Thursday, 29 December 2016

Bava Metzia 94: Exceptions Based on Torah Law, Conditions, Who is Present, Exact Wording

A new Mishna contradicts almost all that we learned in yesterday's daf.  It teaches that monetary matters can be negotiated by the individuals involved.  This means that borrowers might be exempt from payment for a loss, for example.  It is not permitted to contravene Torah law.  Further, a condition must precede the action in a negotiated contract.  

One of the examples used to explore this Mishna is the case of a man who give a woman a get.  The get stipulates that he will divorce her if she relinquishes her rights to food, clothing, and conjugal rights.  The monetary matters, food and clothing, are required by Torah law.  However, as monetary matters they can be negotiated.  Conjugal rights cannot be negotiated.

Laster, the rabbis discuss another example that is based on the halachot of gittin.  If a man offers his wife a get on the condition that she can fly, or that she can walk on water, those conditions are void.  The rabbis argue that these obviously ridiculous conditions should not mean anything at all in that contract, for they cannot have been intended as serious conditions.

Perek 8 is introduced in today's daf.  We learn that if Reuven borrows Shimon's cow and hires Shimon to help him at the same time, Reuven is not responsible if anything happens to the cow.  If Shimon is asked at a later time to help, then Reuven is liable for any damages to the cow.  This is based on Exodus 22:13, where a person is always responsible for his or her animal when s/he is present with that animal.

The second Mishna of our new Perek teaches us a proof for the halacha that a renter is not liable for loss or theft, but is permitted to take an oath swearing that the item rented was broken, taken captive, or died.  There are specific Torah instructions for items that have been stolen or lost.  

Our daf ends with a conversation about the word oh, and, as it can change meaning in different contexts.  For example, we know that a person is punished severely if he curses his mother "oh" his father.  But does oh mean "and" or "or"?  What if he curses only his mother?  A great discussion to end today's daf.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Bava Metzia 93: Four Types of Bailees & Three Halachot, Taunts & Motivation to Steal

A new Mishna repeats that a labourer can negotiate on behalf of those who are competent to consent. However, he cannot negotiate on behalf of minors, animals, or Canaanite slaves - those who do not have the legal capacity to consent.  A labourer has the right to eat freely from food that is not ready to be tithed.  If a labourer is working with broken fig cakes or with fourth year produce, there are two options.  Either the employer feeds the labourer otherwise and informs the labourer that those foods cannot be consumed, or the employer tithes that food and permits the labourer to eat from that food.   Finally, while Torah law does not permit watchmen to eat from the fields they watch, watchmen may eat from that produce according to the local customs.

The Gemara focuses on this last statement of the Mishna, and it walks through the specific laws as they might apply to watchmen as they guard gardens and orchards.

The next Mishna in today's daf teaches us about the four types of bailees:

Type of Bailee
Takes Oath
Liable if lost, stolen
Liable for events out of one’s control: theft, armed robbery, etc.
Unpaid Bailee
Only that the item was kept properly
Exempt with oath
Exempt with oath

Yes (unless death/ injury occurs while animal works)
Oath regarding the loss being beyond one’s control
No, if oath has been taken
Paid Bailee
(for Safeguarding)
Oath regarding the loss being beyond one’s control
No, if oath has been taken

The Mishna notes that the halachot for the paid bailee and the renter are the same: they both take an oath over an animal that is injured, captured or dead and they are exempt.  They both have to pay if the animal has been lost or stolen.

The Gemara uses examples of accidental and possibly accidental losses to exemplify how this is put to use.  One example involves shepherds who face a roaring lion in the night.  Are they obliged to try to fend off the lion with sticks to be exempt from liability for the loss of animals?  Another example describes a bailee whose flax was stolen from him while government workers (perhaps) were close by.  In this case, had he called for help, the theft would have been stopped, and thus he is judged as liable.

This reminds me of the halachot regarding women who are raped.  If they are in the field their words are taken more seriously than if they were in the city, where someone 'would have heard them' and stopped the rape.  Or, at the very least, they would testify that she was not consenting.  These halachot do not take into account the nature of some people, particularly those who are disenfranchised and not familiar with being heard, who will not call out in times of distress.  These halachot make sense if people always call out when we are being victimized.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Our daf ends with another new Mishna.  It considers whether one wolf attacking is enough to name a situation as a "circumstance beyond one's control".  Two dogs are considered to be beyond one's control if they come from two different directions.  Similarly, being confronted by bandits or being attacked by lions, bears, leopards, cheetahs, and snakes is considered to be beyond one's control. Is an unpaid bailee liable if he led animals into an area known to be dangerous?   The Mishna clarifies: if an animal dies because it is overworked or treated poorly, the bailee is liable.  If the animal dies of natural causes, that bailee is exempt.  Further, if a shepherd guides an animal to the top of a cliff, that shepherd is liable.  If the animal wanders there itself, the shepherd is exempt.   

The Gemara has interesting information for us.  A shepherd is not expected to put his life in danger to protect a flock against an armed bandit.  Even if the shepherd is armed, he cannot be expected to fight 'man to man' in such a situation.  But if the shepherd taunts the thief, saying things like, "I know people like you, terrible people," etc., he is no longer protected.  If after those insults the bandit takes an animal, the shepherd is considered to be liable, for he motivated the thief to steal.

This last commensuggests a number of debatable points.  First, that we can be pushed to steal or fight or even kill based on being taunted.  And that our crime would be somewhat mitigated because of those circumstances.  Second, we should expect that when we taunt someone, that person should be excuses at least in part if they retaliate.  Why does this teaching not dictate more of the current Israeli military policy when it comes to relationships with enemies?  If we know that taunting people leads to their retaliation, why are we not more kind to those who mean to do us harm?  When we build settlements, saying 'this land is ours, it never was yours," etc., we are taunting. And we can expected to hear back from those who have been 'motivated' into 'theft' or other negative behaviour.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Bava Metzia 92: Food and Wages and Negotiations

A new Mishna teaches us that a labourer may eat cucumbers worth only a small part of one dinar or dates worth more than a dinar.  The rabbis question whether a labourer is entitled to eat more than his worth in wages.  

