IS IT NATURAL FOR AN OX TO GORE? Sanhedrin Daf 3

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By: Rabbi Avrohom Adler

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The Gemora cited a dispute regarding the half damages that one is required to pay if his ox gores for the first time.

The Gemora in Bava Kamma (15s) explains: Concerning the payment of half damages (which are paid when a tame ox gores another animal; if the ox did not gore three times, it is regarded as an abnormal act and the animal was not intending to inflict damage; this is called a tam), Rav Papa says: This is regarded as a compensation payment. Rav Huna the son of Rabbi Yehoshua says: The half damages are considered a fine.

The Gemora explains: Rav Papa says that the half damages are regarded as a compensation payment, for an ordinary ox is not considered guarded in respect to these types of ‘abnormal’ damages and the owner should really be liable to pay completely for its damages. The Torah had compassion on him since his ox was not yet warned (three times) and ruled that he is only required to pay for half the damage (hence the half damages that he does pay is considered compensation). Rav Huna the son of Rabbi Yehoshua says that the half damages are considered a fine, for an ordinary ox is considered guarded in respect to these types of ‘abnormal’ damages and the owner should really be exempt completely from paying for its damages. The Torah penalized him and ruled that he is required to pay half in order that he will watch his ox better in the future (hence the half damages are considered a fine).

Reb Dovid Pervarsky writes that this is not a factual dispute if ordinary oxen are accustomed to gore or not. Rather, the argument can be explained as follows: Rav Papa maintains that it is inherent in the nature of an ox to gore. Sometimes it will not gore because it does not feel the desire to gore at that time. When the animal does gore, it is not considered an abnormality at all. Rav Huna the son of Rabbi Yehoshua holds that it is not natural for an ox to gore at all; when it does gore, it is regarded as an abnormality.

Reb Dovid is not comfortable with this explanation of the argument, for the Gemora’s language is that an ordinary ox is not considered guarded; if the animal is not goring (for whatever reason), it should be considered “guarded”!?

He therefore concludes that this is the explanation: Rav Huna the son of Rabbi Yehoshua holds that it is not natural for an ox to gore at all; if it does gore, it cannot be labeled as a “damager,” since the ox was considered guarded. Rav Papa, however, maintains that it is in the nature of an ox to gore, and when it gores, it can be labeled a “damager.” This is what obligates the owner to watch his animal even though it is not accustomed to goring.

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