Bava Kamma Chapter Eight Mishnah Six
Most of mishnah six deals with injuries inflicted on another person that do not cause lasting damage but cause great embarrassment. The end of the mishnah deals with people who injure themselves or their own property.
1) If a man boxed the ear of his fellow, he must pay him a sela (four zuz).
a) Rabbi Judah says in the name of Rabbi Yose the Galilean: A maneh (one hundred zuz).
2) If he slapped him he must pay 200 zuz.
3) If with the back of his hand, he must pay him 400 zuz.
4) If he tore at his ear, plucked out his hair, spat at him and his spit touched him, or pulled his cloak from off him, or loosed a womans hair in the street, he must pay 400 zuz.
5) This is the general rule: all is in accordance with the persons honor.
6) Rabbi Akiva said: Even the poor in Israel are regarded as free people who have lost their possessions, for they are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
a) It once happened that a man unloosed a womans hair in the street and she came before Rabbi Akiva and he condemned him to pay her 400 zuz.
b) He said, Rabbi, give me time. And he gave him time.
c) He caught her standing at the entrance to her courtyard, and he broke a jug of one issars worth of oil in front of her.
d) She unloosed her hair and scooped up the oil in her hand and laid her hand on her head.
e) He had set up witnesses up against her and he came before Rabbi Akiva and said to him, Rabbi, should I give one such as this 400 zuz?
f) He answered, You have said nothing.
7) If a man injures himself, even though he has no right to do so, is not liable.
a) But others who injure him are liable.
8) If a man cuts down his own saplings, even though he has no right to do so, is not liable.
a) But, if others cut them down, they are liable.
Sections one through four contain a list of fines a person must pay for striking another person. These types of blows will probably not cause any damage and therefore the fines are for embarrassment only. Note that these are extremely large fines. They demonstrate that Jewish law takes publicly embarrassing another person very seriously and penalizes such a person with a stiff financial penalty. Indeed according to Jewish tradition one who publicly embarrasses another is akin to a murderer.
Section five tempers the fines imposed in sections one through four. According to section five, these fines are imposed only one those people who are of the highest honor and are therefore greatly embarrassed by being slapped etc. Rabbi Akiva disagrees with this statement. According to Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest, if not the greatest Rabbi in the Mishnah, all of Israel is of equal honor, since all of Israel comes from the same roots. A persons honor is not based on his current financial status, as the opinion in section five intimates. Rather it is based on his noble roots as a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The story in sections 6a through 6f illustrates this point. In this story a man disgraces a woman who, as we learn later in the story, is willing to disgrace herself over a tiny portion of oil. (An issar is probably less than an ounce of oil). Nevertheless, Rabbi Akiva makes the man pay 400 zuz, as he would have to pay to a woman of the most honorable status. According to Rabbi Akiva, all Israelites are of equal honor, even those who are poor.
Section seven relates to the story told in section six. Here, and in the next section, we learn that a person is not allowed to injure himself, but there is nevertheless no penalty for doing so. However, if another person should inflict such an injury on him, he is liable, even if the injured person regularly should injure himself. In the example in the story, although the woman undid her own hair, and thus disgraced herself, no other person has the right to do this to her.
Section eight relates a similar law with regards to cutting down saplings. A person should not cut down his own saplings but if he should do so, he is not liable. However, if another should cut down his saplings, he is liable, even though this is something that the person himself has done before.
A final note on unloosing a womans hair. This phrase can alternatively be translated to uncover a womans hair. In Mishnaic times it was customary for men and women to cover their hair in public. It was considered a disgrace for anyone to go out with their hair uncovered.
Questions for Further Thought:
Why is it forbidden to injure oneself? Why is it forbidden to cut down ones own saplings? What do these two ideas teach us about a persons ownership over his property and body?