The Gemara begins by explaining that a person who eats more than his worth in wages will be labelled a glutton.  Such a labourer will not easily find work again.  Labourers are thus discouraged from eating huge amounts from their employers' fields.  It is noted that labourers might fill their employers baskets and then continue to eat from their vineyards.  Further, passersby are permitted to eat from one's fields.  Thus employers have incentive to hire labourers to properly tend to their fields, rather than allowing everyone to hurt the fields by trampling through them.

The rabbis question whether a labourer is eating from his own earnings when he eats from the employer's field or whether this food is provided to him by Heaven.  Are workers entitled to give their families food from the fields, as well, whether or not those family members have been sharing in the labour?  The rabbi discuss specific laws which apply to Nazirites, who are not permitted to eat from vineyards.  Should they be permitted to give that food to their families?  Or should they not be hired to work in vineyards to decrease temptation?  

The Gemara continues, this time considering whether or not labourers are entitled to eat from food that has/ has not been tithed in all circumstances.  It discusses what a labouring father should do when sharing his food with his son.  Should the son's food be tithed before it is eaten, for that produce is now somewhat prepared and ready for tithing?  What about eating from fruit trees that are in their fourth year?  These must be tithed.  Who is entitled to eat from them and at when is this decided?  We are given examples including broken barrels of cakes, and wine that looks as though it is is ready to be tithed.  May a labourer partake of this food before it has been actually tithed?  Mistakes might be made, frequently regarding these calculations.

Our Gemara ends with a discussion about the negotiations that might take place between a labourer and his employer regarding wages in place of food.  A person might decide that he would prefer a higher wage and bring his own food to the fields.  But is he permitted to negotiate this on behalf of others?  We learn that he is permitted to negotiate on behalf of his wife, adult children, and adult Canaanite slaves and maidservants.  He cannot negotiate on behalf of anyone without the capacity to consent for themselves, including animals, minor children, and minor Canaanite slaves and maidservants.  Some rabbis say that he cannot negotiate for others, as well.

Today's daf ends with the argument that a labourer cannot negotiate on behalf of others to forfeit their rights to food.  This is because it would cause needless suffering - hungry children who cannot eat the food in front of them, for example - and the labourer does not have the right to negotiate away the food of a person who has few legal rights.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Bava Metzia 91: Punishments for Muzzling, When Labourers Eat, Prostitution

After their conversation about muzzling, the rabbis discuss some of the halachot regarding animals. They begin with a discussion about punishments for owners who rent out their animals who are then muzzled and thus deprived of their promised sustenance.  Two prohibitions are transgressed.  Should the transgressor be punished for both?  The more severe punishment usually cancels out the less severe punishment. But perhaps the prohibition of muzzling happens at a different time than the prohibition of denying sustenance.

The Gemara moves into an unusual conversation about the halachot around animals mating.  When we learn that different species are not permitted to mate, how are we obliged to prevent that from happening?  The rabbis consider farmers' possible behaviours, including holding the female animal in place, holding the male member and inserting it into the female, and simply leaving animals of different species in a pen together.  

A new Mishna teaches us that the rabbis disagree about whether or not a labourer must use his hands and his feet in order to receive sustenance.  The Gemara considers how a person makes his way through the field. Perhaps once a person has walked a certain distance or within a certain area, he should be permitted to eat the food available.

A second new Mishna tells us that one may eat only of the field where he works - figs if he is harvesting figs or grapes if working in a vineyard.   However, he is permitted to wait until he finds the best possible produce before he eats.  Further, while labourers must eat while they are working, they cannot interrupt their work to do so.  Thus labourers may eat when the walk from one row to the next, when they return from the wine press, and when they are unloading a donkey.

The Gemara considers how this might work in practice.  Can a person only eat from one vine before moving on to the next vine? It seems that labourers would work alongside a wagon which was pulled behind an animal.  And what is the animal is permitted to eat?  Can the animal move along to a second vine while eating the food from the first vine?

One of the side points in today's daf regards payment of a prostitute.  We remember that an animal that was used to pay a prostitute cannot be used at a later time for sanctification.  The rabbis allude to the fact that a prostitute should not be paid at all.  A man is not permitted to have sexual intercourse outside of his marriage.  However, if he does so, the prostitute is not paid??  This is a difficult passage to comprehend from a point of view that recognizes why women might be forced to prostitute themselves.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Bava Metzia 90: Different Types of Muzzling; Different Contexts

An animal who is threshing cannot be muzzled, for that contravenes the halacha regarding preventing animals' suffering.  But animals cannot eat from food that will be tithed.  So animals that are threshing fields of produce that will be tithed should wear bags of food around their necks so that they can eat at will and so that people will not see animals muzzled and see the appearance of a transgression of a mitzvah.

The rabbis discuss how this might be affected by other factors.  These include whether the produce is threshing in or outside of Jerusalem's wall, and whether the produce is clearly teruma or demai.   They determine it is always permitted to muzzle a cow that will become ill due to eating.   The Gemara also looks at the Torah and rabbinical halachot as they apply to Jews and to Gentiles.  Gentiles are not required to leave their animals free to eat, even if they are renting animals from their Jewish neighbours.  Rabbinical halacha disagrees with this, however.

