Monday, 24 April 2017

Bava Batra 90: More Measures, A Stable Maneh, One-Sixth Increases, Hoarding and Inflation

The rabbis continue their discussion of measures.  We learn that one must not keep a measure that is too big or too small in his home, even to use for a urinal.  Dry measures are not of concern.  In their discussion of amounts, the rabbis wonder what an uchla is.  Answer: a fifth of a lug.  Glad that was cleared up.  And more importantly, glad to know that the rabbis did not always understand the measures representing times and places different from their own.  The rabbis describe numerous sizes of containers both for liquids and for dry goods.  

One point of interest is that kohanim were considered to be too meticulous to err in their measures.  Interesting assumption.  The notion that kohanim were inherently different from others in the population allowed people to offer them the power and influence that was granted to them.  A stereotype reinforced by behaviour?  Or behaviour influenced by a stereotype? Or perhaps the kohanim erred just as often as anyone else while people looked beyond their mistakes.

It was understood that measures differed from region to region.  The rabbis were clear that people were not permitted to increase the weight of coins by more than a sixth.  Same guideline for buying and reselling food unless the entire market price increased.  The rabbis suggest that even a sixth increase was permitted only to ensure that newcomers would not err and have their transactions voided.  The rabbis show concern for merchants who make very little profit other than the increase of one sixth.  

The rabbis discuss the measure of a maneh, which changes value through manipulating the coin.  They create strict guidelines to ensure that the maneh holds its value as consistently as possible.  Some communities appreciated the guidelines and others did not.  In Pumbedita, the Sages disagreed.  

The Gemara ends with a discussion about people inflating prices deliberately, at the cost of those who are poor and vulnerable.  Some people hoard to sell to the poor when the price has risen substantially.    The rabbis attempt to limit this sort of behaviour, suggesting that essential items should always be available at a reasonable price.  It is permitted to hoard spices and to hoard before the Shemita year to ensure that enough food is available when the land lies fallow.  However, in famine years, it is not permitted to hoard at all.

It is hard not to think of Joseph and his recommendation to hoard wheat for seven years to ensure that Egypt would avoid a seven-year famine.  

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