Reprinted with permission from Maimonides’ Introduction to His Commentary on the Mishnah, translated and annotated by Fred Rosner, and published by Jason Aronson.
Following [Seder Nashim (women)], he subdivided the subject matter in Seder Nezikin (damages) and separated the first tractate thereof into three parts. He began with Bava Kamma (the first gate), which deals with various agents of injury and how to avoid them, such as an ox, a ditch, consumption, the laws of assault, and their like. A judge is obligated to first litigate the removal of sources of injury from among people.
Next follows Bava Metzia (the middle gate), which deals with claims, deposits, hirings, the laws of borrowers and hired laborers, and everything else that is appropriately connected with this topic. This is similar to the sequence in Scripture, namely, after the laws of ox (Exodus 21:38), ditch (21:33), consumption (22:4-5), and if men fight together (21:22), it speaks about the four types of watchmen (22:6-14). Then comes tractate Bava Batra (the last gate), and its subject matter deals with laws about divisions of property, laws pertaining to dwellings held in partnership, and laws concerning neighbors, and annulment of a sale or transaction due to the discovery of a physical defect therein. It further speaks of the sale and acquisition of property, how to adjudicate these cases, and the laws of bonds and inheritance. This section is described last, because it consists entirely of tradition and legal arguments, none of it being explicit in the Torah.
Having enlightened us concerning the civil laws, he then speaks about the judges who implement these laws and, therefore, placed tractate Sanhedrin (court) after Bava Batra. However, tractate Makkot (flogging) is attached to tractate Sanhedrin in many ancient texts and is counted as part of it because he speaks of “These are strangled” and then continues with “These are flogged.” This is not a valid reason, however, because it is a separate tractate. It is placed next to Sanhedrin because it is not permissible for anyone save the judges themselves to administer floggings and punishments as it is written in Scripture: “The judge shall cause him to lie down and to be beaten before him according to his wickedness” (Deuteronomy 25:2).