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Ketubot 31

Two for the price of one.

As longtime Daf Yomi students know, sometimes a talmudic tangent goes so far afield we wind up in another conversation entirely. On today’s daf, the conversation that began with a mishnah two days ago about the fines a rapist must pay to his victims has led us to a debate about the consequences for tearing a silk garment while shooting an arrow across a public domain on Shabbat. Go figure.

The Gemara is in the midst of a discussion about double-whammy transgressions: single actions that result in two halachic violations. In such cases, is a person liable for two punishments or one? Rabbi Avin brings an example for discussion:

One who shoots an arrow from the beginning of four cubits to the end of four cubits and ripped silk as it proceeds, is exempt as lifting is a prerequisite for placement. 

In Rabbi Avin’s example, someone shoots an arrow more than four cubits in the public domain on Shabbat. Shooting an arrow is considered a form of carrying and is a violation of Shabbat. But in the course of the arrow’s flight through the air, it damages someone’s property — in this case, tearing someone’s silk — which is also a violation and would ordinarily require compensating the injured party. Are these two separate actions that merit two separate penalties? Or just one?  

The rabbis conclude that the arrow shooter is only liable for one penalty — for violating Shabbat. That’s because carrying begins when an object is lifted and concludes when the object comes to rest. Here, the arrow is shot, the silk is torn, and then the arrow lands. As a result, the tearing comes about during the course of carrying and is subsumed in the more serious violation, namely the violation of Shabbat.

In case this wasn’t entirely clear, Rav Beivai bar Abaye offers a further edifying illustration:

One who steals a purse on Shabbat is liable because he was already liable for theft before he came to violate the prohibition (against performing prohibited labor on Shabbat by carrying it into the public domain).

However, if he was dragging it on the ground and exiting the private domain … he is exempt, as the prohibition against theft and the prohibition of Shabbat are violated simultaneously.

In Rav Beivai’s case, someone who steals a purse on Shabbat is liable for the theft the minute he picks up the purse. Then a second violation occurs as the purse is carried into the public domain. But if the thief drags the purse along the ground, no theft has occurred until they leave the owner’s property and enter the public domain. In that case, the crimes occur concurrently and there is only a single punishment.

The discussion continues with additional examples: moving objects from one corner of a house to another; stopping to rest in the course of moving an object; pulling an animal; and others. And lest we think Jewish law is alone in these complexities, there are similar nuances in common law across a variety of countries as well.  

The Rambam neatly bundles all of this into a helpful codification in the Mishneh Torah, where he lays out laws relating to theft. But the bottom line is the same: Sometimes what seems on the surface like two different crimes are treated as a single one for the purposes of punishment.

Read all of Ketubot 31 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 6th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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