It is not permitted for Jews to castrate their animals, though animals might be much easier to manage if castrated.  It was found that Jews were arranging for Gentiles to castrate their animals under the artifice of stealing.  To counter these transgressions, the rabbis did not allow animals castrated by Gentiles to benefit Jews at all.  Those animals had to be sold for slaughter and not for plowing, which would be profitable.

The Gemara relates a number of situations regarding the muzzling of animals.  They discuss very disturbing examples of created muzzles, including placing a thorn in an animal's mouth and having a lion crouch over the animal.  They also discuss animals that are starved before being given to another's field so that the animal will eat much from that person's floor, and allowing an animal to eat large amounts of hay before threshing to ensure that the animal will not be able to consume much of what has fallen in the field.

Our daf ends with three further examples of animals that might be muzzled.  This discussion is quite difficult to digest, so to speak.  We are reading about how animal cruelty was negotiated, minimized, and excused in ancient times.  The rabbis are balancing the sometimes conflicting verses in Torah that  speak to how animals should be used and treated.  They are also considering peoples' daily work with animals and how animals are practically used in their ancient communities.  And today's treatment of animals is not much better in many contexts.  The fact that so little has changed our treatment of living creatures is much of what is so disturbing about today's daf.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Bava Metzia 89: Threshing, Eating While Working

We are privy to a discussion about threshing, which is considered to be a unique activity because it is concerned with labour regarding produce growing from the ground.  It is different from milking, or churning, or other labourer's activities which put a labourer in direct contact with food.  We learn that when a labourer's work is completed, it is time to separate tithes.

The rabbis discuss different foods that a labourer might eat.  They are concerned with the labourer losing work time because the food is carefully prepared.  The rabbis wonder about how that could be relevant if a labourer is with his family and they prepare the food for him?  It seems that labourers are not permitted to sweeten their the fruit that they eat, nor can they salt it. However, the rabbis note that labourers might have contracted to ea their food in any way that they prefer it, and in this cases labourers certainly may salt their food.

At the end of our daf, the rabbis' dilemmas are made more clear.  If labourers dip their food in salt - perhaps one time, but certainly two times - then they may be considered to have eaten a meal.  Eating a small taste of food between meals is permitted as untitled food.  Eating a meal, though, puts food into the category of ready to be tithed.  A conundrum!

It seems that these past few dapim are sharing valuable information with us about how ancient, agriculturally-based societies functioned from a sociological perspective.  How were the working class sustained? Protected?  How was agricultural work completed?  How were families spending their time while one family member was a labourer?

Bava Metzia 88: Tithing Produce in the Home, in the Field

If a labourer is permitted to eat while in the field, how should we deal with the obligation to tithe?  The Gemara discusses a number of issues, including:

  • Tithing must be done when food is in the home
  • That food must have come through a conventional entrance
  • Produce brought into the home via the roof is exempt from tithing
  • A person is generally permitted to eat without tithing from the food on the vine/trees
  • An ox is generally permitted to eat from the food on the ground
  • If an ox is muzzled, it should be permitted to eat at the end of its work
  • We should not muzzle animals because we should relieve the suffering of any living creature
  • If a labourer is muzzled, or forbidden from eating, he should be compensated for that loss
  • If a labourer does not eat, the employer is breaking the mitzvah of sustaining one's workers
The rabbis name different vegetables and when each is ready to be processed and then tithed.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Bava Metzia 87: Abraham & Sarah as our Mentors; Labourers and Eating

We begin with a conversation about Avraham and Sarah.  The rabbis are able to demonstrate Avraham and Sarah's personality traits - and thus the traits of righteous people - through interpreting the verses regarding their hospitality.  The same thing is done through interpretation of the birth of Isaac, which was said to have been doubted by the community until all were invited to a feast where Sarah became like a "fountain" and nursed all of the babies present.  Talk about generous people!

Moving away from these narratives and back to the last Mishna, the Gemara discusses which food a labourer is permitted to eat while employed.  Again, labourers' contracts should disclose their wages - expected to be at the average between the lowest and highest community standards.  Those contracts should also suggest how much and what food a labourer will eat while employed.  That food should follow the community minhag, custom.

We look in greater detail at the laws regarding a worker who labours in the field surrounded by food.  What is this person permitted to eat?  A new Mishna teaches us that one is permitted to eat from food that is ready to be harvested and attached to the ground; food that will not be tithed.  Food that is not yet ripe or food that is detached from the ground and food that is to be tithed may not be eaten.

The Gemara asks what we should use as an example and from which crop we are permitted to extrapolate.  A vineyard?  A standing crop (like wheat)? An olive crop?  What about crops that are harvested with scythes?  As our daf ends, the rabbis name a number of guidelines around eating from an employer's crop.  These include not gorging oneself and not sucking the juice and leaving the peel of the food on the ground.  These types of guidelines seem to be based on basic rules of conduct or 'good manners' in a given society.  

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Bava Metzia 86: Magical Aggada, King Solomon and Abraham

Today's daf is yet another filled with wonderfully colourful aggadaic stories.  Unfortunately I will not be able to share the content in detail today.  Today's blog has to be unfairly brief.

The Gemara mentions the daughter of Chasa and her son, Rav Chama.  We are told a fantastical story about the face of a soldier (who was looking to collect taxes not earned when men were learning Torah) being turned backward and then forward again.  We learn about Rabba bar Nachmani and his ability to speak to questions about the diagnosis of leprosy as it was debated by rabbis in the World-to-Come.  Related to this story, an Arab is thrown by a hurricane after this rabbi's death.  This man reminds the Master of the Universe that Rabba bar Nachmani is still His.  The Gemara mentions that  Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta was obese and asked his daughter to fan him in exchange for a fragrance.  When a wind did that work for her, Rabbi Shimon wondered how much fragrance he owed.

