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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Mezi'a

Baba Mezi'a 114a

Precisely so: He is indeed thrown upon him, because it is written, and thine shall be the righteousness.1

The scholars propounded: Is an assessment made for a debtor? Do we adduce [the law of] 'poverty' [written here] from that of 'valuations'2  or not? — Come and hear: For Rabin sent word in his letter:3  I asked this thing of all my teachers, and they gave me no answer thereon. But in truth, the following problem was raised:4  If one Says. 'I vow a maneh for Temple purposes.'5  is he assessed?6  R. Jacob, on the authority of Bar Pada, and R. Jeremiah, on the authority of Ilfa, said: [It follows] a minori from an ordinary debtor: if no assessment is made even for a debtor, to whom [the p]edge] is returned;7  then in regard to hekdesh,8  where it [the pledge] is not returned, Surely, there is no assessment! But R. Johanan ruled: It is written, [When a person shall make] a vow by thy valuation [shall the persons be for the Lord]:9  just as a means test is applied for 'valuations', so also for a vow to hekdesh. And the other?10  — That is to teach the judgment [of a limb] according to its importance: just as in 'valuations' [a limb] is judged according to its importance, so in a vow to hekdesh too.11

But let there be an assessment for a debtor, a minori from 'valuations': If an assessment is made in the case of 'valuations', where [the pledge] is not returned: then surely there should be an assessment for a debtor, where [the pledge] is returned: — Scripture writes, But if he be poorer than thy estimation: 'he', but not a debtor. And the other?12  — This teaches that he must remain in his poverty from beginning to end.13

Now, in the case of [a vow to] hekdesh, let it [the pledge] be returned,14  a minori from a debtor: If it [the pledge] is returned to a debtor, for whom there is no means test, surely it is returned in the case of [a vow to] hekdesh, seeing that an assessment is made there! — The Writ saith, That he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee.15  thus excluding hekdesh, which needs no blessing. Does it not? But it is written, When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God!16  But Scripture saith, And it shall be accounted as righteousness [i.e., a charitable act] unto thee:17  hence it [the law of returning] holds good only for him [the creditor] for whom the act of righteousness is necessary.18  thus excluding hekdesh [as a creditor], which does not require [the merit of] righteousness.

Rabbah b. Abbuha met Elijah19  standing in a non-Jewish cemetery. Said he to him: Is a means test to be applied in favour of a debtor? — He replied: We deduce [the law of] poverty [written here] from that of 'valuations'. In respect of 'valuations' it is written, But if he be poorer than thy valuation […according to the means of him that vowed shall the priest value him]. Whilst of a debtor it is written, And if thy brother be waxen poor [… then thou shalt relieve him].

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Deut. XXIV, 13; i.e., the creditor bears a peculiar responsibility towards the debtor, more so than other persons.
  2. Debt: And if thy brother be waxen poor ([H]) … then thou shalt relieve him; Lev. XXV, 35. Valuations: But if he be poorer ([H]) than thy estimation … according to the means of him that vowed shall the priest value him; Ibid, XXVII, 8. Hence, just as the means test is applied in the latter case, exempting the vower from his full obligations, so in the former too,
  3. From Palestine.
  4. At a session, and its answer is also an answer to the one under discussion.
  5. Lit., 'Temple repair.' It is the technical term for anything needed in the Temple, except sacrifices.
  6. If he could not pay it, and the Temple officers came to distrain for it, must his means be assessed, to exempt from sale such things as he needs?
  7. A day article by day, and a night article by night, until the pledge is sold.
  8. I.e., when we distrain for the payment of a vow to hekdesh (v. Glos.).
  9. Ibid. 2. Now, 'vow' ([H]) applies to any vow, whilst 'valuation' ([H]) to the dedication of one's own value (to sacred purposes). Since the two are written in conjunction, it follows that the same law applies to both.
  10. R. Jacob, etc., who holds that there is no assessment for hekdesh. How do they interpret the juxtaposition of these two words?
  11. If one said, 'I vow the "valuation" of my head, heart, liver or any vital organ,' he must give his entire value, since his whole life depends upon it. Hence, similarly. if one said, 'I vow the price of my heart etc., to hekdesh' (not using the word [H]), he must give his entire value. — In a vow of 'valuations' [H], the amount is fixed according to age and sex, irrespective of the man's actual worth; whereas in an ordinary vow he is assessed at his value if sold as a slave. — In any case, from this discussion it clearly emerges that no assessment is made for a debtor.
  12. The first Tanna of our Mishnah, who states: BUT IF HE (THE DEBTOR) DIED, HE NEED NOT RETURN THE PLEDGE TO HIS HEIRS, which implies that it is always returned to the debtor himself, shewing that certain objects are assessed as vital and exempted from seizure.
  13. If he vowed his 'valuation' whilst a poor man, but became wealthy before being assessed, he must pay in full. That is deduced from the emphatic 'he', i.e., at assessment too he must be too poor for the fixed valuation.
  14. Day attire by day, and night attire by night. (Cf. p. 320. n. 5.)
  15. Deut. XXIV, 13.
  16. Ibid. VIII, 10, Thus, even God demands of man a blessing!
  17. Ibid. XXIV, 13.
  18. To be worthy of being deemed righteous before God.
  19. It was believed that Elijah often appeared to saintly men.
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Baba Mezi'a 114b


