י״ג בטבת ה׳תשע״ו (December 25, 2015)

Gittin 12a-b: Compensating the Master When the Slave is Injured

Having been introduced to the idea that there are parallels between the laws of divorce and freeing a slave (between giṭṭin and shihrurei avadimsee daf 9) our Gemara becomes involved in a discussion of some of the laws regulating the relationship between slaves and their masters from the perspective of halakha. One issue that is raised is the question of who will receive compensation in the event that someone injures a slave.

Ordinarily, when someone suffers bodily injury that is caused by another person, the person responsible for the injury must pay for five different elements – nezek (loss of value), tza’ar (pain and suffering), ripuy (medical expenses), shevet (loss of income during convalescence) and boshet (embarrassment). Our Gemara discusses only the cases of shevet and ripuy, both of which are paid to the owner, according to Rabbi Yohanan’s ruling.

Although the Gemara accepts that it is obvious that shevet belongs to the master, since he is the one who suffers the financial loss connected with the fact that the slave cannot work, the question is raised that perhaps the ripuy should be given to the slave who would then tend to his own health issues. The Gemara answers that according to the halakha it is the owner who will have the right to decide, for example, whether to use a regular treatment that will be effective in five days, or a sama harifa that will allow the patient to be cured and back at work in three days.

The sama harifa refers to a particularly powerful medicine that offers a faster cure, but is more painful than the standard treatment. The idea that a good balance must be found between the curative powers of a medicine and the possible damage that that particular treatment may do to a patient, is one that was well established by doctors in the ancient world. Doctors understood that treatments needed to be as effective as possible while minimizing potential side-effects including excessive pain. Many medicines are powerfully effective in destroying germs or curing infections, but can be dangerous and/or painful. Oftentimes, offering a patient smaller doses over a longer period of time may be as effective as a shorter term, more powerful dose that will cause pain to the patient.

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