Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Bava Batra 23: Dovecotes and Property Questions

A new Mishna teaches us that one must not build a dovecote unless it is surrounded by fifty cubits of land on every side.  S/he is permitted to maintain a preexisting dovecote on her/his property, however. The rabbis wonder how far a dove flies, and they wonder about a field with a quarter-kav of seed surrounding it.  

The Gemara questions how far a dove can fly - fifty cubits?  Less?  More?  What about doves that belong to Gentiles?  What about dovecots that are operational but ownerless?  The rabbis move into a conversation about land that is inherited and who acquires the privilege to use different spaces.

Another new Mishna is introduced regarding a found baby dove.  If it is beyond fifty cubits from a dovecote, then it belongs to the finder.  That chick belongs to the owner of the dovecote if it is found within fifty cubits of that dovecote.  If it is between two dovecotes, it belongs to the owner of the closer one.  If it is found between the two, then its value is split between the two owners. 

The Gemara notes that we follow the law of the majority and of proximity. Examples of rulings are shared with us.  The rabbis consider the fact that the chick was not able to fly.  It either hopped to its found location or it was dropped by a traveller who was carrying it.  We are told that Rabbi Yirmeya was thrown out of the study hall for asking a question that wasted the rabbis' time: what should be done if the chick is found with one foot beyond fifty cubits and one food within fifty cubits of a dovecote?

It is particularly interesting to notice when the rabbis find questions to be valid and when they are obviously ridiculous.  I am not certain why this particular question was so disturbing to the rabbis. Many of their conversations are theoretical.  Was this more about Rabbi Yirmeya and his style of presentation?  Or about a personal upset with this particular rabbi?  Or a true complaint?  Or something else?

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