Dilling discusses highlighted text here, here, and here
    [He asked him further:] Whence do we know that a naked man must not separate [terumah]? — From the verse, That He see no unclean thing in thee.1  Said he [Rabbah] to him: Art thou not a priest:2  why then dost thou stand in a cemetery?3  — He replied: Has the Master not studied the laws of purity?4  For it has been taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai said: The graves of Gentiles do not defile, for it is written, And ye my flock, the flock of my pastures, are men;5  only ye are designated 'men'.6  — He replied: I cannot even adequately study the four [orders]; can I then study six?7  And why? he inquired. — I am too hard-pressed,8  he answered. He then led him into Paradise and said to him: Remove thy robe and collect and take away some of these leaves. So he gathered them and carried them off. As he was coming out, he heard a remark, 'Who would so consume his [portion in] the world [to come] as Rabbah b. Abbuha has done?' Thereupon he scattered and threw them away. Yet even so, since he had carried them in his robe, it had absorbed their fragrance, and so he sold it for twelve thousand denarii, which he distributed among his sons-in-law.

Our Rabbis taught: And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep in his pledge:9  hence, if he is wealthy, thou mayest sleep thus. What does this mean?10  — Said R. Shesheth: This is the meaning: And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep whilst his pledge is in thy possession; but if he is wealthy, thou mayest do so.11

Our Rabbis taught: If a man lends [money] to his fellow, he may not take a pledge of him, nor is he bound to return it to him, and he transgresses all these injunctions.12  What does this mean? — R. Shesheth said: This: If a man lends [money] to his fellow, he may not [himself] take a pledge of him; and if he did take a pledge of him [by means of a court officer], he is bound to return it;13  whilst 'he transgresses all these injunctions' refers to the last clause.14  Raba said: It is thus meant: If a man lends money to his neighbour, he may not take a pledge of him [himself], and if he took a pledge of him [through the court], he must return it.15  Now, when is this? If the pledge was not taken at the time of the loan.16  But if it was taken at the time of the loan,17  he is not bound to return it to him.18  Whilst 'and he transgresses all these injunctions' refers to the first clause.19

R. Shizebi recited before Raba: Thou shalt return it unto him until the sun goeth down20  — this refers to night attire; in any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down — to an object of day attire. Said he to him: Of what use is an article of day attire by night,21  and a night attire by day? Shall I then delete it? he asked. — No, was his reply. It reads thus: Thou shalt return it unto him until the sun goeth down — this refers to an article of day attire, which may be taken in pledge by night; in any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down — to a night attire, which may be taken in pledge by day. R. Johanan said: If he took a pledge of him, [returned it,] and then he [the debtor] died, he may distrain it from his children. An objection is raised: R. Meir said: Now, since a pledge is taken, why is it returned?22  'Why is it returned?' [you ask.]23  — Surely Scripture ordered, Return it! But [say thus]: Since it is returned,

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Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Ibid. XXIII, 15; man must not appear before God in an unclean state, which includes a state of nudity. When one separated terumah, he had to utter a benediction, and this is regarded as appearing before God.
  2. According to legend, Elijah and Phinehas (Aaron's grandson) were identical.
  3. A priest must not defile himself through the dead. Standing in or near a grave effects such defilement.
  4. [H]; this is also the name of the sixth order of the Talmud, treating of these laws. From Rabbah's answer, that he has had no time to study the six orders, it appears that he was referring to the actual order, though he proceeds to quote a Baraitha and not a Mishnah from that order.
  5. Ezek. XXXIV, 31.
  6. Cf. Num. XIX, 14: This is the law, when a man dieth in a tent; all that come into the tent, and all that is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days.
  7. The four orders referred to are 'Festivals,' 'Women,' 'Damages,' and 'Consecrated Objects.' These were considered of permanent and practical importance, even the last named, though sacrifices were not practised outside Palestine, because the study thereof was held to be the equivalent of actually offering them; Men. 110a. But the other two, viz., 'Seeds' and 'Purity,' were of no practical importance outside Palestine, and therefore not studied intensively (Rashi). Tosaf. a.l. however, observes that it is evident from the Talmud that they were well — versed in these two, and therefore conjectures that the reference is to the Tosefta (i.e., the additional Baraithas, excluded by Rabbi from his Mishnah compilation). In point of fact, the dictum quoted by Elijah here is not found in any Mishnah. It does not form part of our Tosefta either, but our Tosefta is not identical with that mentioned in the Talmud. V. also Weiss, Dor, lii, p. 186-7.
  8. He was poor and had to eke out a living.
  9. Deut. XXIV, 12. E.V.; 'with his pledge'.
  10. Surely the pledge, even of a wealthy man, may not be used by the creditor, since that constitutes interest!
  11. Only in the case of a poor debtor must a night article be returned for the night, and a day one by day, but not in the case of a wealthy debtor.
  12. Viz., Thou shalt not sleep in his pledge: In any case, thou shalt deliver him the pledge when the sun goeth down (Ibid. 12f); Thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down (Ex. XXII, 25). On [H], lit., 'names', v. p. 634. n, 3.
  13. V. p. 650, n. 4,
  14. If he does not return them, R. Shesheth thus assumes the text to be corrupt, and emends it considerably.
  15. As before.
  16. And is therefore in the nature of distraint.
  17. As a security.
  18. Every morning or evening, as the case may be, even if the debtor is in need of it.
  19. Sc. distraint. Thus Raba does not emend any part of the existing text, but adds to it.
  20. E.V.: 'Thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down,' Deut, XXIV, 13.
  21. [Raba explains the phrases 'night attire' and 'day attire' as denoting attires taken in pledge respectively by night and day.]
  22. How can the creditor's claims be satisfied?
  23. This is an interjection.
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