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Steinsaltz

The word “or” is necessary to separate the cases of the ox and donkey. This indicates that if either falls in individually, the owner of the pit is liable. And how does Rabbi Yehuda derive the halakha to separate the cases in the verse? He derives it from the use of the singular form of the verb: “And an ox or donkey fall [venafal],” indicating that he is liable if even one animal falls. And the Rabbis maintain that the term and fall can also indicate many animals, as the use of the singular form of a verb does not prove that the subject is necessarily singular.

The Gemara now challenges both opinions: Say that the term “and fall” is a generalization, whereas the phrase “an ox or a donkey” is a detail. According to the principles of halakhic exegesis, when the Torah presents a generalization and a detail, the generalization includes only what is contained in the detail. Therefore, an ox and a donkey are indeed included, but anything else is not included.

The Sages said in response: The following verse: “The owner of the pit shall pay” (Exodus 21:34), means that it then generalized again. The verses are structured according to the principle of halakhic exegesis of: A generalization, and a detail, and a generalization. According to this principle, you may deduce that the verses are referring only to items that are similar to the detail. In this case, just as the explicit detail is referring to animals, so too, all items included in the generalization must be animals.

The Gemara now challenges this answer: If so, just as the explicit detail, i.e., the ox and donkey, is referring to items whose carcass renders a person ritually impure by contact or by carrying, so too, all items, i.e., all animals, whose carcass renders a person ritually impure through contact or by carrying, should be included in the halakhot of damage classified as Pit. But birds, whose carcasses do not render a person impure through contact or by carrying, would not be included.

The Gemara answers: If so, let the Merciful One write only one detail, from which the exclusion of birds could be derived. The Gemara asks: Which detail should the Torah write? If it writes only an ox, I would say that an item that is sacrificed on the altar, such as an ox, indeed renders the owner of the pit liable, whereas an item that is not sacrificed on the altar does not render him liable. And if the Merciful One writes only a donkey, I would say: Those animals whose firstborn is sanctified, such as a donkey, as described in the Torah (Exodus 13:13), do indeed render their owners liable, but animals whose firstborn is not sanctified do not render them liable. Therefore, the Torah states both an ox and a donkey.

The original difficulty therefore resurfaces: Why is the verse not expounded as a generalization, a detail, and a generalization, thereby excluding birds? Rather, the previous method of deriving liability for a pit must be rejected, and instead it should be derived as follows: The verse states: “And the carcass shall be for him” (Exodus 21:34), from which it may be inferred that anything subject to death is included.

The Gemara asks: If this is the basis for liability for a pit, then both according to the Rabbis, who exclude vessels from liability based on another verse, and according to Rabbi Yehuda, who has amplified the halakha to include vessels, one could ask: Are vessels subject to death? Clearly, vessels cannot be subject to death. Why, then, is a separate source necessary to derive their halakhic status? The Sages said in reply: Vessels may also be considered subject to death in the sense that their shattering is tantamount to their death.

The Gemara continues to challenge this explanation: But according to Rav, who says: With regard to Pit, for which the Torah deems a person liable, it is only for damage caused by its lethal fumes, but not for damage caused by the impact of the fall, the following question may be raised both according to the Rabbis and according to Rabbi Yehuda: Are vessels capable of being broken by the lethal fumes, such that a verse is necessary to exclude them? The Sages said in reply: There is such a case concerning new vessels, which crack from the fumes.

The Gemara asks further: But isn’t this verse: “And the carcass shall be for him,” necessary for that which Rava ruled, as Rava says: With regard to a disqualified consecrated ox that fell into a pit, the owner of the pit is exempt, as it is stated: “And the carcass shall be for him.” It is referring to a person to whom the carcass belongs, thereby excluding this person, to whom the carcass does not belong. Once a halakha has already been derived from this verse, it cannot be used as the basis for deriving a second halakha.

Rather, the halakhot of liability for Pit must be derived from another source. The verse states concerning Pit: “He shall recompense money to its owners” (Exodus 21:34), thereby including any item that has an owner within the scope of liability. The Gemara challenges this answer: If so, then even vessels and people should be included as well, which presents a difficulty for all opinions.

The Gemara answers: This is why the verse states: “An ox,” but not a person; “a donkey,” but not vessels. The Gemara asks: And according to Rabbi Yehuda, who amplifies the scope of liability to include vessels, granted that the term “an ox” is necessary, as he excludes people based on it, for which he is not liable. But with regard to the term “a donkey,” what does he exclude based on it?

Rather, Rava said: The term “donkey” stated with regard to Pit, according to the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda, and the term “sheep” (Deuteronomy 22:1), stated with regard to a lost item, according to the opinion of everyone (see Bava Metzia 27a) are difficult. There is no explanation for why they are stated.

§ The mishna teaches: If a ḥeresh ox or a shoteh ox or a katan ox fell into the pit, the owner of the pit is liable. The Gemara clarifies: What is meant by the phrase: A ḥeresh ox or a shoteh ox or a katan ox? If we say that it means: An ox belonging to a deaf-mute [ḥeresh], an ox belonging to an imbecile [shoteh], or an ox belonging to a minor [katan], then it can be inferred that if it was an ox belonging to a halakhically competent adult, the owner of the pit would be exempt. What would be the reason for this exemption?

Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Instead, it should be interpreted as: An ox that is impaired by being deaf, or an ox that is an imbecile, or an ox that is very young.

Talmud - Bavli - The William Davidson digital edition of the Koren No=C3=A9 Talmud
with commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Even-Israel (CC-BY-NC 4.0)
אדם סלומון
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