Bava Kamma Chapter Two Mishnah Two
The previous mishnah taught us the laws dealing with damages done by an animals regel leg through walking (trampling). This mishnah teaches damages done by an animals shen or tooth. Note that the mishnah does not deal with vicious biting by an animal but with an animal that damages by eating. The laws in this mishnah are related to Exodus 22:4 which speaks of a crop-destroying beast. Our mishnah will deal with several issues: 1) what does an animal eat, thereby causing its owner to become liable; 2) differences in liability based on where the animal eats; 3) two different levels of liability, a greater level in which the owner is obligated to pay the actual cost of damages, and a lesser level in which the owner pays that which the animal actually benefited.
1) How is the tooth [of a beast] an attested danger to eat that which it is fit to consume?
a) A beast is an attested danger to eat fruit and vegetables.
b) [If however] it ate clothing or utensils [the owner] pays only half damages.
2) When does this apply?
a) [This applies] in the domain of the damaged party
b) But if it was within the public domain, the owner is not liable.
3) If [the beast] benefited, [the owner] pays what it benefited.
4) How does [the owner] pay what [the animal] benefited?
a) [If it ate] from the middle of the marketplace, [the owner] pays what [the animal] benefited.
b) [If it ate] from the sides of the marketplace, [the owner] pays for the damage [the animal] did.
c) [If it ate] from in front of the store [the owner] pays for what [the animal] benefited.
d) [If it ate] from inside the store [the owner] pays for the damage [the animal] did.
There are really three parts to the mishnah. The first section tells us that an owner is only liable when an animal eats things that an animal normally eats. For instance, if my dog goes into your house and eats your cupcakes, I am liable. However, if he eats your mail, I am liable only for half damages.
The second section deals with where the damages are done. I am liable when my animal goes onto your property to damage. I am not liable if you carelessly leave your things in the public domain and my animal eats them. However, the end of the mishnah returns and refines this clause. If you leave things on the side of the public domain, that is not considered careless and the owner of the damaging animal would be liable.
Finally, in sections three and four we introduce a new type of payment, compensation for that which the animal benefited and not for the damage done. For instance if you leave an expensive cut of steak in the public domain and my animal eats it the damages may be 100 dollars. However, since I would not feed my animal steak, rather I would usually feed her cheap dog food, I am only obligated for the amount of dog food that I will now not have to feed her, since she already ate. Paying for the benefit is usually much less that the actual damages.
You should note the highly formulaic nature of this mishnah. It teaches many laws but uses few words. (This is especially true in the Hebrew. In the English I have added words to make the mishnah read better). The mishnah repeats the same structures and phrases over and over again, as does the previous mishnah. Remember, this is oral law, recited and memorized orally. Having repeated structures and few words makes the mishnah much easier to remember and repeat.
Questions for further thought:
· What is the difference between in front of the store and in the store? From this mishnah, can you imagine how their stores were set up?
· What might the law be if I did regularly feed my dog expensive steak?
· What might the law be if my dog is accustomed to eating shoes, and he goes onto your property and eats your shoes?