Talmud

Bava Kamma 102

Out of order.

On today’s daf, we learn a general principle about how the Talmud is structured and about how sequencing matters in determining halakhah

When the Mishnah records a dispute, and afterward an unattributed opinion, then the halakhah is in accordance with the unattributed opinion.

In short, if the Mishnah records a dispute and then later records an opinion that embraces one position in that dispute without attribution, that opinion carries the day. 

The mishnah that prompts the articulation of this rule is on Bava Kama 100 and it describes a dispute over what happens if someone pays to have wool dyed a particular color but the dyer does a different color. (We saw a discussion of this case back on Bava Kamma 95.) According to Rabbi Meir, the dyer gives the wool owner the value of the wool. Rabbi Yehuda disagrees, saying that the wool owner should reimburse the dyer his expenses if the enhanced value of the wool is greater than those expenses. If not, then the owner must pay the amount of the wool’s increased value. 

So that’s the dispute. But where’s the unattributed opinion that would bring this principle into play? Hint: we’ll be getting to it later this year: 

And the unattributed mishnah is in tractate Bava Metzia (76a), as we learned: Whoever changes (from the terms of an agreement) is at a disadvantage, and whoever reneges (from an agreement) is at a disadvantage. 

In essence, the mishnah says that a person who fails to live up to their obligations under an agreement bears the loss, to the extent there is one. The Gemara understands this principle to align with the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda. It is the wool dyer who failed to fulfill their obligations, and the wool dyer who must therefore be disadvantaged, and in Rabbi Yehuda’s view of the law, that’s just what happens. Since the wool owner pays the lesser of the expenses or the enhancement, not the full price agreed upon at the start, he winds up in a better financial position then he would have otherwise been. 

According to the principle articulated above, the unattributed position, and by inference Rabbi Yehuda’s opinion, is therefore the law. But Bava Metzia is a whole different tractate from Bava Kamma. That’s a pretty big distance. The order may be right — the unattributed opinion certainly comes “afterward,” but pretty far afterward. The rabbis too see this as a challenge to be resolved. Rav Huna specifically attributes the anonymous opinion in Bava Metzia to Rabbi Yehuda, but Rav Yosef questions why it’s necessary to say that. If the principle is applicable here, it shouldn’t be necessary for Rav Huna to say that. It should be obvious that it is Rabbi Yehuda’s opinion. 

It is necessary, as it would enter your mind to say that the Mishnah is not sequential and is an unattributed ruling followed by a dispute. And why does Rav Yosef disagree? Because if that is so, then every case where a dispute is recorded and afterward an unattributed opinion is recorded, let us say: The Mishnah is not sequential, and this is a case of an unattributed ruling followed by a dispute.

Rav Yehuda points out that “afterward” is kind of a strange concept in the context of the Talmud. Topics are addressed all over the place, often with no semblance of order. We don’t typically think of an opinion that comes in a subsequent tractate as truly “later” in a sequential way. It’s just elsewhere. While Rav Huna doesn’t say so explicitly, his take challenges the general principle because, really, what does “afterward” mean in these texts? And Rav Yosef points this out: If we’re going to ignore the massive gap here, we could do that all the time, which would make a hash of the Talmud and undermine the halakhic decision-making process.

Rav Huna returns to clean things up a bit:

And Rav Huna would respond: The situation where we do not say that the Mishnah is not sequential is in one tractate, but in two tractates we say (not sequential). 

And Rav Yosef would respond: All of Nezikin is one tractate.

Rav Huna narrows the original statement — a bit. The principle applies only when the dispute and the unattributed opinion occur in the same tractate. Rav Yosef responds that the entire order of Nezikin is one big tractate, and so the fact that the unattributed opinion occurs in a later tractate is irrelevant. 

As often happens in talmudic discussions, we don’t have a resolution to this question. But we can learn two things. The first is the general principle stated above: When only one unattributed opinion follows a dispute, that opinion wins. Second, sequence and order are strange things in the Mishnah, and the rabbis themselves can’t quite agree on when it matters and when not.

Read all of Bava Kamma 102 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 12th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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