Bava Kamma Chapter Eight Mishnah One



Chapter eight of Bava Kamma deals with personal injury law.  According to Jewish law when a person injures another person he is obligated for five different payments:  1)  compensation for the injury itself; 2)  compensation for the pain; 3)  payment of medical costs; 4)  loss of wages; 5)  compensation for indignity caused by the injury.  Our mishnah teaches how each of these types of compensation are calculated.



1)                     He who wounds his fellow is liable to compensate him on five counts:  for injury, for pain, for healing, for loss of income and for indignity. 

2)                     ‘For injury’:  How so?

a)                                           If he blinded his fellow’s eye, cut off his hand or broke his foot, [his fellow] is looked upon as if he was a slave to be sold in the market and they assess how much he was worth and how much he is worth.

3)                     ‘For pain’?

a)                                           If he burned him with a spit or a nail, even though it was on his fingernail, a place where it leaves no wound, they estimate how much money such a man would be willing to take to suffer so.

4)                     ‘Healing’?

a)                                           If he struck him he is liable to pay the cost of his healing.

i)                                                       If sores arise on him on account of the blow, he is liable [for the cost of their healing].  If not on account of the blow, he is not liable.

ii)                                                      If the wound healed and then opened and healed and then opened, he is liable for the cost of the healing. 

iii)                                                     If it healed completely, he is no longer liable to pay the cost of the healing.

5)                     ‘Loss of income’:

a)                                           He is looked upon as a watchman of a cucumber field, since he already gave him compensation for the loss of his hand or foot.

6)                     ‘Indignity’:

a)                                           All is according to the status of the one that inflicts indignity and the status of the one that suffers indignity.

b)                                          If a man inflicted indignity on a naked man, or a blind man, or a sleeping man, he is [still] liable. 

c)                                           If a man fell from the roof and caused injury and inflicted indignity, he is liable for the injury but not for the indignity, as it says, “And she puts forth her hand and grabs him by the private parts”, a man is liable only when he intended [to inflict indignity].



Section one lists the five payments for personal injury, as we explained in the introduction.  The remainder of the mishnah explains these payments.

Section two—Injury is assessed by evaluating the previous and current worth of the person as a slave.  The payment is the difference between the two.

Section three—Compensation for pain is assessed by evaluating how much a person would accept in exchange for having such an injury.

Section four—The person who inflicted the injury is obligated to pay for whatever the costs of healing may be.  If sores or other later complications occur, he will be liable as long as the later complications are a result of the original blow.  Finally, the person who inflicted the injury will be liable until the wound completely heals.

Section five—loss of income is assessed by evaluating the wage of a person doing the lowest paying job possible, a cucumber patch guard.  There is some overlap between this payment and the payment for injury.  For instance if the person injured was a blacksmith who earned 100 dollars a month and the injury blinded him, thereby preventing him from continuing in his profession.  The payment for the injury will compensate him for this loss.  Therefore the payment for the loss of income is compensation only for the loss of ability to do any job, no matter how low paying.

Section six—payment for indignity is relative to the person who inflicts the indignity and to the person who incurs it.  A person of lower social status will inflict greater indignity and will suffer less indignity. (In Mishnah six of this chapter we will see that Rabbi Akiva disagrees with this idea).  For instance, if a poor peasant were to strike the queen, the indignity would be greater, according to the mishnah, than the queen striking a poor peasant.  However, the mishnah teaches that indignity payments are applicable even if the person embarrassed is naked (meaning he has brought upon himself indignity) or sleeping (unaware of his indignity) or blind (unable to see his indignity).  Finally we learn that a person is obligated to pay for the indignity only if the blow was purposeful.  All of the other payments mentioned in the mishnah are obligatory even if the blow was accidental.  


Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Section three states that “even if the injury is on the fingernail”.  What is the meaning of this clause?  Furthermore, this section states, “such a man”; what is the meaning and import of these words?

·                      What is the relationship of clause 6a to clause 6c?

·                      In our society is indignity suffered still relative to the social status of the two parties?