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Din & Daf: The Psychology of Ownership

Din & Daf: Conceptual Analysis of Halakha Through Case Study with Dr. Elana Stein Hain

The Significance of Ye’ush in Theft
משמעות יאוש בגזילה  Bava Kamma 111b

Dr. Elana Stein Hain – dinanddaf@hadran.org.il

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Ownership is both physical and mental/emotional according to halakhah. This can be seen through examples in which an owner’s mental relationship to an object has changed. In this shiur, we will examine the case of יאוש as just such an example. The despair (יאוש) experienced by those who have had something stolen from them impacts the halakhic status of that item. In this shiur, we examine why this is the case and what that impact is.

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  • בבא קמא סו.

 יֵאוּשׁ – אָמְרִי רַבָּנַן דְּנִיקְנֵי, מִיהוּ לָא יָדְעִינַן אִי דְּאוֹרָיְיתָא אִי דְּרַבָּנַן. אִי דְּאוֹרָיְיתָא – מִידֵּי דַּהֲוָה אַמּוֹצֵא אֲבֵידָה; מוֹצֵא אֲבֵידָה לָאו כֵּיוָן דְּמִיָּיאַשׁ מָרַהּ מִינַּהּ מִקַּמֵּי דְּתֵיתֵי לִידֵיהּ, קָנֵי לֵיהּ? הַאי נָמֵי, כֵּיוָן דִּמְיָיאֵשׁ מָרַהּ, קָנֵי לֵיהּ. אַלְמָא קָנֵי. אוֹ דִלְמָא לָא דָּמְיָא לַאֲבֵידָה, אֲבֵידָה הוּא דְּכִי אֲתַאי לִידֵיהּ – בְּהֶתֵּירָא אֲתַאי לִידֵיהּ; אֲבָל הַאי, כֵּיוָן דִּבְאִיסּוּרָא אֲתַאי לִידֵיהּ – מִדְּרַבָּנַן הוּא; דַּאֲמוּר רַבָּנַן נִיקְנֵי, מִפְּנֵי תַּקָּנַת הַשָּׁבִים. וְרַב יוֹסֵף אָמַר: יֵאוּשׁ אֵינוֹ קוֹנֶה, וַאֲפִילּוּ מִדְּרַבָּנַן.

With regard to the owner’s despair over ever recovering the stolen item, the Sages say that this too causes the thief to acquire the stolen item. However, we do not know if this halakha applies by Torah law or by rabbinic law.  If it applies by Torah law, this is just as it is with regard to one who finds a lost item. Is it not the case with regard to one who finds a lost item that once the owner of the item despairs of recovering it, before the item came into the finder’s possession, the finder acquires it and may keep it for himself? The same principle applies to this thief as well: Once the owner of the item despairs of recovering it, the thief acquires it for himself and need no longer return it. Apparently, then, the despair of the owner causes the thief to acquire the stolen item.

Or perhaps the case of a stolen item is not comparable to the case of a lost item, as it is only with regard to a lost item that the owner’s despair enables the finder to acquire the item, because the item came into his possession in a permitted manner. But in this case of the thief, since the item came into his possession in a prohibited manner, this case cannot be derived from the halakha of a lost item. If so, the ruling that despair effects acquisition in a case of theft applies not by Torah law but by rabbinic law.

Why would this halakha have been instituted by rabbinic law? As, the Sages said that a thief should acquire the stolen item in this manner, due to an ordinance instituted for the penitent. To encourage thieves to repent and repay their victims, the Sages instituted that they need not return the stolen item after the owner despairs of recovering it. Rather, they can reimburse the owner for the monetary value of the item.

And Rav Yosef says: Despair on the part of the owner over the possibility of recovering his item does not cause the thief to acquire that item at all, and this is the halakha even by rabbinic law.

 

  • בבא קמא קיא:

מַתְנִי׳ הַגּוֹזֵל וּמַאֲכִיל אֶת בָּנָיו, וְהִנִּיחַ לִפְנֵיהֶם – פְּטוּרִין מִלְּשַׁלֵּם. וְאִם הָיָה דָּבָר שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ אַחְרָיוּת – חַיָּיבִין לְשַׁלֵּם. 

MISHNA: One who robs another of food and feeds it to their children, or who left a stolen item to them and then died, the children are exempt from paying the victim of the robbery after their father’s death. But if the stolen item was something that serves as a legal guarantee of a loan, the heirs are obligated to pay. 

 

גְּמָ׳ אָמַר רַב חִסְדָּא: גָּזַל וְלֹא נִתְיָיאֲשׁוּ הַבְּעָלִים, וּבָא אַחֵר וַאֲכָלוֹ מִמֶּנּוּ – רָצָה מִזֶּה גּוֹבֶה, רָצָה מִזֶּה גּוֹבֶה. מַאי טַעְמָא? כֹּל כַּמָּה דְּלֹא נִתְיָיאֲשׁוּ הַבְּעָלִים – בִּרְשׁוּתֵיהּ דְּמָרֵיהּ קָאֵי. תְּנַן: הַגּוֹזֵל וּמַאֲכִיל אֶת בָּנָיו, וְהִנִּיחַ לִפְנֵיהֶם – פְּטוּרִין מִלְּשַׁלֵּם. תְּיוּבְתָּא דְּרַב חִסְדָּא! אָמַר לְךָ רַב חִסְדָּא: כִּי תַּנְיָא הָהִיא – לְאַחַר יֵאוּשׁ.

