Bava Metzia 66

A child tore it up.

The mishnah on yesterday’s daf stated that if a lender designates the borrower’s field as a guarantee and stipulates that they will acquire it if the borrower hasn’t paid back the loan in three years, then indeed the lender may acquire the field after three years of non-repayment. This is so even if the field is more valuable than the loan.

Today’s daf records a dispute:

Rav Huna says: If the lender stated the condition at the time of the giving of the money, he has acquired it all (i.e. the entire field is transferred to the lender after three years). But if the lender stated his condition at some point after the giving of the money, he has acquired only a portion of the field corresponding to the money that he lent.

And Rav Nahman says: Even if the lender stated his condition after the giving of the money, he has acquired it all.

Everyone seems to agree that if the stipulation is made from the outset, as described in the mishnah, the field can be acquired after three years. But can such a stipulation be made once the loan is already in place? Or would collecting the whole field — worth more than the value of the loan — be considered charging interest (which the Torah prohibits)? Rav Huna thinks late stipulations are impermissible (and therefore non-functional), but Rav Nahman, who serves as a judge adjudicating civil/monetary law, permits them. The Gemara records that he stood by this decision when a similar case came before him in court:

Rav Nahman performed an action in the court of the exilarch in accordance with his statement. The case then came before Rav Yehuda, who tore up the lender’s deed. The exilarch said to Rav Nahman: “Rav Yehuda tore up your document.” Rav Nahman said to him: “Did a child tear it up? A great man tore it up; he must have seen some reason and torn it up.”

Faced with a real-life case, Rav Nahman acts according to his recorded position. But when he is undermined by Rav Yehuda, Rav Nahman displays notable humility, conceding that his fellow sage must be acting on an informed and legitimate position.

However, the Gemara also records an alternate telling of these events:

There are those who say a different version of this exchange, according to which Rav Nahman said to him: “A child tore it up, as everyone is like a child relative to me with regard to monetary laws.”

In this version, Rav Nahman takes the opposite tack, insisting that Rav Yehuda’s reversal is childish and incorrect, because Rav Nahman is himself the preeminent scholar and judge of his time on monetary matters. While his claim of superior expertise may be accurate, his attitude (in this version) is imperious and dismissive.

So which version is correct? The Talmud records both and doesn’t say. The second is arguably more in keeping with what we know of Rav Nahman’s character. An important judge and the son-in-law of the exilarch — the leader of the Babylonian Jewish community — Rav Nahman was not often disposed to humility vis a vis his fellow sages, as we find in many of their exchanges in the Talmud.

However, even in this second version of events, in which Rav Nahman is considerably disdainful of his colleague, we find that he ultimately backs down, as the Gemara continues:

After examining the matter again, Rav Nahman retracted his words and then said: Even if the lender stated his condition at the time of the giving of the money, he has not acquired anything.

For all his confidence, even Rav Nahman is capable of admitting his mistakes. He ultimately rules in direct opposition to his initial stance: Where previously he’d stated that the lender acquires the entire field regardless of when the stipulation is made, in the end he holds that when the lender tries to make such a stipulation at any time, it’s ineffective and he acquires nothing. As Rava (his student) immediately points out, this seems to be in direct contradiction to the mishnah. Rav Nahman resolves the difficulty by saying that the mishnah is either in accordance with Rabbi Yosi (a minority opinion), or refers to a case where an act of acquisition was made at the outset.

Read all of Bava Metzia 66 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 4th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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