Bava Kamma Chapter Ten Mishnah One

 

Introduction

Our mishnah begins by further discussing the laws of robbery, a topic which was covered throughout the previous chapter.  Section two of the mishnah begins to discuss tax-collectors.  Since tax-collectors were suspected of stealing money, one had to be careful about accepting money from one, lest the money be stolen.

 

Mishnah

1)                     If a man stole [something] and fed it to his children, or if he left it in front of them, they are exempt from making restitution. 

a)                                           But if it was something which is subject to mortgage (that is, real estate), they are liable to make restitution.

2)                     One may not make change from the chest of an excise collector or from the wallet of tax collectors, or take any charity from them.

a)                                           But it may be taken from them at their own house or in the market.

 

Explanation

If a man were to steal an object and then leave it for his children as an inheritance or feed it to them, the children do not have an obligation to make restitution, since they were not the robbers.  Rather they are only inheritors whose father died with a debt.  According to the halacha whenever a father dies with outstanding debts, the children do not have to pay the debts with “movable property” (anything besides land) from their father’s estate.  If, however, he were to have stolen real estate, the children must make restitution, since inheritors must pay their father’s debts with any real estate left in the inheritance.  Furthermore, according to the Talmud, if the father had stolen something and the thing still existed the children do have an obligation to return the actual item.

We should note that in Talmudic times only real estate was considered to be property upon which one could rely on its sustaining value.  Also, when a person loaned another person money, he would only rely on real estate as collateral for the loan.  Their economy was based on property;  “things”, as well as money, were seen to be risky possessions, whose values could radically fluctuate and they were not worthy as collateral.  However, in later times, when Jews ceased to be landowners, and worked usually as merchants and bankers, the halacha changed to adopt to the new reality.  By the Middle Ages (the time of the Gaonim, 8th-11th centuries) it was decided that the same laws that applied to real estate should apply to “movable property”.

Section two deals with accepting money from different types of tax collectors.  One was not allowed to change money from the various types of boxes used to collect the taxes, and one was even not allowed to accept charity from these boxes.  The fear is that the tax collector has taken more than mandated by the authorities and therefore accepting money from him would be considered accepting stolen property.  Section 2a limits this prohibition to taking money from the boxes of the tax collectors.  One need not fear that the money in the house of the tax collector or money that the tax collector uses at the market is stolen. 

 

Questions for Further Thought:

·                      What is our mishnah’s attitude towards taxes and tax collectors?

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