א׳ בטבת ה׳תשע״ז (December 30, 2016)

Bava Metzia 96a-b: The Owner and the Agent

Our Gemara presents a number of questions on our daf, relating to the laws of borrowing an animal or an object, and the law that frees the borrower from responsibility if the owner is working for the borrower (for background on these laws, see daf 94 and daf 95).

For example, Ravina presents the following case to Rav Ashi:

A man appoints his friend as his agent – a shali’aḥ – to work for the person to whom he is lending an ox. Do we require that the owner himself work for the borrower in order to apply the rule that frees the borrower from responsibility in such a case (see Shemot 22:13-14), or do we say shali’aḥ shel adam ke-moto – that a person’s agent stands in his stead, and we can view this case as though the owner was there?

The suggestion raised by the Gemara is that this is effectively similar to another case where we find a maḥloket – a disagreement – between Rabbi Yoshiya and Rabbi Yonatan. If a man who is about to leave on a trip appoints a representative to annul all vows made by his wife until the time that he returns, Rabbi Yonatan says that he has the ability to do so, and the annulments are valid, since shali’aḥ shel adam ke-moto. Rabbi Yoshiya disagrees, arguing that the Torah limits the power of annulment only to the husband in passages like Bamidbar 30:14 which clearly states that “her husband may let it stand or her husband may annul it.”

Tosafot point out that the parallel between our case of borrowing and the case of annulling vows does not seem to work, since Rabbi Yoshiya’s ruling is based on a pasuk that appears only in the case of annulling vows – in other situations he may agree that shali’aḥ shel adam ke-moto. Tosafot answer that in both cases we find an emphasis on the active participation of the central individual. Just as in the case of annulling vows we find an emphasis on ishah – “her husband” – similarly in our case there is an emphasis on be’alav imo – if the owner is with the animal, the rule applies.

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