We have already spent a lot of time discussing the consequences for an ox that gores. In short, the rule is that if the ox kills a person, the ox is put to death. But does the identity of an ox’s owner matter? Here’s the mishnah:
An ox belonging to a woman, and an ox belonging to orphans, and an ox belonging to orphans that is in the custody of their guardian, and a desert ox, and a consecrated ox, and an ox belonging to a convert who died and has no heirs — all these are liable for death (for killing a person).
Rabbi Yehuda says: A desert ox, a consecrated ox, and an ox belonging to a convert who died are exempt from death, since they have no owners.
According to the primary ruling of the mishnah, an ox owned by any of those listed is liable to be killed if it kills a person. Rabbi Yehuda disagrees regarding a wild ox, an ox consecrated to the Temple, or an ox belonging to a convert who died without heirs. As we’ll see in the Gemara, in order for an ox to be killed as a penalty, its owner must be warned. But if there’s no owner, there is no one to warn, so Rabbi Yehuda believes these three types of ownerless oxen cannot be killed.
Next, the Gemara tries to figure out where these seven categories come from:
The sages taught: The Torah states: “An ox,” “an ox,” repeating it seven times (Exodus 21:28–32), to include (an additional six cases). They are: An ox belonging to a woman, an ox belonging to orphans, an ox belonging to orphans that is in the custody of a steward, a desert ox, a consecrated ox and an ox belonging to a convert who died and has no heirs.
Rabbi Yehuda says: A desert ox, a consecrated ox and an ox belonging to a convert who died and has no heirs are all exempt from death, since they have no owners.
Picking up on the fact that the passage in the Torah that discusses the penalty for the owner of a goring ox uses the word “ox” seven times, the Gemara notes that this is where the mishnah gets the idea that there are six additional categories of owners in addition to the obvious one: a free Jewish male adult. Following Rabbi Yehuda’s logic, we might question whether damages can be levied upon minor orphans with or without a guardian, or upon a consecrated ox that is now the property of the Temple. But it’s curious that the Gemara’s list includes women, whom we already know are permitted to own property. If that’s the case, why would the mishnah need to specify that?
The medieval commentary Tosafot explores this question, but to understand the answer, we need to look at the Hebrew used in the Torah to describe the owner of an ox: ba’al ha’shor. Ba’al means owner, but it also means “master,” and the word itself is masculine (Hebrew is a gendered language, so all words are either masculine or feminine). Tosafot picks up on this nuance, and states: “The verse equates a woman with a man.”
Since we know women can own property, Tosafot makes short work of considering and discarding the possibility that ba’al is referring to solely a male owner, and continues by stating: “This rule (that equates women to men as far as all penalties of the Torah) is specifically when the passage is said in the masculine term.” Tosafot then states explicitly regarding our passage: “Where the Gemara says the word ox is repeated seven times, (it is) to include among others the ox of a woman in regard to an ox that killed.”
So why does the mishnah need to list women among the categories of questionable ox owners when it was clear even in those days that a woman’s ownership is as solid as that of an adult male? Perhaps because this notion is more societal than legal; even though the law is clear, it might still have been considered unusual for a woman to own something as costly and significant as an ox. Perhaps that’s why Tosafot takes the time to make it crystal clear that ba’al refers to an owner of any gender. So if a woman can own an ox, she can be penalized just as a man if her ox kills someone.
Read all of Bava Kamma 44 on Sefaria.