21a: The Gemara
Last week we examined the mishna on Bava Metzia 21a, that deals with the laws concerning the finder of lost objects. We discovered, with the help of Rashi's commentary, that despite the mitzva of hashavat aveida, of returning lost objects, there are circumstances in which the finder can keep what he finds. In short, 'finder's keeper's' applies when there is yeush on the part of the original owner. The mishna lists articles about which we can presume yeush since they do not have simanim (identifiable signs). Thus we learned that the presence or absence of simanim is the deciding feature in determining whether yeush has taken place.
This week, we will begin our study of the gemara. As I am sure that many of you are aware, understanding gemara can be particularly difficult, for two main reasons. First of all, the language is a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. Even a good knowledge of modern Hebrew does not make it possible to read gemara easily (though it is a lot better than not knowing Hebrew.
Besides the difficulty of dealing with fifth century Aramaic*, the gemara is not formulated in an accessible way. As opposed to the mishna, which is formulated (more or less) as a halakhic codex, the gemara is an
We will encounter three types of statements in the gemara. First of all, there is a lot of Tannaic material in the gemara, i.e. material that comes from the Tanaim, the Sages who are represented in the Mishna. The gemara will quote from other mishnayot besides that at the head of the sugya. It will also present to us Tannaic material that does not appear in the mishna. A Tannaic quote that is not from the mishna is called a baraita.*
Secondly, we will encounter statements made by Amoraim, the sages of the gemara. A statement made by an Amora, called a meimra,
is usually identified by name. It is important to be able to distinguish between a baraita or a mishna and a meimra. The older, Tannaic sources are more authoritative, and the gemara presumes that the Amoraim are aware of them and accept their authority.
Finally, most of the text of the gemara is made up of what is called ‘stama d’gemara,’ which is the anonymous account of the discussion. It is usually formulated as a series of questions and answers, weaving into it statements of Tanaim and Amoraim in the attempt to clarify a point of law or resolve a makhloket.*
We will proceed as follows: I will ask you to read and attempt to translate a passage. If you do not have a gemara open before you, you can find an online copy of the daf here (http://www.e-daf.com/dafprint.asp?mesechta=22&daf=%2021a). As you go, you can make use of the schematic analysis and translation to be found here. Key terms and phrases will be marked as hypertext, linking to a page on which they are explained. (It is a good idea to take the time to learn these terms and how they are used; they are surprisingly few and mastery of them is half way to the ability to read gemara fluently.) These separate pages will allow me to focus on the content of the passage we are learning in the main shiur, without too many technical distractions. If you are reading this shiur in hard copy, I suggest that you print out the supplementary pages as well.
Finally, let us now turn to Bava Metzia 21a. The gemara begins with a discussion of the first case described in the mishna: one who found scattered fruit. Read from the beginning of the gemara to “…arba amot,” lines 1-3 in the schematic analysis (one line and a half on the printed page). What is the gemara’s question and how does R. Yitzhak answer it?
“Scattered” implies that if the fruit is not scattered, but piled up neatly, we must presume that it was left there deliberately and the owner plans to come back for it. So the gemara asks: “vekama?” How much? How dispersed must the fruit be to be considered scattered? R. Yitzchak provides an answer – a kav (unit of volume about 1.4 liters) dispersed over four square amot (plural of ama, unit of length, about 48 cm). If the fruit is that dispersed or more, then it belongs to the finder. If it is more concentrated than that, we do not regard it as scattered and the finder cannot take it; presumably, he or she must announce that he or she has found some fruit, in order to return it to its owners.
Before we continue, think about R. Yitzhak’s rule. Does it fit with what we learned in the last shiur, that the scattered fruit belongs to the finder because it has no siman and therefore we presume that the owner was mityaesh? Why is the density of fruit’s dispersal relevant? Now read on in the gemara, from “Heichi Dami…” until “ve-lo mifkar le-hu” (lines 4-6).
