Parshat משפטים Shmos 21:35 – Non-Jewish Property

Exodus 21:35 If one man’s ox hurt his neighbor’s ox so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox, divide the money of it; and the dead ox they shall also divide.

Bava Kama (37b): [the words] “his neighbor’s” teaches us that if one’s ox gored another ox belonging to the temple or to a non-Jew he would be exempt from payment. But an ox of a non-Jew gored a Jew’s ox, the non-Jew would be liable to pay.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #177:

Behold regarding this principle that a Jew is not liable for damage to a non-Jew’s property has been the cause for much opportunity for haters of Jews to complain about our ancient scriptures saying that this law shows the low value that the Jewish law places on people who are not Jewish. The haters say that Jewish law not only thinks less of non-Jews but also shows that the property of a non-Jew is valued less than the property of a Jew.

This harsh reasoning resurfaces anew like sharp spurs on the lips of those who oppress Jews in every generation. Jewish scholars of every generation have endeavored to explain that certainly the Gemora is referring to non-Jews of early times who lived in wild, lawless countries. It does not refer to non-Jews in our times and in our countries. The result of this fact is that this law is no longer applicable.

What can we say and how can we express if our pain is so great that jealousy or hate corrupt rational thought. We are doubly troubled by our scholars who have tried to offer incomplete/inadequate explanations. Further in this section of the Talmud where the adversaries try make us regretful and lowly of spirit[1]. Because exactly in this place in the Talmud,  this topic explained in such a way that a truly objective reader could see it. Not only does this topic not bring disgrace on the wonderful Talmud, rather it uplifts it to show that all its laws are just and straight. The laws are built on a foundation of humanity and fundamental principles of life in all countries and places and times.

 Here is the exact language of the Talmud on this topic: If the word “neighbor” is to be taken literally, then a non-Jew’s ox should also not have to pay if it gores a Jew’s ox. On the other hand, if the word “neighbor” is not to be taken literally then a Jew’s ox that gores a non-Jew’s ox should also have to pay.  Rabbi Abahu says (Habbakuk 3:6): “He stands and shakes the earth, He beholds and causes the nations to tremble, and the everlasting mountains are dashed to pieces, the eternal hills bow.” Rabbi Abahu says that this posuk alludes to the fact that HaShem saw the seven mitzvot that the nations took upon themselves and since they did not fulfill them, He then made their property hefker for the Jews”.

Everyone knows the content of the Seven Mitzvot: 1. System of Laws 2. Acknowledging God 3. Not serving idols 4. No illicit sexual relations 5. Don’t murder 6. Don’t steal 7. Don’t eat the limb of a live animal. All these commandments are fundamental and essential for the establishment and continuation of human civilization, living in security, and feelings of tranquility and mercy on others.

So, now consider, that people who do not follow these laws but rather do the opposite. They don’t have laws and judgments. They murder and commit sexual immorality. They steal and rob and eat the limb of a live animal. They curse HaShem and they worship trees and stones. How should laws be regarding these types of people? If not like wild animals who destroy civilization and punish civilized people. Behold it is total appropriate for people of character who are concerned with promoting civilization to treat these wild populations in this manner. In fact this is how established kingdoms treat such populations, by denying them their “rights” and keeping them away from civilized locations.

Behold, this just and righteous ruling of the Talmud should be publicized.  Furthermore, we should take pride, knowing that 2,000 years ago when the world was primitive[2], there already existed amongst us righteous laws and just ways to strengthen human society and establish the world.

Refer to Rambam’s commentary on the Mishnah here[3]: “Do not wonder about this [he means to says that an ox of a Jew that gores an ox of an idol worshipper is exempt from damages[ just as you should not be troubled by ritual slaughter of animals, even though the animals did not sin.  For one who does not possess complete human qualities, is not truly considered a person [adam].  His existence is for the benefit of other humans.  Together with that was said above his words are elucidated.

Thus we learn that the Talmud itself, excludes from this ruling all the nations that observe the 7 Noahide laws, which include most of the nations today.  Behold, all of their judgments with us are considered judgments between Jewish parties.  There is no more elucidate.  Also refer to Parashat Kedoshim[4]regarding standing for an elder and Parashat Behar regarding the laws of overcharging[5]regarding the honor that Chazal accorded to all upstanding nations.  As for our discussion here, enough said.

We now return to explain the other half of this exegesis.  Behold it is simply clear that this same ruling apply to temple property.  That is, if an ox of an idol worshiper gores an ox that is temple property the idol worshiper is liable for damages while, if the reverse happens, the temple is exempt from damages.  Because this law is not just coming solely from an exemption based on “his fellow”[6], but also on the status of other nations.  Based on this one can see how precise the Mishnah is regarding this matter (as we cited in short above).

“An ox of an Israelite that gores an ox of temple property and an ox of temple property that gores an ox of an ordinary person[7] is exempt from damages.   The Mishnah first refers to an Israelite and later refers to an ordinary person, which, at first glance, appears inconsistent, however, what was said before, enlightens the language of the Mishnah.  The opening of the Mishnah refers to an Israelite specifically to exclude the case when an ox of an idol worshiper gores an ox of temple property from being exempt from damages.  Therefore the Mishnah did not refer to an ordinary person, which would include an idol worshiper being exempt from damages.  This is not the case in the end of the Mishnah.  By referring to an ordinary person, the Mishnah includes an idol worshiper.  Take note: Thus the ruling is that an ox of temple property that gores an ox of an idol worshiper is exempt from damages.

Based on this one can see that the emendation of the Bach to this Mishnah, replacing Israelite with ordinary person is unnecessary.  Moreover, the language of the Mishnah shows how great and precise are the words of Chazal.

 

Editor’s Note: This is a very tough but important topic. The Torah Temimah does not avoid difficult topics. The short explanation of this Torah Temimah note is that he proves that, in the Gemora itself, the making exempt of a Jew for damaging a non-Jew’s property is limited to non-Jewish nations that don’t observe the 7 Noachide laws, which are the basic laws that form the fundamentals of every society. Based on this fact, the Torah Temimah states that the law does not refer to non-Jews in our times and in our countries. This law is no longer applicable because we live in a time of countries governed by the rule of law, unlike the time of the Gemora. In our day, all judgments between Jew and non-Jew are considered the same as judgments between two Jewish parties.

 


[1] Literally: sadden the heart and destroy the soul

[2] Literally: when darkness covered the world and gross darkness the peoples (Isaiah 60:2 JPS translation from mechon-mamre.org)

[3] Bava Kama chapter 4 Mishnah 3

[4] Leviticus 19:32 Torah Temimah there

[5] Leviticus 25:14 Torah Temimah there

[6] רעיהו

[7] i.e. non temple property – הדיוט

3 thoughts on “Parshat משפטים Shmos 21:35 – Non-Jewish Property

  1. Norman

    What would the Torah temimah say about Jewish usury to non Jews today. Why would the law of an ox be explained away as not relevant, but the law allowing usury to non Jews be relevant?

    Reply
    1. David Schectman Post author

      He discusses this in my recent post: Parshat כי תצא Devarim 23:21 – Lending to non jews with inerest

      Reply
    2. davidschacht@ymail.com

      Norman, I don’t usually actually get real comments! And so I never noticed your comment. Very sorry. Ping me on facebook and I’d be happy to a have a real conversation with you.

      Reply

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