Bava Kamma 105

Microtheft.

We have often seen that a peruta — a genuinely meager coin — is the smallest amount of money that the rabbis consider to be legally significant. For example, a betrothal is enacted with a payment of a peruta or more. And as we learn today, you haven’t really committed a theft until you’ve taken at least a peruta’s worth of goods.

As is their way, having set the limit, the rabbis commence to test that boundary: 

Rava says: If one robbed another of three bundles of goods that were worth three perutas in total, and they depreciated in value and their value stood at two perutas, even if he returned two bundles to the robbery victim he is obligated to return the other bundle.

Even though the third stolen bundle, the only one the robber has retained, is now worth less than a peruta, he is still required to return it. This is because at time of theft it was worth a full peruta, meeting the minimum threshold. And if the robber no longer has the object in his possession or if it has undergone a change, the robber must pay the owner a full peruta — in concert with the principle that one must compensate the owner based upon the value of an object at the time of the robbery. So this particular teaching does not challenge the peruta minimum threshold.

Moving on, Rava raises another case:

If one robbed another of two bundles of goods that were worth one peruta in total, and he returned one of them to the robbery victim, what is the halakhah? Do we say that now there is no longer a stolen item in the possession of the robber? Or perhaps we say that since the robber did not return the stolen item in its entirety, he is obligated to return the second bundle? 

This time, the value of the stolen goods is stable — one peruta. The robber returns one of the two bundles and retains the second, worth half a peruta. We could require the robber to return the second bundle because, despite its negligible value, it is part of what was stolen and until it is returned the robber hasn’t returned a full peruta to the victim. Alternatively, we could say that the robber is exempt from further payment since the value of the goods they have retained is insignificant. Rava opts for this second view:

There is no stolen item here, there is no returning of a stolen item here. 

The Gemara expresses surprise at this resolution: If the robber is no longer in possession of stolen property, shouldn’t Rava declare them in fulfillment of their obligation to give back what they stole? But he falls short of doing so, so what’s going on here? The Gemara responds to its own question and clarifies what Rava must have meant: Since the robber is in possession of less than one peruta of stolen goods, they are not obligated to give them back. At the same time, since that which the robber returned was also worth less then a peruta, it does not count at all and the robber hasn’t fulfilled their obligation to return what they stole, even partially. The letter of the law exempts the robber from having to return the small, almost worthless.

Read all of Bava Kamma 105 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 15th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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