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Kiddushin 28

It's not about the money.

In today’s economy, we typically think of transactions as involving money. True, there may be times where we trade our lunch dessert for a colleague’s package of potato chips, but such barter situations are relatively uncommon. On today’s daf, the rabbis ask this question explicitly: Are the rules about transactions applicable only to money transactions? 

The mishnah on today’s daf is pretty straightforward. If you’re trading “items used as monetary value for another item,” once one of the parties acquires the item they’re receiving, that person becomes obligated to hand over the other item in the exchange. The mishnah even offers an example: If two people are bartering an ox for a cow or a donkey for an ox, once one of them acquires the animal they’re getting, that person has an obligation to hand their animal over.

But this phrase “items used as monetary value for another item” is a bit peculiar. What does it mean exactly, and does it include money itself?

Rav Yehuda said: This is what (the mishnah) is saying: All items that can be appraised as monetary value for another item, once one (party) acquires, this (party) is obligated to exchange for it. 

According to Rav Yehuda, this particular mishnah is talking about something that can be appraised, as opposed to money which needn’t be appraised because its value is obvious. Pretty much any object other than money fits the bill. The mishnah offers the example of the ox/cow and donkey/ox exchanges as straightforward illustrations of this kind of barter.

To our modern sensibilities, it might be peculiar to have different rules for cash and barter transactions. As soon as I hand over my money or my bit of barter, shouldn’t that be the moment I have a right to the item I’ve purchased? What’s the rationale for having different rules for cash transactions?  

In fact, later on the daf we find an opinion from Rabbi Yohanan that, by Torah law at least, there is no difference — whether it’s cash or barter, the moment there is an exchange, the item is acquired. Rather, it’s according to rabbinic law that a further step is required beyond money changing hands.

And what is the reason (that the sages) said that pulling acquires? It was decreed lest the seller says: Your wheat was burned in the loft.

The rabbis required a further act, pulling, to effect a cash sale, and their concern is a fair one. Let’s say Sarah buys wheat from Rebecca and pays cash for it. We typically consider Sarah’s acquisition of the wheat to be complete even if she hasn’t yet taken possession of it. But if Sarah owns the wheat that’s still in Rebecca’s possession, what incentive does Rebecca’s have to keep the wheat safe? She has her money, so if the wheat catches fire in some sort of accident, what’s it to her? (In fact, we saw this same scenario back in Eruvin, where the rabbis expressed concerns that currency transactions were more susceptible to fraud and treachery.) To avoid this outcome, the rabbis require Sarah to “pull” the wheat to effect the sale. Exactly what it means to pull wheat is a longer conversation we’ll save for another time. 

Though Rabbi Yohanan’s position is challenged on today’s daf, later halakhic authorities agree that the Torah does indeed hold that moveable property is acquired through money. It is only by rabbinic law that moveable property must be lifted or pulled to effect acquisition. If you want to learn more about currency-based transactions, you’ll have to wait until we get to Bava Metziah next year. For now, though, it’s not about the money.

Read all of Kiddushin 28 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 10th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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