Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Bava Batra 9: More on Giving Tzedaka

The rabbis wonder who can be trusted with which communal responsibilities; who can be trusted at their word.  Do we check the credentials of those who ask for food but not of those who ask for clothing?  Rav Huna says that the latter would be embarrassing.  Verses are suggested to prove this claim.  However, Rav Yehuda says that one feeds hungry people quickly because they are feeling physical pain, unlike a naked person waiting for clothing.  We are told to "look over" a naked person before giving him/her clothing.  

The Gemara breaks down how much food should be provided to a poor person who is going door to door to collect food.  We are told that s/he should receive a quarter of a kav, six egg-bulks, daily.  If this person stays overnight, s/he is provided with a bed and bedding, as well.  The rabbis argue about how much a poor person should be allowed to take from the charity plate or the charity fund if s/he is also taking from individuals by walking from door to door.  Rav Yeimar reminds us that we must set the example for others and always give to the poor.

Rav Asi teaches that the mitzva of tzedaka is equal to all other mitzvot together.  Rabbi Elazar teaches that encouraging others to give tzedaka is even greater than giving tzedaka oneself.

when a person does not give the tzedaka that s/he is required to give, their money may be taken by force.  even if one gives money to the romans, one fulfills the mitzvah of tzedaka.  We are told that Rava begged the people of Mechuza to give tzedaka to each other so that the mitzva of tzedaka would be performed to perfection.  Rabbi Elazar teaches that we used the annual half-shekel to atone for our sins when the temple was standing.  since the temple was destroyed, we give tzedaka to atone for our sins.

We learn from Rav Sheishet that each peruta of tzedaka joined together will add up to a large amount. we learn about the origins of Rav Sheishet's name.  And Rav Sheishet teaches about the transfer of ritual impurity.  one of his teachings includes the fact that when he renders his clothing tamei, he renders people who touch him tamei as well.   The Gemara moves into a discussion about transferring ritual impurity.  not every source of ritual impurity is transferred from person to person.  for example, if one touches a dead animal, he and his clothing are tamei, but he does not transmit ritual impurity.

Rav Sheishet and Rav Achdevu'i argued these points.  Rav Achdevui became excited and angry, which led to Rav Sheishet feeling faint.  Rav Achdevu'i then stopped speaking; he forgot his learning.  Rav Shisha’s mother pled with her son to pray for Rav Achdevu'i.  somehow this included her showing her breasts - Rav Sheishet got his nickname, which means "he who caused his mother to behave irrationally".  

Back to tzedaka:
   Rebbi Elazar teaches that one who gives tzedaka discreetly dispels "Af" and "Chisda",
    the two destructive angels whom Moshe Rabbeinu was afraid of and could not dismiss.  
   Bribery brings on the wrath of G-d on the world
   Rabbi Yitzchak teaches that one who gives a peruta to a poor person is blessed with six 
    brachot; five additional brachot are given if the giver appeases the poor person as well
   Rabbi Yitzchak teaches that giving tzedaka will allow one to be granted the means with 
    which to give further
   Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak adds that G-d will provide decent poor people to whom we 
    should give, allowing us to receive the full reward for our mitzva of tzedaka.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Bava Batra 8: Giving Tzedaka

Today's daf begins with the rabbis expounding on the possible meanings of a number of verses.  They move into questioning whether or not (and when) taxes might be collected from orphans.  This turns into a conversation about the rights of those who are ignorant of Torah.  Although they might be blocked from some kindnesses, we are told that that even an 'ignoramus' should be fed.  Some of the rabbis find this difficult to muster.  Rabbi Yehuda haNasi believes that all suffering comes from ignoramuses.  A story about this is shared to prove that point.   People ran from Tiberius to force the Sages to pay their share of the crown tax.  As more and more people left, the tax was eventually cancelled.  And the Sages say that this proves that ignoramuses cause suffering.

The rabbis wonder how long a person must be must reside in a town to be subject to the mandatory contributions.  At thirty days, one must contribute to the charity platter.  At three months, the charity box.  At six months, the clothing fund, and at nine months, the burial fund.  At twelve months, as we learned, one must contribute to payment for the wall around the city and other security for the city.  Our notes teach that at the moment one intends to reside in the city permanently, s/he is obligated to contribute to all of these funds.  The rabbis consider orphans again and whether we must at least collect from them to pay for redeemed captives.  

The rabbis take a detour and discuss captives.  They look to Jeremiah (15:2), "...To where shall we depart?  Then you shall tell them: So says the Lord: Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for famine, to famine; and such as are for captivity, to captivity".  They consider which punishment causes more suffering.  

Two people must collect toward the charity fund, and three people must distribute it.  Two people to collect because an authority over the community requires more than one person.  Three people to distribute because this imitates the judges as required for other cases of monetary law.   We learn:

  • The charity platter 
    • food for any visitors who require food; 
    • food can be purchased from this for the charity fund
  • The charity fund 
    • food exclusively for the poor of the city; 
    • food can be purchased from this for the charity platter

In each city the residents can determine the prices for food, wages, and fines.  The rabbis discuss limitations facing charity collectors and how people might be compelled to give.  Charity collectors are praised up and down for their actions which encourage all to give.  They note that those who ask for clothing are assessed for need, but food is given freely.  The rabbis then attempt to balance the importance of saving against the importance of giving.  They also note that providing lodging includes a bed, a pillow, and possibly three meals.  Our daf ends with the rabbis praising the act of giving tzedaka. 

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Bava Batra 7: What We Cannot Compel, Paying for a Wall to Surround and Protect the City

The Gemara explores two cases to better understand whether one co-owner can compel the other to share the cost of rebuilding shared property.  Although a person living on the lower story of a sinking first floor building cannot compel the upstairs owner to move out while he fixes his portion of the home, he is permitted to do so if the upper floor sinks by ten handbreadths.  At that point, the second floor has fallen into the domain of the first floor and thus the first floor's owner may take charge of repairs.  Similarly, one brother cannot compel another to take down a wall that he has built within his domain, even if that wall causes damages to his property.  

