Talmud Tips

For the week ending 17 September 2016 / 14 Elul 5776

Bava Kama 107 - 113

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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“A person does not have the chutzpa and audacity to lie to someone who did him a favor by lending him money.”

This logical idea was verbalized by the Sage Rabbah in explaining why a person who admits to owing part (“modeh b’miktzat”) of the amount that is claimed by the lender that he owes must take an oath that he does not owe the remainder. This special oath is required by Torah law. Rabbah explains the reason why the Torah requires the oath in this case of partial admission in the following manner.

“The borrower would like to (falsely) deny the entire amount of the claim, but does not have the audacity to do so. Therefore, he would really like to admit that he in fact owes the full amount claimed by the lender, but he is perhaps hesitant to admit to the full amount since he may not be able to pay it on time. Perhaps he is admitting only to the amount that he can pay now, and is thinking to himself that when he has the rest of the loan he will indeed pay the balance in full. For this reason the Torah imposes an oath upon him to find out what the truth really is.”

This reasoning applies only if a person admits to part of the claim for repayment of a loan. If the person denies the entire claim (“kofer hakol”) he is exempt from this Torah oath. The type of person who stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah would not have the audacity to lie and deny the entire amount claimed by the kind lender, and therefore if he actually denied the entire claim he must have been telling the truth, and no further oath or clarification was necessary. (It is worthwhile noting that although the people who stood at Mount Sinai did not have this chutzpah and audacity to lie and deny the entire amount to their lenders, later generations were less upright, and eventually a Rabbinical oath was instituted for the sake of getting the truth out of people who denied the entire amount claimed by the lender).

Rashi states on our daf that this logical reason that “A person does not have the audacity to lie and deny owing a loan to the lender” is the reason why a person who denies the entire claim is exempt from a Torah oath. If he denies the entire amount he must be telling the truth.

Tosefot in Bava Metzia (3a), however, apparently disproves this reasoning of Rashi, and instead offers a completely different explanation for why a kofer hakol does not require a Torah oath. If the lender dies and the heir of the lender is claiming repayment of the loan, the borrower would not be acting in a brazen manner if he were to falsely deny owing the entire amount being claimed by the heir. The heir did not do the kind act of lending money to the borrower in the first place, and the borrower therefore feels no special gratitude to the heir. In addition, the heir was not actually present when the loan took place, and a denial to him is not as brazen, since the heir may not have clear knowledge of the details and history of the loan. Therefore, Tosefot teaches a reason different than Rashi’s to explain why a person who completely denies a claim for loan repayment is exempt from an oath according to the Torah. There is a special teaching in a verse in the Torah from which we learn that one who admits to part of the claim for loan repayment must take a Torah oath in which he wears that he does not owe the rest (Ex. 22:8). Since the Torah writes a verse as source for a Torah oath only in the case in which the borrower admits to part of the claim of the lender, it logically follows that there is no Torah oath for a borrower who completely denies owing any of the amount claimed by the lender.

  • Bava Kama 107a

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