Bava Kamma Chapter Three Mishnah Ten



Our mishnah is concerned with the differences in obligation when a human being and an ox cause the same damage.  We will discuss these differences in the explanation.

One interesting note is that our mishnah is composed in highly formulaic language, which makes it easier to memorize.  We should always remember that the mishnah is oral Torah, recited and taught orally by the Sages.  As such it is important for it to be composed in the type of repetitive and formulaic language that could be memorized.  This mishnah is a prime example of this type of composition.



1)                     There is one who is obligated for the act of his ox and exempt from his own act,

a)                                           and one who is exempt from his own act and obligated on the act of his ox.

2)                     [If] his ox caused embarrassment [to another person], he is exempt;

a)                                           [If, however] he caused embarrassment [to another person] he is obligated.

3)                     [If] his ox put out the eye of his slave or knocked out his [slave’s] tooth, he is exempt [from freeing the slave];

a)                                           [If, however] he put out the eye of his slave or knocked out his tooth, he is obligated to free the slave.

4)                     [If] his ox injured his father or mother he is obligated;

a)                                           [If, however] he injured his father or mother he is exempt.

5)                     [If] his ox lit a heap of produce on fire on Shabbat, he is obligated;

a)                                           [If, however] he lit a heap of produce on Shabbat he is exempt,

b)                                          because he is liable for his life.



·                      Section one is an introductory clause explaining the topic of the mishnah.  We will be dealing with cases in which the same injury which creates obligation when a human being was the cause, does not create obligation if an ox was the cause and vice versa.

·                      Section two deals with the case of embarrassment payments.  In chapter eight of Bava Kamma we will learn that when a person injures another person one of the payments he makes is for the embarrassment caused to the other person.  We learn in our mishnah that since an ox does not know that he might cause embarrassment to another person, if the ox should injure another person, it’s owner is exempt from that payment.

·                      Section three deals with damages done to a slave.  According to Exodus 21:26-27 if a man should put out the eye of his slave or knock out the slave’s tooth he must set the slave free.  Our mishnah tells us that this is only so if the owner himself does the act.  If the ox were to do the act, the owner is not obligated to free the slave.  Nor is he obligated for any financial payment since the slave is his property.  As such, anything owned by the slave belongs to the master, and therefore there would be no sense in the owner paying the slave.

·                      Section four deals with striking one’s parents.  According to Exodus 21:15 if a person strikes his/her mother or father s/he is obligated for the death penalty.  In our mishnah we learn that if an ox that belonged to a person were to damage the person’s parents, the person is obligated for monetary payment, the same way he would be if the ox injured any person.  However, if the person himself struck the parent, he is exempt from monetary payment.  At the end of this mishnah we learn a new principle: when a person commits a crime that would potentially carry with it the death penalty and a monetary fine, he receives only the death penalty.  In Jewish law one generally can receive only one punishment per crime, namely the greater punishment.  If he is liable for death and money, he gets the death penalty only, that being the greater punishment.

·                      Section five deals with a burning a heap of produce on Shabbat.  Lighting a fire on Shabbat is a capital crime (see for instance Exodus 35:2-3), as are all forbidden acts on Shabbat (if the person was warned beforehand, and understood properly the severity of his/her crime).  Destroying crops through fire is a crime that will carry with it a monetary penalty.  Therefore if an ox should cause the fire, it’s owner is obligated.  If however, a person should destroy the crops through fire on Shabbat, he will incur the death penalty.  In this case, as in the previous case, when a person is liable for the death penalty he is exempt from monetary payment.


Questions for Further Thought:

·                      When an ox puts out the eye of a slave, why doesn’t the owner have to free the slave?  What does this tell us about how the Rabbis understood the verses in Exodus?

·                      Why should a person not receive both the death penalty and a monetary fine?  What does this tell us about Jewish law in general?  Is this a fair system for the injured party?  How does it compare to modern law?