Bava Kama – Shiur #12: Concealed Goods That Were Damaged By Fire (61b-62A)

  • Rav Ezra Bick

            The mishna on p. 61b records a dispute among the Tannaim as to whether a petur (exemption) from liability is granted in the case of tamun ba-aish (concealed goods that were damaged by fire); the Sages maintain that the owner of the fire is exempt, whereas Rabbi Yehuda maintains that he is liable. The Gemara above (60a) explains that the Sages derive the petur governing tamun from a Scriptural decree – "But why was 'standing corn' necessary [to be mentioned]? [To teach that] just as 'standing corn' is in an open place, so is everything [that is] in an open space [subject to the same law]." Rabbi Yehuda, on the other hand, does not accept this exposition of the verse.

            The Gemara on p. 23a raises an objection from the law of tamun against the viewpoint of Rabbi Yochanan that "isho mishum chitzav" ("his fire is due to his arrows"), which according to the Rishonim means that the liability in the case of fire is the same as that for damage caused by the person himself. Rava asks that if isho mishum chitzav, how is a petur in the case of tamun possible. The Gemara assumes that if isho mishum chitzav, it would be impossible to grant a petur in a case of tamun. Rashi (ad loc., s.v. heikhi) explains that a person who causes damage is liable in the case of shogeg (inadvertence) as in that of meizid (willfulness), in the case of ones (unavoidable accident) as in that of ratzon (willingness), and therefore he is clearly liable even if he causes damage to tamun goods. The wording of Rashi implies that the rule that a person is always treated as a mu'ad (someone warned against damaging and therefore must exercise caution), because of which a person is liable even in cases of ones, precludes the possibility of a petur for tamun. This suggests that the petur in the case of tamun stems from the law of ones, or something very similar to ones. That is to say, that there is a deficiency in the level of peshiya (negligence) in comparison to damage caused in an open place. This, however, is exceedingly difficult.

            First of all, the Mishna on p. 61b distinguishes between tamun goods that can be expected to be there, e.g., household items inside one's house, and goods the presence of which in a particular place is surprising and unexpected. According to the Sages, the petur in the case of tamun applies to both types of goods (at least according to Rava in the Gemara). According to the Gemara there are two separate peturim. The first applies only in the case where the person was madlik be-tokh shelo (he set the fire on his own property); this grants a petur with respect to all tamun goods. The second applies even in the case of madlik be-shel chaveiro (where he set the fire on another's property). There, however, he is only exempt for damage caused to unexpected tamun goods, but he is liable for damage caused to tamun goods whose presence should have been expected. The Tosafot (s.v. ela) explain that the second petur is based on the rule that "he need not have borne them in mind." That is to say, he is exempt because there is no peshiya. This petur seems to be based on a rational argument, and not on a Scriptural decree governing tamun. It is clear that if the petur regarding tamun applies even to goods the presence of which should have been expected, and it applies only because physically the goods were concealed - this being the essence of the Scriptural decree governing tamun that applies in a case of madlik be-tokh shelo – then it follows that the reason he is exempt does not stem from a deficiency in the level of his peshiya.

                       Second, there is a difficulty with the logical argument itself. Even if we can argue that the person need not have known or been concerned about the existence of tamun goods in the grain stack, surely he exhibited peshiya when he lit the fire, as this jeopardized – and in the end destroyed – the stack of grain. If so, there is no reason to consider him a victim of ones, as he was certainly obligated to prevent the spread of the fire. This is even worse than the case where there is peshiya at the beginning but the actual damage results from ones (techilato bi-peshi'a ve-sofo be-ones), as there the peshiya is not the cause of the damage. In our case there is peshiya at the beginning that leads directly to the damage, even of the tamun goods. The argument presented by the person who caused the damage is that he knew (that is, he should have known) that his fire would burn the stack of grain, but he did not know that it would also burn the tamun goods within it. Does this turn him into a victim of ones vis-à-vis the tamun goods? If a person was poshe’a with respect to an ox and failed to properly lock it inside, and the ox escaped and caused damage to tamun goods, could an argument be made that he should be exempt based on the law of ones? Surely he was poshe’a regarding his ox and therefore he is liable for all the damage that it caused.

            However, the Sefer ha-Yashar (no. 538) records the view of Rabbeinu Tam who states explicitly that the petur granted in the case of tamun is a petur for ones:

"In an open place" does not come to exclude all tamun goods, for we have learned that if one set fire to a castle, he pays for everything that is found inside… This implies that "standing corn" comes only to exclude that which is not in its usual manner… As there is no monetary liability for damage resulting from ones. Something that is concealed not in its usual manner is like ones, as he need not have borne it in mind.

