Bava Kamma Chapter Four Mishnah Three



Our mishnah deals with an ox owned by a Jew that gores either an ox that has been consecrated to the Temple in Jerusalem or an which belongs to a gentile.

The first clause of our mishnah is really a midrash halakhah on a verse from Exodus.  Midrash can loosely be defined as exegesis, in this case deriving something from a verse in the Torah.  Halakhah, is Jewish law, and therefore midrash halakhah is exegetically deriving a law from a verse, even when that law is not apparent from the simple sense of the verse.  Many of the laws in the mishnah are actually derived through midrash from the Torah.  However, the midrash, or scriptural derivation of the law, is not usually mentioned explicitly in the Mishnah.  The Mishnah is a code organized topically and not organized according to the organization of the Torah, and therefore its connection with the Torah is usually less apparent.  However, there are exceptions as we shall see in our mishnah.



1)                     An ox of an Israelite that gored an ox belonging to the Temple,

a)                                           or an ox belonging to the Temple that gored an ox of an Israelite,

b)                                          the owner is exempt,

c)                                           as it says, “The ox belonging to his neighbor” (Exodus 21:35), and not an ox belonging to the Temple.

2)                     An ox of an Israelite that gores an ox of a gentile,

a)                                           the owner is exempt.

3)                     And an ox of a gentile that gores the ox of an Israelite,

a)                                           whether the ox is harmless or an attested danger,

b)                                          its owner pays full damages.



Section one is a midrash on the word “his neighbor” in the verse “When a man’s ox injures his neighbor’s ox and it dies” (Exodus 21:35).  The Rabbis learned that “his neighbor” comes to exclude an ox that doesn’t belong to his neighbor but belongs to the Temple in Jerusalem.  A person can dedicate any of his property to the Temple.  If the dedicated property was able to be offered as a sacrifice, i.e. a cow, a sheep, a goat, a dove, the priests in the Temple would do so.  If not they would sell the property and use the proceeds for upkeep of the Temple.  In our mishnah a person’s privately owned ox injured an ox that had already been dedicated to the Temple or vice versa.  Since the Torah states “his neighbor” in these cases no damages are incurred.

Sections two and three deal with oxen of Israelites that injure oxen of gentiles and vice versa.  According to the mishnah if an Israelite ox injured the ox of a gentile the Israelite is exempt.  However, according to section three if a gentile ox injured an Israelite ox the gentile is obligated full damages, even if the ox was harmless, which usually means only half damages.  Section two is probably also based on a midrash, exegetical derivation, of the word “his neighbor” in the aforementioned verse in Exodus.  “His neighbor” only includes Jews and not gentiles.  As far as section three is concerned according to Maimonides it is meant to encourage the gentiles to protect their oxen from causing damages.

When learning mishnayot that deal with Jewish-gentile relations, one should try not to compare the situation to most of today’s world, where Jews and gentiles get along quite well.  In ancient times (and not so ancient times) Jews were persecuted by the non-Jews, their lands were often confiscated, and when they rebelled their Temple was destroyed.  In such an atmosphere it is easy to understand why Jews did not consider the gentiles to be their neighbors.


Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Why shouldn’t a person be obligated to pay damages if his ox injures an ox that belongs to the Temple?  Why shouldn’t the Temple pay damages if a dedicated ox injures an ox belonging to a private individual?