Talmud pages

Bava Kamma 107

Borrower vs. guardian.

What’s the difference between someone who borrows money from you, and someone who is just “guarding” your money? In both cases, after all, the money is not in your possession but theirs. And in both cases, someone who is not trustworthy — or is facing financial difficulties — may not want or be able to give it back. 

On today’s daf, Rabbah explains that there is actually a profound difference between the borrower and the guardian, with important legal implications. The context for his explanation is a discussion of what kinds of admissions require an oath. Guardians are required to take an oath every time someone else claims that they have accepted some kind of deposit (that the alleged guardian denies), entirely or in part. By contrast, borrowers are only required to take an oath if they admit that they borrowed some of the alleged amount but not all (a partial admission). Why the difference? Rabbah explains: 

There is a presumption that a person does not exhibit insolence in the presence of his creditor. 

Someone who lent you money is doing you a favor. The power dynamic between the borrower and the lender is pretty clear. We borrow money because we need money, whether for basic necessities, start-up capital, to buy a house, or something else. Someone lends us money (especially in a world where the rabbis do not expect people to charge interest) because they see that need and want to help out, at least in the short term. Given these dynamics, Rabbah insists that a borrower would never be so rude and shameless as to deny the loan entirely. 

So then why deny even a part of the loan? The anonymous voice of the Talmud speculates about how Rabbah would explain it:

And he wants to admit to all of it, and the fact that he denies him in part is because he reasons: If I admit to him with regard to all of it, he will lodge a claim against me with regard to all of it. I will evade him at least for now until I have money, and I will pay.

Therefore, the Merciful One imposes an oath on him, in order to ensure that he will admit to him with regard to all of it.

Even if a borrower might want to admit to the entire loan, they may fear that such an admission in court would cause the lender to demand full repayment immediately. While they would never have the gall to deny the loan entirely, that fear may lead them to admit only to the loan amount that they can currently repay — a partial admission. 

As the Talmud goes on to note, the power dynamics at play in a situation between a borrower and a lender are very different from those of an owner and a guardian. As the Talmud concludes its discussion of Rabbah’s opinion: 

And it is with regard to a loan that this can be saidbut with regard to a deposit, he will exhibit insolence again and again. 

In the case of an owner and a guardian, the guardian doesn’t need anything from the owner. In fact, in the case of one who guards for free, the guardian might think of themselves as doing a favor for the money’s owner! 

Different power dynamics can lead to very different outcomes — which is why a guardian who disputes the owner’s claims must always take a formal oath, regardless of what they are claiming. 

Read all of Bava Kamma 107 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 17th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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