Make a Fixed Time for Study

עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Mitzvah 53 – Its the pits

Posted by rabbiart on August 27, 2008

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

This mitzvah defines the jurisdiction of a rabbinical court with regard to damages resulting from improper use of public places.  In the rabbinic world, there is a clear distinction between public and private places. As you would expect, streets, alleys, passageways are all public.  What you might not expect is that people used public spaces for personal usages.  The rules and regulations of this mitzvah are not designed to discourage or prevent use of the public space, but rather to govern the usage and apportion responsibility for any damages that result.

The primary malfeasance in this mitzvah involves digging a pit in the public space, then leaving it, or leaving it uncovered or insufficiently covered.  Anyone who has ever driven over a pothole can see the importance of this mitzvah.  In the rabbinic understanding, “pit” might can include a ditch or a cave; any opening that would have the capacity to cause death.

The responsibility for carrying out this mitzvah is shared in an interesting way.  The mitzvah itself is to enforce the laws, apportion damages and so on.  This is a judicial responsibility, and therefore only falls to men, because women, in the rabbinic time, did not judge cases. But the application of the laws apply equally to women as well as men, whether they caused or suffered damages.


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