Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Bava Metzia 2: Statements or Oaths?

Masechet Bava Metzia begins with a Mishna about found items.  If two people claim that they found a cloak (tallit?) and each person says that it is all theirs, the cloak is split between them.  If one claims that he owns all of the cloak and the other says that he owns half of it, the first takes an oath that he owns at least 3/4 of the cloak.  The other person swears that he owns at least 1/4 of the cloak.  The cloak is thus split between them.   

If two people are riding an animal or if one person is leading and the other is riding an animal and both claim that the animal belongs to them, each takes and oath that he does not own less than half of the animal.  The animal is shared between them equally.  

If they both admit that the cloak is jointly owned, it is split between them without the formality of an oath.  One must actually pick up the item or have found the item in their domain to claim the item as their own.  Seeing a lost item is not enough to claim ownership.  

Similar to a found object, if two people are holding an object and both say that they purchased it, each swears that he owns at least half of the item and the item is shared equally between them.   And if witnesses are present, there is no need for people to take an oath.

The Gemara expounds upon our Mishna, teaching us that there is no need to formalize more than is necessary.  If two people are claiming equal ownership of an item and their claims could be valid, we believe them.  

This beginning of Bava Metzia is a perfect introduction to a masechet that discusses monetary halachot based on Torah law.  

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