Bava Kamma 26a-b

January 23, 2009

Up until this point, the discussion in Masechet Bava Kamma has focused on the level of responsibility that a person has when damage is caused by his property. The Mishnah on our daf (=page) discusses what someone's responsibilities are when he does the damage himself. It is not all that surprising to find that a person will be held liable to an even higher degree when he is the one who blinded another or broke his things. The Mishnah teaches that unlike an ox where we distinguish between a shor tam - one that has shown no violent tendencies - whose owner must pay for just half of the damages and a shor mu'ad - a violent animal - whose owner must make full restitution, adam mu'ad le-olam - a person is always fully responsible for the consequences of his actions. This is true whether the damage was done on purpose or by accident; whether the man was awake or asleep when he did the destructive action.


According to the Talmud Yerushalmi (and echoed in the rulings of the poskim), a person will only be held responsible for injury or damage that he did while asleep if he placed himself in a position where he might break things when he lay down to sleep (e.g. he lay down right next to another person or next to a breakable object). If, however, when he went to sleep nothing else was near him, he cannot be held responsible for damage done to someone who came and lay down next to him while he was already asleep.


Given the fact that a person is ordinarily held responsible even for things that took place against his will (ones), this ruling demands some explanation.

Tosafot believe that this proves that there are some cases of ones that a person will not be held responsible for. If it was totally out of his control we cannot put the responsibility on him.

The Ramban argues that in cases like this one, the person who put himself in a position to be injured would be considered a poshe'ah - a negligent person - and the responsibility would, therefore, be entirely his own.


The Me'iri adds that it follows according to the Mishnah that a person will be held responsible whether drunk or sober.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.  To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.
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