The gemara asks a question: Heichi Dami, what is the case? What is the situation that R. Yitzhak’s din applies to? After all, in order for the finder to be allowed to keep the fruit, there must be yeush on the part of the owner. The degree of dispersal does not seem relevant: if the fruit looks like it has fallen, and thus was lost by the original owner, then even if it is distributed more densely than one kav in four amot, we can presume yeush since the fruit has no siman. On the other hand, if, it looks like the fruit was deliberately placed there by its owner, even if it is dispersed more than one kav in four amot, we must assume that it is not lost fruit at all and of course no one can take it! In other words, the relevant category for determining whether the finder can keep the fruit is not how much it is scattered! What matters is whether we can presume yeush or not and that depends upon whether the fruit is understood to be lost or left there on purpose. Only if it is lost does the absence of a siman indicate yeush. So what is the point of R. Yitzhak’s designation a kav in four amot?
In response to this challenge, R. Ukva bar Chama re-directs R. Yitzhak’s statement to a different case. According to R. Ukva bar Chama, R. Yitzhak is not referring to a standard case of dispersed fruit in a public place. In such circumstances, the relevant issue would in fact be ‘dropped/lost’ or ‘placed’, i.e. whether the manner of dispersal of the fruit indicates that it was dropped there by accident and lost or placed there deliberately and we can assume that the owner plans to return for it. Instead, R. Ukva bar Chama suggests that R. Yitzhak’s designation of a kav in four amot must be applied in a different case – that of a pile of grain left on the threshing floor. If it dispersed such that there is a kav or less over four amot, it would be too much trouble to gather and we can
presume that the owner has abandoned what was left. If it is not so dispersed, presumably the owner will be back to gather it up.* Note how the issue here is not one of lost objects and yeush at all. The leftover grain on the threshing floor is not lost in the conventional sense. The original owner is fully aware of where it is. The question in this case is in determining the cost–benefit analysis of the owner. When does he take the trouble to come back for what is left? When can we presume that he has left it here on purpose, and made it hefker (ownerless)? R. Yitzhak offers us a standard to make this distinction: if it is dispersed such that there is only a kav (or less) over four amot, then we can presume that the owner will not bother. If it is more densely distributed, then we must presume that the owner will be back and it is not hefker.
R. Yirmiah opens here a series of questions that are an attempt to clarify R. Yitzhak’s rule regarding the grain left of the threshing floor. The gemara here is structured as a ba’aya (problem), which is a common Amoraic form of analysis (see explanation on the key words page). R. Yirmiah would like to clarify what is the guiding principle behind R. Yitzhak’s cost-benefit analysis of a kav in four amot. The upshot of R. Yirmia’s questions can be put like this: Does the owner not return for a kav in four amot because of the cost, the difficulty of gathering up grain that is so widely dispersed; or does he not return because of the [lack of] benefit in coming back for a mere kav of grain. In the standard case, of a kav of grain dispersed over four amot, both these factors exist in parallel. R. Yirmia offers us a case in which we isolate one factor over against the other: What about a half a kav, distributed over two amot? In this case, it is a lot easier for the owner to return and pick up the grain since there is only half as much. Given that it is so easy,
perhaps we cannot presume that the owner will make it hefker. On the other hand, the benefit is accordingly smaller, and therefore perhaps the owner will not bother coming back and does mafkir it. To sum up, R. Yirmia wants to know what the determining factor is that gives rise to our presumption that the owner makes the grain hefker: is it a function of the trouble he will have to go to, or of the loss that he will incur.*
Now learn the gemara until the end of sugya, “… teiku.” Lines 9-15. As will be clear, the rest of the sugya is a series of ba’ayot (plural of ba’aya) on the same theme, as R. Yirmia explores all the implications of his question.
R. Yirmia’s next question is the inversion of his first. What about two kavs distributed over eight amot? Here, it is even more difficult to gather the grain but on the other hand, the value of the grain is twice as much. Do we focus on the difficulty factor and presume that he made it hefker? Or do we focus on the value and presume he is coming back?
