Monday, 31 October 2016

Bava Metzia 35: Expectations of Honesty (or not); A Cow's Changing Status

Who must take an oath if a collateral item is stolen: the creditor or the debtor? Who must prove that the stolen item is not in his possession?  What if witnesses were present at the time of the theft?  And what if there is a disagreement about the worth of the collateral item?  Who takes an oath regarding that statement of value?  Who trusts whom in such situations?  We are reminded that the debtor might attribute goodwill to the creditor based upon Proverbs (11:3), where "The integrity of the upright shall guide them".  The creditor may see the debtor as deserving of his fate, as well, based on the same verse: "But the perverseness of the faithless shall destroy them".  We are privy to the reasoning behind the specific classist assumptions of antiquity.

We learn an example based on Rav Nachman's experience with a bailee who said that he could not find the jewels that a man deposited with him.  Rav Nachman ordered the bailee to pay for the jewels due to his own negligence.   When the bailee refused to pay, Rav Nachman ordered him to sell his palace and use the funds to pay for the jewels.  Lo and behold, the jewels were found.  And though they had increased in value, the bailee did not profit from the increase.  

Rava tells of studying this chapter with Rav Nachman himself.  Through his own story (revealing his ignorance in the face of his teacher, Rav Nachman), Rava clarified that no oath was taken; no oath was needed when ownership was not transferred.  Further, the owner was inconvenienced by having to take the bailee to court.  This leads to comments regarding appraisal, and the point that appraisals can be returned/changed based on Deuteronomy (6:18): And you shall do that which is right and good".  A person can return once he has the funds to buy back his property, even if years have passed since the property's appraisal.

The Gemara moves on to the topic of gifts and debts owed to women.  We learn that if a woman marries after property has been appraised to repay her a debt, or if her property was appraised to repay her own debt and then she married and died, the husband does not pay his wife's debt through her appraised property.  Further, he does not receive property that was repossessed from her if he pays her debt.  

Rabbi Yaose bar Chanina teaches that in Usha the Sages decided that when women sold her usufruct property while her husband was alive and then she died, the husband repossess that property from the buyers.  Rav Acha and Ravina argue over whether or not the prepossession is based on a reversed appraisal.  the rabbis have different opinions on whether o not this was a full-fledged sale.  Was this the husband's decision or that of his wife?  Ultimately, a court document that includes writing and signing will transfer the rights of a wife to her husband.

A new Mishna teaches us that when one rents a cow and then lends it to someone else and the cow dies of natural causes, the renter swears to the owner of this occurrence and the borrower pays the renter for the cow.  The renter is exempt when circumstances are beyond his control.  However, a borrower is in fact responsible for circumstances beyond his control! Rabbi Yosei asks how the renter can profit from someone else's cow.  Instead, the value of the cow should be returned to the owner.  The renter should not need to swear  but the borrower should compensate the cow's owner.

The Gemara wonders who should be liable in this case.  Shouldn't the borrower be protected from a claim?  Why is the renter not responsible for the owner's loss?  In their conversation, the rabbis understand that the cow changes status from owned to rented to borrowed.  In fact, some suggest, we are speaking of different cows.  Of course, because there is only one actual cow, there is liability to pay for only one cow. 

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Bava Metzia 34: Unpaid Bailees and Collection of Monies from Theives

Daf 33 ends with a new Mishna in Perek III.  Daf 34 continues that conversation.

Our Mishna teaches that an unpaid bailee may agree to watch someone's property with or without signing an oath and without a fee.  If that item is lost or stolen, the unpaid bailee can take an oath and forego responsibility for the item.  Instead of taking an oath, the unpaid bailee might pay money.  The thief of such an item, if found, pays either double or the four or fivefold payment (if the item stolen was an animal that was stolen or slaughtered).  That payment is given to the bailee if the bailee held the deposit on the item.  If not, that payment is given to the owner of the item.  We see that this could cause unpaid bailees to wish to change their minds so that they might receive double payment for the item that was lost or stolen.

The rabbis argue that it may not be possible to transfer ownership based on an item that does not yet exist - for example, on the fruits of a date palm.  Or, perhaps, the theft has not yet happened and the bailee has not yet decided against about holding the deposit.  And they also discuss what should be done when a person says that he will pay but has not yet paid; when a borrower says that has paid for an item that is stolen.  Are we encouraging people to change their minds about their status in order to collect a double payment?  And to whom do found thieves pay their fines?  

Our daf ends with discussions about loans.  The rabbis walk us through who might take oaths and how this could change their payments.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Bava Metzia 33: Unloading a Suffering Animal, Respect for One's Father Verses One's Teacher

Before diving into daf 33, a point about Bava Metzia 32.  Yesterday's daf was read on a Friday, and because I do not blog on Friday evenings, I did not comment on yesterday's learning.  However, as a reminder, Bava Metzia 32 teaches a Mishna about important conditions on returning animals to their owners.  One is obliged to return an animal to its owner if the animal is found in public, but a priest cannot become import to remove an animal from a graveyard.  Further, one is obligated to remove a load from an animal that has collapsed from its burden, even if the owner reloads the animal over and over again.  This is based on Exodus (23:5).  If the owner tells someone that he is obligated to unload the burden, that person is not obligated to do so.  If the owner is incapable of unloading the animal, one is again obliged to do so.  At the end of this Mishna, two rabbis argue over whether the Torah says that is is a mitzvah to load the animal as well.

Today's daf completes yesterday's Gemara regarding the above Mishna.  The rabbis want to understand what is meant by "collapsed" and "under its burden".  Does an animal have to actually fall down under its burden to demonstrate that its load is too heavy?  Aren't we obligated to unload an animal whenever we witness its suffering? The rabbis distinguish between an animal that collapses under its burden and a "habitual collapser", which is an animal that has collapsed several times for "no apparent reason".  This is difficult for modern thinkers.  Of course there is a reason when an animal collapses.  And how can human beings understand how much is too much?  For someone like me, with the luxuries available to me that forego the need for animal labour, it is much easier to simply state that any burden is too much.  I even have trouble with the notion of riding a horse, however, due to the strain that my whim would pun on an animal.

The rabbis begin to consider distance.  Within what radius must a person be to be obligated to remove an animal's burden?  And how far must a person accompany a reloaded animal to ensure that the animal does not fall again?  It should be noted that such an act might be reimbursed.