This, however, is very difficult, as we have already explained.

            The Tosafot (23a, s.v. tamun) offer a different explanation of the Gemara's question there. We find distinctions and exclusions regarding the four principle categories of damage, e.g., utensils in a bor (pit), or the public domain regarding shein (damage resulting from the animal eating) and regel (damage resulting from the animal trampling). [Editor’s note: the typical damage in a bor is from a person or animal falling in and getting injured. The typical damage of shein is when an animal enters a field that does not belong to its owner and eats. Regel is also from an animal trampling in a field that does not belong to its owner. Therefore, a discussion of damaged utensils that were in a bor, or an animal trampling or eating an item in a public domain would be atypical cases, and the Gemara elsewhere discusses reasons for a petur in such a case.] It should therefore not surprise us that a petur is granted concerning tamun goods that were damaged by a fire. All of this applies to damage caused by a person's property, but no distinctions apply to damage caused by a person himself, as he is liable in the case of meizid and shogeg alike, and in a case of ones and ratzon alike. "And therefore there is no rationale to say isho mishum chitzav." What the Tosafot mean is that the petur for tamun is indeed a Scriptural decree, but nevertheless it is not reasonable that there should be a Scriptural decree with no rationale with respect to a petur from liability in the case of a person who causes damage, as we do not find any distinctions in that regard. It would seem that the Tosafot do successfully answer the question that we raised against Rashi. The petur granted in the case of tamun is not based on ones. Rather, the fact that the Torah does not distinguish between ones and ratzon with respect to a person who causes damage, nor does it make any other distinctions, suggests that it would be unreasonable for there to be a distinction between tamun and open goods, whatever the logic may be.

            It would seem that according to Tosafot we can say that the petur granted in the case of tamun is a Scriptural decree. It is possible that this is also the way to understand Rashi – not that tamun goods is an instance of "ones like ratzon," but rather that in the same way that the Torah did not distinguish between ones and ratzon, so too it did not distinguish between tamun goods and open goods. Rashi's wording, however, does not support such an understanding.

            It seems to me that the petur of tamun is undoubtedly a Scriptural decree, for the reasons discussed above. Without the verse we would not have granted a petur for damage caused to tamun goods based on the law of ones, because there is no real ones with respect to the person who caused the damage. And furthermore, regarding tamun goods that he should have expected were to be found in the standing corn, there is no ones, even with respect to the goods, as he should have known that they were there.

Rather, Rashi's intention (and perhaps that of Rabbeinu Tam as well) is to define the nature of the petur. It is possible to understand a particular petur regarding damages as merely a petur from payment. Even though there is reason to impose liability, i.e., peshiya and ownership of the hazard that caused the damage, the Torah granted a petur based on a Scriptural decree. But Rashi explains that in the case of tamun not only is there no actual liability, but there is also no cause for liability. This does not mean that an absence of cause for liability is logical or necessary even without the Scriptural decree, but only that the Torah says that a person is not liable for the damage of tamun goods caused by his fire, and that he is not held responsible for the damage. About this, Rashi writes that we learn from the words "wound for a wound" that a person is liable in a case of ones as he is in a case of ratzon. The rule that the Torah grants a petur in the case of ones is a law that applies throughout the Torah - a person is not responsible for his actions and their consequences if they result from ones. If a person who causes damage is liable even in a case of ones, it means that a person who causes damage is not liable because he is responsible for the outcome, but because of the causal connection between him and the outcome. If so, then even if the Torah decrees that there is no cause for liability for fire damage with respect to tamun, this does not apply to a person who causes damage, as he is liable not because of his responsibility for the loss of the object, but because it was he who physically caused the damage, and the damage was done as a result of his actions. So too in the case of tamun the damage was done as a result of his actions (according to the view that isho mishum chitzav), and therefore the Gemara says that he should be liable despite the Scriptural decree.

            According to this we can understand why the petur granted in the case of tamun applies only to fire, but not to the other categories of damage, for it is essentially a Scriptural decree. In my opinion, however, a possible explanation can be added to this Scriptural decree concerning fire. What is unique about fire is that another force is involved in the damage, i.e., the wind. What this means is that at first glance the person is not responsible for the outcome, because the wind is also responsible, and therefore responsibility cannot be attributed exclusively to the person who started the fire. Therefore the Torah comes and teaches that the other force joins with the person who set the fire, and it is regarded as if the damage was entirely due to him.

