Talmud pages

Bava Kamma 77

Fit slaughter.

Today’s daf tracks a dispute between the famous hevrutot (study partners) Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish. It’s a particularly complicated one, so let’s break it down: 

The mishnah on Baba Kamma 74 teaches that if someone stole an animal that had been consecrated for Temple use and then slaughtered or sold it, he pays a double payment for the theft and an additional four or fivefold penalty for the subsequent sale or slaughter. But then Rabbi Shimon comes along with a limit to this rule:

Rabbi Shimon says: A sacrificial animal for which (the owner) bears responsibility, pay the fourfold or fivefold payment. One for which (the owner) bears no responsibility, he is exempt. 

According to Rabbi Shimon, if a thief steals and then sells or slaughters a consecrated animal for which an owner is responsible to replace it if it’s lost or dies, then he pays the additional four or fivefold penalty. But if the owner is not responsible for replacement, the thief only pays the penalty for theft. 

On yesterday’s daf, the Talmud focuses on one piece of this teaching: the question of slaughter. According to the Talmud, what kinds of animal killing would make the additional penalty kick in? 

Slaughter that is not fit is not considered slaughter

Only ritual slaughter that is appropriate counts — and by appropriate, we mean slaughtered in the right way and in the right place for use in the Temple. But if a thief steals a sacrificial animal and slaughters it outside the Temple, then we have an animal slaughtered in the right way, but in the wrong place. And if this slaughter is unfit, then it doesn’t count as consecrated slaughter — it’s just killing an animal — and the additional penalty should not kick in. 

So should we read Rabbi Shimon as saying that the thief has brought their stolen animal to the Temple and offered it appropriately in the Temple? Or is something else going on? This question gets us (finally!) to the dispute on today’s daf between Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish. 

Rabbi Yohanan thinks that Rabbi Shimon is referring to a thief who slaughters a stolen unblemished sacrificial animal inside the Temple, and appropriately slaughtering an unblemished sacrificial animal inside the Temple counts as slaughter. By contrast, Reish Lakish holds that Rabbi Shimon is referring to a thief that slaughters a blemished animal outside the Temple. In this case too, slaughtering a blemished animal outside the Temple counts as slaughter that is fit because the meat can be eaten (as long as the animal is redeemed with money). 

So according to both Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish, the thief’s slaughter was fit and counts as slaughter for the purpose of assessing penalties. But they base their interpretations on different cases. Why? Today’s daf explains: 

Granted, Rabbi Yohanan did not state in accordance with Reish Lakish because he wants to interpret it even with unblemished (animals). 

Rabbi Yohanan thought that Rabbi Shimon’s teaching applied to all animals that could be appropriately sacrificed. That seems reasonable. 

But what is the reason Reish Lakish did not state in accordance with Rabbi Yohanan? He could have said to you, “and slaughters it or sells it” (Exodus 21:37). Anywhere that is for sale, it is for its slaughter, and anywhere that is not for sale, it is not for slaughter. And this case of sacrificial animals, since when one sells sacrificial animals it is not a sale, there is no (fourfold or fivefold payment) for their slaughter.

Reish Lakish reads the biblical verse connecting slaughter and sale to argue that the Torah parallels the two as it relates to penalties. This means that, for Reish Lakish, if the thief had slaughtered an unblemished animal inside the Temple, it would have been an invalid slaughter, because you can’t sell an unblemished animal dedicated to the Temple. And if you can’t sell it, you can’t slaughter it and have it count as an appropriate slaughter.

The Talmud is going to continue discussing the two rabbis’ positions, but let’s end our discussion today by taking a step back. The Talmud’s discussion reminds us that the meaning of words is contextual. Sure, we think we know what “slaughter” and “sale” mean, but for the rabbis, these terms have specific legal definitions, and the legal definitions must be met for the biblical penalties to apply. And even though the Temple was no longer standing when the rabbis did their work, the legal meanings of words were still tied up with ideas of dedication and sacrifice.

Ultimately, this complicated discussion of Rabbi Shimon’s position reminds us that rabbinic discourse is made up of biblical verses, a commitment to the Jewish past (both the Temple and the traditions inherited from earlier rabbis), an eye to their present and the legal needs of their communities, and respectful disagreement. And that’s a lot — just like today’s back and forth.

Read all of Bava Kamma 77 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 18th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

On Civil Discourse

One of the most pathetic (in the original sense of evoking pathos) passages in the Talmud is one (Bava Metzia ...

Yevamot 35

Beyond the letter.