A new Mishna takes on further questions about the return of loss items.  A person should care for his or her before others.  If one finds his/her own property and his/her father's lost property simultaneously, s/he must tend to his/her own property before that of the father.  Same rules for a person and his teacher.  If one finds his father's lost item and his teacher's lost item simultaneously, he returns his teacher's item first.  This is because his father brought him into this world but his teacher helps him to enter the World-to-Come.  But if his father is a Torah scholar, his father's item takes precedence.  These guidelines apply when one's father and teacher are carrying heavy burdens or when one's father and teacher are both captured and must be redeemed.  One only helps one's father first if his father is a Torah scholar.

The Gemara reminds us that we are not being selfish or cruel by helping ourselves before we help others regarding monetary matters.  We are told in Deuteronomy 15:4 "Only so that there shall be no needy among you".  And yet we know that there are always needy people in our communities.  However, we are instructed to ensure that we are not needy.  It seems that the intention is to encourage all people to work toward financial 'independence'.

The rabbis argue about whether or not the subject matter of one's teacher should impact on one's decision to help his teacher or his father first.  Is Mikra (Bible), Mishna or Gemara most important?  The rabbis argue that perhaps Gemara is most important, though Bible will still bring us rewards in the World-to-Come.  However, the Rabbi Yochanan suggests that Gemara was touted as the best source of learning around the time of Yehuda HaNasi.  Students then had little foundation in the halachot of the Mishna.  Unintentional sins, it is argued, would lead to intentional sins.  

Rabbi Yehuda then interprets Isaiah 66:35: Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word:  Your brothers that hate you, that ostracize you for My name's sake have said: Let the Lord be glorified, that we may gaze upon your joy, but they will be ashamed."  

  • "Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word" describe the Torah scholars.
  • "your brothers... for their name's sake" describe Masters of the Bible who defer to the great Sages.
  • "... that hate you" are the Masters of Mishna who are resentful that they are not respected like Talmud scholars.
  • "... that ostracize you" describe those who ignore Torah scholars, also described as "ignoramuses". 
  • "That we may gaze upon your joy" describes all of the Jewish people who see the joyous Torah scholars.
  • "That they will be ashamed" describes the Gentiles who see the joy of the Jewish community.

This interpretation reaches quite far from the text.  The rabbis' attempts to instill respect for their authority are frequent and blunt.  While their efforts were successful - as we continue to study their words right now - it is difficult to read these interpretations without a critical analysis of the text's context.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Bava Metzia 31: Determining Ownership and Loss; Animal Suffering; Compound Verbs

The Gemara continues to explore the details of yesterday's Mishna.  We learned how to determine that donkeys and cows were in fact lost.  We also learned that people must return lost animals, even at a cost, but that the cost of their time should be reimbursed as if they were labourers working for the owner.

We read about small differences that one might face when determining whether or not property is lost.  What if something is leaning against a fence?  What if water is flowing into someone's field?*  What is the difference between finding an animal running and finding an animal grazing?  What is the difference between finding an animal in a vineyard or on a path?  What if a lost or wandering animal damages the land?  

The Gemara considers the verb hashev/teshivem which is used to teach us to return an animal to its owner.  That verb is turned around, inside and out, to prove that we are meant to return the animal any number of times.  The rabbis use this opportunity to look at other instances where verbs have been used creatively.  One of these is shell'ach/teshell'ach (Deuteronomy 23:6-7), where the mother bird might be dispatched from her nest numerous times while we take her young.  Another is hoche'ach/toche'ach (Leviticus 19:17) taken from the instruction to not hate our brother but to rebuke our neighbour, perhaps many times, and not take on his sin. 

The Gemara engages us in a disturbing conversation about helping an animal in distress.  We are commanded to unload an animal that has collapsed under its burden if the owner is not present.  However we are meant to reload the animal properly, so that the items are balanced.  Although we may interpret this mitzvah as evidence of an ancient appreciation to diminish the suffering of animals, it is a stretch to make that interpretation.  This conversation is about ownership and the loss of one's property.  Animal suffering is not a significant concern.  I know that societies are very different from each other, and it is almost impossible for me to see animals as beasts of burden rather than as exotic creatures.  

The remainder of the daf offers us additional examples of compound verb forms, including:

  • mot yumat (Numbers 35:21)
  • hake  take (Deuteronomy 13:16)
  • hashev/tashiv (Deut 24:13)
  • havol/tachbol (Exodus 22:25)
  • patoach/tifach (Deut 15:11)
  • naton/titten (Deut 15:9-10)
  • haanek/tanik (Deut 15:14)
  • haavet/tanitenu (Deut 15:8)
These verbs teach us what we must do and then what more we must do, in any case.

*In this case we learn that one is obligated to secure a barrier in an attempt to divert the water from flooding his neighbour's field.  

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Bava Metzia 30: Benefits of Found Items, Financial Security, Ownerless Property, Lost Animals

What if a person airs out a found sweater for its own sake but it happens to serve as decoration as well?  From asking this question, the rabbis move into a discussion about other similar cases.  If an animal uses a yoke for an atypical purpose, can that animal still be used as a red heifer?  A note teaches us that only nine red heifers are recorded as having been burned.  Clearly these are "how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?" questions.  

Moving on to found items of copper and wood, the rabbis again consider how and in which circumstances these items can be used.  They then turn to our last Mishna's directive regarding disregarding found items.  When is one permitted to disregard an item that was lost?  The rabbis teach about breaking both positive and negative mitzvot.  Further, we learned that we should not have to spend more than we benefit from a found item.  And the rabbis remind us that we should always put our own financial security above that of others, in keeping with Deuteronomy (15:4): "only so that there shall be no needy among you".

A story about Abaye and Rabba: Both were sitting near some goats.  Abaye threw a clod of dirt at them so that they walked away.  Rabbi instructed Abaye to get up, gather the goats and return them, for he was causing property to be lost.  People are responsible to fix the mistakes that we make.  To return object to their owners, to mend what we break.

We learn about a number of cases where items are declared ownerless.  Ownerless property need not be returned to anyone, nor must anyone tend to it.  We learn in a note that it is not tithed, either.

