י׳ באדר ה׳תשע״ז (March 8, 2017)

Bava Batra 45a-b: Rescue or Reimburse

Today there are credit card companies that offer “purchase insurance” – they are willing to insure your purchases against damage or theft. If you buy something, aside from whatever warranty the product has, if it breaks or is stolen within a limited time after purchase, you will be reimbursed or get a replacement.

Such a guarantee is clearly beyond the ordinary responsibility of a seller to a purchaser. But what level of obligation does a seller have to a buyer after the transaction is complete?

Our Gemara reports that Rava (some say it was Rav Pappa) announced so that all those traveling — from Israel to Bavel or vice versa — should know, that if a Jew sells a donkey to his fellow Jew and it is taken by a non-Jew by force, the seller must rescue the donkey from the non-Jew or reimburse the buyer.

Most rishonim understand that the seller’s obligation is not monetary so much as it is a moral obligation, since the seller has indirectly caused a loss to the buyer. Therefore he must do everything in his power to arrange for the donkey to be returned to the buyer. This stems from the fact that the non-Jew claims that he is not stealing the donkey, rather that the donkey belonged to him. This is clear from the continuation of the Gemara, which says that there are cases where the seller would have no obligation whatsoever to assist the buyer, for example:

  • Where the seller owned the donkey’s mother and is therefore certain beyond doubt that the donkey that he sold could not have belonged to the non-Jew, or
  • Where the non-Jew took not only the donkey that he claimed, but also the saddle, which clearly did not belong to him, indicating that he is a robber and not merely someone who is trying to recoup what was taken from him.

Thus, in cases where the seller did not own the donkey’s mother, or where the non-Jew only took the animal, there is a reasonable possibility that the seller sold a stolen donkey and that the non-Jew is telling the truth. Therefore the seller must act to assist the buyer in recovering the animal.

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