Amud (b) focuses on the rabbis and their thoughts about the hospitality of our forefather Avraham and King Solomon.  We are told about King Solomon's one thousand, competing (with feasts) wives. We are told about specific verses and how they might be interpreted to understand the generosity of Abraham.  The rabbis emphasize Abraham's very special and intimate relationship with G-d.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Bava Metzia 85: Self-Sacrifice, Many Rabbis, The Benefits of Teaching Torah

Another fascinating daf today filled with fantastical aggadaic tales of our rabbis.  Unfortunately, due to my own time restrictions, I will not be able to detail the colourful events that were just described.  Some highlights:

  • The rabbis argue about who is most modest of three men, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, the sons of Beitera, and Jonathan son of Saul
  • Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon suffered for many years with illnesses that came because of love and left due to love
  • Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi saw Rabbi Elazar's illnesses and suffered for thirteen years with scurvy and with kidney stones causing pain so great that it could be heard over other noise by the sailors far away
  • Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi's illnesses were said to come from his lack of compassion for a calf crying on his robe before slaughter; HaNasi told the calf he was born for this purpose rather than providing comfort
  • Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi's health was said to be restored after he stopped his maidservant from sweeping young weasels (field mice) out of his home*
  • Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi saved Rabbi Elazar's son, the beautiful Rabbi Yosei, from prostitution and encouraged him to learn Torah, stick with the difficult studies, and become a great scholar
  • A heavenly voice explained that Rabbi Yosei was not allowed by a protective snake to be buried in the cave with his father and grandfather because he did not suffer together with his father in a cave during his lifetime
  • Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi saved Rabbi Tarfon's grandson from a life of prostitution by offering him a marriage which was not realized, though he did learn and become a scholar
  • It is desirable to teach Torah to one's own son or to another's son
  • Three generations of Torah scholars ensure Torah scholarship throughout all future generations to come 
  • Rabbi Yosef fasted forty fasts to ensure that Torah study would last through generations
  • Rabbi Zebra fasted many fasts for different purposes including 100 fasts to ensure that the fires of Gehenna would not harm him; he sat in ovens every month to test his capacity and was singed when the Sages gave him the evil eye; they called him the short one with singed legs
  • Forgetting to say a blessing before learning Torah will result in a punishment
  • It is good to humble oneself in honour of Torah study
  • Rabban Chanina argued with Rabbi Chiyya about Torah analysis verses teaching Torah to children, which is thought of as most important
  • Rabbis argued about who was most pious
  • Tales of Elijah's powers are shared regarding a man who looked at Elijah's chariot resulting in burned eyes, bringing on the Messiah early if he were to visit with our patriarchs, and interfering in Rabbi Chiyya's recital of the Amida prayer where the prayers for wind, rain, and raising the dead were almost all enacted
  • Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi's doctor was Shmuel Yarchina, who refused HaNasi's request to make him a rabbi
  • Shmuel Yarchina'a relayed that he saw Adam's book which said that he would be a doctor who would heal Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi
  • Shmuel Yarchina'a put herbs beneath Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi's pillow to relieve his eye problems

A note that I should return to today's daf at a later date to further explore these stories.

* Compassion for the physical and emotional wellbeing of young animals is the cause of suffering or relief of suffering in these stories

Monday, 19 December 2016

Bava Metzia 84: Bellies and Genitals; Yochanan and Reish Lakish

What a fantastic daf!  Today's daf includes more agadah than has been present in all of Bava Metzia put together.  Well, maybe not quite that much, but today's daf is a set of stories. And good stories at that!

After learning about Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon's large stomach and the surgery he undertook (using natural sedation, see BM 83), we learn that he was teased because of his weight.  People said that he and Rabbi Yishmael ben rabbi Yosei, another heavy rabbi, could fit two oxen under their stomachs without touching their bellies because they were so large.  And then possibly to undercut the criticisms of a noblewoman, people discuss whether or not rabbis with large stomach have proportionate (or wildly disproportionate) members.

Rabbi Yochanan's appearance is up for discussion next.  He is said to be as beautiful as a spectacular vessel filled with pomegranate seeds, rimmed with roses.  When it is lit properly, that essence compare to Rabbi Yochanan's beauty.  Rabbi Yochanan is clearly aware of his own beauty.  He is said to have suggested that he sit outside of the mikva so that women will see him after ending their period of nidda and they will think of him when they sleep with their husbands.  Then their children might look like him.  

A story is told of Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan's first meeting.  Rabbi Yochanan was swimming and Reish Lakish, the leader of a group of bandits, chased after his beauty.  "You are good for Torah study", said Rabbi Yochanan, seeing Reish Lakish's strength.  "You are good for women," observed Reish Lakish, seeing that Rabbi Yochanan was more beautiful than most women.  Rabbi Yochanan promised Reish Lakish his sister, who was even more beautiful than him, if Reish Lakish agreed to study Torah.  Reish Lakish agreed, and the two were important chevruta for years.  It is said that once he agreed to this, Reish Lakish was unable to swim for his clothes - he lost his physical strength. 

Long into their friendship, Rabbi Yochanan said something about Reish Lakish's previous behaviour as a bandit.  Reish Lakish was insulted, and the two fought.  Rabbi Yochanan was offended: I brought you to G-d!  Reish Lakish became ill due to Rabbi Yochanan's upset and did not leave his home.  Even with his sister's begging and explaining, Rabbi Yochanan refused to speak with Reish Lakish, who then died.  Rabbi Yochanan did not recover from the loss of his companion and lost his reasoning.  The rabbis wished for his suffering to end, and Rabbi Yochanan died.  

