ט״ז במרחשון ה׳תשע״ז (November 17, 2016)

Bava Metzia 52a-b: The Value of Coins

The Mishna on today’s daf discusses ona’ah – unfair business transactions (see above, daf 50) – in a case where a coin had less value than its true weight. In this case, while Rabbi Shimon rules that ona’ah remains at one-sixth the value of the coin, other tanna’im suggest that it is a smaller amount. Rabbi Meir suggests that ona’ah will be at one-twenty-fourth the value of the coin and Rabbi Yehuda suggests one-twelfth.

In answer to the Gemara’s question – why is there agreement about ona’ah in the case of a tallit (clothing), but not in the case of a coin – we find two opinions.

According to Rava, there really is an argument in both cases; the first Mishna only presented Rabbi Shimon’s position, but Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda would keep their positions in all cases.

According to Abaye, there is a basic difference between clothing and coins. Clothing is something that people wear and use, and are willing to overspend on and therefore, a minimal overcharge is considered insignificant. Coins, on the other hand, only have value as exchange, and if a person receives less than he was supposed to he will not “forgive” the difference.

Tosafot ask how we should approach other objects, aside from clothing and coins. What would the rule be with regard to fruit, for example?

The Meiri says that coins are generally seen as a means to purchase food, so fruit would be treated like coins. The Ramban disagreed, arguing that Abaye’s main point was to distinguish between things that have some intrinsic use and coins that are only of symbolic value to purchase things. Therefore it is specifically with regard to coins that the exact value is so important, and ona’ah will apply more readily.

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