Bava Metzia 98

Assumption of responsibility.

The Talmud has established that if someone borrows an item, they must compensate the owner for loss, damage, theft and (in the case of a borrowed animal) death, no matter the circumstances. When does the borrower assume this responsibility? This is the topic of a mishnah on today’s daf:

One who borrowed a cow, and (the lender) sent it to him by the hand of his son, or by the hand of his slave, or by the hand of his agent, or by the hand of the (borrower’s) son, or by the hand of his slave, or by the hand of the agent of the borrower; and it died (on the way), the borrower is exempt.

According to the mishnah, the borrower does not assume responsibility for the borrowed item until they receive it. If they pick up the item themselves, they assume responsibility at the moment of transfer. But if the item is being delivered by an agent, regardless of whether the agent is connected to the owner or the borrower, the owner suffers any loss that occurs. Borrowing does not officially begin until the borrower takes possession of the item. That is, unless the parties stipulate otherwise. 

The mishnah continues:

If the borrower said: Send it to me by the hand of my son, or by the hand of my slave, or by the hand of my agent, or by the hand of your son, or by the hand of your slave, or by the hand of your agent. 

Or if the lender said: I am sending it to you by the hand of my son, or by the hand of my slave, or by the hand of my agent, or by the hand of your son, or by the hand of your slave, or by the hand of your agent. And the borrower said: Send it, and it died (on the way), the borrower is liable. 

If the borrower tells the owner how they want the item to be delivered in advance, or if the owner suggests a method of delivery and the borrower agrees to it, then the initial ruling of the mishnah does not apply. The borrower takes responsibility for the item as soon as it is turned over to the designated delivery person. The same applies when the item is returned — the lender does not retake responsibility for the object until they have possession of it unless the lender stipulates how it should be delivered or agrees to the borrower’s suggestion.

After presenting the exceptions to the general rule with which it began, the mishnah comes to a close and so does today’s daf. What questions will the Gemara ask about it? We’ll have to wait to find out. In the meantime, let’s enjoy this moment of talmudic peace and quiet, and appreciate how a mishnah, when left to its own devices, stands nicely on its own two feet.

Read all of Bava Metzia 98 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on June 5, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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