Our Gemara concludes with a discussion of gimilut chasadim, acts of kindness.  A person need not tend to a found item if that action is beneath their dignity.  The example used is that of an elderly person who should not have to care for a found item.  The rabbis mention that walking to visit one's contemporary who is ill is an example of gimilut chasadim.  Such a visit takes away one sixtieth of the illness.

A new Mishna is introduced to teach us about what is a lost animal and what is a wandering animal.  Cows and donkeys found grazing by the side of the road are not assumed to be lost, nor are animals running in vineyards.  However, animals who are found with their accoutrements overturned are assumed to be lost, as are those who flee and then return over and over. Even if an animal returns four or five times, one is obligated to bring it back to its owner.  And if one's labour was affected by these efforts, s/he should be paid as a labourer for his/her time.

The rabbis wonder why this list of lost animals is different from previous lists.  They consider the practicalities of this Mishna: what if an animal is grazing for a long period of time?  Shouldn't three days be long enough to assume that the animal is actually lost?  And what about the time of day?  If an animal is grazing by the side of the road at a strange hour for three days in a row, shouldn't we assume that it is lost?

Through the details in today's daf we witness both the logical imaginations of our rabbis and their dealings with property matters in court.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Bava Metzia 29: Keeping Found Items in Good Condition

After discussing whether and/or how one should be permitted to use the money coming from the sale of a found animal, the rabbis introduce a new Mishna.  It teaches us what to do with found objects:

  • Bundled or rolled documents should be opened and read (or just aired out) by the finder once every three months to prevent mould.  Only one person can do this to protect the delicate paper (we learn in the Gemara that a found Torah scroll is opened every twelve months only if it is new; this helps to dry the ink.  Older Torah scrolls can be left unopened.
  • Garments should be shaken out once every thirty days by the finder.  Found garments can not be used for decoration or prestige of the finder
  • Silver or copper vessels can be used for their own sake to prevent tarnish and rush but not to the point where they erode.  Gold and glass vessels can be buried for safe keeping without fear of breakage or deterioration.  They should be kept there without notice until Elijah comes
  • Sacks or baskets need not be taken home if carrying these items is not the finder's typical practice.  One is not required to carry a found item that is "beneath his dignity"
The Gemara walks us through the typical manner in which people use found items.  This is a particularly informative daf as we are offered the opportunity to learn more about this lost society.  Some of the more interesting points that we learn today include:
  • people shook out their garments every month to air them out
  • linen was the preferred fabric to wear close to one's skin
  • lukewarm water was drunk from earthen ware cups
  • water was boiled before it could be drunk from metal cups
  • people would flavour their water

Monday, 24 October 2016

Bava Metzia 28: Distinguishing Marks, Swindlers and Keeping Found Animals

The rabbis discuss how to determine who can claim a found roll or bundle of documents and who can claim a garment.  Is it enough to name a distinguishing mark?  What if there are two claimants who each name a different, accurate distinguishing mark?  What if one of those marks is more significant than the other?  What if one claimant arrives with one witness?  With two witnesses?  Is it enough to identify the string that binds the documents?  When would the woman have seen the size or string or other distinguishing features of her get?  Similarly, is it enough to state the size of a garment in length or in width or the gamma (lxw) of the garment?  What if a witness states that the garment was made for that person? Must the witness have seen the garment fall from its owner?  The rabbis consider a number of permutations depending on whether those in question believe that distinguishing marks are Torah law or rabbinic in origin.  

A new Mishna begins a discussion about the proclamation of a found item.  Rabbi Meir states that one must proclaim the item until his/her neighbours know that it has been found.  Rabbi Yehuda disagrees.  He says that items should be proclaimed at the pilgrimage Festivals and seven days following the third Festival.  This is because it would take someone three days to travel home from Jerusalem and realize his/her item was lost.  It would then take three days to return home.  One further day would be devoted to proclaiming the lost item.

We learn that the rabbis determined (Ta'anit 10a) that it takes three days to travel to Jerusalem now but it took up to fifteen days in the time of the First Temple, when many Jews congregated in towns surrounding Jerusalem. The rabbis use the example of a lost cloak to help them debate the tasks required and distances travelled.

Similarly, one who found an item was expected to proclaim his/her find at the three Festivals.  The rabbis decided that one need only proclaim his/her find in the synagogues and study halls.  It seems that the rabbis were satisfied with the idea of telling one's neighbours about one's find.  This suggests to me that the rabbis understood that work would travel quickly and a claimant would learn about the item s/he found.

We are told about something called Even Toan, the Claimant's Stone, located somewhere outside of Jerusalem.  People would go to the Even Toan with their found items and people who lost items would describe their distinguishing marks.  It is unclear how long this stone lasted in ancient Israel.  

We are introduced to two more Mishnayot before our daf ends.  The first teaches that we do not give a claimant a found item unless s/he can describe distinguishing marks.  As well, we cannot give a claimant a found item when they describe the distinguishing mark until we scrutinize that person to ensure s/he is not a swindler.  These instructions are based on Deuteronomy (22:2).  It seems that the rabbis were protecting against the many swindlers who were claiming property as their own at a certain time in history.  We are told the story of Rav Pappa's father, who came to Rabba bar Rav Huna to claim his lost donkey.  He was sent to get witnesses to his character to ensure that he wasn't a swinger.  Because of the phrasing of the question, the witnesses said that RavPappa was in fact a swindler!  Because this testimony was based on a misunderstanding, the court allowed Rav Pappa's father to claim his donkey anyway.

Our final Mishna teaches us about how to deal with found animals.  Any being that works and covers the cost of its feed can be kept.  Any animal that does not work to cover its field must be sold with the earnings put aside for the original owner.  Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva disagree about whether the money can be used and whether the finder must pay restitution for that money.

The Gemara considers different types of animals: whether they work enough to pay for their keep and whether they are sold.  Animals are often kept for twelve months if they can cover the cost of their feed.  Chickens are considered to be like large domesticated animals which are kept for twelve months. This is because their eggs pay for their keep.  Geese and roosters are examples of animals that are kept only three days before being sold, for they cost more than they can earn toward their keep.  Calves and foal are kept only thirty days.