Much has been surmised about the relationship between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish.  There is a sexual tension to this relationship.  The continual mention of Rabbi Yochanan's appearance, the swapping out of Rabbi Yochanan for his even more beautiful sister, the partnership, the quarrel, the tragic end to their relationship.  It is easy to imagine that these two wanted to be lovers if they were not actually physically intimate.  Today's daf offers permission for two grown men to have a chemical attraction to each other.  It suggests a long term relationship that is passionate, intellectual, spiritual and based in part on physical attraction.  

We then learn about Rabbi Elazar's choice to self harm.  His attendants would place sixty blankets beneath him at night, and in the morning they would be filled with blood and pus.  His wife kept him from the study hall and fed him sixty types of relish to build his health.  He would invite the pain to increase during the night, and his wife became upset with him and left for her father's home.  Sixty sailors arrived with sixty sailors who had sixty purses containing sixty types of relishes which he would eat.  Rabbi Elazar's wife sent their daughter to look in on him.  He was healthy and ready to go to the study hall.  There, sixty students brought sixty cloths with possible menstrual blood to consider; he ruled all of them permitted to their husbands.  When the rabbis scoffed at this, Rabbi Elazar suggested that if he was right, all will be boys and if he was wrong, one would be a girl. He was right, and all of the boys were named Elazar in his honour.  Now that would be one difficult classroom to teach.

Some interesting information is shared about Rabbi Elazar's wife.  She was berated for keeping him from the study hall.  However, before he died, he trusted her to keep him in the attic instead of being improperly buried by rabbis irate that Rabbi Elazar had ruled to lock up thieves who were their relatives.  She kept him in the attic for twenty-four years.  His hair would fall out and blood would be on his scalp (signifying that he was still alive). Rabbis would stand at their door and listen for his voice to direct them.  The people attributed his presence to the protection they had from wild animals.  The rabbis officially learned that he had not been properly buried, and brought him to the cave where his father was a buried.  A snake with its tail in its mouth had to be asked to leave the front of the cave for Rabbi Elazar to be buried there.

The daf ends with stories about Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who grew up alongside Rabbi Elazar, who was an orphan.  HaNasi was often jealous of Rabbi Elazar's superior reasoning and Torah knowledge.  HaNasi's father comforted him by reminding him that genetics had much to do with Rabbi Elazar's genius.

From penis size to scholars in love, today's daf has a lot to offer.  And what a lovely break from this very long, very repetitive masechet.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Bava Metzia 83: Regional Provisions as a Standard, Stomach Surgery

We have begun perek VII.  A new Mishna sets into motion a more detailed examination of labourers' rights.  It teaches that when hiring labourers, it is appropriate for their working hours, their wages and their sustenance be in sync with regional customs.  The Mishna speaks specifically of working from early in the morning until late into the evening.  When the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Matya went to procure labourers, her returned having agreed to three good meals each day.  His father told him that he needed only to offer one meal of legumes and bread, for that was the typical meal of labourers in the region.  

The rabbis argue about who should pay for a labourer's transportation in and out of the centre.  Does the paid work day include transportation from the field back to the city?  The rabbis find a number of texts that speak about the evil and/or sneaky nature of things that come out at night.  It is even suggested that a person found dozing at a tavern in the fourth hour might be suspected of thievery at night - other than Torah scholars, who rose early to learn, day labourers who rose early to work, or those who work with copper wire, who work at night.

We are told the story of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, who was sent to arrest people who transgressed TOrah law.  He arrested a man who called him "vinegar, the son of wine".  Later, when his anger abated, Rabbi Elazar tried to bail him out, but it was not possible.  And so the laundryman was killed.  He and his father wept at the execution, and others tried to console them by stating that the man was wicked.  In fact, he and his son both lay with an engaged woman on Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Elazar was elated: if my suspicions were right regarding his transgressions, the must also be right regarding certainties!  Thus my belly and innards can rest.  Worms and maggots are not going to affect me; I am one of the righteous!  But he continued to be anxious, and he had surgery done on his stomach.  When the fat removed did not putrefy, this was thought to be proof that he was not living with a disease that was the consequence of his bad behaviour.

Bava Metzia 82: Responsibility for a Broken Barrel - is an Oath Appropriate?

A very brief account of today's daf:
  • we end Perek VI
  • new Mishna: 
    • If a person is hired to transport a barrel of wine and the barrel breaks, whether an unpaid or paid baliee, this person should take an oath regarding his/her innocence.
  • Rabbi Meir and rabbi Elazar (thought the Mishna teacher that this was Rabbi Eliezer, who lived in a very different time)
  • The rabbis discuss different circumstances which might cause the labourer to be negilent
  • The rabbis discuss different circumstances where the labourer might be forced to take responsibility

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Bava Metzia 80: Broken Plowshares, Mikach Ta'ut, Extra Weight, Un/Paid Bailees

The first Mishna introduced in today's daf states that one renting a cow and plow might find that the tool has broken.  Who is liable?  If the bottom part, the plowshare, has broken while in a valley, he is exempt.  It is understood that a plowshare might break in mountainous terrain but not in a valley.  The Mishna suggests other circumstances where one is exempt or liable for a broken plowshare - using the tool in a valley when it was rented for mountainous terrain, for example.  Liability shifts when a cow breaks its leg while threshing grain versus threshing legumes.  Legumes are slippery, thus the renter is liable.

The rabbis consider different conditions that might predispose an animal to be problematic.  If the animal is problematic in a different way, then the owner is liable for problems arising.  If one does not know about problems with an animal (or a person, as the Gemara details), the contract is called a mikach ta'ut, a mistaken transaction.  The details of such transactions could be complex; for example, a seller is not liable for mikach ta'ut if the buyer simply does not believe the seller's descriptions.