In their debate, the rabbis return to the question of a vineyard and a field built beside each other.  As well, they consider the naming of property: if a "hall" is now in fact a "dark room" because the windows have been blocked by a neighbour's wall, is that reason enough to compel the neighbour to take down the wall?

A new Mishna teaches that one can compel all residents of  a courtyard to contribute to building a gatehouse (to manage pedestrians entering the courtyard)  and that one can compel all city residents to contribute to the cost of building a wall, double doors and a crossbar to surround the city.  Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel disagrees with both of these orders.  The Mishna asks a question regarding the second statement: how long must one have lived in the city to have to contribute to building the wall?  The answer is twelve months, other than those who buy property in the city.  Once one owns property, one is expected to contribute to the expense of the wall.

The Gemara begins by questioning whether or not a gatehouse should be built at all.  Didn't Eliyahu stop speaking with a person who built a gatehouse?  The rabbis consider whether the gatehouse appropriately keeps people from one's courtyard, whether it is built in our outside of the courtyard, and whether or not it requires a key.  If a courtyard is close to the public domain it may indeed require a gatehouse to keep people from peering inside.  In times when the 'evil eye' is understood as  frightening curse, it is reasonable that people would wish to block others from peering into their homes.

Rabbi Elazar asks his mentor Rabbi Yochanan if a city collection to build a wall is based on the number of residents or the value of each resident; on each home's distance from the wall.  Rabbi Yochanan answers "My son" to him when he states with certainty that the cost is based on each person's worth (we have learned that each person was assigned a valuation) and that those who live closer to the wall should pay more toward their protection.  He says, "You can fix nails in this". 

Our daf ends with an important caveat.  Sages were exempt from paying for the cost of a wall or other protective measures.  The rabbis quote verses that allude to G-d's protection of those who serve him through mitzvot.  We close the book on today's daf with Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish arguing about which verses are most helpful in this proof.

Bava Batra 6: Lying Neighbours, Acquired Privilege, Shared Repairs

The rabbis discuss conflicts that arise regarding whether or not one neighbour has paid already for his share of the fence built by both of them.  They consider what is normative payment (at the end of each row?), the size of the wall compared with the size of another wall built close by, and how one might determine whether or not the neighbour is lying.  The rabbis go into greater detail regarding the height and length of the additional wall.  They consider attachments to the wall and whether or not preparations for an attachment to the wall create a presumption of payment.  Those attachments might be thick or thin beams atop or built into the wall. 

The rabbis seem to agree that one a person has acquired the privilege of attaching thin beams to the wall, they have acquired the privilege of attaching thick beams.  But then they argue about putting a drainpipe to direct the water drips that flow from one property to the other.

The rabbis then discuss rental agreements, which continues to be very relevant today.  Should one who rents a room in another's building have access to the the projections protruding from the wall as hooks up to four cubits away from his room?  Should he be able to use a thick wall for his own purposes?  Should one have use of the front garden?  The back garden?  The rabbis consider acquired privilege: if a person uses another person's property for thirty days with no complaint from the owner, they have acquired the privilege to continue that use.  This is compared with the practice of building a sukkah.  There is no acquired privilege for using another's wall for the seven days of Sukkot.  After that time period, one must submit a complaint to ensure that the sukkah components are removed to ensure that they do not stay up.  

We learn about houses that are built across from each other on two sides of the public domain.  Barriers are built on people's roofs to block visual access to the public and to those neighbours directly across from them.  In the case above, each person is instructed to build a wall on half of their roof, not directly across from each other.  This ensures that foundations remain solid (without the weight of full fences on each roof) and that both owners have privacy from the other and from the public.  The rabbis discuss the height of such barriers and the materials used to build these barriers.  

The next example is that of two adjoining courtyard where one is higher than the other.  It is suggested that the owner of the lower field builds the foundational part of the wall and the owner of the upper courtyard pays for the building costs atop that wall.  In this discussion, it is noted that it is not usually necessary to build barriers that account for sight from one's roof, for people do not usually used their roofs.

Finally we begin the story of  two people living above/below each other in a two story building.  The lower story begins to collapse and its owner suggests that they demolish and rebuild the entire building.  The owner of the upper story does not need to make this change and says that he does not wish to pay for rebuilding the other owner's residence.

Today's daf brought me back to learning Eruvin a number of years ago, where we learned about some of the considerations regarding barriers, boundaries and privacy among other issues.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Bava Batra 4: Herod's Evil, Bava ben Buta's Survival, a Field Surrounded by Fields

King Herod blinded Bava ben Buta with a crown made of porcupine hide.  Then he approached Bava ben Buta and attempted to learn Bava ben Buta's true beliefs and feelings about him.  Bava ben Buta was respectful and kind.  He affirmed that Herod was the rightful king regardless of whether or not Herod was formerly a slave.  Herod was pleased with these answers and realized that he had made a mistake in murdering all of the other sages.  

Herod wanted to rebuild the Temple but knew that Rome might not recognize him as king.  Bava ben Buta counselled Herod to send a messenger to Rome.  If the messenger took two years to travel there and back, the Temple would be rebuilt by the time the messenger returned with permission - or not.  

The rabbis describe the Temple as one of the most beautiful sights people had ever seen.  They describe the marble walls which Herod wished to cover in gold but were kept plain because he was convinced that they looked like waves.  The rabbis then discuss whether or not Bava ben Buta should have advised Herod to break the law in that way.  They compare this situation with similar situations. It would seem to me that with a king like Herod, Bava ben Buta was wise to advise Herod to do whatever Herod wished to do.  Herod would do what he wished anyway, and fewer people would die when Herod was kept happy.

The rabbis move back to their conversation about our last Mishna.  They consider some of the possible 'local customs', including fences of palm leaves, for example.  The rabbis note that it would seem that the assumed custom was only the claimant paying for the walls; the neighbour would not be obligated to pay.  The rabbis describe walls that were more like fences with parts protruding from the fence in one direction or another.  This was not permitted. They also note that the mark of one neighbour's border is sufficient.  No border mark was required from the other neighbour, for that would introduce potential conflict.