When animals are sold, the money earned through their sale is put aside for the owner should s/he claim that money over the course of the next three Festivals.  Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon disagree about how that money may be used.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Bava Metzia 27: Distinguishing Marks; Torah v. Rabbinical Law

Deuteronomy 22:1,3 teach that we must return a lost item that belongs to our brother.  The Torah mentions his ox and his sheep, then his donkey and then his garment.  A new Mishna refers to these verses when it explains that the garment was mentioned in order to suggest a generalization - all found items must be returned.  As well, it helps us to understand that we are to look for distinguishing  marks so that the item will be claimed.

The Gemara wonders why, if the garment signifies a generalization, we are told to return the ox, the sheep and the donkey.  The rabbis teach us that the wool of the ox's sheared tail is to be returned.  The sheep's sheared wool, of much greater value than the wool of an ox, is to be returned as well. So why mention the donkey?  Could it have to do with property that are in the category of "Pit"?  The rabbis are stumped. They move on to discuss another possible reason for the return of these different animals - perhaps their dung is to be returned as well.  This does not fly with our rabbis. Perhaps we are meant to understand that items of any value, even less than one peruta, should be returned to our brother.

The rabbis examine each word of these verses.  What does each phrase mean?  Why are some words or ideas repeated while others are not?  Which adjectives describe which items and why? The two phrases most carefully examined are "which has been lost from him" and "and you have found it".  How do we understand what it means to be be "lost" and then what it means to be "found"?  Why would the term "from him" be included in the phrase - what significance does that term represent?

The Gemara then wonders whether "distinguishing marks which identify an object" is based on Torah or rabbinic law.  This would make a significant difference when deciding whether or not to deliver a found get to a woman.  If distinguishing marks are the identifier of an item based on Torah law, then the get is returned.  If it was the rabbis who decided that distinguishing marks identify this get as belonging to a particular woman, then the get is not returned to the woman.  This is because our Sages can only institute ordinances that have the authority to declare property as ownerless regarding monetary matters.  The Sages cannot counter prohibitions regarding a woman's marital status; marital status is dictated by Torah law.  

My own commentary - it seems that sometimes the rabbis choose to define things according to their whims.  A get is a document that defines a marriage as dictated by Torah law.  Simultaneously it is a monetary document defining a woman's right to a particular amount of money.  Why is it that the get can be defined as a non-monetary document in this case?

Continuing their more general discussion of distinguishing marks on a found item, the rabbis consider the marks left on the saddle of a donkey.  They consider the need to investigate a claimant in cases where that person might be a 'swindler'.  But what about the need for witnesses?  Is one's facial appearance including one's nose the ultimate distinguishing mark?  What about whether a person is tall or short?   And if an item has a distinguishing mark, might it have been lent to another person?  For example, one might have lent his shirt to someone else.  But saddles are not lent, for they are made for individual animals and they would wound other animals if used in that way.  And it is agreed that purses, pouches and signet (family) rings were not lent to others.

The rabbis discuss whether or not moles are identifying features; distinguishing marks.  It seems that moles are not defining features; women are not permitted to use the description of a mole as the defining feature of her disappeared husband, and she would remain married (without the status of 'widow') in such cases.  

Our daf ends with the rabbis discussing debtors and creditors. Complicated scenarios are described so that the rabbis can determine whether or not a found document should be returned.  At the end of this very long daf, I admit that I am not able to fully examine these final complexities.  

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Bava Metzia 26: Hidden Treasures; Despairing Lost Items

In daf 25 we learn three different Mishnayot.  The last begins in daf 25.  It teaches that when one finds something of value in a pile of rubble or rubble at the side of an old wall, they can keep what they find.  If the item is found in the inner half of the wall, then that item belongs to the home's owner or its most recent tenant.  This is because one must despair of one's item for that item to be returned to the owner.  Despairing of an item means believing that the item has been lost and will not be found or returned.  

The Gemara discusses types of walls and doors - their construction and angles and whether or not rags or metal strips are attached to doors.  In questioning why found items would not be given to the previous renter of a home, the rabbis discuss money.  In Masechet Shekalim there are many passages that refer to found coins.  The second tithe requires that people bring second tithes to Jerusalem which might involve selling one's animals or produce.  Money would be found frequency. We should assume that people despair of that money right away.  Further, we do not know whether the Mishna refers to a house rented to Jews and Gentiles together, to just Jews or only to Gentiles.  Rules are different regarding each of these groups of people.

The Gemara wonders what should be done when a coin is found after two people together walked down the street.  And what about three people?  The rabbis speak of the assumptions people will make about their lost coins in these situations.  Always the conclusions are based on whether or not a person despairs of their lost items.  If so, the item need not be returned, for it is believed that the item is gone.  

The rabbis note contradicting halachot.  Leviticus 19:13 tells us "You shall not rob..." and Deuteronomy 22:1 teaches of found object, "You shall return them to your brother" and in (22:3), "You may not disregard".  One is a positive mitzvot and the others are prohibitions.  Disregarding, in this case, refers to waiting to decide to return an object.  If one waits long enough, the owner may despair his lost item and then it may be as if one has robbed the item rather than found it.

Cases are shared to elucidate the difficulties with assuming others' intentions.  One tells of a person using a sieve in the sand after losing a coin.  He does not despair of his coin.  But perhaps he does despair of his coin and he is looking for someone else's lost coin to repay himself for his loss.  

A new Mishna teaches us that if we find an item without a distinguishing mark in a store, it belongs to us.  If that item is between the counter and the storekeeper, it belongs to the storekeeper.  This is the same case in the domain of a money changer.  If a person finds coins or other items in a gift or in produce, they belong to him.  If those items are bundled, that is like a distinguishing mark and they must be proclaimed.  

The Gemara for this Mishna ends our daf.  It begins its deliberations with a discussion of money found near a money changer.   Shouldn't we assume that the money belongs to the money changer if it is in his store?  The rabbis answer, deciding that we learn from this Mishna that money lenders put their coins directly into a drawer.

The notion of despair is fascinating.  In the modern world, one's intentions are not of consequence.  It does not matter whether I feel that my wallet is gone forever or not; a person should always return my wallet when they find it.  In ancient times, though, despairing a lost item seems to be the defining factor in deciding whether or not the item should be returned at all.  I want to give this more thought.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Bava Metzia 24: Jews and Gentiles and Proclaiming Items Found in Cities

How do we know when a person is lying or telling the truth?  The rabbis share the story of a stolen goblet while visiting a host's home.  One rabbi noticed a Torah student wash and then dry his hands on another person's cloak.  He was sure that this was the thief, for this person did not value other people's property.  And he was right.

