Bava Kamma 65a-b

March 03, 2009

As we have learned, according to the Torah in Parashat Mishpatim (Shemot chapters 21-22) someone who steals an animal or an object will pay back twice the value of the object he stole (kefel - see Shemot 22: 6-8). If he stole a shor (a bull) or a seh (a sheep) and killed them or sold them, he will pay back five times the value of a bull and four times the value of a sheep (arba ve'hamishah - see Shemot 21:37).


What if the status of the animal changes?


On our daf (=page) Rabbi El'a teaches that if someone stole a lamb and it grew to become a ram, or a calf that grew to become a bull, the thief would be obligated to repay the value of the lamb or the calf, as well as the penalty of kefel. If, however, he killed or sold the animal after its status had changed, he would not be obligated to pay arba ve'hamishah since he took possession of the animal when it became a ram or a bull. From the perspective of Jewish law, since we now see the animal as having become his property, although there is still a monetary obligation to repay the theft, he has killed or sold his own animal.


In the ensuing discussion in the Gemara, an objection is raised as to whether we should really consider an animal's physical development as a change in its status. Rabbi Zeira argues that simply the change of terminology should be enough to change the status - and the ownership - of the animal. To this suggestion Rava responds that names like shor are not only the name of the mature animal, but are also the general term by which the animal is referred.


Tosafot point out that with regard to certain laws, the terminology is significant. Specifically with regard to sacrifices, animals must be a certain age, and the term "lamb" means something different than the term "ram." Nevertheless, it is clear that this is limited to the laws of korbanot where those requirements are clearly spelled out.

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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