We learn a new Mishna which teaches that if a person's field is surrounded by another's field on three sides and that neighbour builds three walls around the person's field, that person is not obliged to contribute to the cost of the walls.  Rabbi Yosei suggests that if that person builds a forth partition of his own accord, he must pay for half the cost of each of the other fences.  Our notes teach us that if he pays for a less expensive fence, this person is obligated to pay only half of the cost of his own fence toward the cost of each of the other person's fences. 

The Gemara shows us that the rabbis disagree about this obligation.  Is it the same if the person with the inner field was the one to pay for the three fences?  If the price of the reeds (to build the flimsier fence) is noted and used to assess how much is owed to the neighbour with the surrounding fields, how does that price compare with that of a watchman?  The rabbis understand these fences to be a form of personal security.  If one does not have fences, one might have a security guard, so to speak.  And so those costs must be considered.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Bava Batra 3: Walls, Rebuilding Synagogues, and Herod's Ascendency

What is a mechitza?  It is a division, but does a division have to be a wall?  Our daf begins with a conversation about two neighbours who are deciding about marking their separate domains.  What is actually done when one forces the other to build this wall?  Might the division be made of pegs or something else more 'porous' than a wall of bricks or cement?  Is the shared courtyard even subject to the halacha of division?*

The Gemara discusses our Mishna's statements regarding the different matter that is used to build a wall.  Interestingly, the rabbis ask how we understand the definition of each word describing material used to build.  The rabbis walk through the large and small bricks; the chiseled stone, even the mortar and gravel used to build these structures.  Part of their determination of which material is which is based on the guidelines given around building - measurements of height and width of walls depending on the materials used to build.  

We then learn about the taking down and building of synagogues.  Rav Chisda teaches that a synagogue cannot be demolished until another one is built to replace it.  But perhaps if the synagogue is showing signs of wear, like cracks, it can be taken down without the new synagogue yet built.  What if the money for the new shul has not been collected?  We are told that the rabbis suggest there could be a fear that an opportunity could come up to redeem captives and people would spend their money on that instead of on the new synagogue.  It is necessary to have a place to gather for communal prayer.  

We are told the story of Rav Ash who found cracks in his synagogue and had it demolished immediately.  To ensure that the new structure would be built immediately, he kept his bed in the demolished shul, knowing that people would run to build the shul around him to keep him sheltered.  

How could Bava ben Buta have instructed King Herod to raze the Temple and build the second Temple in that place?  It is suggested that perhaps that first Temple had cracks in it.  Alternatively, King Herod had the means and the will to rebuild immediately and so there was no fear that the people would go without a Temple for long.

We then learn the story of Herod's ascendancy: a slave, he fell in love with a daughter of the Chashmonia house.  He heard a Divine voice telling him that any person who rebels that day will succeed.  Harod murdered the entire ruling family except for the daughter, who threw herself from a roof after publicly sharing Herod's past to escape marriage to this man.  In a disturbing twist, we learn that he kept her body in honey for years.  Some said that he did this to engage in necrophilia.  Others say that he preserved her body to ensure that people would think he had legally and officially married a daughter of the ruling Chashmonia house.

The sickening next chapter of this story is Herod's killing of all of the sages except for Bava ben Batra whom he kept as his council.  He did this because he saw that the sages had interpreted "One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you" (Deuteronomy 17:15) as meaning that an emancipated slave was not eligible to be king.  Herod seems to have been obsessed with his power and killed his own sons for fear that they might usurp him.

There are some difficult questions arising from this story.  We are learning that the sages only permitted Jews by birth to ascend to any sort of power, not just royalty.  The segmentation of ancient Jewish culture by role - Kohan, Levi, Yisrael - by status - slave, convert, Gentile, Jew, man, woman, child, person with disabilities - was as divisive in ancient times at it is today.  So much sorrow has come from these somewhat arbitrary divisions between us.  Perhaps it is time that a new Torah commentary is created and explored; one which interprets the word of Torah and our great sages with a very different lens.

* These word sound quite ominous in the context of January 2017, when this commentary is being written.  Trump has been elected president of the US and he promises to build divisions - in the form of large walls, economic policies, and hate-motivated laws.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Bava Batra 2: Building a Mechitza

Based on the first daf of Masechet Bava Batra, it is easy to understand why "Bava Batra" has been quoted so often.  The questions that the rabbis ask about property rights, privacy, and shared ownership are still being debated today.  

We begin, of course, with a Mishna.  It teaches that when two people share a property line and one wishes to build a wall, that wall will be made of chiseled stone, unchiseled stone, small bricks or large bricks according to the custom in that area.  Regardless of the type of material used, each owner will build the wall of equal thickness.  The Mishna tells us which materials require which thickness of construction.  That way if the wall breaks or falls, it is understood who owns which parts of the wall for rebuilding.  If one wishes to build a mechitza, partition, in a garden, the other person is only compelled to do so if it is customary to have walls within gardens in that region.  

If one owner does not wish to build a wall and it is not customary - so he is not compelled to do so - then the person wanting a wall must build it within his own property.  He leaves a marker on the opposite side of the wall so that if it falls, all can see that the stones were all his.  If the wall is built on the border between their properties, the stones are similarly marked to demonstrate that each person owns the stones up to the middle point of the wall.

The Gemara jumps in with the example of a vineyard and field of grain that may become intertwined, negating the value of both fields due to the halacha regarding mixed kinds.  If the wall is built and then falls - and then is reinforced but falls again, the rabbis discuss who is responsible for the breach and thus the negative value of the crops.  

The rabbis spend much time on the concept of damage "by sight".  They discuss whether or not it is possible to incur damages based on what a person can see.  A wall serves the function of blocking sight.  Some people might want privacy in their courtyards.  And the rabbis agree that a person staring at another person's field is liable for damages, for he could have been giving the field the "evil eye".  But what about a neighbour who can see into one's courtyard?  Or someone on a roof who can see into another person's courtyard?   How much privacy we desire is a personal preference.  The rabbis seem to consider whether or not such disruption is uncomfortable or whether it causes monetary damage when they decide about these cases.