After the rabbis share lists of found items that must be proclaimed and that need not be proclaimed, the rabbis debate whether found items must be proclaimed when the population has a majority of Jews and when the population has a majority of Gentiles.  This is not only about celebrating and rewarding Jewish communities.  Instead, it is a question of halacha; which halachot apply in which situations.  

One example is a found barrel of wine.  Objects belonging to Gentiles need not be proclaimed, and wine that belongs to a Gentile cannot be consumed by Jews.  In fact, Jews cannot benefit from that wine in any way.  However, Jews are permitted to benefit from the found barrel.  And so how do we know whether or not Jews are permitted to benefit from that wine?  How do we use the barrel but not the wine?  Does that found object need to be proclaimed or not?  The rabbis consider the size of the town in question. 

It is not necessary to seek out the original owner of a found item.  The rabbis find creative ways to determine whether a town has a majority of Jews or not and how that might lead to a proclamation or not.  They consider found items in garbage dumps; they consider found animals that have been slaughtered.  

One of the rabbis additional considerations in classifying a found object is whether or not that item was concealed.  A found vessel in a garbage dump is permitted if it is visible but is prohibited if it is concealed.  Does this protect the owner of an object from losing that object when they temporarily hide it for some reason?

It is clear that the details of thees halachot are complex, and that I have not understood them fully.  What I do understand is that much of what I would consider to be 'common sense' is not common core is it sensical when compared with the 'common sense' of ancient Israel.  

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Bava Metziah 23: Announcing and Claiming Found Items

Today's daf focuses on the bundles of produce that might be found in cities or in secluded places.  When do people have to announce the small bundles of grain that they find?  If there is a distinguishing mark on the bundle, of course, it is identifiable, and should be announced.  But what if that mark has been trampled upon?  What if the bundle is too large to be trampled?  What if the identifying mark is still visible though the bundle has been trampled?  If small bundles are moved around frequently, how might that affect one's responsibility when finding that bundle?

Loaves of bread from a bakery will not be marked and thus if found, they need not be returned.  Homemade loaves do have these markings, interestingly, and so finding these loaves must be announced.  We also learn that food is not to be left on the ground, that money within a lost loaf is not considered to be a distinguishing mark, and that people need to know about a mark for it to be valid.  

The Gemara goes on to describe halachot regarding strings of fish, pieces of metal, identified lost items, identifiable meat or fish, unsealed barrels of oil or other liquids, mouldy items, and new utensils.   Without detailing each decisions, we notice a pattern: found items that could reasonably thought to belong to someone else must be announced.  When an item can be identified by its original owner - when usual circumstances would dictate that an item belongs to someone - the item can be claimed 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Bava Metzia 22: The Best Fruits, the Worst Figs, and Trampled Bunches of Produce

The rabbis continue to ask questions about found items that have been carried off by water to a neighbouring field.  That property might be salvageable; it might require tithing.  It might be susceptible to ritual impurity, as it has been wet.  The rabbis must know whether it is high-quality produce that has been lost and then found.  Through the use of stories, we learn that the rabbis expect excellent hospitality from their hosts even if they are visiting briefly.  They encourage hosts to offer only the highest quality fruit to their guests (including their rabbis).

Amud (b) considers some of the intricacies of tumah, ritual impurity.  When a seed is exposed to water it is susceptible to ritual impurity, but only if the owner places the water upon the seed.  This is a reminder that the logical thinking that we so admire about rabbinic writing is based upon the specific words of the Torah rather than scientific inquiry.  

When a date falls from a tree, our Mishna suggested that owners will not despair of them, because creatures might eat them immediately, and thus they are ownerless and permitted to anyone who finds them.  But what if the owners are minor orphans?  and what was the presumptive status of the tree?  The rabbis change their minds about access to 'lost' figs in specific cases.

The Gemara then turns to the question of distinguishing marks.  Is a bundle of food automatically carrying a distinguishing mark because it is prone to be trampled?  Rava concludes that this is not the case.  The rabbis disagree.  At the end of today's daf, our rabbis teach that there can be two halachot.  If a bundle of produce with or without a distinguishing mark is found in the city, it is now owned by the person who find it. If the that bundle is found in a secluded area, the person who has found it must proclaim what he has found.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Bava Metzia 21: Ownerless Produce and Competing Rights

We learn a new Mishna to begin Perek II: Found items should be proclaimed.  Rabbi Meir says that the following items belong to the person who finds them: scattered produce, coins, bundles of grain in a public area, round fig cakes, baker's loaves, strings of fish, cuts of meat, unprocessed wool fleeces that are taken from their state of origin directly after shearing, bound flax stalks,  and bound strips of combed purple wool.  Rabbi Yehuda says that found items that have been altered must be proclaimed.  Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says that 'anpurya' vessels need not be proclaimed as they are identical.  

The Gemara breaks down each of these found items that a person can claim as his/her own.  What is scattered produce?  Are we speaking of one kav of kernels scattered within an area of four by four cubits?  Are we discussing grain or whet that was accidentally dropped onto the threshing floor?  What if we are speaking of one-half kav of kernels scattered in an area of two by four cubits?  Does it matter if collecting the kernels requires exertion on the part of the owner?  Why else would s/he denounce ownership of them?  What if we are discussing pomegranates or sesame seeds or dates?  These dilemmas are left unresolved.  

The rabbis consider whether or not lost items must be despaired for them to be declared ownerless.  Ye'ush, despair, describes the feeling one has when one recognizes that an item is lost and is now considered to be ownerless.  Ye'ush sh'lo mida'at is despair without a conscious feeling - in other words, the state before one realizes that his/her item has been lost.  If the item has a distinguishing mark on it, its owner might not despair, for s/he might assume that when found, the item will be proclaimed and s/he will take it again.

