י״ט בתשרי ה׳תשע״ז (October 21, 2016)

Bava Metzia 25a-b: A Pattern of Coins

As we learned in the first Mishna in our perek on daf 21a, lost objects that have a siman – some identifying mark that will allow the object to be claimed by its rightful owner – must be announced and returned. Things that do not have identifying marks can be claimed by the individual who found them. The Mishna on our daf discusses objects that cannot have a siman on them, e.g. fruits or coins, and whether a siman can be created for them by collecting them in a bag or by placing them in a certain pattern. For example, the Mishna teaches that three coins placed one upon another can be considered a siman, and if they are found placed that way they must be announced and returned.

Our Gemara introduces the teaching of Rabbi Yitzhak Migdala’a (the Maharatz Hayyut suggest that his name derives from this halakha that he taught) who teaches that this ruling is true only if they are set up as a migdal – a tower. If they are found assembled in some other way, it would not be considered a siman. Among the possible arrangements of coins that the Gemara investigates – without reaching a clear conclusion – are:

  • ke-sher– like a necklace
  • ke-shura – in a straight line
  • ke-hatzuba – in a triangle
  • ke-sulam – like a ladder

Rav Ashi raises one further situation – ke-avnei beit kulis– and the Gemara concludes that such a case would need to be announced and returned.

Beit kulis was a house of worship dedicated to the Roman god Mercurius (referred to as kulis in the Talmud), which was considered the god of trade and commerce. There was a common practice to set up icons on the roads in his honor, and the accepted manner of worship was for the traveler to add a rock to the pile that was placed there in his honor. The first stones, which invited others passing by to add to the pile, were set up with two adjacent stones supporting a third that rests on top, a pattern referred to as avnei beit kulis (stones of the house of kulis).  Coins arranged in the same pattern were referred to as like avnei beit kulis.

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