Bava Kamma 104

Get receipts.

Today’s daf explores what to do when one person has lent money to someone who lives in a different city but, when the time comes to repay the debt, is neither able nor willing to travel. The obvious solution is to appoint an agent to bring the money from one party to the other. But as a story on today’s daf illustrates, there are still important questions about how to secure the transaction.

The Talmud relates that Rav Yosef bar Hama, who lives in Mechoza (Babylonia), borrowed money from Rabbi Abba, who lives in Tiberias (in the land of Israel). When the debt came due, Rabbi Abba appointed Rav Safra, who was apparently traveling to Rav Yosef Bar Hama’s neighborhood, as his agent to collect the money. 

When Rav Safra went there, Rav Yosef bar Hama’s son Rava said to him: Did he write a receipt for you, stating, “I have received payment”?

Rav Safra said to him: No.

Rava responded: If so, first go and let him write you: “I have received.” 

Though the Talmud doesn’t tell us how old Rava is when these events take place, the fact that he lives at home with his father implies that he is still young. But already he has the sharp insights that will eventually make him a renowned rabbi. Rava refuses to let his father pay the agent without a written receipt from the debtor that the debt has been discharged. After all, what if the agent was not actually legitimate and Rabbi Abba eventually shows up insisting that he is still owed money? Such a receipt, presumably made out in advance, bolsters the agent’s credibility and also protects the debtor from having to pay the debt twice.

But then Rava realizes that even this premade receipt is not actually enough to protect his father: 

Ultimately, Rava said to him: Even if he writes you: “I have received payment,” it is nothing, since perhaps by the time you arrive back here, Rabbi Abba will have died and the money will fall before his orphans, and a document stating: “I have received payment,” by Rabbi Abba will be nothing. 

If Rabbi Abba dies while the agent is gone to collect his debt which, in the interim, is transferred to Rabbi Abba’s heirs, the original receipt from Rabbi Abba is invalid, and the heirs could come to Rav Yosef bar Hama insisting on being repaid — again. At this point, Rav Safra, the poor agent, sounds frustrated:

Rav Safra said to him: Rather, what is the rectification?

Again, Rava finds a solution:

Rava replied: Go, and Rabbi Abba will transfer (the debt) to you by means of land, and then you come and write for us: “I have received.”

In order for Rabbi Yosef bar Hama to give Rav Safra the money, Rava insists that Rav Safra has to be able to write a receipt that the debt has been paid off — immediately. In order to do that, he has to acquire the debt from Rabbi Abba, at least nominally. Then, he can take that money and give it to Rabbi Abba, but regardless of whether Rabbi Abba is still alive, Rabbi Yosef bar Hama would already have a valid legal receipt showing that he’s paid off what he owes.

This story offers a clever solution to the problem of discharging a debt owed to someone in a different city when neither party can travel. It features a young Rava who is not only obviously in possession of a brilliant legal mind, but is committed to protecting his father from predatory lenders and agents. Where we expect parents to work to protect children, here it is the son protecting his father, and establishing legal precedent at the same time. 

I am struck that everyone in this story is a rabbi — lender, borrower and agent. They are all members of the same, relatively small community, united by a shared commitment to particular values and ways of understanding the world. And yet, this elaborate set of transactions is based not on trust but on verification. Receipts are important, even crucial, to the process of lending each other money and paying it back — even when we are all friends.

Read all of Bava Kamma 104 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 14th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

Kiddushin 76

Four mothers, which are eight.

Kiddushin 59

The land of the sages.

Kiddushin 47

Betrothal with a loan.