We learn that windows were built at a level high enough to ensure that no one could stare into one's home.  As well, a wall built near one's home would have to be low enough to ensure that a person could not look over the wall and stare into one's home.  And the wall should not block the light that enters a neighbour's home through their windows.  A parapet might be necessary to build on one's roof to block the view of one's neighbours.  And our last comment of the day is an argument I have heard recently regarding real estate debates: but I use my roof (or courtyard) regularly and they rarely use their courtyard (or roof).  Why should I have to make the changes?  Truly age-old complaints.  

Monday, 23 January 2017

Bava Metzia 119: Stretching for the Vegetables; King Shapur

Our final daf of Masechet Bava Metzia is extremely short.  First our rabbis continue their discussion about who owns plants that grow from the trunk or the roots of a tree.  As well, they discuss who owns the plants that grow on an incline between a lower and an upper garden.  The rabbis note the importance of the halachot of orla, which teach us to leave the fruit of a new tree unpicked for its first three years.  Those rules would apply to a tree that grows from the root of another tree.  

The rabbis also discuss what it might mean to own the vegetables that can be reached with one's arm from one's upper or lower garden.  Rabbi Shimon has taught that the owner of the upper garden owns any plants he can reach out and grab from his garden; the remainder belong to the owner of the lower garden.  Rabbi Yannai adds that one should not need to force oneself; we only own that which can be easily reached from our upper garden.

Does it matter if one can reach the leaves but not the roots?  Or if one can reach the roots but not the leaves?  This question is left unresolved.

The final paragraph of our masechet tells us that Reish Lakish's student Ephraim says in his teacher's name that Rabbi Shimon's argument holds.  We know that this is true because King Shapur was interested in this debate.  He instructed people to praise Rabbi Shimon, suggesting that he agreed with Rabbi Shimon's position that the owner of the upper garden actually owns the produce that grows between the two fields, but it is reasonable for him to use only those vegetables that he can reach.

Steinsaltz's notes teach us that while it was forbidden to teach Talmud to Gentiles, King Shapur was permitted to learn for he was learning only about monetary matters.  Monetary law is included in the Noahide laws, and it applies to all people.  It is possible that King Shapur was a nickname for one of the sages, perhaps Shmuel or Rabba, who were referred to as "King Shapur" in other points in the Talmud.  I would add that it was possible that the rabbis taught Talmud to King Shapur because he wanted them to do so and they did not want to die.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Bava Metzia 118: What Belongs to Whom; Rights of the Owner vs. Rights of the Public

Our daf first hosts a conversation about our last Mishna, regarding when payment might not be transferable from money to produce or vice versa.  The Gemara walks through a number of possible reasons for trading money for produce both at the will of the labourer and at the will of the employer. One of their more interesting questions (to me) refers to a labourer who finds a lost item while doing his work in the field.  Can the item be kept by the labourer? The rabbis walk through the possible contractual agreement between these two people.  Again, we note that labour law is a focal point for our rabbis throughout Bava Metzia, and the contract between employer and labourer is of utmost importance.  

A new Mishna is the second last Mishna in our masechet.  It teaches about the rights of an owner against those of the public.  We learn that an owner is not entitled to leave his manure in the public domain; it must be moved immediately from his farm to the buyer's farm to be used as fertilizer.  Similarly, people are not permitted to leave clay to soak nor may they told picks in the public domain.   Kneading clay is permitted, but kneading bricks is not permitted because of the time it will take so to finish this task.  The Mishna tells us that people can prepare their work for thirty days in advance to ensure that the work done in public is as brief as possible.

The Gemara discusses the making of fertilizer.  When multiple people tread over manure, that manure becomes much more valuable fertilizer.  The thirty-day limit on leaving this manure in the public domain would allow for people and animals to walk upon it for long enough to benefit its owner.  The Gemara notes that the inconvenience of many is simply a nuisance, but the benefits of good fertilizer outweigh that consequence.

Another example brought to our minds is that of an oven built on the second story of a building.  The second floor's owner must build a plaster floor that is at least three handbreadths thick.  This floor will serve as the ceiling of the first floor - and the first floor's protection from a falling oven.  A stove requires the same floor/ceiling but only of one handbreadth's thickness.  If the floor falls, the rabbis question who should pay for damages.  Some say that the second floor owner should do so.  Others suggest that he took all precautions and so he should be exempt.  

Our daf ends with the final Mishna of our Masechet.  It discusses two gardens, one built beside the other but up a small, steep incline so that one is above the other.  If vegetables grow between them, to whom does the produce belong?  The rabbis argue first about which owner's different types of care provided for this growth.  Rabbi Meir suggests that we cannot decide based on this consideration, for both will argue convincingly against the other.  Perhaps we can determine whether the specific vegetables were similar to those above or below this growth.  Rabbi Shimon says that any vegetables that the owner of the upper garden can stretch to reach with his arm belong to him. The remainder belong to the owner of the lower garden.  

The Gemara wonders whether or not we should follow the roots of the vegetable to determine their origin.  Rabbi Emir says, "Cast its leaves after its root".  Rabbi Yehuda disagrees.  The Gemara ends with a reminder about plants that grow from the trunk and the roots of a tree.  Rabbi Meir says that these belong to the land's owner.  Rabbi Yehuda says that growth from the trunk belongs to the owner of the tree, and growth from the roots belong to the owner of the land.  Thus roots do not determine ownership, according to Rabbi Yehuda.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Bava Metzia 117: Sharing a Ceiling/Floor: Who is Responsible for Damages?

Daf 116 began our last Perek, Perek X. It all introduced a new Mishna concerned with shared ownership of a home.  In daf 117, we learn from the conversations around two new Mishnah that our ancestors were considering issues similar to our modern concerns regarding responsibility for repairs and mishaps.  

First, the Gemara of daf 117 focuses on whether or not a person or family that was living above another unit should be permitted to live with the lower unit's residence if that person does not agree to repair his home.  The Gemara considers the halacha on who is responsible for which repairs.  It also looks at surrounding circumstances that may add to one's claim that he is not responsible.  One of the examples is that of a leak in the floor. When the hole causes damage to the plaster, who is responsible for fixing that plaster? 

