Bava Kamma Chapter Nine Mishnayoth Three and Four



The two mishnayoth which we will learn today deal with craftsmen who receive objects on which to work and somehow ruin the object during the course of their work.  In the previous mishnah we discussed the obligation of a robber to return the object to the original owner at its value at the time of theft.  The editor of the Mishnah found these laws to be loosely associated with the obligation that a craftsmen has to return an object on which he was working to the original owner.  The similarity between the two situations is that both a robber and a craftsmen who was contracted to work on an object belonging to another person must return objects to their original owner.  The major difference is of course that the craftsmen received the object at the behest of the owner, unlike the robber who stole the object.  In any case, this is a good example of how the Mishnah will associate different subjects and occasionally teach their laws in juxtaposition.


Mishnah Three

1)                     If he gave [something] to craftsmen to repair, and they ruined it, they must make restitution. 

2)                     If he gave a carpenter a box, chest or cupboard to repair, and he ruined it, he must make restitution.

3)                     If a builder undertook to pull down a wall, and he broke the stones or caused damage, he must make restitution.

a)                                           If he was pulling down at the one end and it fell down on the other, he is exempt;

i)                                                       However, if it fell due to the blow, he is liable.


Explanation—Mishnah Three

Sections one and two teach that workmen/craftsmen whom receive an object on which to work, are obligated to make restitution for the object, should they ruin it.  This may sound a bit obvious, but it is not necessarily so.  Indeed many of us have probably had arguments over just this topic with modern day repairmen.  The mishnah squarely places responsibility for the object in the hands of the craftsmen.

Section three is slightly more complex.  In this scenario a builder was hired to take down a wall.  In the times of the mishnah building material was scarce, especially in the Land of Israel (it is still scarce here).  When the owner hired the builder to take down the wall the intention was not to ruin the stones but rather to use them to build something else.  If the builder took them down and ruined the stones, he has not fulfilled his job as is expected of him, and therefore will be liable for the damage.  Similarly if he should cause damage during the process, he is personally liable.  If, however, the wall should fall at the opposite end of his work, the assumption is that it fell due to other circumstances, and he will not be held liable.  Finally, the mishnah lets us know, that if it fell at the opposite end, but it nevertheless fell due to his breaking down the wall, he is liable.


Mishnah Four

1)                     If a man gave wool to a dyer and the cauldron burned it, he must repay him the value of the wool. 

2)                     If he dyed it badly: if the improvement was worth more than the cost of the dying, he must pay him the cost of the dying; if the cost of the dying was worth more than the improvement, he must pay only [the value of the] improvement.

3)                     If he told him to dye it red and he dyed it black; black and he dyed it red:

a)                                           Rabbi Meir says:  “[The dyer] must pay the cost of the wool.”

b)                                          Rabbi Judah says:  “If the improvement was worth more than the cost of the dying, he must pay him the cost of the dying; if the cost of the dying was worth more than the improvement, he must pay only [the value of the] improvement.


Explanation—Mishnah Four

In section one, a person gave wool to a dyer to dye.  If, while in the process of dying the wool, he should burn the wool, he is certainly obligated to return the value of the wool.  This halacha is completely consistent with those mentioned in the previous mishnah.

Sections two and three are more complicated.  In these two sections the dyer did not render the wool unusable but rather either dyed it badly (section two) or dyed it the wrong color (section three).  If he dyed it badly the original owner will still have to pay for the dying, but only the lesser of two amounts:  the cost of the dying or the rise in the value of the wool.  Let us say that the wool was originally worth 10 dollars.  If it cost 2 dollars to dye the wool badly, and after the dying it was worth 13 dollars, the owner owes the dyer 2 dollars, the lesser of the two amounts.  If it cost 2 dollars to dye and now it is worth 11 dollars, the owner owes the dyer 1 dollar, again, the lesser of the two amounts.  Note, in a normal circumstance they would have agreed on an amount prior to the dying, an amount certainly higher than the cost of the dying.  Since the dyer did not properly perform his duty he does not receive the full expected payment.

If the owner dyed the wool in a proper fashion, but dyed it the wrong color, Rabbi Judah says that the law is the same as in section two.  The owner must pay the dyer the lower of the two amounts:  the cost of the dying or the increased value of the wool.  However, according to Rabbi Meir he must pay back the original value of the wool, 10 dollars in our example above.


Questions for Further Thought:

·                      What will the law be if the dyer dyed the wool badly and the 10 dollar wool is now worth 9 dollars?