Introduction to Tractate Bava Kamma


Bava Kamma literally means “first gate”, and it refers to the fact that this tractate is the first third of what was originally a larger tractate called “Nezikin” or damages.  The next two tractates which we will learn are called Bava Metziah or “middle gate” and Bava Batra, or “final gate”.  Together these three tractates contain the bulk of Jewish civil law, dealing with such issues as damages, penal laws, employment and contracts, bailiff laws, property rights, and many others.


The first six chapters of Bava Kamma deal mostly with damage laws, generally answering two questions:  when is a person obligated to pay damages that he or his property caused another person or his property; for how much is he obligated.  The final four chapters of the tractate deal mostly with thievery and robbery.


An important note to remember with regards to most of the Mishnah, but especially in regards to Bava Kamma, is that the Mishnah does not give all possible circumstances.  Rather the Mishnah will teach archetypal situations, from which a person or a judge could reasonably adjudicate most matters. 


Another important note, again especially in regards to Bava Kamma is that the Mishnah is both independent from and yet explaining the Torah.  There are several key passages in the Torah that deal with damage laws, and they are listed at the bottom of this page.  However these passages are usually not thorough enough for one to adjudicate all situations.  They are in essences chapter headings that the Oral Torah, of which the Mishnah is part, fills in.  We will refer back to these verses from time to time as we learn the Mishnah. 


List of relevant verses for Bava Kamma:  They are listed in the order of their relevance throughout the tractate.

Exodus 21:33-34

Exodus 21:35-36

Exodus 22:4-5

Exodus 21:28-32

Exodus 21:37

Exodus 22:3

Exodus 22:6-8

Exodus 21:18-19

Exodus 21:22-25

Leviticus 24:18-20

Deuteronomy 19:21

Leviticus 5:20-25

Numbers 5:5-8


I know this seems like a lot of verses, but you don’t need to remember them all in the beginning.  We will come back to them frequently.  Good luck learning!