Bava Kamma 3

Horn and tooth.

As we learned yesterday, there are four primary categories of damage: ox, pit, maveh (intentionally left untranslated), and fire. It’s not out of the ordinary for the Mishnah to use categories as an organizing structure for an area of law (see Shabbat 7:2 and Kiddushin 4:1, for example). Nor is it surprising that the conversation in the Gemara that follows seeks to sharpen our understanding of the categories, discern their origin in scripture and define the subcategories that are included within each. What stands out here is that there is a disagreement about what exactly the category of maveh is.

What is the meaning of maveh? Rav says, “It is the category of people,” and Shmuel says, “It is the category of eating.”

In light of the categories of damage we learned yesterday — roughly speaking, ox for damage caused by animals, fire for damage caused by moveable property and pit for damage caused by immovable property — a category for people (Rav’s assertion) makes sense. But why would Shmuel say maveh is a category specifically for damage caused by eating?

Rav Yehuda said that according to Shmuel the mishnah teaches ox specifically with regard to damage caused with its horn (i.e goring), and it teaches maveh with regard to damage caused with its tooth (i.e. eating or biting). 

The defining characteristic of the primary category of goring, where there is no inherent pleasure for the animal, is not similar to the defining characteristic of the category of eating, where there is pleasure for the animal.

In other words, when an ox attacks or causes damage with its horns, it is not deriving pleasure from the action, rather it is acting out of anger or in self-defense. But when it eats or bites something, it is doing so to derive pleasure. Since the motivation is different, we treat the damage differently from a legal perspective.

In contrast, Rav holds that when the mishnah teaches the primary category of ox, it includes all types of damage caused by an ox, regardless of the ox’s motivation, whether it receives a benefit, or what body part it uses. So the category of maveh, according to Rav, must be referring to something else altogether — damage caused directly by people.

How this is ultimately decided will have bearing particularly on the case of an animal that causes damage by biting or consuming someone’s property. Do we understand this kind of property damage to fall under the rules accorded to the category of ox, as Rav suggests, or maveh, as Shmuel’s position suggests?

Rav and Shmuel are both first-generation Amoraim (rabbis who were active after the Mishnah was completed) and, according to rabbinic tradition, they have a lot in common. Both were born in Babylonia, moved to the land of Israel, and studied with Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. Upon returning to Babylonia, each established a beit midrash (school) in Babylonia (Rav in Sura and Shmuel in Nehardea).

Although their biographies follow a similar pattern, Rav and Shmuel frequently disagree on points of law and the Gemara spills a lot of ink analyzing the ins and outs of their disputes. Generally speaking, we follow Rav in matters of religious law and Shmuel in matters of civil law. 

But will Shmuel carry the day in this tractate that deals with civil matters? It’s too early to tell as the page ends before the matter is resolved, so we’ll have to read on to see what happens.

Read all of Bava Kamma 3 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on November 5th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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