            The petur granted for damage caused to tamun goods relates to this novel idea concerning the other force that is involved in a fire. In the case of tamun there is a weaker connection between the object and the person, since it is not visible to the eye. Here the Scriptural decree comes and teaches that we attribute the damage to the other force, i.e., the wind, at least in part, and therefore the person is exempt. That is to say, in the case of tamun, there is no cause for liability, since the owner of the fire has a partner in responsibility. In the case of open goods, the Torah sees the other force as appended and joined to the force of the hazard, and it casts all the responsibility on the hazard's owner. In the case of tamun, the other force remains independent, and thus the fire's owner is exempt.

Now we can understand what we explained according to Rashi, that if isho mishum chitzav, and liability for damage caused by fire is in the end the same as that of a person who causes damage, and we proved that a person who causes damage is liable not because of his responsibility for the result, but because he is its cause, there cannot be a petur in the case of tamun, for with respect to the person's being the cause of the outcome, there is no difference between open goods and tamun goods.

            Based on this principle, we can understand the distinction made in our passage. Rav Kahana says that the petur of tamun applies exclusively to a madlik be-tokh shelo. If he is madlik be-shel chaveiro, the Sages agree with Rabbi Yehuda that he is liable even for damage caused to tamun goods. The question may be asked: why should this be so? Since the petur granted in the case of tamun is derived from the Scriptural decree of "standing corn," and the liability for the damage caused by fire applies whether a person set a fire be-tokh shelo or be-shel chaveiro, the petur granted in the case of petur should apply even if he set the fire be-shel chaveiro.

            Rashi writes (s.v. be-tokh shel chavero): "He has no permission [to do so], and it is as if he destroyed it with his own hands." Many understand that Rashi means that the liability here is that of a person who causes damage, and not that of fire. Regarding a person who causes damage there is no petur of tamun (this is similar to the Gemara's question on p. 23a, which was discussed above, that if isho mishum chitzav, i.e., if it is governed by the law of a person who causes damage, there should be no petur of tamun). This explanation, however, is untenable for a number of reasons.

1) First of all, this is not a sound argument. The fire still spreads because of the other force that is involved, and so this is not the case of a person who causes damage.

2) Rava says that if one is madlik be-shel chaveiro, he is patur for damage caused to unexpected tamun goods, but liable for damage caused to expected tamun goods. That is to say, the law concerning tamun that is based on a Scriptural decree does not apply when one is madlik be-shel chaveiro, but the law that he need not have borne tamun goods in mind does apply there. It would appear that the law that he need not have borne tamun goods in mind does not exempt a person who causes damage, as a person is always regarded as mu'ad.

This is also what the Rashba writes below (62a) regarding the case discussed in the Gemara of a man who kicked another's money-box into the river. The Rashba writes that the question there relates exclusively to the victim's credibility to claim that there were jewels in the money-box, as would appear from the continuation of the Gemara. But if there were witnesses that there were jewels in the box, he is certainly liable, the reason being that a person is always regarded as mu'ad, and even if people do not generally keep jewels in a money-box, a person who causes damage is liable for such damage. (Tosafot, ad loc., s.v. mi, disagrees and explicitly says that a person would be exempt for the jewels were they regarded as something that is not generally kept in a money-box.)

3) Nowhere do we find in the Gemara that a madlik be-shel chaveiro is liable even in the case of a ruach she-aina metzuya (wind of unusual occurrence). Throughout the tractate the assumption is that there is no liability for damage caused by a fire by way of a ruach she-aina metzuya, and that it makes no difference whether the person set the fire be-tokh shelo or be-shel chaveiro. But if a madlik be-shel chaveiro is liable for damage caused by a person and not for damage caused by a fire, he should be liable even in the case of a ruach she-aina metzuya, as a person is always regarded as mu'ad, as the Gemara states explicitly on p. 27a regarding a person who falls from a roof because of a ruach she-aina metzuya.

