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.

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