Make a Fixed Time for Study

עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

We’ve got damages

Posted by rabbiart on August 6, 2008

A study of the traditional 613 mitzvot (commandments/obligations) according to their order of appearance in the Torah.

In Mitzvah 51 we learnh that a bet din should judge and impose recompense for damages done by domestic animals.  The classic case, and the verse on which this jurisprudence is based, is that of an ox gores a person aor does damage to property.  We quickly learn in the Talmud that this is not limited specifically to an ox, but applies to any domestic or wild animal where a person has combined with that animal to cause damage.

The tradition moves quickly to a consideration whether damage from the animal in question should have been expected, or whether the damage in question is truly a “new case.”  Different penalites apply, and we also learn that some animals are considered a “habitually damaging animal”, some animals are considered to have become “habitually damaging”, and there are some cases where the damage caused is truly unexpected.

At this point, the reader may be wondering, how does this apply to my modern, urban life, where I don’t have any domestic animals.  (Unless you have dogs, cats or other animals that don’t live in a bowl of water but can get out and move around.)

Are there modern equivalents of domestic animals. Animals were often used for grazing, to keep a pasture under control. Does your automatic lawnmower fall into this category? What if you get distracted and your automatic lawnmover cuts down your neighbor’s geraniums? Is this a case of accidental damage that could fall under this mitzvah?

Or – and I see this out my front window – your animal “goes” on my front lawn, creating a little yellow circle of grass. Can I recover damages from you? Suppose your animal does this repeatedly? Can I recover increased damages?  What does the Torah have to say about this situation?  For one thing, we can learn that the Torah tells us that we are required to guard our animals (read possessions, perhaps) against doing damage.


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