Bava Kamma Chapter Seven Mishnah One



The first six chapters of Bava Kamma dealt with damage laws, specifically damage a person’s property causes to another person or to another person’s property.  The remaining four chapters of Bava Kamma deal with various types of damages done directly by a person:  thievery, injury and robbery.  Our mishnah and the rest of the chapter will deal with the laws of thievery.  According to Jewish law a thief is one who steals at night or at least without the person from whom he is stealing knowing his identity.   A robber on the other hand, steals in broad daylight without concealing his identity.

The laws of thievery are learned from Exodus 21:37-22:3.  According to these verses if a man steals an ox and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five times the original value to the owner.  If he steals a sheep and slaughters it or sells it he must pay back four times the original value to the owner.  This is called fourfold or fivefold restitution.  If, however, the sheep or ox is still found in the thief’s possession, he must only pay back double.  This is called twofold restitution.

Our mishnah deals with these two different types of restitution.



1)                     More encompassing in use is the rule of twofold restitution than the rule of fourfold or fivefold restitution;

a)                                           For the rule of twofold restitution applies both to what has life and what does not have life,

b)                                          while the rule of fourfold and fivefold restitution applies only to an ox or a sheep,

c)                                           for it is written,  “If a man shall steal an ox or a sheep and kill it, or sell it, he shall pay five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep” (Ex. 21:37).

2)                     One who steals from a thief does not pay twofold restitution;

a)                                           And the one who slaughters or sells what is [already] stolen does not make fourfold or fivefold restitution.



Section one of our mishnah raises a key distinction between the laws of twofold and fourfold and fivefold restitution.  Twofold restitution is applicable to anything that may have been stolen (See Exodus 22:8).  No matter what a person steals, he may be obligated for twofold restitution.  However, fourfold and fivefold restitution is applicable only to stolen sheep and cattle (oxen).  For example, if a person stole and sold an ox, he will be obligated to pay back five times the ox’s value.  However, if he stole and sold a television set, he will only be obligated to pay back double the value.


Section two deals with a thief who steals an already stolen object from another thief.  Someone who steals from an original owner will pay back double the value.  However, someone who steals a stolen object from a thief, will only pay back the value of the stolen object.  The second clause of this section deals with the same case where someone stole a stolen object from a thief.  If the original thief himself had sold the object or slaughtered it, he would have been obligated for fourfold or fivefold restitution.  However, the one who stole the object from the thief is, again, not judged in the same manner as the original thief and he will not be obligated for such payments.


Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Why do you think one must make greater restitution for oxen and sheep than for inanimate objects?

·                      Why is a thief who steals from another thief not obligated for twofold, fourfold and fivefold restitution?