Bava Kamma Chapter Four Mishnah Seven and Eight



Our two mishnayot continue to deal with the ox that killed a human being.  As we learned previously, according to Exodus 21:28 an ox that has killed a human being is to be put to death and it is forbidden to derive any benefit from its meat.  Mishnah seven deals with an ox that is owned by someone other than an adult male, and the consequences its ownership might have on its sentence.  Mishnah eight deals with the case where someone tried to either dedicate the ox to the Temple or to ritually slaughter the animal before it was killed for being a goring ox.  As we shall see the effect of these actions are dependent on the time at which they were done.


Mishnah Seven

1)                     The ox of a woman, or the ox of orphans, or the ox of a guardian, or a wild ox, or an ox belonging to the Temple, or an ox belonging to a proselyte who died and has no inheritors,

a)                                           these are all liable for the death penalty.

b)                                          Rabbi Judah says, “A wild ox, or an ox belonging to the Temple, or an ox belonging to a proselyte who died are exempt from death, since they have no owners.”


Mishnah Eight

1)                     If an ox goes out to be stoned, and its owners dedicated it to the Temple, it is not considered dedicated.

a)                                           If he slaughtered it, its flesh is forbidden.

2)                     But if before its sentence was complete its owner dedicated it, it is dedicated.

a)                                           If he slaughtered it, its flesh is permitted.



Mishnah seven begins with a list of oxen owned by those other than adult Jewish males.  Although for various reasons one might have thought that these oxen are not liable for the death penalty, the mishnah decrees otherwise.  In all cases the ox is liable for the death penalty.  In section two Rabbi Judah disagrees with the opinion expressed in section one.  According to R. Judah if the ox does not have owners, the Torah does not demand that it be put to death.  Rabbi Judah’s opinion is probably based on a midrash on Exodus 21:29, which describes the process of warning the goring ox’s owners, a process which lead to the ox being declared an attested danger.  According to Rabbi Judah in order to fulfill the law mentioned in Ex. 21:28, namely killing the goring ox, one must be able to fulfill the law in verse 29, which would require the ox to have owners.  In other words since one cannot warn the owners, as verse 29 states, one need not execute the ox, as verse 28 states. 

A note is required about the laws of inheritance for a proselyte.  According to the Rabbis’ a proselyte does not “Biblically” inherit from anyone in his family that did not convert, but his inheritance is only ordained by the Rabbis themselves.  Therefore, when a proselyte dies without children or a spouse, his property would have no “Biblical” inheritors.  Since the requirement to stone the ox is a Biblical command, with regards to this law the ox is considered ownerless. 


Mishnah Eight deals with an owner of a goring ox who tried to “cheat the system” by either dedicating the ox to the Temple, and thereby getting credit for a sacrifice, or by ritually slaughtering the ox, and thereby getting food to eat and the leather from the hide.  We learned in the aforementioned verses in Exodus that the ox must be executed and its meat is forbidden for use.  Our mishnah tells us that this is so only if its sentence has already been pronounced by the court.  If it has not, and a person should either dedicate it or slaughter it, the person’s actions are valid and either the Temple or the person himself may derive benefit from the ox.


Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Why do you think the Rabbis allowed a person to derive benefit from a goring ox if they slaughtered it before the court pronounced the sentence?  Why shouldn’t the Rabbis be concerned that people will take advantage of this law and slaughter their goring oxen before the sentence is complete?