Our second Mishna teaches that a donkey that is hired to carry one item but is made to carry another item is not necessarily a problem.  The animal must carry an item of equal weight and of the same difficulty to carry.  One becomes liable when extra weight is added to an animal's load: Sumachos says in the name of Rabbi Meir that more than a se'a on a camel or more than three kav on a donkey render that person liable.  In the Gemara, the rabbis argue about the wording of this particular Mishna.  There are other references to weights other than a se'a for a camel or three kavs for a donkey.  This argument is settled by Abaye who notes that different types of grains are measured more or less precisely.  The Gemara continues, wondering how much extra weight is too much for a porter who is carrying items on a boat.  How much extra weight is grounds for the items to be thrown overboard?   

Our third Mishna teaches that all artisans and labourers who take raw materials into their homes are called paid bailees for those items until they are returned to their owner.  When the artisan or labourer finishes his/her work and called to the owner to take what is yours and to bring money for the exchange, s/he is considered to be an unpaid bailee.  When two people agree to safeguard each others' items, each is a paid bailee - each is receiving a service as payment for his/her service.  If one safeguards for the other, the person watching the item is an unpaid bailee.  Similarly, one is a paid bailee if he is lending based on collateral.   Rabbi Yehuda and Abba Shaul consider situations where a person might be called a paid bailee.  We learn that it is permitted to rent out a poor person's collateral that was taken as a loan so that that income reduces the poor person's debt.  It is considered to be like returning a lost item.

The Gemara begins by questioning the status of a renter who's rented item is lost or stolen.  Is he a paid bailee, even if the item was not loss due to negligence?  Are all labourers like paid bailees?  Isn't it better to slightly overpay a skilled labourer and call him a paid bailee?  Similarly, isn't it better for a renter to be offered more money so that he becomes a paid bailee?   The daf ends with questions about who might be liable if an animal arrives at its borrower's home having died on route.  Who is liable?  While the animal is with the borrower, the borrower is liable. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Bava Metzia 79: Partial Use, Partial Problems, Partial Restitution

Our daf begins with a debate about when and how one should be reimbursed for renting someone a donkey that becomes sick or mad.  We learn details about the importance of renting a donkey capable of walking straight.  We also learn that donkeys are not available for rent in every place.  Further, if a person has rented a specific donkey, the owner is not necessarily responsible for replacing that donkey if it does not 'work out'.  The rabbis discuss how much of the fee should be returned, and how much money might be earner from the sale of the carcass of this animal.  Finally, we learn about the impact of receiving payment of the principal of the donkey over the course of a yovel, a Jubilee Year.

The rabbis move on to question a similar circumstance: what should be done if a rented boat sinks halfway through the journey?  Who is reimbursed, and when, and with how much money?  The rabbis speak about choosing specific boats - and specific bottles of wine - as exchanges.  What if a person unloads more of his own cargo into a rented boat part way through the journey?  Is this breaking the initial contract?  Was extra rope used to tie up the extra cargo?

Our daf ends with a conversation that begins with the consideration of extra weight placed on an animal due to carrying food.  The rabbis then claim that an animal that is contracted to be ridden by a man can only be ridden by a man; one contracted for a woman can only be ridden by a woman.  Or a girl.  Or a pregnant woman.  Or a nursing woman.  And even though significant extra weight is placed on the animal in these cases - sometimes even two people are riding the animal - there can be no grievance.  The rabbis even mention a woman who is pregnant and nursing.  

Why would the rabbis be concerned about the sex of the person sitting on an animal but not about extra weight?  A woman who is nursing could be niddah, and yet she would still be permitted to sit on the animal.  So this is not about an animal becoming tamei.  And it is not about protecting an animal from additional weight.  So what is this practice about?

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Bava Metzia 78: Liability for Rented Animals when Something Goes Wrong

At the end of our the Gemara, we learn that one may hire another person to do the work of a labourer who has reneged.  That is, a donkey driver or a potter.  Rav Nachman teaches that these new workers can be paid up to the agreed upon wage with the initial labourers.  This makes me think of what might be done when workers strike due to poor working conditions.  I assume that the work-around in this scenario is the assumption that the labourers were breaking an agreed-upon contract when they decided to strike.  Because if an employer can hire new workers to do his work when his initially hired workers have legitimate concerns, this would be very concerning. And not in line with other rabbinical decisions regarding labourers and contracts.

A new Mishna teaches us about liability for an animal's injury or death while working.  If a person is hired to take a donkey up a mountain or down a valley and he takes the animal in the opposite direction, he is liable if the animal dies even if the distance is equal. If the animal was wrongly taken into the valley and it slipped on the terrain, he is exempt, but if the animal died of heatstroke he is liable, for the temperature is hotter in the valley.  If the animal was wrongly taken up a mountain, if the animal slipped he is liable and if the animal died due to the ascent, he is also liable.  If that animal died of heatstroke, he is exempt.  If a rented donkey becomes ill or is seized for public service, the owner can say, "That which is yours is before you".  However, if the donkey died or broke a leg, the owner must give the renter a replacement donkey.

The Gemara offers other examples to discuss concepts of leniency in the use of designated items, like wool being dyed different colours and the use of Purim funds.  The rabbis discuss the importance of the stated intention for the use of any particular item when it is borrowed, rented or sold.  Finally, we learn about the different implications of saying "That which is yours is before you".  It is exceedingly clear that the rabbis are intent upon creating and applying halachot in a balanced and fair-minded manner.  

Monday, 12 December 2016

Bava Metzia 77: Labour Law

Today's daf offers us a deeper understanding of how labourers were treated in ancient Jewish society.  Continuing with the Gemara based on yesterday's Mishna, the rabbis discuss what should be done when an agreement has been made between labourers and an employer.  Whether or not those labourers are subcontractors, the rabbis are concerned about their payment.  

