For the week ending 16 July 2016 / 10 Tammuz 5776

Bava Kama 37 - 43

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • The pattern of goring to establish an ox as a habitual gorer
  • When the ox involved in the goring or its victim is the property of the Sanctuary or of a non-Jew
  • The penalty for non-Jews who ignored Noachide Laws
  • The Roman delegation that studied Torah
  • The Sage Ulla's perspective of comforting a mourner
  • Insights on the nations of Moab and Ammon
  • The status of the Kutim (Samaritans)
  • Responsibility for the goring ox belonging to incompetents
  • The degree of guarding demanded of owner of ox
  • The atonement money paid by owner of a murderous ox
  • The status of the shor itstadian
  • Use of the flesh or skin of an executed murderous ox
  • Responsibility for death caused to someone who was not the intended victim
  • Who receives the atonement money for death of a woman
  • The connection between death sentence for a murderous ox and its owner's responsibility to pay atonement money

The Fighting Bull

  • Bava Kama 39a

"If an ox shall gore a man or woman causing death, the ox shall surely be stoned." (Shmot 21:28)

This is the death sentence pronounced by the Torah for any murderous animal. There is, however, one exception to this rule – the “shor itstadian”. The reason given is that the Torah passed this judgment only on an ox acting on its own initiative and not one who is incited by others against its will.

But who is this unique animal and who are its inciters?

This is how Rambam in his commentary on the Mishna explains it:

"This is an ox trained by people for battle with other oxen trained for the same purpose. A voiced signal from its master incites it to overcome the other ox. This is not in the nature of the animal but rather the result of the interest of its owner. Many of the worthless people conduct such contests with other animals."

While Rambam is suggesting that the ox in question is one on which wagers are made, there is a different version offered by Nimukei Yosef who apparently interpreted itstadian as the stadium in which bullfights – pitting bulls against each other or against toreadors – were conducted for the pleasure of royalty. Should a bull kill a man in such circumstances it is not liable for a death sentence and is not even disqualified from being offered as a sacrifice on the altar of the Beit Hamikdash since its murderous act is not of its own volition.

The difficulty in this latter explanation is how such an animal reserved for the entertainment of heathen royalty came into the possession of Jews who must consider its status.

What the Sages Say

"Greater is the one who does mitzvot in which he is obligated than one who does them without being obligated."

  • Rabbi Chanina -Bava Kama 38a

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