Monday, 24 April 2017

Bava Batra 92: Determining Who is Responsible for Erroneous Sales/Purchases

We begin Perek VI with a new Mishna which teaches about fraudulent transactions.  When a person sells seed for produce and that seed could be used for consumption or for planting and the seed fails, who is responsible for the bad transaction?  Must the store owner pay back the cost of the seed?  Or should the buyer be responsible for his/her loss?

The Gemara first compares this case to that of an ox who is sold for plowing or for slaughter but who gores.  Is the seller responsible for any damages resulting from the goring ox?  The rabbis touch on both the intention of the buyer in choosing that ox and the worth of one's time in finding a new buyer for the unwanted animal.  If the person responsible does not have money to pay for the damages, is it alright to use flax or another grain as reimbursement?

This is a monetary matter, and monetary matters do not necessarily follow the dictate of the majority as do ritual matters.  Rav says that in this case we follow the majority.  Shmuel says that in this case we do not follow the majority, for that happens only in ritual matters.  The rabbis say that five types of cases are discussed with regard to the argument between these two Sages: women, slave, ox, oxen and produce.

We are reminded of Masechet Ketubot and the price of a ketubah for a bride who may or may not have been a virgin.  If at least two people witnessed a veil, her hair, and other specific details, we can assume that she was a virgin bride and so she should receive her full ketubah.  But if she was a widow when she was married to her current husband, her ketubah is worth much less.  Witnesses are held as proof in this case, which teaches us that witnesses are used instead of majority rules - we assume that most women marry as virgins, but that was not proof enough.

What if a slave is sold and that slave ends up stealing or gambling?  Who is liable for this 'erroneous sale'?  The argument that the majority of slaves are thieves and/or gamblers might be enough to erase the seller's liability.  Is this a case of majority rules?  It depends, the rabbis teach.  We may say that all slaves are thieves and gamblers.  This does not provide adequate proof of liability.

What if a purchased ox gores a cow and the cow's fetus lies dead in the same place as the cow?  We cannot know whether the fetus was killed by the goring ox, whether it was born still, or whether it was miscarried by the cow due to fright or injury based on the ox's actions.  The majority of cows have deliver live babies.  Is that enough?  It is uncertain whether or not the ox is responsible for the death of the fetus.  In cased of uncertain responsibility usually the monetary consequences are shared half and half.  The rabbis consider a case with camels in a similar situation.

The rabbis continue their argument.  It is continually jarring to read about cruel practices like the sale of people as slaves, or the evaluation of animals only in monetary terms.

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