Talmudic pages

Bava Kamma 118

Location matters.

Location matters. It turns out this is not only a real estate maxim, it’s also relevant to the rabbinic rules that govern the return of stolen, borrowed, or safeguarded property. As a mishnah on today’s daf teaches:

One who robs another or borrows (money) from them, or one with whom another had deposited (an item) — in a settled area, one may not return (the item) in an unsettled area.

This mishnah’s rule makes a lot of sense. If you take your neighbor’s ladder without their permission, or if they knock on your door and ask you to take care of something for them, you can’t return the item to them while they’re on a camping trip. Unless, of course, you stipulated in advance that you were going to do so. The mishnah continues:

On the condition (that the recipient) may go out and return it to the owner in an unsettled area, one may return it to them in an unsettled area.

This would all be well and good, but the Gemara reports that there’s a beraita that teaches something different.

A loan may be repaid in any location, while a lost item and a deposit are returned only in their location. 

As we well know, the Talmud is multi-vocal. And while the rabbis were well aware of this, they weren’t always happy with it. One common approach to dealing with this is to find a way to read a contradictory teaching in a way that makes the contradiction go away, which is what we find on today’s daf. 

Abaye said: This is saying: A loan may be claimed in any location. A lost item and a deposit may be claimed only in their location.

Abaye notices that the mishnah is focused on the person returning the item, forbidding them from doing so in an unsettled area if the original transaction was in a settled one. The beraita, however, is speaking to the owner, giving them the ability to collect a loan in any location, but restricting them from doing so for a lost item or a deposited item.

Why institute an exception for a creditor? It’s possible that a debtor has money on hand to pay back the lender because people do often carry a purse even when they’re traveling in outlying areas, so it wouldn’t be a burden on either party. In fact, it might be more convenient for them instead of having to track the other person down later. This is not the case for lost or deposited items, which may be difficult for either to carry into unsettled areas.

A practical position that also harmonizes the sources. Not a bad day’s work — thanks Abaye!

Read all of Bava Kamma 118 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 28th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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