A new Mishna teaches that if two people own a home and the person on the lower story refuses to rebuild his home, the person in the upper story is entitled to live 'downstairs' until the repairs have been complete.  Rabbi Yochanan points out that Rabbi Yehuda mentioned in three places that we should not derive benefit from the home of another.  In this case, the proof for his argument is in the walls which will have been blackened (until the house is rebuilt).  

The Gemara then points out that people who ask to rebuild their homes with nicer stones, for example, should be permitted to do so.  Anything to better their residence is accepted.  But when someone asks abut rebuilding with shoddier supplies, his request will be ignored.  The rabbis offer number of examples which teach us about how life was lived at that time.  We learn that generally the person on the first floor was responsible for his ceiling; the person on the second floor is responsible for his floor.  Some examples of increasing the value of one's home include removing windows and building less tall ceilings.  Each of these changes might make the house less stable. 

The rabbis debate about whether or not the person living on the upper floor has rights to the land upon which the house is built.  Some rabbis suggest that the owner below owns two thirds of the fields while the upper floor owner owns one third of the surrounding land.  Some say the ratio is 3/4 to 1/4, and some say that the owner owns all of the land.

A new Mishna teaches us a number of guidelines when it comes to responsibility for property.  If one person owns an olive press that is located inside of a cave through rock, and another person owns a garden above the press, the ceiling of the press might collapse, causing the garden to fall inward.  In such a case, the Mishna teaches that the gardener grows below until the time that the olive press' owner can rebuild.  

A wall or tree that collapses in the public domain must be removed and paid for by their owners.  That is, if someone notice that they might fall and warned the owner to remove theses items.  Another example is provided where two owners are arguing about who owns certain ones.  Finally, we learn that an employer must pay a labourer what was agreed upon.  He cannot pay in 'hay" when he had said he would pay in money.  Similarly, he cannot pay in money when the labourer planned to take hay as his payment.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Bava Metzia 115: Widows & Collateral, Distracted by Too Many Wives, Punishments for Collateral Transgressions

After finishing yesterday's conversation about how and when and from whom to take collateral, we are introduced to a very short Mishna.  It teaches that one may not take collateral from a widow whether she is poor or rich.  This is based on the simple prohibition in Deuteronomy (24:17) where we are told not to take the garment of a widow as collateral.

In their discussion, Rabbi Yehuda holds the above opinion while Rabbi Shimon believes that only a poor widow is subject to this guideline.  He explains that rich widows will not be subject to someone returning their collateral to them repeatedly.  Only poor widows will then be suspected of inappropriate behaviour with the agent of the court.

The Gemara turns to other arguments that might reflect this discussion.  Deuteronomy (17:17) teaches that one should not multiply wives for himself so that his heart might turn away.  This applies even to wives like Abigail, who stopped King David from sinning. Even a king should not have too many wives.  The rabbis suggest that 'turning one's heart away' is the problem here.  Not only might too many wives turn a King away from his primary wife, they might turn his heart away from G-d.  That is the true concern.

A second new Mishna teaches that taking an upper or lower millstone as collateral is prohibited by Torah in Deuteronomy (24:6).  In fact, taking any item used for food preparation may be prohibited as well.  This is due to the verse's ending, "for he takes a man's life as collateral".   The Gemara focuses on the punishment for transgressing this prohibition.  Taking one half of a millstone is punishable by flogging.  Taking both halves doubles the punishment.  Finally, a third punishment is added for taking a man's life as collateral.

Rabbi Yehuda and Rav Huna argue about the punishments meted out for these transgressions.  Their argument is compared with a past argument regarding the Pesach offering.  It was taught that the offering was not to be eaten raw or cooked in water, but to be roasted in fire.  If a person transgressed these directives, the punishment would be flogging - each transgression would be met with a different punishment.  We end our daf with the suggestion that "taking one's life as collateral" might be explained through this other argument.

One question that arises regards multiple punishments for multiple transgressions that occur during the same episode.  I remember learning that only the most severe punishment is enacted in such cases.  If the punishment is flogging x 3, does that mean that a person is only flogged once?  Or does  this principle not apply to this type of transgression?

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Bava Metzia 114: Seizing Collateral from Those Who are Poor

The rabbis look at the gezera shava, the verbal analogy, between the "poor" debtor and a person who has been evaluated as "poor".  They compare verses regarding both vows and valuations in this light. In which situations must collateral payments be returned?  How do we evaluate the worth of a person if that person has nothing?  What if a person becomes rich over time?  When and by whom are arrangements made for his payment?  The rabbis consider returning one's collateral to a debtor at different times of day under different circumstances.

We learn that if a person vows to consecrate the value of their hand or foot, we see that as nothing because it is impossible to evaluate.  If a person offers their heart, lungs, or another organ essential for life, that is evaluated at the cost of their entire body, which will never be claimed, either.   The rabbis discuss some differences between consecrated items and regular items when it comes to returning those items to the debtor.

One of the processes that we learn from Steinsalz's notes is about "making arrangements".  When a poor debtor's collateral is seized at the end of thirty days, he is told to bring from his home all of his movable property and utensils, and his food preparation tools.  He is given enough food for thirty days, enough clothing for one year, a bed, blankets, and other things that help him to sleep.  If he is a craftsperson, he is also given two of his tools.  Thus even in dire situations, a person is not left destitute.  There is a legislated obligation to provide for the basic needs of each person in debt.

We learn that Rabba bar Avuh found Eliyahu standing in a Gentile cemetery.  He asked about the halachot pertaining to these questions and that prohibiting nakedness when separating teruma.  Rabbi bar Avuh then asks Eliyahu why he is standing in a Gentile cemetery, and the answer suggests that Gentiles are different from Jews; they are not "men".  Our notes teach about the rabbis' interpretations of this comment.  It is suggested that this points to the laws of ritual impurity which do not apply to and therefore hinder Gentiles.  

Finally Rabba bar Avuh tells Eliyahu that he does not have enough money to learn properly because he must work.  He is told to take leaves from Gan Eden, but then hears a voice and drops the leaves.  The aroma of the leaves on his cloak allows him to sell it for 12000 dinars when he returns home. However, he gives that money to his sons-in-law as he sees that money as being subtracted from his share in the world-to-come.

