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Thought for the Day: Keren v'Keifel -- Principle and Fine

The Torah tells us that when a robber is caught and the courts find him guilty, he must pay both keren and, since he did not own up to his crime, keifel.  Keren (principle) means that he must return  either the item he stole, or its value if the item is gone.  Keifel (double) is a fine equal to the value of what he stole.  Seems simple enough.  The complications come from the fact that it might be a long time since the commission of the crime and the payment for said crime.  For example, if he stole your Lexus and the drove it around for a few months before being caught, you may be miffed at the condition of your returned vehicle.  Certainly an interesting issue, but for another time.  I'd like to discuss keifel today.  (Why?  'Cause I learned something interesting about keifel recently.)  The case under discussion in the gemara (Bava Kama 65a) is stolen livestock; I am sure the discussion can be applied to your Lexus, but I'm sticking with the case I learned.  There is plenty of grist for the mill in this discussion, applying it to your Lexus (or my Sentra) is grist to mill another day.

Rav says that keren goes according to the time of theft, while keifel goes according to the time that sentence is passed.  Rav learns that from a pasuk and, after various challenges, the conclusion is that Rav is discussing a case where the market value has changed.  Two of the challenges/clarifications are particularly interesting.

First, Rav Sheishes (wondering if Rav was completely awake when he made his statement) quotes a baraisa that states that if a thin animal is stolen and the thief fattens him up, then the thief pays keifel according to its value when it was stolen.  (Touche, Rav!)  Rav has a simple answer, says the gemara. Of course that keifel goes back to the original value; the thief can counter: I use my own grain to fatten your ox and I should pay for it!?  Interesting idea, that the thief has rights in a Jewish court, no?

Next the gemara challenges with the opposite attack.  Another baraisa: if a fat animal is stolen and the thief overworks and/or under feeds the beast till it is a mere shadow of its former self, then the thief pays keifel according to its value when it was stolen.  The gemara has another ready answer for Rav.  If the animal were dead, deceased, gone, kaput, no longer among the living, etc, then the value of keifel would obviously go back to the original value because there is nothing to return.  Now that he only half killed the animal, he should pay less?!  Breathes new life into the expression "half dead", no?

Bottom line: it's fun to argue with Rav, but you aren't going to win.  Unless your Shmuel.

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