what is permitted within the realm of one's work. The Gemara also introduces the question of whether people working a field are permitted to take what is left on the ground.  The rabbis agree that it depends on how stringent their boss might be regarding ownership of that material.

Overall, it seems clear that the rabbis are interested in creating rules that simplify people's lives.  They are also aware of the importance of minutae in these debates.  The rabbis are interested in helping ordinary people feel confident about what they own and what they lend.  Through all of Bava Kamma I have become aware of a coordinated system that addresses issues of ownership, property damage/loss, and robbery.

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