Discussing Deuteronomy (24:12), the rabbis want to understand why one is permitted to lie down with the collateral of a wealthy person but not with that of a poor person.  A number of different rabbis share different possible interpretations.  Most of these interpretations help us to understand that poor people should be treated with compassion.  There is acknowledgement of the hardships faced by those who are poor.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Bava Metzia 113: Agents, Creditors, and Collateral

A new Mishna teaches us that when a debtor hasn't returned the item or money at the end of the contract, the creditor may take collateral via an agent of the court.  The agent may wait outside the debtor's home but may not enter it, based on Deuteronomy 24:10-11.  If the debtor has two similar utensils, the creditor may take one of them and leave the other with the debtor.  If the creditor takes a pillow or a plow, the pillow must be returned at nigh and the plow must be returned in the daytime to allow the debtor to work.  Items need not be returned to the heirs if the debtor dies.  After thirty days, the agent may sell the items through the court with the proceeds going toward paying off the debt.  

The Gemara begins with a discussion of how an agent of the court might be permitted to enter the home of a debtor, since he is not the actual creditor.  It then considers what can and cannot be taken as collateral, and it provides proof texts to address the issue of entering the debtor's home.  Is the agent of the court permitted to enter the debtor's home because the creditor himself is standing outside of the house as specified?  

And what specifically can the agent remove from the debtor's home?  We learn that items involved in food preparation are forbidden, for they will be in use daily.  In addition, one may take two beds, a pillow, and in a rich home a blanket; in a poor home, a mat.  They cannot protect items that are used by the wives or children of debtors. So why take two beds, the rabbis wonder.  Wouldn't the second bed be that of the wife or a child?  Perhaps one bed was used for eating and the other for sleeping.  The rabbis argue about this.  Shmuel suggests that as a physician, he could not cure three things: stomach problems from eating dates, healing from wearing a wet linen belt on one's loins, and one who eats bread and does not walk four cubits.  Thus the second bed could be there to ensure that one walks to one's bed after eating.

Our daf ends with a conversation about what should not be taken as collateral because it is a necessary part of living.  But what is necessary is defined differently by different people.  Royalty have different needs than others, for example.  Proof texts suggest that all Jews are deserving of such treatment, however.  And so what is as important as a pillow?

Monday, 16 January 2017

Bava Metzia 112: Punishments, Conditions, Oaths Regarding Withholding Wages

The rabbis continue their discussion about workers' wages.  We are introduced to a baraita that teaches that because a worker risks his life by going up high ramps and trees for wages, one who withholds those wages is like one who has taken away the worker's life.  The rabbis argue that perhaps the baraita refers to the employer's life, too.  In fact, the employer might be meant to be worthy of death for leaving a worker in such conditions with no reward.  

Does a worker have to ask for his wages for the employer to transgress by not paying those wages?  Are there certain conditions where this might be true, like if an owner pays a grocer or a moneychanger?  The rabbis do not find a proof text for this based on wording.  However, if the employer and worker made such an arrangement in advance, might this preclude the transgression?  And what if this was the agreement, but the grocer or moneylender refuse to pay the worker?  Can the worker claim his wages from the employer?  The rabbis disagree about the employer's liability in this case.

The Gemara then considers whether these same rules should apply to a person who has been hired to complete a task for a fixed price.  In these situations it seems that the craftsperson might not return for his wages immediately.  Does the employer transgress if he withholds those wages?  If improvements are made to a vessel, for example, is the vessel simply on loan, for the employer will eventually pay the cost of the improvement to the vessel?  Using the example of a garment brought to be repaired, the rabbis wonder if the person is permitted to waits to collect his garment and pay for the repairs.  And by what time are those wages due?  The rabbis wonder about what constitutes improvement to an item through some interesting examples.

Our last Mishna had taught that when there is a conflict regarding wages, the worker swears an oath and then collects his wages.  Why is this the opposite of most other conflicts regarding denying a debt, where the employer would swear an oath and collect.  Perhaps, they argue, this was decided in order to ensure that workers would be available to work for employers.  But employers would find others to work and workers would find different employers, so, they decide, this is not the case.  Perhaps the employer forgot to pay, but he feels better to know that workers are willing to swear about their payment.  Perhaps workers should be paid before their work with witnesses present. But no-one wants this; employers are afraid that their workers will leave and workers are afraid that they will lose their wages.   Finally, the rabbis note that everyone should remember their agreed upon wages.  When the Mishna says that employers do not swear after payment is due.  Even if he did forget to pay the owed wages, wouldn't he find the motivation to remember in this sort of situation?

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Bava Metzia 111: Is Withholding Wages the Same as Stealing?

Our daf teaches a number of halachot regarding paying worker's their wages.  

  • If an employer has said that a person will be paid, that person must be paid as understood
  • It is forbidden to withhold wages, regardless of the case
  • When a person works during the day, s/he is paid that day
  • When a person works at night, s/he is paid that night
  • When a person works for an hour, s/he is paid at the end of that hour
The rabbis wonder how withholding wages is different from theft.
  • Different expressions might suggest whether or not the owner is withholding wages, perhaps for a short time, or whether the owner is stealing from his worker
  • The rabbis rule that withholding wages is the same as theft
  • They call the two different names because one is punished differently than the other
The rabbis discuss who is excluded from the prohibition around withholding wages.
  • Do these laws apply to converts and others who are not within the community?
  • If so, which prohibitions apply?  
Our daf ends with a detailed debate regarding the sources behind all that was discussed today.  Which words in the Mishna imply which halachot?  The rabbis conclude (for now) that employers must be stringent.  The Torah prohibits both withholding wages and stealing.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Bava Metzia 110: Ambiguous Contracts, Land Improvements, When To Pay Workers

After speaking briefly about a wife who has inherited dead vines or date trees.   Normally she owns the principal and her husband may partake of the produce.  Since there will be no produce, is the husband permitted to benefit from the sale of the wood after they are cut down?  Abaye clarifies that if these are located in someone else's field, she will have no inheritance after they are cut down.  Thus the wood should be considered principal, or hers alone.