Again, goes on R. Yirmia, what about sesame seeds, which are very small and difficult to pick up, but even a small quantity of which is relatively valuable (see Rashi s.v. "sumsumin" at the bottom of daf 21a). Does the kav in four amot rule apply there too?
Finally, what about dates or pomegranates, that are large and easy to pick up, but a kav of which is not so valuable (see Rashi s.v. temarim ve-rimonim). Does the kav in four amot rule apply there?
The gemara concludes with “teiku”, which is the Talmudic equivalent of “no answer”. R. Yirmia’s concerns as to the application of R. Yitzhak’s rule are legitimate, but we have no way of resolving them. We do not know how to weigh the cost versus the benefit (or more precisely, the difficulty versus the loss), in order to reach firm conclusions in such cases. We are left with a series of sefaikot (pl. of safek, doubt, unresolved dilemma).*
One final note. R. Yirmia’s series of questions raises doubts about the application of R. Yitzhak rule: “a kav in four amot,” What do you think is R. Yirmia’s intent? It seems to me that there are two ways of interpreting R. Yirmia’s critique of R. Yitzhak. It could be that he is merely asking for clarification: what is the correct balance between difficulty and loss such that we can presume that the owner made the leavings of the threshing floor hefker? Alternatively, and to my mind more compellingly, one could interpret R. Yirmia as offering a critique of R. Yitzhak’s style of thinking. R. Yitzhak offered us paradigm, a kav in four amot, in order to evaluate the psychological state of the owner – did he make it hefker or not. Perhaps R. Yirmia objects to this way of addressing the problem – it is too intuitive. It does not directly address the owner’s psychology: is the key factor in his motivation the desire to avoid the difficulty of collecting the grain or a lack of interest in something of small value. R. Yitzhak offers a model, an example, which has the advantage of encompassing both sides of the question but the disadvantage of being vague in its application. R. Yirmia prefers to make the psychological guidelines explicit, which aids in application at the expense of a certain crudeness of exposition – we are forced to choose the factor we consider the dominant one.
Summary of this week’s shiur: This week we began learning the gemara on daf 21a. We discussed the definition of “scattered fruit” as it appears in the mishna and came to the conclusion that R. Yitzhak’s definition of ‘scattered’ cannot be apply to an ordinary case of lost fruit, but refers to a case where we need to determine when an owner will deliberately abandon the leavings on a threshing floor. In the case of lost fruit, the conclusion depends upon whether its appearance indicates that it indeed was lost and not placed there by the owner. In the case of the leavings of the threshing floor, R. Yitzhak asserted a principle that we can presume the owner made it hefker when a kav is distributed over four amot. We then saw a series of ba’ayot introduced by R. Yirmia from which learned that two considerations go into why the owner makes the fruit hefker when a kav is distributed over four amot:
Below is a schematic analysis of the gemara up until the word “teiku” on the bottom of 21a. As you go through the gemara by yourself, see if your reading matches the one presented. The words marked as hypertext are key terms for gemara learning that will be used time and again. They are linked to a page on which they are explained. As always, I would greatly appreciate any feedback that you might have as to whether this is a useful tool.
The grammarians amongst you will have to forgive me. I make no claims to grammatical precision or elegance of translation. On this page you will find two lists:
Key gemara terms: This will be a list of technical terms for gemara learning that come up time and again. It is especially important that you become familiar with these words so that we can carry out a high level discussion without spending too much time on technicalities.
Aramaic vocabulary: The purpose of this list is merely to help those of you who have a decent knowledge of Hebrew and want to make an effort to pick up an Aramaic vocabulary so that you can learn gemara without a translation. Aramaic words that closely match their Hebrew equivalents will not be translated. This list will include the words on the ‘key gemara terms’ list so that you do not have to check both.
In the future, I will add short lessons in Aramaic grammar to this page.
This page will remain on-line and will be updated weekly. In addition, the new words that come up in each shiur will be attached to each week’s shiur. Try to memorize the words each week and see how quickly your reading improves.