We learned yesterday that in such a contract, the person who changes the contract and/or the person who reneges on the contract is at a disadvantage.  This means that if there is a dispute regarding payment of wages or fees, the court will side with the person who is at an advantage.  But what about situations where the work is completed early?  What about cases where the work is easier or more strenuous that was believed when the contract was ratified?  What should be done when unforeseeable events, such as unusual rains in the middle of the day, interrupt the agreed upon labour?

In these cases, the rabbis are careful to note whether or not these circumstances could have been predicted or avoided.  If so, the employer is liable.  It is understood that labourers are more vulnerable than employers in most situations.  Even so, the rabbis consider what should be done if labourers halt their work mid-day due to a strike or a local change of wages.  Again, the rabbis are careful to protect labourers in these situations, thought they look to treat employers with sensitivity.  Our daf ends with a longer discussion about changing agreements regarding larger sums of money - mortgages and other investments are considered.

Most notable to me is the example of a labourer who suddenly falls sick with fever, or a labourer who must leave the work site midday because a relative has died and he must attend the funeral.  These are examples of unforeseen events and it is agreed that a worker should be paid for his time in such cases.  The rabbis use this example to emphasize the importance of paying workers when other unforeseen events arise, interrupting their contracted work time.  

It is lovely to read about the compassion that our rabbis held for workers in antiquity.  If only we could hold on to such generous views in todays' world of labour law.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Bava Metzia 76: Partial Completion of a Contract

Today's daf is almost completely composed of the Gemara on yesterday's last Mishna.  We learned that artisans/labourers who get into conflict with each other have no financial claim on the person who hired them.  We also learned that one who changes a contract or who reneges on a contract is at a disadvantage.  

The Gemara begins by clarifying what is meant by this first comment.  We are not discussing a case where an artisan has a disagreement with his or her employer.  Instead this Mishna refers to a time when two artisans/labourers are in conflict with each other. This could only be the case if a hired artisan or labourer subcontracted a piece of his/her work.  The Gemara wonders about labourers who are hired for four dinars and then subcontract to others for less.  The rabbis name circumstances where these labourers might be in conflict with each other. 

The Gemara then discusses cases where an agent is hired by a woman to retrieve her get from her husband.  This case is tricky.  A get must be signed and witnessed by the husband and then presented to a woman's own hand for her to be divorced.  If she hired the agent to bring the get back to her, then she is divorced when he returns with the get.  If she hired the agent to retrieve the get from her husband, she is not necessarily divorced - if the agent loses the get on his way back to her, she is not divorced.  Further, the agent himself might claim that he is an agent for delivery or an agent for receipt, and the husband would have to believe this claim.

The Gemara then considers work that is not completed as assigned.  People will pay partial money for a job partially done.  Is this cause for complaint?  The Gemara compares two labourers who are meant to be paid the same wage, one who is lazy and one who works very hard.  The Gemara also considers one who surveys a field and deems it ready to be tilled and then awakens to a field that has been flooded.  How should payment be determined in this case without calling the employer?

The establishment of partial wages as a standard payment option in cases of "acts of G-d" is an important part of any working society.  

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Bava Metzia 75: Torah Scholars and Ribit; Changing a Contract

Today's daf shares three new Mishnayot.  The first teaches us that the rabbis and Hillel disagree about stringency regarding ribit, interest.  The rabbis say that one may not lend a kor of wheat now to be 'returned' after the harvest, but he may lend that wheat while for a short period of time.  Hillel disagrees.  His opinion is even more harsh: a woman may not lend a loaf of bread to be returned later unless the worth of the bread is measured and noted.  If the price of wheat increases, there is the risk that she will receive an interest payment in the future. The Gemara discusses the risks of ribit and the different considerations regarding unintentional payment of interest.

The rabbis have an interesting conversation about whether or not Torah scholars are permitted to lend/borrow slightly more or less that the exact amount owed. Because they are experts on the halachot of ribit, any deviation in payment would be considered to be a gift.  Examples are shared.  And perhaps Torah scholars should even permit ribit to demonstrate to their children how damaging that experience will be.  This is rejected by the rabbis, for it is possible that the children would come to see charging interest as a usual practice. 

A second new Mishna teaches us that one cannot arrange to do different forms of labour as a trade, even if the weather is similar on both days.  This is because one sort of work might be more difficult that another sort of work.  Further, one cannot offer a gift for that work -whether before or after the work is performed - as this appears to be a form of interest.  If such an agreement is made, the lender, borrower, guarantor and witness all transgress specific prohibition of ribit.

The remainder of the Gemara focuses on the seriousness of these transgressions.  The rabbis speak about those who cry out and will not be answered.  These are one who lends money without witnesses, one who acquires a master for himself, and one whose wife rules over him.  In discussing this last case, a note by Steinsaltz teaches that this refers to a man who has married a very rich woman.  If a woman's family's money follows her in to the marriage, she is placed in the position of mastery over her husband.   

At this point in our daf, we reach the beginning of Perek VI which focuses on the less formal business agreements between two parties.  Our final new Mishna teaches that when one hires artisans/labourers to complete a job and the job is done done due to grievances, he may hire new artisans/labourers at their expense or he may even lie to get them to complete the job agreed upon.  Examples of artisans here are flautists to play at burials or weddings, or labourers to work with flax soaking in vats before it is turned to linen.  

The Mishna continues: when an artisan/labourer reneges on his/her work, s/he is at a disadvantage, for the employer must not suffer a loss.  Similarly, an employer who reneges is also at a disadvantage.  These statements are based upon the principle that states: the partner who reneges on an agreement or changes the terms of a contract is at a disadvantage.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Bava Metzia 72: Postdated and Antedated Promissory Notes; Publicizing the Price of Produce

The rabbis go into minute detail about the halachot regarding lending and borrowing to people who move from one 'category' to another. For example, if a person converts to Judaism after lending money to a Jew, is he permitted to collect the interest? or just the principal?  The rabbis are concerned that people will speak rudely about these people, saying that they converted or did not convert because of an interest in money.

