Whose Money is it? Bava Kamma – 76


Whose Money is it?


By: Reb Yechezkel Khayyat


The Gemora discusses the opinion of Rabbi Shimon, that something that can cause someone monetary loss is tantamount to being that person’s money.  The Ra’avad rules like Rabbi Shimon, and therefore considers hekdesh for which the makdish is responsible (harei alai) to be the property of the makdish.  Therefore, according to the Ra’avad, if someone steals such hekdesh, he must pay full damages (including kefel and dv’h) to the makdish. 


The Rambam (Geneivah 2:1), however, rules like the Chachamim, as this is the anonymous Mishna’s position.  Therefore, in all cases of hekdesh articles that are stolen, the thief is not liable to pay any damages to the makdish.  The Rambam first states that one who steals from hekdesh does not pay kefel, and quotes the verse yeshalem shnaim l’reyeyhu’ – he should pay double to his peer, excluding hekdesh, which is not his peer. Then, the Rambam applies this equally to all hekdesh – irrespective of the makdish’s responsibility – and quotes the verse of v’gunav mibeis ha’ish – and it was stolen from the home of the man, excluding hekdesh, which is not a man. 


Tosfos (63a rayayhu) ask why the Gemora on 62b uses reyeyhu to exclude hekdesh, while our Gemora uses the verse of ha’ish to exclude hekdesh.  While Tosfos explains that both are actually being learned from reyeyhu, the Lechem Mishnah states that the Rambam was implicitly addressing this question by quoting the different verses.  The verse of reyeyhu is the fundamental source for excluding hekdesh from theft payments.  However, the extra verse of ha’ish is the source for our ruling that this applies to all hekdesh – whether the makdish is responsible for it or not.


The Rishonim and Achronim discuss the exact formulation and rationale behind Rabbi Shimon’s opinion.  Some of the facets discussed are:


  1. At what point is it considered money?  Does this begin while it’s in the responsible person’s property, simply because it can cause him to lose money, or is it only once it’s been removed from his property?


  1. Is the obligation of one who harms such an item simply because he has caused a monetary loss, or because the holder’s responsibility created a status of money in the abstract?  Another formulation of this question is – when one pays for damage to such an article, is it because of the damage done (which now includes monetary loss), or because the item is considered the property of the holder?


  1. The Gemora in Pesachim (5b-6a) discusses Rabbi Shimon’s opinion in the context of chametz on Pesach.  The rule established by the braisa quoted there is that the chametz of a non Jew in a Jew’s possession is considered the Jew’s only if the Jew is responsible for it.  The Gemora debates whether this is a function of Rabbi Shimon’s opinion, or an exception to the ruling of the Chachamim.  The exact application of this rule in the case of Chametz may depend on this debate.  If chametz is a function of Rabbi Shimon’s opinion, it may be subject to the possible limitations and definitions of Rabbi Shimon’s general position on such items.  If, however, it is an exception to the ruling of the Chachamim, the Torah is telling us a more sweeping statement about how we determine ownership for chametz on Pesach.  One ramification of this may be how responsible for the Chametz a Jew must have in order to be obligated to remove it.


See the Ketzos Hachoshen 386:7 and Afikei Yam 2:10 for more detailed discussion of these topics.