Sunday, August 3, 2008

Torah Doesn't stop at the Kitchen Door: A D'var Halacha based on Masechet Bava Batra

This summer, I am working as the mashgiach at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, and as part of my responsibilities, I help unload all of the various deliveries we receive including groceries, dairy, meat, and Ice Cream.
At the same time, one of my leisure activities this summer is studying the Mishnah of Masechet (tractate) Bava Batra. While I was originally learning it for its own sake, in the past few weeks my learning has become part of a facebook-based project to make a siyum (completion) of the rntire midhnah in memory of the abducted Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev z"l.

Located in the order of Nezikin (damages), Bava Batra focuses mainly on issues of commercial and propery law, including the delineation of rights belonging to neighbors, buyers and sellers. I was inspired to write this d'var when I have noticed on a number of occasions strong connections between the laws and cases in the Mishnah, and real-life situations that have happened in this part of the job. Although I strongly believe that Judaism can and does permeate every facet of our lives, it is interesing that there is as much relevant material in halachic literature, if not more, dealing with the 'everyday' parts of my job as with dealing directly with kashrut.

Bava Batra 5:8 deals with the responsibilities of a buyer and seller if something goes wrong with a product at the time of purchase.
ה,ח המוכר יין ושמן לחברו, והוקרו או שהוזלו--עד שלא נתמלאת המידה, למוכר; משנתמלאת המידה, ללוקח. היה סרסור ביניהם, ונשברה החבית--נשברה לסרסור. וחייב להטיף שלוש טיפין; הרכינה ומיצת, הרי של מוכר. החנווני חייב להטיף לו שלוש טיפין; רבי יהודה אומר, ערב שבת עם חשיכה, פטור.
One who sells wine or oil to his fellow, and it rose or fell in value - until the order is filled, the loss or gain goes to the seller; after it is fulfilled, to the purchaser. If there was a middleman/courier in between, and the cask was broken, the middleman is liable for the damage. The shopkeeper is required to spill over 3 drops when filling a cask. If it caked on the sides of the measuring vessel, it belongs to the seller. 'And he is required to spill over 3 drops' - Rabbi Judah said, on Erev Shabbat close to sunset he is exempt.

A few weeks ago, I was checking in an ice cream delivery, which contained both ice cream bars and gallons of ice cream. Since the truck had been driving around the whole day, the gallons were melting and one of the opened up and spilled melted ice cream over the pavement. I was worried that camp would be upset over the loss of the ice cream. Before I could even get upset, the driver offered to take that gallon of ice cream off the bill, just like the directive in the mishnah. Although our wine (used only for cooking here at camp, in case you were wondering) and oil come in sealed containers today, my ice cream case is a great illustration of how the ancient rabbis compiled a legal code that still rings relevant for us today.

Another example of a Mishnah coming to life is the cases given in Bava Batra 6:2, which deals with what is considered acceptable damage when receiving a large order of goods, mostly fruit in both the mishnah and our day.

ו,ב המוכר פירות לחברו, הרי זה מקבל עליו רובע טינופת לסאה; תאנים, מקבל עליו עשר מתליעות למאה; מרתף של יין, מקבל עליו עשר קוססות למאה; קנקנים בשרון, מקבל עליו עשר פוטסות למאה.
One who sells fruit to their fellow, they accept upon themselves a quarter kab of waste with every seah; figs, ten that are worm-infested for every hundred. A cellar of wine, ten that are sour out ove one hundred; jars from the Sharon, they accept ten that are not fully dry.

While I and the management at camp do hold our distributor to a high standard in terms of sending correct and Kosher products, this job has given me a small lesson in accepting a small level of imperfection in some of the large shipments we receive, especially in terms of fruits and vegetables. Although we would request a refund if an entire case of fruit were damaged, the ruling of the mishnah teaches an important lesson still applicable today, that it is important to go about business with a readiness to give the seller the benefit of the doubt and allow for small imperfections while at the same time both parties must take responsibility to fulfill their side of the contract.

These mishnayot and the parallel cases given from my experiences are just a few examples of how our classical rabbinic texts, especially those dealing with civil law that might not seem as applicable on the surface as those dealing with Shabbat or holidays. I hope that these words of Torah have given a taste of some of the work I have done this summer, and an impetus to delve more into the text of masechet Bava Batra!

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