Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Damage Done by a Rented Ox

Nature vs nurture is an ongoing argument; in fact, it is actually a machlokes ta'na'im.  Which means, of course, that both positions are true and it will always be a struggle to determine how much of each is responsible in any given situation.  The situation we'll consider (Bava Kama, 40a) is an ox that is owned by one party, let's call him Leon the lender, and rented by, oh heck... let's call him Ralph.  Before we go further, we need some background on payment due for damage done to one ox by another.

Your standard issue ox is known as a "tahm"/innocent.  Oxen, being big and not so bright (hence the expression, "you dumb ox"), sometimes do damage; even the most docile ox can do pretty hefty damage (hence the expression, "bull in a china shop").  The Torah says that the one in control of the ox will have to pay half the damages incurred, limited by the worth of the animal.  This is know as "chatzi nezek mi'gufo".  The owner of an ox worth $500 who kills an ox worth $800 will be required to pay $400; if it the victim was worth $1000 or more, he would have to pay $500.  Once an ox has killed three times in three days (as verified by witnesses in court), however, he becomes a "mu'ad"; the owner will henceforth be required to pay full damages with no limiting cap.

So Ralph goes to Leon to rent an ox.  He sees one that looks very energetic (aka lebadich) in the "tahm" coral and rents him for a week.  During that week, the ox kills Ralph's neighbor's ox.  Leon then reveals that the ox he rented to Ralph is actually a mu'ad!  Ralph is incensed.  When the dust settles, Ralph is obligated to pay half (limited by the value of the attack ox he rented) and Leon will have to make up the difference.  The fact that the ox was under the control of Ralph when he attacked does not seem to make any difference; his violent nature is responsible.
Nature 1; Nurture 0.

Next time, Ralph is a more educated consumer and confirms that the ox he rents from Leon is a tahm (though still lebadich).  Ralph, however, is not such a straight shooter either; the ox gores three times in three days while rented by Ralph and certified mu'ad by a court of law.  Ralph returns the animal, which a week or two later kills another ox.  The victim wants full damages.  Nope.  When the ox left Leon it was a tahm, when it was under the control of Ralph, it became a mu'ad, when it was returned to Leon it reverted to its tahm status.  The change of control in leaving Ralph and returning to Leon also changed the status of the ox from mu'ad (back) to tahm.
Nature 0; Nurture 1.

So which is it?  The beginning case says nature (aka, r'shus eina m'shana), the ending case says nurture (aka, r'shus m'shana).  You are welcome to check out the gemara (Bava Kama 40b), Rashi, Tosofos, Me'iri, Rashba, and Art Scroll; all of whom weigh in.  Or you can check back here tomorrow, b'ezras HaShem; of the next few days if there is lesss heavenly help coming that I hope for.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…