            Therefore, Rashi must be understood in another way. There is a difference between a madlik be-tokh shelo and a madlik be-shel chaveiro with respect to the cause for liability in the case of damage caused by fire. When a person is madlik be-shel chaveiro, when the very setting of the fire is done without the other person's permission (as is emphasized by Rashi), the act of lighting the fire is what makes the person liable for all the damage caused by the fire. Using technical halakhic terms, the fire is deemed a hazard belonging to the person owing to the act of his setting the fire. It should be remembered that fire is not ordinary property, and therefore the whole idea of "his property caused damage" is problematic in the context of fire (this is the reason given by the Gemara on p. 21a as to why Rabbi Yochanan does not agree that fire is a person's property). It may be suggested that fire is not "his property" in the sense that it is his possession, but rather in the sense that it is his potential hazard. According to the laws of damage, a potential hazard belongs to a person. The reason for this belonging is the fact that he set the fire without permission on the other person's property, i.e., we are dealing here with an action that involves the creation of the hazard. If a person creates a hazard, the hazard belongs to him. This is what Rashi means when he says: "it is as if he destroyed it with his own hands," i.e., he performed an act with his own hands to create the hazard. However, when the hazard that he created and that belongs to him causes damage, he is liable based on the law governing damage caused by one's property.

            In contrast, when a person is madlik be-tokh shelo, where he is permitted to do so, the act of lighting the fire does not confer upon the fire the status of a hazard. What turns the fire into his hazard, and thus is the reason for his liability, is his peshiya in watching over the fire. In other words, it is the potential danger resulting from his failure to watch over the fire that causes the fire to be regarded as his hazard.

            Since the cause for liability is different in the two cases, Rav Kahana can argue that the petur of tamun applies only to a hazard resulting from peshiya. However, in the case of a hazard resulting from an action, which involves a different cause for liability, there is no petur of tamun. The root of this distinction lies in what we explained earlier – that the petur of tamun is based on the fact that not only is there no actual liability, but there is also no cause for liability. Since our two cases involve two different causes for liability, the petur granted when the cause for liability is peshiya cannot be extended to a case where the cause for liability is an action.

            The Tosafot (s.v. ela) explain Rav Kahana's distinction as based on a precise reading of the verse. The verse containing the words, "or the standing grain," which come to exclude damage caused to tamun goods, opens with the words, "if fire break out," which the Tosafot argue allude to one who is madlik be-tokh shelo.

            It may be added, along the lines that we wrote above, that there is logic to this distinction. The petur of tamun, as we explained, causes the outcome to be attributed also to the other force, i.e., the wind, and not just to the person who set the fire. It may, therefore, be argued that the Scriptural decree concerning tamun applies to one whose cause of liability is his peshiya in watching over his fire. For a fire's status as a hazard depends on the danger it poses to those things that could potentially be damaged by it. When a person is madlik be-tokh shelo, all of the danger depends on the other force that is involved (as his peshiya lies in the fact that he did not prevent the wind). Therefore, the Scriptural decree applies, for regarding tamun, the other force does not confer upon the fire the status of being his hazard. He does not own the hazard with respect to those tamun goods. But a madlik be-shel chaveiro, where the fire attains the status of a hazard through his act of setting the fire and not as a result of his negligence with respect to specific things, the status of hazard applies independent of any other force. Therefore, also with respect to tamun, there is no reason to say that the fire does not acquire the status of being his hazard, and therefore he is liable in exactly the same way that he would be liable if his ox damaged concealed goods.

            Rava (end of p. 61b) says that the Sages and Rabbi Yehuda disagree about two issues. They disagree about a madlik be-tokh shelo, as the Sages grant a petur regarding all tamun goods, whereas Rabbi Yehuda holds him liable. And they also disagree about a madlik be-shel chaveiro, as the Sages grant a petur regarding unexpected tamun goods, whereas Rabbi Yehuda holds him liable. The Tosafot explain that these are two different issues. In the case of a madlik be-tokh shelo, they disagree whether or not an exemption was granted in a case of tamun goods. The Sages learn that there is such a petur, and therefore there is an exemption regarding all tamun goods, whereas Rabbi Yehuda disagrees and holds him liable regarding all tamun goods. In the case of a madlik be-shel chaveiro, there is no petur, as we have explained, but the Sages maintain that a different petur applies, one that is based on reason rather than on a Scriptural decree, namely, that one need not have borne the tamun goods in mind. Rabbi Yehuda rejects this petur.

            The question is: What is this second disagreement? If indeed he need not have borne in mind the possibility of goods being concealed there, and therefore it is a case of ones, why does Rabbi Yehuda disagree? Nobody disagrees with the petur of ones with respect to damage caused by fire, as is evident from the case of a ruach she-aina metzuya. I already wrote above that in fact this is not a case of ones, as he was poshe’a with respect to the very fire that he set (and hence he is liable for the standing corn itself), and therefore there is no reason to apply the rule that the Torah grants a petur in a case of ones. This indeed seems to be the viewpoint of Rabbi Yehuda, but we must understand then what is the rationale of the Sages.

