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Bava Kamma 67

Four and five.

Last week, the Gemara spent multiple pages explaining that when the Torah refers to oxen and sheep, it’s really talking about all mammals and also birds. But the mishnah on today’s daf appears to be wholly unaware of that discussion:

The principle of fourfold or fivefold payment applies only to the theft of an ox or a sheep, as it is stated: “If a man steal an ox or a sheep, and slaughter it or sell it, he shall pay five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep.” (Exodus 21:37)

According to this mishnah, the requirement to pay four times the value of the ox you stole, or five times the value of the sheep, only applies to oxen and sheep and cannot be extrapolated to other animals. 

In light of the Gemara we learned last week, the Talmud today tries to reconcile this mishnah with what we’ve learned previously. 

Let us derive “ox” in this verse and “ox” from Shabbat. Just as there, undomesticated animals and fowl are similar, so too here, undomesticated animals and fowl are similar.

“This verse” is the one quoted above by the mishnah, Exodus 21:37, which prescribes repayment for a stolen ox or sheep. The second verse “from Shabbat” is Deuteronomy 5:13“And the seventh day is Sabbath to the Lord your God, you shall not perform any labor, you, your son, and your daughter, and your slave, and your maidservant, and your ox, and your donkey, and all your animals, and the gentile that is within your gates.”

The Gemara is suggesting that this analogy between verses allows us to read oxen and sheep as, once again, a stand-in for a variety of animals. But Rava disagrees:

Rava said: The verse states “ox” and “sheep,” “ox” and “sheep” twice. An ox and a sheep, yes (there is a fourfold or fivefold payment), for other items, no (there is not fourfold or fivefold payment).

Rava suggests that the repetition of the terms ox and sheep in Exodus 21:37 is meant to emphasize that these penalties only apply to oxen and sheep — in this particular instance. This means the mishnah stands, as does the rest of the Gemara we learned last week.

Rava’s explanation is accepted, which means that the Gemara accepts his claim that there is a superfluous “ox” and a superfluous “sheep” in the verse from Exodus. This leads the Gemara to ask a follow up question: Which one? Is it the first set of oxen and sheep (“if a man steals an ox or a sheep”) or the second (“for an ox … for a sheep”)? 

Interestingly, the Gemara ultimately insists that neither the first set nor the second set is actually superfluous. If the first set of nouns was omitted, one might think that one is only liable for this biblical penalty if one steals both an ox and a sheep: “if a man steals … he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” And if the second set of nouns was omitted, one might think one has to pay back nine animals for each theft (he shall pay five oxen for it and four sheep for it). So then how does the Talmud think Rava derived his interpretation? They argue that Rava thinks that a noun from each set is superfluous: 

Rather, “ox” at the end and “sheep” in the first are superfluous, for let the Merciful One write: If a man steals an ox and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for it, and four sheep for a sheep. Why do I need “ox” at the end and “sheep” in the first part? Conclude from this — an ox and a sheep, yes, other items, no.

Ultimately, this discussion reminds us that what the Talmud lays out as hard and fast rules are often complicated in later (or earlier) rabbinic conversations. Which means that the more we learn in our journey through the daf, the more questions we’re going to have — and that’s by design!

Read all of Bava Kamma 67 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 8th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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