Is a postdated contract ever valid?  What about antedated promissory note?  What could go wrong if these agreements were enacted?  The rabbis have different opinions about these different notes - in a number of different contexts.  Although they are lenient regarding some situations, the rabbis are careful to consider the potential consequences of permitting notes that are not enacted at the time that they are written.

A new Mishna teaches that one must wait until the market rate is publicized before setting a price with a buyer for produce that will be delivered in the future.  Although the seller might not have the produce in hand, once the market rate has been set, another seller will have that produce, and thus it can be acquired at the stated price.  If he is one of the first to harvest his produce, he may set a price for grapes (for wine), a stack of grain (in his possession already), clumps of clay for building or plaster for the kiln.  Manure may be promised at any time, for it is always available.   He may not set the price exorbitantly high, for if the price changed, the buyer could walk away from the transaction.

The Gemara asks: does this apply both to large and to small markets? does this apply to prices for both new grain and old grain? who can set his/her price at the gleaners' rates?  Different cities might have different availability of produce. How might this affect the arrangements of buyers and sellers?

I am hoping that tomorrow's daf will share more detail on the parameters of publicizing a price.  Was this done exclusively via word of mouth? Were there formal announcement?  If so, when and where and by whom?  

Bava Metzia 71: Hierarchy of Lending to the Poor

A very brief reference to the discussions in today's daf:
  • Priorities when lending money:
    • poor before rich
    • poor family members before poor non-relations
    • poor Jews before poor Gentiles
    • poor neighbours before unknown neighbourhoods who are poor
  • If a Jew charges interest of another Jew, the consequence is that his property will be destroyed 
  • Halachot regarding who can acquire whom as a servant, etc. are very specific
    • women cannot appear to be immodest
    • women cannot raise a dog
    • women may not host students in her home
  • Halachot regarding who may borrow and lend money are similarly specific
    • the rabbis list who may lend/borrow from whom
    • the rabbis note some exceptions to those stringencies

Monday, 5 December 2016

Bava Metzia 70: Orphans, Guaranteed Investments

How should lending and borrowing be dealt with when it comes to orphans?  The rabbis debate whether or not it is permitted to lend money to orphans with ribit.  In their discussion, the rabbis consider some ways that the treatment of orphans might be similar to that of adults.  It is decided that money belonging to orphans should be invested through a trustworthy, Torah-learned man who will be follow the will of the beit din.  An acceptable investment would be in gold or another item that can only gain in value.
A new Mishna teaches us that a Jew may not care for the sheep of another as a guaranteed investment.  This particular investment offers partial profit but full responsibility for the care of the animal - far too close to interest.  This practice is permitted with non-Jews, for interest is not an issue.  A ger moshav is a Gentile who lives in Eretz Yisrael and follows the seven Noahide laws.  Such a person can lend and borrow with Jews.  S/he can also lend or borrow with a Jew but only indirectly, through a Jewish middleman.  The other Jew cannot know of this interaction.
The Gemara considers what might count as a guaranteed investment.  The rabbis also argue that collecting interest might reflect care for the poor.  How?  All money is taxed by the state, and the royalty in power will ultimately give that money back to the poor.  This argument reminds me of those who suggest that investing in gambling - will indirectly benefit those who are poor.  More gambling begets more money that the government can invest in social programs.  Except that it doesn't quite work that way. Those who gamble are also poor.  

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Bava Metzia 69: Splitting Profits

Two friends or colleagues might make an arrangement where one's wage comes from a part of their business profits.  The rabbis recognize circumstances, especially regarding the care of animals, where it might make sense for people to be paid more than their wage according to the profits that may or may not be forthcoming.  The rabbis consider what amount of money should stand as one's wage and what amount of money should be paid above someone's wage.

We are introduced to an interesting example.  Two people agree to an arrangement where one person will fatten a cow and the profit will be split.  Instead of splitting the animal and its profits equally, the secondary partner was offered the head of the animal but not its tail.  When doing this a second time, his wife insisted on the tail as well as the head of the cow, but they only received half of its tail.  When he complained, the rabbi said that they should split the head as well.  Any other division of the profits or the animal might look like paying interest.

The rabbis discuss for how long a person should care for an animal in his care before it is returned to the owner its profits are shared.  They distinguish between donkeys, cows, and small animals.   We learn about two Kutim who turn to Jewish judges twice to help them settle a case where the money from iska or wine was divided by one of two partners without the other's knowledge.  Ultimately it is decided that the division of money (high quality coins and heavy coins) is much more simple than the division of animals or other property.  

The rabbis question whether or not it is alright to lend money without charging interest. What if the borrower uses that loan to charge interest to another person?  Rav Pappa believes that this type of interest is permitted, for it does not affect the initial lender directly.

A new Mishna teaches that we can assess a cow, a donkey, or any animal that works and eats.  It is permitted at that point to give the animal to a herdsman for half, which means that the profits of the animal - including its offspring and any losses).  This is not considered to be interest because when the animal works, the herdsman does earn a wage in order to avoid the laws of ribit.  The minhag determines whether or not the offspring are raised with the herdsman.  Further, a mother cow or horse and her offspring are assessed together.  The mother works and thus the herdsman does not need to be paid a wage to avoid collecting interest.  Finally, one may increase rent on his field and lend money to the renter (so that the renter can continue renting the land) without worrying that this is charging interest.

The Gemara elaborates on why this last point is not charging interest.  A baraita is quoted where a renter may borrow money from the landowner to improve the property and then the renter will pay a higher rental price.  This benefits everyone, for the owner's property is improved and the renter's business is improved.  This is also true regarding bettering the mast on a ship.