Bava Kamma Chapter Six Mishnah Four

 

Introduction

The final three mishnayoth of chapter six deal with the fourth archetypal cause of damage, fire.  The mishnah that we will learn today contains several details concerning a person who directly or indirectly causes damage by fire.

 

Mishnah

1)                     If a person sends forth fire in the hands of a deaf-mute, an idiot or a minor he is not liable by the laws of man, but he is liable by the laws of Heaven.

a)                                           If he sent it forth in the hands of a person of sound senses, the one of sound senses is liable.

2)                     If one brought the fire, and then another brought the wood, he that brought the wood is liable.

a)                                           If one brought the wood and then another brought fire, he that brought the fire is liable.

b)                                          If another came and fanned the flames, the one who fanned the flame is liable.

c)                                           If the wind fanned the flame, they are all exempt.

3)                     If a man sent forth fire, and it consumed wood or stones or dust, he is liable, for it says:  “When a fire breaks out and spreads to thorns so that the stacked corn is consumed, or the standing corn, or the field, he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.”

4)                     If it passed over a fence four cubits high, or over a public way, or over a river, he is exempt.

5)                     If a man kindled fire within his own domain, how far may it spread [and he will still be liable]?

a)                                           Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah says:  “It is looked at as if it was in the middle of a kor’s space.” [ 

b)                                          Rabbi Eliezer says:  “Sixteen cubits [in every direction] like a public highway.”

c)                                           Rabbi Akiva says:  “Fifty cubits.”

d)                                          Rabbi Shimon says:  “[It is said] ‘He that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution’, all is in accordance with the nature of the fire.”

 

Explanation

·                      Section one deals with the liability of a person who sent forth fire in another’s hand and that fire caused damage.  According to the first clause if he sends it forth in the hands of a person who cannot properly take responsibility over the fire he is exempt in a human court but liable in heavenly court.  This is the way the Mishnah will often state that an action is a wrong action but nevertheless not prosecutable.  It is wrong because the person should know that it is likely that the fire will cause damage.  It is not prosecutable because it was not he who directly allowed the fire to cause damage. 

·                      Section two deals with a case where two or more factors contributed to the fire.  According to the first two clauses whoever is the last person to contribute is liable for all of the damage, whether or not this person brought the fire or the wood.  According to the third clause, if a third person came and fanned the flames, he is the one liable.  However, according to the fourth clause if the wind fanned the flames, they are all exempt. 

·                      Section three emphasizes that one is obligated not just for the damages done to the crops but for the damages done to the field as well.  This is learned from the word “or the field” in the Biblical verse. 

·                      Sections four and five set limits on the distance and obstacles a fire will overcome and the owner will still be liable for damages.  According to section four if the fire goes over a fence or jumps over a river or a public thoroughfare, the owner is not liable for damages done on the other side of the fence or river or thoroughfare.  Since this is an unexpected action for the fire, the kindler is exempt.

·                      In section five four sages argue about how far a fire may travel and the person who set the fire will still be obligated.  The first three set absolute amounts while the fourth sage, Rabbi Shimon says that the distance depends on the nature of the fire.  According to Rabbi Shimon if a person sets a large fire he will be responsible for damages caused at further distances. 

 

Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Compare section one of this mishnah to section one of the second mishnah of this chapter.  What is the difference between the two cases?

·                      According to clause 2c if the wind fanned the flames there is no liability.  Why not?

·                      Explain Rabbi Shimon’s opinion at the end of the mishnah.  What might the other sages respond to him?

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