Key Gemara Terms
איתמר Itmar – It is said. Generally used to introduce as Amoraic discussion that is independent (though often thematically connected) of the exposition of the mishna.
אוקימתא ukimta – noun form of לוקים lokim to establish or maintain. An ukimta refers to the specification of a (class of) case(s) in which a particular law applies. This usually serves to narrow the scope of the law and thus avoid a difficulty.
אף על גב af al gav – even though
בעי ר' ___________ Ba’ei R. ________________
אופציה א' Option 1
או דלמא O dilma (or possibly, however)
אופציה ב'. Option 2
טובא tuva – a lot
כולי עלמא לא פליגי kulei alma la peligi – everyone agrees (lit. all the world does not dispute).
לקמן le-kaman -- below, further on
תא שמע Ta shema – Come and hear. Ta shema is the opening of a quote from a precedent, usually a Baraita, but occasionally a mishna or a meimra of Amoraim. Most often (as in the case on 21b), Ta shema is used to introduce a precedent that prima facie proves the point of one side of a makhloket.
תיקו, teiku – inconclusive resolution. Teiku probably comes from the root קום kum and means ‘let it stand,’ in other words, there is no resolution. Traditionally it has been interpreted as standing for תשבי יתרץ קושיות ואבעיות, Tishbi (Eliahu HaNavi) will resolve questions and problems.
אוקימתא – noun form of lokim, to establish or maintain. An ukimta refers to the specification of a (class of) case(s) in which a particular law applies. This usually serves to narrow the scope of the law and thus avoid a difficulty.
אית, לית – יש, אין.
(no real translation into English. In English, this semantic function is usually fulfilled by verbs such as “to have” e.g.:
)אית ביה סימן = יש בו סימן = it has a siman
איתמר - נאמר It is said. Generally used to introduce as Amoraic discussion that is independent (though often thematically connected) of the exposition of the mishna.
אמאי – מדוע why, what for
אף על גבaf al gav – even though -
אתא – בא comes
בגויה – בו on it
בעי – רוצה, צריך, מתכוון – desires, requires, intends
בעיה – Noun form of verb ba’ei, he inquires. A ba’aya is a clarifying question usually presented in the following form:
בעי ר' ___________ Ba’ei R. _________________?
אופציה א' Option 1
או דלמא O dilma (or possibly, however)
אופציה ב'. Option 2
בציר -than batzir less
הוי – הווה is
היכי דמי heichi dami – what is the case?, what is the situation referred to in the previous statement - ?
הכא – כאן here
התם – שם there
זוטו של ים, שלוליתו של נהר - Zuto shel yam, shelulito shel nahar – items washed away be the (tides of ) the sea or the flooding of a river.
טובא - tuva – a lot
יאוש - Yeush – despair (of ever recovering the lost object)
יהבנא – נותן אני I give
כולי עלמא לא פליגי - kulei alma la peligi – everyone agrees (lit. all the world does not dispute).
כל שכן kol she-ken - all the more so -
ליה – אותו it
לקמן – בהמשך below, further on
מיניה – ממנו, from him
נמי nami – also -
נפיש - nafish – much, a lot.
ספק safek (pl. sefaikot) - doubt, unresolved dilemma -
פליג – חולק disagree
רחמנא – הקב"ה God
שקילנא – לוקח אני I’ll take
שרי – התיר permit
תא שמע Ta shema – Come and hear. Ta shema is the opening of a quote from a precedent, usually - Baraita, but occasionally a mishna or a meimra of Amoraim. Most often (as in the case on 21b), Ta shema is used to introduce a precedent that prima facie proves the point of one side of a makhloket.
תיקו - Inconclusive resolution. Teiku probably come from the root ‘kum’ and means literally ‘let it stand’. Traditionally it has been interpreted to be an acronym for the Hebrew phrase:
"תשבי יתרץ קושיות ואבעיות"
“Tishbi Yetaretz Kushiyot Ve-Abayot” i.e., Tishbi (Eliahu HaNavi) will resolve questions and problems.