 

GEMARA: Rav Ḥisda said: If one robbed another, and the owners of the stolen item have not yet despaired of retrieving it, and another person came, took it from the robber and ate it, the owner may collect from either the first robber or the second robber. Why? As long as the owners did not despair of retrieving it, it remains the possession of its owner. 

We learn in the mishna: One who robs another of food and feeds it to their children, or one who left a stolen item to them as an inheritance, the children are exempt from paying the victim of the robbery after their father’s death. This appears to be a conclusive refutation of the opinion of Rav Ḥisda, who holds that one who steals from a thief is obligated to pay the owner. 

Rav Ḥisda could have said to you: When that mishna is taught, it addresses a case where the owners had already despaired of retrieving the item, whereas Rav Ḥisda was referring to a case where the owners had not yet despaired. 

 

  • אור שמח הלכות גזילה ואבידה ה:ד

 (R. Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk 1843-1926, Commentary to Mishneh Torah)

ואולי טעמא דלאחר יאוש אם אכלו דהוי כממון שאין לו תובעין דהמזיק פטור וכמו שאמרו גבי מתנות כהונה, כן הכא לבתר יאוש דהבעלים כבר נתייאש ונפיק מרשות מריה והוי כאין לו תובעין

And maybe the reason is that after despair, if someone eats the stolen item, it is like money/possessions that have no claimants, in which case one who does damage is exempt from payment. And it is like what they said regarding priestly gifts. Likewise, here, after the despair of the owners, the item has left its owners possession and it is like something that has no claimants. (See Chullin 130b)

 

  • תוספות שם ד”ה גזל

…ומסברא מחלק רב חסדא בין לפני יאוש בין לאחר יאוש דלא הוי כל כך ברשות מריה אחר יאוש כמו לפני יאוש שנקל לצאת מרשות בעלים בשינוי רשות או בשינוי השם…

And based on logic Rav Hisda distinguishes between prior to despair and after despair – the item is not as much in its owners’ possession following despair as it is prior to despair, as it can more easily be removed from its owners’ possession through a change in possession (to a third party) or with a change of nomenclature.

 

  • רמב”ם משנה תורה הל’ גזילה ואבידה ב:ב

 

…נִתְיָאֲשׁוּ הַבְּעָלִים מִמֶּנָּה וְלֹא נִשְׁתַּנֵּית קָנָה הַגַּזְלָן כָּל הַשֶּׁבַח שֶׁהִשְׁבִּיחָה אַחַר יֵאוּשׁ וְאֵינוֹ מְשַׁלֵּם אֶלָּא כִּשְׁעַת הַגְּזֵלָה. וְדָבָר זֶה מִדִּבְרֵיהֶם מִפְּנֵי תַּקָּנַת הַשָּׁבִים. וּכְשֶׁמַּחְזִיר לוֹ הַגְּזֵלָה שָׁמִין לוֹ הַשֶּׁבַח וְנוֹטֵל מִן הַנִּגְזָל:

If the owner despaired of its return, but it did not undergo a change, the robber acquires the right to its increase in value from the time the owner despaired. He is required to pay only the value of the article at the time of the robbery. This is also a Rabbinic ordinance to encourage repentance.

In such an instance, when he returns the object he obtained by robbery, the increase in value is evaluated, and the robber is paid for it by the person they robbed.

 

Dr. Elana Stein Hain is the Rosh Beit Midrash and a senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Passionate about bringing Torah into conversation with contemporary life, she teaches Talmud from the Balcony, an occasional learning seminar exposing the big ideas, questions, and issues motivating Talmudic discussions; she authored Circumventing the Law: Rabbinic Perspectives on Legal Loopholes and Integrity (pre-order discount code: PENN-ESHAIN30) which uses halakhic loopholes as a lens for understanding rabbinic views on law and ethics; and she co-hosts For Heaven’s Sake, a bi-weekly podcast with Donniel Hartman and Yossi Klein Halevi, exploring contemporary issues related to Israel and the Jewish world. Elana has also started TEXTing; a podcast where she and guest scholars study Torah texts that engage issues of the moment for the Jewish world. She lives in Manhattan with her beloved family.

 


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Beyond the Daf is where you will discover enlightening shiurim led by remarkable women, delving deep into the intricacies of Talmudic teachings, and exploring relevant and thought-provoking topics that arise from the Daf.

Dr. Elana Stein Hain

Dr. Elana Stein Hain is the Rosh Beit Midrash and a senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Passionate about bringing Torah into conversation with contemporary life, she teaches Talmud from the Balcony, an occasional learning seminar exposing the big ideas, questions, and issues motivating talmudic discussions; she authored Circumventing the Law: Rabbinic Perspectives on Legal Loopholes and Integrity (pre-order discount code: PENN-ESHAIN30) which uses halakhic loopholes as a lens for understanding rabbinic views on law and ethics; and she co-hosts For Heaven’s Sake, a bi-weekly podcast with Donniel Hartman and Yossi Klein Halevi, exploring contemporary issues related to Israel and the Jewish world. In mid-January, Elana will be starting a new podcast called TEXTing, where she and guest scholars study Torah texts that engage issues of the moment for the Jewish world. She lives in Manhattan with her beloved family.
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