The Gemara discusses documents that are ambiguous.  For example, if an owner clams that the "years" in their contract refers to three years and the renter says that "years" refers to two years, what should be done if the owner harvests and uses the produce before the court has reached its decision?  The rabbis discuss a number of possible considerations, including the fact that the owner could have said any number of years but he made the least personally advantageous claim.  This example is called a migo.  Another interesting example tells that the owner claims that the shareholder was to take one third of the produce but the sharecropper claims he was to take one half.  Among the rabbis' considerations is the fact that the local custom is followed above all else in this type of disagreement.  

The Gemara then speaks to a case regarding the improvement of land.  An owner died, leaving his fields to a creditor and to his orphans.  The creditor claims that the owner improved the fields before he died but the orphans say that they improved the fields after their father's death.  Who is believed?  Who must bring proof?  The rabbis suggest a number of reasons that each party should have to prove their claim.  One of the major principles in operation is the notion that the creditor was understood to be taking the land, and thus it is as if he has already done so.  It is wonderful to find this sort of philosophical argument in the middle of an ancient conversation.  

We learn a new Mishna: If land is rented for seven years for seven hundred zuz, is it as if the land is being rented over the shemita year?  In answering this question, the Mishna speaks to halachot regarding paying workers' wages:

  • A worker hired for a day collects for the entire night and must be paid that night
  • A worker hired for a night collects the coming day
  • A worker hired by the hour collects the entire night or day
  • A worker hired for a week, month, year or shemita cycle ends work during the day, he collects that entire day
  • A that same worker ends working at night, he collects the entire night and day
The Gemara suggests that there are proof texts to challenge each point.  The rabbis conclude that  an owner should not have to pay workers for unfinished jobs.  Thus we do not necessarily have to pay workers in the night or during the day.

The rabbis continue to argue about the requirement to pay workers immediately; one cannot hold a worker's wages overnight or for the entire day.  
The raThe 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Bava Metzia 108: Real Estate Law in a Stratified Ancient Community

Thanks to dafyomi4women for much of today's daf preparation.

We continue to learn about how to deal with the trees at the side of riverbanks to ensure that boats can be pulled in.  A story is shared about a rabbi who was asked to be the first to cut his trees at the shoreline to be an example for others. He argued that if his neighbours were Gentiles and only beholden to the laws of the king and not to Torah law, they would not follow this example anyway.  The trees were cut against the will of that rabbi.  

The Gemara explains that the rabbis do not need to pay taxes because they are protected by their Torah study.  Similarly, rabbis do not need to be part of the community that does the work to build a wall.  They are obliged to contribute money to pay for the building of that well, however.  We move into a discussion about property laws in a  stratified social structure.

The Gemara discuss the different obligations of people who live up at the top of a hill and those who live at the bottom of the hill.  Those who live at the top require the help of those at the bottom if the river does not flow at the top, because it only affects those below the blockage.  With rainwater blockage, however, all people must help to fix the problem as it affects everyone.

We know that we are not supposed to plant trees at the bank of a river.  If a person claims a piece of land by the water by working it for three years with no complaints, he has right to that land, though it is discouraged.  A person has rights even into the water up to the place where a horse would be in the water up to its neck.

Examples are shared regarding sale of property to one's neighbour, the laws of bar metrza.  Because it is convenient for a neighbour to buy their neighbour's field, neighbours are given first rights when a field is for sale.  One example tells about a group of people who do not own land  in between two properties.  If a person settles there, one opinion is that he cannot be sent away due to bar metrza.  Another opinion is that bar metzra are not relevant, but it is chutzpa to take on land in this way.  A another opinion is that it is permitted because no-one complained earlier.  Finally, one could argue that the property was not divided properly yet, meaning that bar metzra was not valid yet. Some of these opinions are based on 'doing the right thing'.  This is the case especially when it is easy to do.

A buyer could speak with the neighbour before buying a property.  The neighbour might agree but then changes his mind, and the price of the field changes.  In this case, the neighbour should pay what the buyer pays.  But perhaps the price was very low or very high.  How much does the neighbour pay?  The Gemara argues that the neighbour could say that the buyer was his agent and that he was obliged to benefit the neighbour.  And what if the land was of a different quality than the land surrounding it?  The rabbis even consider conspiracies to buy land that is only attractive because it makes the owner a neighbour, now eligible to bar metzra laws.

The rabbis share many such examples, where property is considered, bought and sold. The notion of "rights to property" is very different in ancient times than today.  One example I can think of is a landlord who is permitted to evict a tenant without the usual notice if a family member is moving in.

The Gemara also speaks to the fear of Gentiles in ancient times.  People see sale of land to Jews as desirable, for selling to Gentiles could create damage to oneself, one's land, and one's neighbours due to damage and distress.  

Considerations of properties might be non-specific, in which case laws of bar metzra do not apply.  And if people need money for a funeral, for example, a quick sale might be necessary.  One is supposed to announce a sale for at least thirty days to ensure that the price is appropriate.  This law dos not apply if there is a need to move quickly. Similarly, for women and others who do not usually buy properties, the rabbis make it easier for transactions to take place.  The rabbis also discuss sale of land nearer to fields or nearer to cities.  These are all examples of differences in rights for people of different levels of status compared with neighbours.  The rabbis even recognize the importance of a good neighbour over a family who wishes to live close by. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Bava Metzia 107: Field Work, Illness, Nutrition, Road Construction

Our daf begins with recommendations for agricultural success: one should alternate crops each year, and one should alternate the rows so that they are planted across one year and up and down the next.

In their discussion about the Mishna's prohibition against growing legumes and grains together, the Gemara first speaks of whether or not it is considered to be 'stealing'  to take cress from a field of flax.  Cress might be considered to be a weed.  However, it could be cultivated to extract its seeds which were used medicinally.  Also considering what is fair practice in agriculture, the Gemara speaks about the fruit of a tree which grows between two properties.  What if the tree leans in one direction or the other?  What if the fruit is on one side of the tree only?  The halacha, Steinsaltz notes, is to divide the fruit equally.

