ג׳ באלול ה׳תשע״ו (September 6, 2016)

Bava Kamma 98a-b: Damage Caused by Indirect Action

Rabba presents four different cases on our daf, all of which seem to have a common thread. The cases are:

  1. If someone causes his friend’s coin to land in the ocean in such a manner that it can be retrieved, he will not be held responsible, since he can say, “It is before you; go and retrieve it.”
  2. If a person took someone’s coin and flattened it so that the image on the coin could no longer be seen, he is not responsible to pay any damages, since the weight of the coin has not been changed by his actions.
  3. If someone scratches or cuts a cow’s ear, he will not pay any damages. Even though now the cow cannot be brought as a sacrifice, it still remains able to perform most other activities for which someone would buy a cow, so we do not view the damage as significant.
  4. If someone has a document that attests to money that is owed to him and someone else burns it, that person will not be held responsible since all he did was burn a worthless piece of paper that had no intrinsic value.

In all of these cases, Rabba believes that since no real damage was done the person cannot be held responsible, even though his actions caused his friend to suffer a loss.

Most commentaries understand that these rulings are based on Rabba’s belief that we do not hold a person responsible for situations of dina d’garmi. Since the accepted halakha is that a person is responsible for dina d’garmi, Rabba’s rulings are rejected, and the person who caused a loss in cases like these will be held responsible. Rashi and the Ra’avad suggest that two of these cases are not garmi, rather they are cases of grama, where the accepted ruling is that gerama be-nezikim, patur – that the person is not held liable for causing damage indirectly. Thus in the case of throwing a coin in the ocean and cutting the cow’s ear, we accept Rabba’s ruling freeing the man from responsibility.

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