ה׳ במרחשון ה׳תשע״ז (November 6, 2016)

Bava Metzia 41a-b: When the Barrel Breaks

The Mishna (40b) teaches about cases where a shomer (someone paid to watch an object for his friend) accidentally breaks the object.

As explained in the Gemara on our daf, the Mishna opens by teaching that if a havit – a jug or a barrel – falls from the shomer‘s hand and he had picked it up planning to use it, he would be held liable, but if he picked it up to protect it, he would not be responsible. If, however, it broke after he put it down, he would not be held responsible under any circumstances.

According to the second clause of the Mishna, whether it fell from his hand or broke after he replaced it, he will be held liable if he planned to use it, but will be free of responsibility if he moved it in order to protect it.

Our Gemara explains the discrepancy in the Mishna by saying that the first half of the Mishna follows the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael, who believes that once someone returns his theft he is no longer responsible for it, even if its owner was unaware that it was returned. The second half of the Mishna follows the opinion of Rabbi Akiva who believes that a thief remains responsible for the object until he informs the owner that he has returned it. In response to the Gemara’s asking whether it is reasonable to divide authorship of the Mishna between two different Sages, Rabbi Yohanan says “if anyone can explain the Mishna of havit according to a single tanna, I will carry his clothing after him to the bathhouse” (as a servant treats his master).

The question of how to reconcile two clauses of a given Mishna is one of the most common issues dealt with in the Talmud. On occasion the Gemara succeeds in working out an apparent contradiction, but when it cannot, there are two methods that most often are suggested:

  1. That there are two different authors of the Mishna, one who wrote the first half and the other who wrote the second half, or
  2. That the Mishna is really talking about two different cases.

The Gemara in Massekhet Sanhedrin attests to the fact that Rabbi Yohanan is very comfortable with the first approach, and reluctant to try and establish the Mishna as referring to two different cases.

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