In amud (b) the rabbis move on to consider whether or not it is reasonable to assume that an owner would know that his/her property had fallen and become ownerless.   For example, a person values his/her money and thus feels his/her money pouch frequently to ensure that nothing has fallen from the pouch.  And perhaps what has fallen is to be gleaned as pe'a.  The rabbis discuss fruit trees that drop their fruit - that fruit may be taken as it is considered to be ownerless.  Some fruit must be tithed if it is collected from the bottom of a fruit tree.  Figs are exempt, perhaps because they are said to become disgusting after they have fallen from the fig tree.  

The rabbis are clearly attempting to balance the rights of owners against the rights of the poor who require the produce that has been left behind by an owner.  We continue to work toward balancing those competing rights today.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Bava Metzia 20: Return of Different Types of Found Documents

After discussing whether or not it is likely to find two lost ketubot together, the rabbis turn again toward other found documents.  A new Mishna teaches that we must return the following found documents:

  • appraisal of a debtor's property to help with debt collection
  • documents concerning food to sustain another person
  • chalitza (releasing a widow from marrying her brother-in-law)
  • refusal (of a minor girl to remain married, given before her twelfth birthday)
  • documents of beirurin, clarification (possibly representing the choice of judge by opponents)
  • court enactments (promissory notes authorized by the court)
  • documents in a chafisa, a container or a flask
  • documents in a deluskema, a container used by the elderly
If the documents are from three different people they are returned to the debtor.  If they are all from one person they are returned to the creditor.  Documents that are not specific, with unknown debtors and creditors should be put aside until Elijah comes.  And simponot, documents of debt cancellation, should be returned to their owners.

The Gemara begins with attempts to define many of these terms.  Rav Amran and Rabba claim that each spoke to the other rudely regarding contracts that concern both monetary and ritual matters.  A cedar beam broke during this argument, and each rabbi understood that destruction as validation of their opinions.

A bundle and a roll of documents are discussed at some length.  It is agreed that three documents make up a bundle or a roll.  A bundle has all three beside each other and tied together.  A roll describes at least three documents that are rolled consecutively together.  The rabbis ask about distinguishing marks and ties.  They consider handwriting and the presence of simponot with torn documents.  They even wonder why people would go to the court together over certain issues. It seems that in these cases our rabbis are interested not only in theoretical situations but what might actually happen in their courts.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Bava Metzia 19: Finding Gets, Bills of Manumission, Wills, Promissory Notes and Treading Carefully

If a person finds a document in the marketplace, must it be returned to its owner?  And which owner, the person receiving or the person selling?

Today's daf focuses on specific documents that might be lost and then found.  These include a get, b a bill of manumission, and a will.  The rabbis compare these documents to found promissory notes.  They also consider gifts and notes written when a person is healthy or unhealthy.

Our Gemara asks questions that refer to the halacha of that time; however, their questions continue to be relevant when considering the legal and ethical questions that would face us today if discovering a lost contract:

  • are there any marks on the document that could be distinguished by people who are not Torah scholars?
  • has the husband admitted to writing and giving the get to his wife?
  • was the get written in Nisan in advance of a divorce in Tishrei? 
  • in the intervening time, did the husband sell the produce of his wife's property?
  • did the wife have other proof of the time when she was given her get?
  • has the master admitted to having freed one of his slaves?
  • is freedom in the slave's best interests?  
  • are all witness signatures on the document?
  • is freedom not in a slave's best interest, for example, is the slave elderly and in need of the master's provisions - especially if the master is a Kohen and offers access to teruma?
  • deyaytiki is a will or a deed of gift given by one on his/her deathbed acquired after the death
  • when two deeds are produced in court after one's death, the later recipient acquires the property
  • people change their minds and can retract their gifts
  • sometimes it is not enough for both parties to agree about document: if one party has died and his son must authorize the return of a will
  • sometimes proof of documents can be achieved through writing new documents
  • a get should not be returned to the wife nor the husband if the wife does not admit that it was paid
What we learn today is that the rabbis thought of countless ways that people might attempt to take advantage of each other.  When finding a document, one would have to think very carefully before deciding to return it.  It would have been more uplifting to read that the rabbis were convinced that those who found lost documents would return them and be greeted by a simple "thank you".  Instead, we learn that the rabbis are creating strong fences to discourage transgression of halacha.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Bava Metzia 17: Lying About Debts; A Lost Ketubah

The rabbis teach about debtors who first deny their debt, but when faced with witnesses, amend their statements and admit that they already repaid that debt.  These debtors are held to the presumptive status of one who denies that they owe a debt.  Any subsequent claims are ignored.   Similar consequences face those who claim that they are completely innocent when it comes to other cases - money, a cloak, an oath.  

The rabbis wonder whether oaths should be treated with the same gravitas as the other claims.  One might say that he will take an oath but later he reconsiders and does not take the oath.  

Returning to the question raised in our Gemara regarding a found promissory note, the Gemara reminds us that Rabbi Asi quoted Rabbi Yochanan: if a person finds a promissory note in the marketplace that is ratified and dated the same day as that of the loan, it should be returned to its owner.  The rabbis attempt to clarify why such a note is necessary - if the loan was repaid the same day that it was given, and all agree to the transaction, why is the note important?  Perhaps the loan was not yet repaid, suggests Rabbi Asi, or perhaps there will be a conflict in the future regarding payment.  

Amud (b) considers a ma'aseh bet din, a court enactment.  Our notes (Steinsaltz) teach that this could be either:  a) a financial document ratified and validated by the court, or  b) an court-declared ordinance regarding financial rights, for example the main sum that a woman receives when divorced and the inheritance of her children.  

Rabbis including Rabbi Yochanan and Abaye argue about a woman who holds her get but does not have her marriage contract.  In such a situation, the rabbis differ in their opinions regarding whether she should be granted the amount of her marriage contract, the amount of a standard marriage contract, or nothing at all.  

Based on their conversations and the notes by Steinsaltz, some women are granted their get without their ketubot but others are given nothing.  Why would some rabbis give nothing to these women?  It seems that the concern would be that she has already received the amount stated in her marriage contract.  Such a situation would only make sense if the woman moved to a different place where her financial dealings were not known.  If she and her ex-husband lived in the same town as the court, surely someone would remember whether or not her ex-husband had paid her the amount agreed to in their contract.  Or perhaps I am missing a piece of information.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Bava Metzia 14: What De Do Not Know About The Property Referred To In A Lost Document

We learn more about how to deal with a found document.  The rabbis are concerned about a number of possibilities:

  • if there was a lien on the property
  • if the property was stolen
  • if the document was properly witnessed
  • if enhancements were made to the property since the document was signed
  • if the property was sold with or without a guarantee
  • if the fruit may be collected or if the fruit may only be gathered by the debtor
  • other related queries
In their examination of the rules regarding a found document the rabbis explore and reiterate their views on the transfer of ownership.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Bava Metzia 13: Finding a Promissory Note: Should it be Returned?

