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Bava Metzia 69

Two Samaritans.

Today’s daf describes a fascinating court case. 

These two Samaritans who entered into a joint venture with each other. One of them went and divided the money without the knowledge of the other. They came before Rav Pappa. He said to him: What is the difference? This is what Rav Nahman said: Money is as though divided.

Apparently, two men had invested their money together, but one of the partners divided the dividends on his own. The other then takes him to court, where Rav Pappa rules that the first partner had done nothing wrong because the division of money does not require both partners to be present. Money is considered already divided and so the first partner was not actually dividing the money, only apportioning it out. But the story continues: 

The next year they purchased wine together, and the other one arose and divided without the knowledge of the other. They came before Rav Pappa, who said (to the defendant): Who divided it for you?

He said to him: I see that the master pursues me!

Another year, another shared business venture, but this time the investment is in wine. Perhaps because of the previous year’s ruling, the other partner now divides the wine on his own. But Rav Pappa’s response is quite different this time: Who said that you could divide the barrels of wine on your own? Reasonably, the partner who divided the wine barrels on his own takes this ruling personally and accuses Rav Pappa of mistreating him.

In order to uphold the justice of the rabbinic legal system, Rav Pappa explains what makes the two cases different: 

Rav Pappa said: In a case like this it is certainly necessary to inform. Money, did he take the good and leave the deficient ones? He said to him: No. He said to him: Wine, everyone knows that there is wine that is sweet and there is wine that is not sweet.

While money is considered already divided — after all, a dime is a dime — items that have variable quality require both partners to be involved in the division to ensure that each gets a share equal to their investment. But between counterfeiting and coin clipping, not every dinar is actually worth a dinar. So the Gemara offers us a degree of nuance:

This matter applies between good and good, or heavy and heavy. But not good and heavy. 

It’s worth remembering that for most of history, coins were made entirely of precious metals, and the value of a coin was the value of the gold or silver it was made of. One way to cheat customers would have been to carefully shave off a tiny amount of the gold from each coin, or to adulterate the metal with something heavier and cheaper and keep the gold for yourself. So the Talmud only permits coins to be considered already divided when they are all of the same quality. 

This story is fascinating for many reasons, including Rav Pappa’s recognition that his two different rulings have the appearance of injustice and require explanation and the fact that these two men keep going into business together even though every instance ends in a lawsuit. 

But what is most striking to me is that the two business partners are Samaritans, or kutim in Aramaic. The Samaritans were (and still are) an ethnic and religious group who trace their origins to Samaria (see Kiddushin 75), the region between the biblical kingdom of Judah and the Galilee, which is nowhere near Babylonia where Rav Pappa lived and judged. In our journey through the daf, we’ve been constantly reminded that the rabbis of the Talmud lived in a religiously and ethnically diverse world. And today we learn that that world included other peoples who trace their origins to the land of Israel.

But we also learn that some members of the Samaritan community, who until today see themselves as both related to and separate from Jews, went to Rav Pappa for two different rulings a year apart — and that Rav Pappa judged their case and even explained his reasoning to them! Today’s daf is a reminder that the rabbinic world was not only more diverse than we imagine, but also more porous. The boundaries between “us” and “them,” even then, were fuzzier than we might think.

Read all of Bava Metzia 69 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 7th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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