            Rav Aryeh Lev Malin (Chiddushei R. Aryeh Lev, I, no. 74) explains that the two disagreements are mutually dependent upon each other. The law that one need not have borne tamun goods in mind, because of which the Sages grant a petur with respect to unexpected tamun goods even in the case where one set a fire on another's property, is based on the fact that the owner of a fire is only liable when he can be defined as poshe’a with respect to the damaged property. According to the simple understanding, the person need not be poshe’a with respect to each and every object, for it suffices that he was poshe’a in that he did not properly watch over his property, and it went out and caused damage. As we have already explained, we do not find a petur concerning tamun goods with respect to any other category of damage. If a person failed to watch over his ox, and it went out and caused damage to a package containing something generally not found in such a package, is it possible that he should be exempt? Certainly not, for his peshiya relates to his watching over the animal and not to his watching over the object that was damaged (as opposed to a shomer (watchman) about whom the Gemara on p. 62a explains that if a person deposited a gold coin with a shomer and told him that it was of silver, the shomer is not liable for the loss of a gold coin, as he never accepted responsibility for a gold coin).

According to the Sages, a fire is governed by a special law, that the owner of the fire must be poshe’a with respect to the article that was damaged. From where is this law derived? R. Aryeh Lev explains that this is the law concerning tamun. The principle underlying the law of tamun (according to the Sages) is that a fire is not defined as a hazard with respect to tamun goods, even though it is defined that way with respect to open goods. (We explained that this is because of the involvement of another force in the creation of the status of hazard.) From this it follows that there is a special law regarding fire that one is only liable for damage with respect to which his fire is defined as a hazard, but not for the damage of other items. If so, even when the petur of tamun does not apply (e.g., a madlik be-shel chaveiro), the principle still applies, that if the fire does not have the status of a hazard with respect to a specific item, its owner is not liable for the damage. It turns out that regarding something that is not usually concealed there, and which he need not have borne in mind, there is no liability for fire, even though the owner was poshe’a with respect to the very setting of the fire. One is not liable for the damage caused by fire because of one's peshiya, but only because of one's peshiya with respect to the specific object that was burned. It turns out then that the two exemptions granted by the Sages are mutually dependent upon each other, and that Rabbi Yehuda, who does not expound the Scriptural decree concerning tamun, would not agree to exempt a poshe’a from liability for something whose existence he need not have borne in mind.

            Using the terminology I introduced above, according to the Sages, the other force – the wind – does not connect the tamun goods (in a case of madlik be-tokh shelo) or the unexpected goods (in a case of madlik be-shel chaveiro) to the owner of the fire. Rabbi Yehuda maintains (in the absence of a Scriptural decree, according to his view) that there is no need for a different force to join the object to the owner of the fire, but only that my fire should cause damage owing to my peshiya, as in all cases of property that caused damage. Thus it follows that there is no exemption for tamun goods and also no exemption for unexpected goods.

            These words befit the one who voiced them.

            With this we have concluded our study of chapter Ha-Kones. Next week we shall begin to study chapter 8 of Bava Kama, chapter Ha-Chovel.

 

Ha-Chovel – Shiur 13

Sources

Rav Shmuel Shimoni

An Eye for an Eye – Payment for the Injury

            Next week we will begin to study chapter Ha-Chovel. We will start with the opening passage that deals with the assertion that "an eye for an eye" means monetary payment. Learn the Mishna on p. 83a, and the accompanying Gemara until p. 84a, "she-ein shamin oto be-nizak ela be-mazik." Try to understand the meaning of the various derivations with respect to the nature of liability for causing an injury to another person, and its relationship to liability for damage to property.

See Rambam, Hilkhot Chovel u-Mazik 1:1-6; 5:6-7, and Ra'avad, ad loc. Try to understand the position of the Rambam, and the connection between halakhot 1:3 and 5:6.

As for payment in accordance with the value of a slave sold in the market, see the first Rashi on the Mishna, and the Rosh, sec. 1 (his words are based on a passage that we have already studied; see Bava Kama 47a, "ve-amar Rava… sadeh shel chavero," and Rashi, ad loc. s.v. be-kote'a).

 

(Translated by David Strauss)