Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Bava Kamma 22: Causing Damage "Like His Arrows"

Our previous case example: a dog steals a cake with a coal still attached to it and eats the cake on a stack of grain.  The coal ignites the grain.  Who is liable?  The owner of the dog is liable for full damages of the cake, and for half-damages for the stack of grain.  The rabbis continue to discuss why this is the case.  Rabbi Yochanan argues that the cake is like his arrows.  This means that it is as if the owner of the dog shot an arrow without considering the damage it might cause when it lands.  The dog was allowed to steal the cake and the fire that ensued was indirectly caused by the owner's negligence regarding his/her dog.  

The fire caused by the coal is similar to damage caused by pebbles (which are thrown and cause damage inadvertently when someone walks on the road).  Thus the owner pays half-damages for the grain, just like in cases of pebbles.  The rabbis do consider whether fire is a physical substance similar to other substances.  Whether or not it is a tangible substance, it causes damage.

The Gemara explores another example.  In this case, a camel is carrying flax.  Its owner stops at a store, and the camel's flax catches fire from the storeowner's lamp. The flax then sets the store aflame. Is the camel's owner liable for damages to the store?  Is the storeowner liable for damage to the flax?   Does it matter if the entire store was lit at once, or whether the camel's flax lit the store on fire spot by spot?  What if the camel had stopped to urinate - how could the camel's owner be held liable if he could not move the camel?  The rabbis even consider whether the lamp was inside the store or outside of the store; whether the candles were part of the mitzvah of Chanukah or not.  

Amud (b) adds a disturbing caveat to this case.  What if a goat were tied to the camel, too, and the goat was killed by the fire?  What if a Canaanite slave was standing by the camel and he too was killed by this fire?  Who is liable? Why?

The rabbis remind us that if the camel's owner is liable for the death of the Canaanite slave, he is not liable for damages to the store nor to the flax.  Why not?  Because a greater consequence nullifies lesser consequences.  Causing the death of a Canaanite slave is punishable by the death penalty.  Thus any other damages are thought to be less serious and they are nullified.

If a person gives an "imbecile", a minor, or a "deaf-mute" the tools with which to start a fire, s/he is liable for any ensuing damages.  Again, this is because it is like one's arrows.  Further, we learn that such a person is exempt from responsibility "according to human laws but is liable according to the laws of Heaven".  Rashi takes this to mean that this person cannot be punished by enforcing a fine or seizing property.  However, he will be punished by G-d, and that means that he should be concerned about that punishment and he should be making amends with those people he has harmed.

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