The Gemara then takes a turn.  The rabbis discuss whether or not a person should buy land near a town or far from a town.  A far-away field has the advantage of not being 'watched'; people were afraid of the evil eye.   We learn that there was a law prohibiting people from standing in others' fields  when those fields were ready for harvesting for that very reason.   A town, however, could be a wonderful place for one's field.

We are introduced to Deuteronomy (28:3) and (28:6).  "Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the field"; "Blessed shall you be when you enter and blessed shall you be when you exit".  The rabbis suggest that these verses could be proofs for many varied practices.  For example, perhaps 'the city' means that one's home should be near the synagogue, and 'field' means that one's property should be near the city.  And perhaps 'entering' refers to one's wife being in a state of certain niddah or not when one returns home from a journey, and 'exiting' refers to one's descendants being like oneself.  There are many similarly unusual suggestions.

On the same theme of blessings, the rabbis consider Deuteronomy (7:5), "And the Lord will take away from you all sickness".  Does this refer to the evil eye?  Is this about the wind, which enters the body through crevices and wounds to cause illness?  Is it about protecting against the cold and the heat, which are thought to cause all illness?  Or perhaps about infections of the nose and the ear?  Finally, sickness could mean illnesses related to the gall bladder.

The rabbis consider remedies, beginning with bread and a jug of water consumed in the morning.  They speak of the importance of sparse breakfasts and the benefits of bread in the morning.  These include diminished sweating, better intercourse at proper times, removal of bacteria/louse in the intestines, and fighting jealousy; increasing love.  Quite the feat for bread in the morning!

Our daf ends with a return to issues of land ownership and responsibility.  The rabbis speak of the importance of caring for even very small plots of land which could nurture small, valuable plants like saffron.  They also speak about creating pathways and roads for large boats or other vehicles.  Their discussion includes both the width of these roads and the necessity of creating space for those who might assist in pulling a boat with long ropes.  

Through today's daf we are given a wider glimpse than usual of the daily lives of our rabbis and their communities regarding field work, illness, nutritional beliefs, and road construction.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Bava Metzia 106: Regional Calamities and Their Implications

The Gemara begins with a discussion about the meaning of "fields in the region".  In our last Mishna, we learned about calamities that affect the just one field and regional disasters that affect a larger area.  How are these defined?  What if a farmer plants barley after contracting to plant wheat, and the field is blasted?  The barley was destroyed, but the wheat might have survived because of the greater security of its root system.  Is this cultivator truly suffering from a regional disaster?  The Gemara provides other examples where the rabbis are able to consider the more nuanced negotiations regarding agricultural and other dilemmas that are beyond one's control.

The rabbis then consider which are the permitted times for planting, particularly if one's crop was destroyed early in the planting season.  When considering calamities that affect planting, the rabbis note that we should not pay attention to Rabbi Yehuda's earlier ruling regarding the fixed nature of monetary payments.  

A new Mishna teaches us about a field that has been rented for the payment of ten kor of wheat at the end of the season.  If it is a terrible year, the ten kor are provided without concern over the quality of wheat.  If it is a particularly good year, the cultivator cannot buy regular wheat for the owner.  Instead, he must give the owner ten kor of high quality wheat from his own field.

The Gemara reasons that when a person planted barley instead of wheat and then that barley was blighted, the owner should be paid with outside produce.  However, if one contracted to grow grapes or barley and the crop did not grow well, payment can be made from within the field.  This is because it would seem that the land itself was part of the problematic growth.

A final Mishna is introduced at the end of today's daf.  It teaches that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is stringent where other rabbis are more lenient.  Generally the rabbis agree that one may not plant wheat in a field where barley was contracted, for wheat might weaken the soil while barley will not do so.  Further, one may not plant legumes when one contracted for grains, for legumes might weaken the soil.  However, it is fine to plant barley in a field contracted for wheat, and it is fine to plant grains where one contracted for legumes.  Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says that there can be no substitutions in any case.

The Gemara teaches that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel's concern is based on Zephaniah (3:13).  We learn here that children of Israel are never to tell lies.  

Monday, 9 January 2017

Bava Metzia 105: Cultivating Fields in Bad Circumstances

A new Mishna: if a cultivator says that he does not want to weed the field he has been given but says he will still provide the required payment of produce, he is ignored.  This is because the field will be spieled for the following year.  The Gemara argues these points, but concedes that weeds will drop their seeds, which will make it more difficult to cultivate  high quality produce for years after the field has gone to weeds.

Another new Mishna: A field that does not yield enough produce to reimburse the field's owner is still cared for.  All produce is stacked in a pile from which the owner is paid.  But how much is "a pile"?  The Mishna teaches that a pile is produce from which there are enough seeds to plant for the following year.  

The Gemara argues about the amount of produce in a pile.  Is it enough to hold up a winnowing shovel?  But what if the shovel pokes out of the sides of the pile? How far up the shovel must the produce lie?  The Gemara also questions the status of this produce, for if it is olives or grapes, they can be consecrated only if they are not made to be impure.  Only the highest quality produce is ritually pure. The Gemara clarifies what makes for unruly - not yielding enough oil - olives, and how strong a branch must be to ensure that a zav does not move the tree and another person climbing the tree with him, causing him to be ritually impure. 

Moving from these measurements into other measurements, the Gemara argues about how much a person might be permitted to carry on his head while wearing tefillin.  The answers are varied, some based on weight, some based on movement, and some based on appropriateness.  We learn that the halacha is stringent in this case.

The rabbis return to the question of what makes a "pile".  They turn to measurements.  Measurements are difficult to calculate depending on the weather conditions each year.  In some years, all is blown away.  In other years, there is not much produce but it is simple to collect.  

A final Mishna in today's daf:  If a person plans to cultivate land but there is a wind storm or grasshopper siege that is called a regional disaster, his payment in produce is reduced.  If it is not named a regional disaster and only his field was affected, he pays as contracted.  Rabbi Yehuda says that whether or not there is a regional disaster, the cultivator pays the owner as contracted given that the owner sold the field to him for a particular sum of money.  

The Gemara begins with questioning how we might define a regional disaster.  All fields in the area?  How large is the area?  What if only four fields were affected?  What if only a part of the field in question was affected?