Bava Batra, Chapter Two, Mishnah Five



The mishnah which we will learn today deals with rules regarding a dovecote.  A dovecote is a structure used to house pigeons.  In the time of the mishnah pigeons were used for food, sacrifices and as messengers.


Mishnah Five

1)                     A person’s ladder must not be kept within four cubits of [his neighbor’s] dovecote, lest a marten (a small animal that eats doves) should jump in.

a)                                           His wall may not be built four cubits from [his neighbor’s] roof-gutter, so that the other can set up his ladder [to clean it out].

2)                     A dovecote may not be kept within fifty cubits of a town, and none may build a dovecote in his own domain unless his ground extends fifty cubits in every direction.

a)                                           Rabbi Judah says: Four kor’s space of ground, which is the length of a pigeon’s flight.

b)                                          But if he had bought it [and it was built already in that place] and there was only a quarter-kab’s space of ground, he has a right to the dovecote.



In section one we learn that a person may not place a ladder in his property that will be less than four cubits from his neighbor’s dovecote lest an animal use the ladder to jump to the pigeon’s nesting places and eat them.  Through this mishnah we learn an important principle:  a person is not allowed to do something on his property if it will cause damage on another person’s property.

Similarly, in section 1a, we learn that if a person wishes to build a wall on his property he must leave four cubits between the wall and the other person’s wall, if the other person’s wall has a gutter on it.  As in modern times, so too in the time of the Mishnah gutters were used to drain water from the roof.  In order to fix the gutters, which would often become clogged with debris, one would need to stand a ladder next to the wall.  The four cubits between the walls would allow the person to stand a ladder and thereby fix his rain gutter.

Section two continues to discuss some rules governing dovecotes.  According to the anonymous opinion in section two one must not place a dovecote within fifty cubits of the town nor within fifty cubits (25 meters) of his neighbor’s property.  The reason to distance the dovecotes from the town is so that the pigeons will not eat the seeds in another person’s garden or the seeds that were drying on people’s roofs.  The reason to distance the dovecotes from another person’s property is so that they won’t eat from the other people’s fields.  Rabbi Judah disagrees with the distance of fifty mentioned by the anonymous opinion.  According to him one must distance the dovecote from another’s property by a field big enough to grow four kor’s of wheat.  This amount equals about 274 cubits in each direction, or about 150 meters.  Finally we learn in section 2b that if a person bought a dovecote that was not properly distanced from another person’s property, he need not move the dovecote, even if it is only ¼ kav’s space of ground, which is about 10 cubits [five and a half meters] away from the other person’s property.



Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Is there a contradiction between sections one and two of this mishnah? If so, what is the potential contradiction and how can it be solved?