Today's daf begins a long discussion of a mishna introduce in daf 12.  It teaches about what should be done when the found object is a promissory note.  Rabbi Meir says:

  • if the promissory note includes a property guarantee for the loan, it cannot be returned to the creditor because the note would be used by the court to collect the loan from the debtor even if the land in question had been resold years later.
  • if the promissory note does not include a property guarantee, it can be returned to the creditor because the court will not use the note inappropriately
However, the rabbis say that whether or not there is a property guarantee for the loan included in the found promissory note, the note should not be returned to the creditor.  They worry that the note would be used by the court to collect repayment of the loan from whomever had purchased the debtor's land.  

The Gemara examines the halachot pertaining to contracts.  The rabbis consider a number of issues including:
  • the timing of the loan - the loan might have been written in Tishrei but not enacted until Nissan
  • whether or not the promissory note was a deed of transfer
  • if all witnesses, the borrower and the lender were present while the note was written
  • what to do when a person does not admit to his/her debt
  • whether the note was forged or is otherwise worth only enough to cover a person's flask
  • whether collusion might be suspected between the debtor and the creditor
This material is more difficult for me to study, as it focuses on concepts that are less familiar.  However, as I peek forward at the next few dapim, I can guess that I will continue to learn more about the considerations that surround these transactions.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Bava Metzia 12: Flying Found Objects, Status and Ownership

If an animal runs through a person's courtyard, does that animal belong to the courtyard's owner?  Similarly, if a purse is thrown into a person's home and it goes straight through the back entrance, does the purse now belong to the owner of the home?  These questions begin today's daf.  The rabbis consider the halachot regarding objects in motion and objects that have stopped moving.  At which point do we consider a moving object to have the status of a stationary object?  The rabbis teach that if the owner can run to catch the animal, the animal will belong to him.  A purse is considered to have stopped inside of the home, because someone could have grabbed the purse from the air while it travelling through the airspace within the home.  Thus thus moving purse also belongs to the owner of the house.

A new Mishna teaches us that found items belong to someone other than the finder in the following cases: a minor's found objects belong to his/her father, a Canaanite slave/maidservant's found items belong to his/her master, and a wife's found items belong to her husband.

Then Gemara points out exceptions: when the child is not a minor, when the slave is a Hebrew slave, and when the wife is actually an ex-wife not yet having received her get.  These people are permitted to keep the object that they find.  An adult child who lives in his father's home - who eats at his table and is supported by his father - must give a found item to his father toward shalom bayit, peace in the home.  A minor child will always bring a found item to his father, and so ownership of that item is simple to determine.

What about pe'a, or produce/leaves that have been left behind by labourers on a father's farm.  Is it permitted to walk behind those labourers to acquire what has been dropped?  The rabbis argue about the halachot regarding this question for sons, wives, and those who are deaf and mute.  What about the labourers themselves?  The rabbis argue about whether or not to allow labourers to take what has fallen for themselves. 

In discussing the rights of maidservants, the rabbis note that minor maidservants are freed when they develop two pubic hairs.  They are also freed when their father dies.  This leads the rabbis to conclude that items found by a maidservant belong to her father and not to her master.  In a similar vein, the rabbis consider who owns items found by a wife.  The rabbis agree that these belong to her husband.  They are concerned that her ownership could upset the husband who financially supports his wife. But a woman who is divorced is permitted to keep what she has found.

The rabbis clearly state that marriage benefits women; divorce disadvantages them.  From our twenty-first century perspective, their understanding is difficult to justify.  Wouldn't women be better off  financially when living without their husbands but making/keeping their own money?  Society must have been significantly different for women to be so deeply dependent upon their husbands for survival.  I cannot stop myself from trying to picture the life of a woman who has been divorced from a difficult husband, now living just with her children and without her husband's sustenance.  Was it the financial burden that crushed her?  Or the societal stigma?  Or the lost support of her extended family?  Or something that I'm not thinking of?  Why were women so much better off in bad marriages?

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Bava Metzia 10: Labour Law, Acquisition by the Poor and Minor Girls

Today we learn some interesting facts about labour law in ancient Jewish societies.
  • Jews serve only G-d, and not each other.  For that reason, we are taught that a hired labourer (paid a daily or hourly wage and not a salary) can back out of a job even if that job is only half-complete.  If this labourer has already been paid for the full day's work, he must pay back what is owed to the employer.  
  • If a labourer picks up a found object while working for his employer, that found item is his to keep.  He owes the employer only the wages for the time spent acquiring that found object.  If the employer hired the labourer to find that item, then the item belongs to the employer.
A new Mishna teaches us that when a person falls onto a found object, he does not necessarily acquire that object.  The Gemara clarifies how we are to interpret ownership and personal space.
We learn:
  • If two people come across an item at the same time, the one who grabs it first is entitled to keep it.
  • Every person is said to 'possess' the area around him in a four-cubit radius.  If an ownerless item should fall within that area, the item belongs to that person.
  • A person cannot use pe'a to acquire more pe'a (by throwing his share on top of more pe'a)
Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan disagree about the rights of a minor girl and the acquisition of found items.  Reish Lakish says that a minor girl is not entitled to acquire an item nor is she entitled to the four cubits around her.  She cannot truly own a yard, and she cannot appoint a shaliach.  Rabbi Yochanan disagrees.  The two argue this point.  

A number of other interesting points are elucidated: 
  • slaves and women who commit crimes and still owe money after they are divorced or emancipated must pay those debts themselves.
  • a shaliach is not responsible for committing a sin if he had no choice but to transgress
  • whether or not a woman accepts a get put in her hand by her husband, she is divorced.
It is evident that our rabbis struggled with the concept of ownership, particularly in the context of anyone other than grown, intellectually competent men.  Many of their judgements must have dealt with those more complicated cases.

