Parashat Mishpatim 5767/ February 17, 2007
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
Tannaim , Biblical Exegetes and Aramaic Translations
Dr. Ephraim Yitzhaki
Department of Talmud
When a man gives to another an ass, an ox a sheep or any other animal to guard, and it dies or is injured or is carried off, with no witness about an oath before the Lord shall decide between the two of them that the one has not laid hands on the property of the other; the owner must acquiesce, and no restitution shall be made. But if [the animal] was stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. If it was torn by beasts, he shall bring it as evidence; he need not replace what has been torn by beasts (Ex. 22:9-12).
The Torah speaks of one who undertakes to watch the possessions of his friend, and the item under his care was stolen, or lost, or was attacked by another animal. What is the responsibility of the shomer, the guardian? According to the Masoretic notation, the last verse is read thus: “Im tarof yittaref yevi’ehu ed; ha- terefah lo yeshalem.” However, there is a tannaitic dispute regarding the correct reading of verse 12, its vocalization, punctuation, and meaning. The dispute is found in Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Mishpatim, Tractate de-Nezikin ch. 16:
Here we have three different readings of the verse, yielding three different meanings:
The baraitha in the Babylonian Talmud (Bava Kama 11a) only presents two opinions:
It is taught: If it was torn by beasts, he shall bring him a witness – he shall bring witnesses to the fact that it was forcefully torn by beasts; then he is exempt. Abba Saul says: he shall bring idudah [according to Rashi, loc. sit. , the torn carcass] to the court.
The two opinions are as follows:
According to both views in the Babylonian Talmud then, the word is to be read ed, and the dispute is only about the placement of the comma. The Masoretic tradition relied on the former opinion in the baraitha cited from the Babylonian Talmud, and determined that the verse should be read as follows: Im tarof yittaref, yevi’ehu ed; ha- terefah lo yeshalem. Rashi, relying on the baraitha in the Babylonian Talmud together with the Masoretic tradition, interpreted the verse as follows: “If it is torn by beasts, he shall bring witness that it was torn by beasts and he could do nothing about it; then he is exempt from paying.”
Nahmanides challenged Rashi’s interpretation, asking how a person could bring witnesses that the animal was torn apart by beasts, for at the outset Scripture said: “it dies or is injured or is carried off, with no witness about,” which Rashi himself explained as meaning “with no one seeing who could testify.” If there was no one who saw, how could he bring witnesses? Therefore Ramban explained, “He shall bring some of the torn animal as evidence,” following the second opinion in the baraitha in the Babylonian Talmud.
In the Aramaic translations of the Torah, we find all three views:
One could say that certain halakhic disputes among the Tannaim stem from different readings of the written Torah, or from the fact that the Tannaim used Aramaic translations of Scripture in determining rules of halakhah, or that each beit midrash had its own Aramaic translation, just as they each had their own halakah and mishnah.
When we say that the Torah is multifaceted (lit., has seventy faces), perhaps what we have in mind is that a single verse can be read in many ways, and from the different readings one can arrive at a variety of explanations and perhaps even different halakhic conclusions.