Bava Kamma Chapter One Mishnah Three



The third mishnah of Bava Kamma continues to give us introductory information to the general laws of damages which will be learned throughout the tractate.  The previous mishnahs dealt with the causes of injury (mishnah one) and the type of property for which one would be liable if damaged (mishnah two).  Mishnah three basically deals with the judiciary procedure through with the damages will be assessed.



1.                     Assessment [of injury] in money or things worth money must be made before a court of law and by witnesses that are free and Children of the Covenant (Jews). 

2.                     Women may be parties in [suits concerning] injury. 

3.                     The injured and the injurer [in certain cases may share] in the compensation.



1.                     The first clause of the mishnah deals with assessing both the monetary amount of the damages  and the monetary evaluation of the payment that the injurer will give to the injured party.  For instance, if my ox gores your ox and your ox dies, we need to go to the court to assess two things:  1)  how much your ox was worth, 2)  how big of a piece of land must I give you in order to compensate you for your loss.  These assessments must be done in front of a court, which according to Jewish law must have three judges.  The witnesses who testify in cases involving the laws of damages must be free and  Jewish. 

2.                     The second clause of the mishnah states that with regards to damage law, men and women are equal.  This means that if a man or his property damages a woman or her property, or a woman or her property damages a man or his property, in all cases we judge according to the same law.  Perhaps the reason why the mishnah feels the necessity to state this law is that the Torah uses the word “ish”, man, in many of the verses concerning damage law (Exodus 21:33, 35, 37, Exodus 22:4, 6, 9, 13).  One may have explained that according to the Torah only men’s damages are considered to be important.  The mishnah states the opposite, that women are also a part of damage law (see also Exodus 21:28).

3.                     The final clause of the mishnah refers to the case of “half damages”.  When an ox that is not known to gore gores another ox, the owner of the goring ox is only obligated for half damages, since his ox was not known to be a “goring ox”.  In this case it is as if the injurer pays half for the dead ox and the injured also pays half.


Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Why must property evaluation be done in front of the court?  Why can’t people just come to an agreement?

·                      We have seen now in several mishnahs that damage laws as described in the Torah and in the mishnah apply only to free Jews?  Why do you think this is so?