Bava Metzia 9: Acquisition of an Animal and What it Carries; Using a Migo to Understand Acquisition

Amud (a) concerns itself with the acquisition of a found animal.  The rabbis discuss some of the overlapping implications of pulling an animal, sitting on an animal, holding an animal's reins, and squeezing or directing an animal with one's legs. They also consider the usual ways that animals are acquired in different regions.  If two people find this animal simultaneously, how is the animal divided?  Usually pulling and driving are forms of acquisition, but sitting on an animal and holding an animal's reins are not.  How is acquisition of an animal determined in such a situation?

One of our notes teaches that acquisition is permitted on Shabbat, though it is not encouraged.  

Amud (b) turns us toward the question of what is included in one's acquisition.  If a person pulls an animal, does s/he acquire the vessels that are sitting on that animal?  Would a person who wanted the vessels but not the animal acquire those vessels by pulling the animal?  Is the animal like a 'mobile courtyard' in this case, and thus what is left in the courtyard is acquired by its owner?  

The rabbis then consider whether a boat is like a mobile courtyard whereby a fish that jumps into the boat is automatically acquired by the boat's owner.  Rava suggests that a boat is not like a mobile courtyard because it sits idle while the water moves it.  What about a woman whose husband throws a get into her basket as she walks by?  Is the basket like a mobile courtyard? Regardless, the rabbis agree that she is moving while the basket is with her, and thus she is divorced when the get falls into her basket.

A new Mishna teaches that if a person is riding an animal and spots a found item on the ground, he can tell another person to pick it up for him.  If that person picks up the item and says, "I have acquired this", then it belongs to him.  However, if he picks up the item and hands it to the rider and then says, "I acquired that because I picked it up first," then it is as if he has said nothing.

The Gemara compares this Mishna to a debate in Pe'a.  In Pe'a (4:9), we learn that a person who gleans the corners of his field might wish to give that produce to a specific poor person.  However, rabbis question whether a rich person is able to designate pe'a for a particular poor person and not just for the first poor person who finds it.  

The conversation continues, wondering whether a rich person might be permitted to designate his field's pe'a for a poor person.  In this case, the principle of migo is used: if a poor person is permitted to acquire food for himself, all the more so should he be able to acquire food for another poor person.  However, a wealthy person cannot save pe'a for a poor person, because that would require two amigos, which is not permitted:

  • First migo: Since a rich person can denounce ownership of his field and become poor, he will then be permitted to acquire food for himself.
  • Second migo: If he can acquire food for himself, all the more so can he acquire food for another poor person.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Bava Metzia 8: Two People, Status, and Acquisition

The rabbis continue to clarify what is done when two people take hold of a found object simultaneously.  How is ownership determined?  How do timing, status, and the nature of the item factor into the possibility of ownership?  If the item is divided, how is that done?

Today the rabbis tell us that an item is split in two across the most valuable part of that item when  part of it is made of gold.  If the item is an animal, the determination of ownership is similar to that of two people when one is sitting on the animal and the other is leading the animal. The value of the animal is split between these two people.

What if one of the people is both deaf and cannot speak?  These people do not have the same rights of ownership as others in ancient times.  However, one can acquire an item on behalf of one's friend.  Perhaps both people are able to acquire the item in this case as well.  The rabbis also consider ownership between partners when one is an "imbecile" (another category of people who do not have full ownership rights).  By comparing acquisition through finding a lost item to acquisition through buying an item, the rabbis are able to understand that the found item might be shared regardless of the status of one of these two people.

Our Gemara considers the implications of riding an animal when considering acquisition of that animal.  One is holding the reins, touching the animal, and grasping the animal with his legs.  Should we assume that that person has a greater degree of ownership?  However, some rabbis have argued that a donkey is not acquired through pulling (like other items which are acquired in that way).  Further, one might not acquire an animal through riding, either.  

Steinsaltz shares a note that teaches us the halacha in such a case: if two people wish to claim ownership of a found animal, the person who sits on the animal acquires it.  The person who takes the animal's reins acquires the part of the reins that are held.  Similarly, a garment found lying half on the ground and half on a pillar is split between the two people who simultaneously grab it - one from the ground and one from the pillar - regardless of the manner in which they grabbed the garment.  This is commonly understood as the halacha regarding acquisition.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Bava Metzia 5: Types, Responsibilities and Consequences of Bailees

What are the responsibilities of a bailee?  And what are the consequences if a bailee does not do meet those responsibilities?  We learn about the four types of bailees:

  • unpaid bailee: one who is responsible for items belonging to others that are in their own care
    • not liable to cover the costs of those items if they are lost or stolen 
  • paid bailee: one who cares for items belonging to another person for a fee
    • liable to cover the cost of those items if they are lost or stolen
  • borrower: one who uses another person's items with permission and without paying a fee
    • Torah law says that he is responsible if the item is lost, stolen, destroyed, etc. - the only exception is if the item breaks in the course of ordinary use
  • renter: one who uses another person's property for a fee
    • The rabbis debate whether a renter has the obligations of a paid or unpaid bailee - they decide that a renter is treated as a paid bailee if the property is damaged in any way
The rabbis show us examples of people who partially or fully deny the claim that they caused damages.  In cases where they admit to a part of the claim, they are meant to pay for what they have admitted to and to take an oath regarding what they deny.  In a case where one fully denies the charges levied against him/her, s/he takes a shevuat heyset, an oath of inducement.  Such a person is not required to take an oath to something that s/he does not believe.  Instead, s/he takes this oath of inducement.  

The rabbis discuss whether the shevuat heyset is an actual oath or whether it is a rabbinic ordinance. After this discussion, the rabbis note that a person's history is significant as well.  If a person has a bad reputation when it comes to financial matters, their oath will not be meaningful and thus an oath is not administered.  A number of examples show us that the rabbis feel strongly about the past history of a person's financial dealings.  

At the very end of our daf, Rav Acha of Difti suggests to Ravina that paying for a deposit rather than returning it breaks the prohibition of lo tachmod, do not covet your neighbour('s wife, slave, maidservant, ox, donkey nor anything that is your neighbour's).   The Gemara teaches that 'lo tachmod' refers to taking an item without paying money for that item.  If the bailee was unaware that s/he was acting criminally, his/her oath is deemed credible.