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[page v] Baba MEZI‘A, lit., ‘Middle Gate’, is, as its name implies,1 a continuation of Baba Kamma, the ‘First Gate’, with which, in fact, it originally formed one treatise. The main subject discussed in it, as in the earlier treatise, is Claims; but whereas Baba Kamma is concerned only with claims for compensation arising out of loss or injury, Baba Mezi'a deals with claims arising out of any transaction in which two parties have a share, from a joint finding to wage agreements. Hence it contains more than any other Tractate of the Talmudical law relating to trade and industry.
CHAPTER I treats of the two kinds of lost property: (i) that which could not be identified by the owner, and (ii) that which could be identified; the former immediately belonged to the finder, it being assumed that the owner, knowing his inability to establish his claim, must have abandoned it. Here is also discussed the means whereby the lost article becomes the finder’s. Lost deeds were a special problem, since in essence they belonged to two persons, the ownership of one, however, cancelling the other’s: hence we have a discussion as to what was to be done with these.
CHAPTER II continues the subject matter of Chapter I, but in greater detail. An enumeration is made of the articles which belong to the finder, and which must be proclaimed. Moreover, seemingly lost articles might not have been lost at all, and so definitions are necessary of what constitutes lost articles. The chapter discusses too what is to be done with these pending their return. A short digression deals with the law of assisting in the loading and unloading of animals.
CHAPTER III. The finder of a lost article which must be proclaimed is in the position of a bailee. By a natural transition, therefore, this chapter deals with a real bailee, i.e., a person with whom an article is deposited. Various matters are discussed, such as the theft of the deposit, the decreases that the bailee may allow for if [page vi] the bailment is in the form of produce, and the law of the misappropriation of the bailment by the bailee.
CHAPTER IV. In an agricultural community, much of the commerce would take the form of barter; moreover, owing to the shortage of actual coin, one could not easily change large coins into those of smaller denomination but such a change would constitute a special transaction in itself. Laws governing this exchange, as well as barter and the normal operations of buying and selling, are treated of in the fourth chapter. Commerce was governed by ethical considerations, and one could obtain redress for having been overcharged in the price of an article, even if the commodity itself had not been misrepresented. Points arising out of this are the chief subject of the chapter. To the Rabbis there was no real difference between commercial morality and the dictates of good feeling, and so, by a natural transition, the discussion of injury done through overcharging leads to exhortations against verbal wrongs.
CHAPTER V is based on the Biblical injunctions against usury. The term is understood in a far wider sense than is admitted in modern usage, and it is even forbidden to charge a higher price for an article when sold on credit. We are given an insight here into the actual commercial life of the people, and it is particularly interesting to observe the attempts made to reconcile the exigencies of commerce with the prohibition of interest.
CHAPTER VI and part of CHAPTER VII enter into a discussion of labour conditions and the relationship between employer and employee, in respect to broken contracts, hours of work, and the rights of labourers to eat of the produce upon which they are engaged. It is again forcibly brought home to us that the Jews in Palestine and Babylonia were in the main an agricultural community, whose problems were bound up with the soil, and their love for the soil may be noted in the general assumption that no man voluntarily sells his estate unless pressed for money.
CHAPTERS VII and VIII. The discussion on deposits, which formed the subject matter of the third chapter, is resumed in the middle of the seventh and continued in the eighth. The different kinds of bailees are discussed, and their respective liabilities. [page vii]
CHAPTER IX. Toward the end of the eighth chapter the subject is changed, and there follows a discussion of tenancy, and the obligations of the landlord and the tenant. This forms a natural bridge to the ninth chapter. Owners let out their estates in return either for a fixed rental, paid in the produce of the rented field, or a percentage of the crops, and regulations for this are laid down. In the middle of the chapter, however, there is a return to the relations between the employer and the employee, thus continuing the first part of the seventh chapter, and it ends with some laws on distraint for debt.
CHAPTER X. In the tenth and last chapter, the joint ownership of houses is discussed, and also the individual’s rights and duties in respect to the community as a whole.
The Tractate contains very little aggadah. Of that little, particularly noteworthy are the statements that Jerusalem was destroyed because people there insisted on their full rights according to the strict letter of the law; the declarations that the Torah is no longer in Heaven and that no attention is paid to a Heavenly Echo intervening in a halachic dispute—a remarkable assertion of the independence of human reasoning; the stories about R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon and R. Ishmael son of R. Jose, who hunted down criminals for the State; how Resh Lakish became a scholar; Rabbi’s thirteen years of suffering on account of his failure to shew compassion to a dumb animal, and the famous statement that Rabina and R. Ashi conclude (Talmudic) teaching, which is generally taken to mean that they were responsible for the redaction of the Talmud.
The Indices of this Tractate have been compiled by Judah J. Slotki, M. A.
PREFATORY NOTE BY THE EDITOR
The Editor desires to state that the translation of the several Tractates, and the notes thereon, are the work of the individual contributors and that he has not attempted to secure general uniformity in style or mode of rendering. He has, nevertheless, revised and supplemented, at his own discretion, their interpretation and elucidation of the original text, and has himself added the notes in square brackets containing alternative explanations and matter of historical and geographical interest.
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