Bava Kamma Chapter Seven Mishnayot Six and Seven

 

Introduction

Mishnah six continues to define the moment from which a thief is considered to be a thief and will therefore become obligated for twofold restitution.  Jewish law has an intricate system of acquisition or kinyan (see Steinsaltz reference guide for a brief discussion).  In order for the thief to become obligated he must have acquired the object.

Mishnah seven does not deal with a subject integral to our chapter.  It is somewhat puzzling why it is placed here. In any case it deals mostly with animals which are forbidden to raise in certain places and under certain conditions.

 

Mishnah Six

1)                     If while he was dragging [a sheep or ox] out it died in the owner’s domain, he is exempt.

a)                                           But if he had lifted it or taken it out of the owner’s domain and it died, he is liable.

2)                     If he brought it as the firstborn offering for his son, or gave it to his creditor, or to an unpaid guardian, or to a borrower, or to a paid guardian, or to a hirer, and one of them was dragging it away and it died in the owner’s domain, he is exempt.

a)                                           If [one of them] had lifted it up or taken it outside the owner’s domain, he is liable.

 

Explanation—Mishnah Six

This mishnah notes two ways of acquiring an animal: by lifting or by dragging it (i.e. pulling it).  The first type of acquisition is effective even if the animal is still on the property of its owner.  Therefore according to 1a and 2a if a person should lift the animal he is considered a thief, and if the animal dies he will be obligated to make restitution.  However, dragging the animal effects acquisition only once the animal is off the property of its original owner.  Therefore, if the thief were to do so on the property of the owner and the animal were to die he would not be obligated to make restitution.

Section two emphasizes that even if the thief had given the animal to someone else as payment, either to a priest in order to redeem his first born (see Numbers 18:15-16), or to a creditor or he had given the animal to anyone else who takes possession of the animal, he is still not legally liable as a thief until someone either lifts the animal or takes it off the owner’s property.

 

Mishnah Seven

1)                     It is forbidden to rear small herd animals in the Land of Israel, but it is permitted to rear them in Syria or in the wildernesses of the Land of Israel.

2)                     It is forbidden to rear fowls in Jerusalem because of the “Holy Things”, nor may priests rear them [anywhere] in the Land of Israel because of [the laws concerning] clean foods.

3)                     It is forbidden to rear pigs anywhere.

4)                     One should not rear a dog unless it is tied with a chain.

5)                     It is forbidden to set snares for pigeons unless it be thirty ris from an inhabited place.

 

Explanation—Mishnah Seven

Section 1—raising small herd animals in the Land of Israel is forbidden because of the damage that they will do to the crops. Sheep and goats can eat a tremendous amount of crops and they are hard to control.  Therefore, if a Jew should wish to raise them he must allow them to graze only in the wilderness or in Syria, which is not in the Land of Israel.

Section 2—Wild fowl have a tendency to pick in the garbage.  The mishnah is concerned that they will find dead animals in the garbage which are ritually impure and they will carry them to places which need to be kept in a state of ritual purity.  Therefore one should not allow them in Jerusalem, which needs to stay in a higher state of ritual purity due to the Temple.  Neither should priests, who need to eat much of their food while they are in a state of ritual purity, raise fowl due to the same concern.

Section 3—It is forbidden for a Jew to raise pigs.  Evidently this is due to the fact that pigs are not kosher and there is no other reason to raise them.  In contrast, horses and camels are also not kosher to eat, but one usually raises them not for their meat but for riding purposes.  Therefore Jews are allowed to raise them.

Section 4—Dogs can be a menace to society and therefore if one wishes to raise one, he must keep it properly leashed.

Section 5—Pigeons were a commonly raised in Israel both for food and to offer as sacrifices in the Temple.  Setting traps for pigeons could allow a person to steal those belonging to his neighbor.  Therefore the mishnah states that one must set the trap thirty ris (about four miles) from the nearest settlement.

 

Questions for Further Thought:

·                      If a thief comes onto someone’s property and is caught while still on the property would the thief be liable for double restitution?

·                      What are some rules in our society that may be similar to those in mishnah seven?

 

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