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    Mishnah Bava Kama 10:3

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    Arik
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    Mishnah Bava Kama 10:3

    Post  Arik on Tue Sep 21, 2010 8:50 am

    If a person recognizes his vessels or his books in the possession of another person, and the theft had [previously] been made public – the one who has them shall swear to the amount he paid for them and he shall receive it [from the original owner in exchange for returning the property]. If not, it is not within his rights [to take the property away from the one who has it], for I could say: He sold them to someone and then this one bought them from that person.

    Commentary

    This mishnah describes a situation that may be familiar to some of us. You are out and about and spot someone with something that was stolen from you. You want your things back, but the other person claims he bought them unaware that they were stolen and should not be forced to return them without compensation.

    The mishnah focuses on your behavior before you stumbled on your property. Did you publicize your loss? Today we would ask whether you had filed a police report or an insurance claim, or whether you had told your friends that your iPod had been taken from your gym locker. If a public announcement was made, we insist the current “owner” swear to the amount he paid; the original owner pays that amount in order to retrieve her property. If, however, the theft was previously unknown to the community, the person may keep whatever he has bought. The mishnah is concerned that the supposed “theft” is in fact a scam, that the original owner sold the property and that now that it has been resold to a new, unsuspecting owner, the original owner tries to reclaim it.

    At first glance, this mishnah may seem unfair. There is no suggestion that the person who has the property is a thief; if he is willing to take an oath, he is assumed to be an innocent individual unaware that he was buying “hot” property. Why should he have to give up the property? Moreover, why should a victim of robbery have to pay to get back his property?

    Our mishnah reflects the early rabbis’ view of tort law as a way to restore things to their place, that is, to put the world back to the way it was before an injury or theft occurred. The victim of robbery has his property back and the innocent third party has his money. Moreover, according to the Talmud, this law served to ensure the flow of goods in the marketplace. Without this law protecting the receiver of stolen goods, people might be afraid to buy things in the market, lest they unknowingly be acquiring stolen goods which they might be required to return. Of course, the person who had his property stolen has suffered a loss even though he has his property back – and should the thief be discovered, he would presumably be expected to compensate his victim. This would complete the cycle of restoration and would ensure that the thief does not escape responsibility for his actions.

    Questions

    1. What is our responsibility when buying property to make sure it is not stolen? What are the limits of our responsibility?

    2. How might this mishnah help us think about fair trade and sustainability, the responsibility to determine whether anyone was harmed or treated unfairly in the process of creating an object or bringing it to market?

      Current date/time is Fri Jun 23, 2017 8:18 pm