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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Mezi'a

Baba Mezi'a 73a

if the vendor retains the title thereto, it is permitted; if the vendee, it is forbidden.1  If he was transporting provisions from place to place, when his neighbour met him and proposed, 'Let me have them, and I will supply you [later] with provisions that I have there,' if he actually possesses provisions there, it is permitted;2  if not, it is forbidden. But carriers3  supply in the dearer place at the prices of the cheaper,4  without fear [of incurring the guilt of usury]. Why? — R. Papa said: They are satisfied by being informed of the market price.5  R. Aha the son of R. Ika said: They are satisfied with the extra discount they receive.6  Wherein do they differ? — In respect of a new trader.7

In Sura four [se'ahs] went [to the zuz]; in Kafri,8  six. So Rab gave money to the carrier,9  accepted himself the risks of carriage, and received five [se'ahs per zuz]. But why not take six?10  — For a man of great repute it is different.11

R. Assi propounded of R. Johanan: May this be done with small ware?12  — He replied: R. Ishmael son of R. Jose wished to do so with linen garments, but was not allowed by Rabbi. Others say, Rabbi wished to do so with small ware, but R. Ishmael son of R. Jose did not allow him.

An orchard:13  Rab forbade it; Samuel permitted it. Rab forbade it: Since it is worth more later on, it looks like payment for waiting.14  Samuel permitted it: Since there may be cause for regret,15  it does not look like payment for waiting.16  R. Shimi b. Hiyya said: But Rab agrees [where the ploughing is done] with [the aid of] oxen, since great loss is caused.17

Samuel said to those who advance seed grain to be returned in new grain:18  Busy yourselves19  in the field, that ye may have a title to the soil itself;20  for if not, it will be accounted as a loan to you, and forbidden.

Raba advised those who keep watch over the cornfields: Go out and find some occupation21  in the barn, that your wages may not be payable until then;22  since wages are not payable until the end [of one's task], and it is only then that they make you the gift.23

The Rabbis protested to Raba: You enjoy usury. For everyone [who leases a farm] accepts four [kor as annual rent] and dismisses the tenant in Nisan;24  whilst you wait until Iyar25  and receive six.26  He retorted: It is you who act contrary to the law; the land is in bond to the tenant;27  if you make him quit in Nisan [before the crops are ripened], you cause him much loss. Whereas I wait until Iyar, thus greatly enhancing his profits.28

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. I.e., if the vendor bears the risk of carriage thither, it is not a loan, the vendee really selling it there on his behalf, and hence permitted. But if the vendee assumes responsibility, it immediately passes into his possession, and he is indebted for its value as a loan. Hence, since he repays more than it is worth where he receives it, it is usury.
  2. For it is as though they were immediately transferred to the lender, and if they appreciate, it is the lender's which appreciates.
  3. Lit., 'ass drivers.'
  4. They receive money in the dearer place to supply provisions at a later date at the lower price of elsewhere.
  5. For through the ready money they thus have in hand they are recognised as traders and receive credit, and this is ample repayment for their labour of bringing the provisions at their risk from one place to another (Rashi). Tosaf. in name of R. Han.: They are satisfied by being kept informed, by those who advance them money, of any rise in the market price in the dearer place during their absence, and thus aided in their sales.
  6. [In consideration of the fact that they supply the produce in the dearer place at cheap rates.]
  7. I.e., if the carrier has only just begun to trade thus. On the first view, that it is permitted because they are satisfied to be known as merchants and receive credit, it is permitted here too, since the same reason operates; (according to Tosaf., being new traders and inexperienced in price fluctuations, they are sufficiently compensated by being informed thereon). But on the second view, being new, they lack the farmer's confidence, who may not believe that they are supplying the produce in the dear place at cheap rates, and hence receive no additional discount. Therefore the transaction is forbidden, for his labour of carriage is merely on account of the money advanced, and thus partakes of the nature of usury.
  8. [South of Sura, Obermeyer, op. cit., p. 316.]
  9. To bring the produce from Kafri.
  10. As above; the more so in that since he accepted the risks of the road, it was an ordinary purchase.
  11. He must be more considerate.
  12. Does the above law of carriers hold good for all merchandise, or only for wheat? For it may be argued that the two reasons stated apply only to wheat, in which there are frequent price fluctuations and a constant demand. But in other merchandise the prices are more stable, which disposes of the first reason as explained by Tosaf., and the demand is less constant, and hence he is not likely to receive a greater discount, for the demand having been satisfied, it will not recur for a considerable time; nor is he, for the same reason, likely to receive recognition as a trader.
  13. Rashi: 'vineyard'. I.e., to advance money at a fixed price for the fruits of the orchard before they are ripe, to be delivered when ripe. The fixed price is naturally less than that of ripe fruit.
  14. V. supra 63b.
  15. If the orchard is smitten with hail, or the plants with disease, the risks of which are borne by the purchaser. [Others: 'a mishap may befall it.]
  16. But as a speculation. He may (and probably will) receive more than his money's worth, but on the other hand he may lose it.
  17. V. supra 30a top. Hence there is a greater element of risk which converts it into a speculation. [Tosaf.: Cattle breeders (who buy the offspring before it is born) since the risks are great.]
  18. Rashi and Jast. Tosaf.: who advance money for loads of faggots, to be delivered at vintage time. Lit., 'who cut grapes or branches.'
  19. Lit., 'turn over.'
  20. On which the grain grows; hence the grain, or, as Tosaf. interprets, the growing faggots are already yours. To do some work in a field was a method of obtaining a title thereto.
  21. Lit., 'turn over.'
  22. I.e., until you have finished those self-imposed tasks.
  23. Lit., 'remit in your favour' (what they pay you over and above the stipulated wage). These watchers were not paid until the corn was winnowed, though wages were due to them immediately after harvesting; but in consideration thereof they were given something above their due. Now this has the appearance of interest, therefore Raba advised them to find some small tasks in the barn, so that their wages should not be legally payable until they actually received them, in which case the 'tip' would be a gift, not interest. [So according to some texts; cur. edd.: 'They reduce the price in your favour. According to this reading the watchers received payment in kind at a cheaper rate in compensation for waiting for their wages; hence Raba's advice.]
  24. The first month of the Jewish Year. They insist that he shall reap then and quit the field. [This haste in harvesting the corn before it was quite ripe was due to the unsettled state of the country during the Persian — Roman wars. Funk, S., Die Juden in Babylonian, II, p. 85.]
  25. The second month.
  26. The protest was based on the assumption that the additional two was payment for waiting the extra month.
  27. I.e., he has a title thereto until the crops are fully ripe.
  28. Hence I am entitled to a greater rental in return for the greater value they receive [Raba's prominence assured his property of government protections and he could safely 'allow his crops to remain in the field until they ripened fully. Funk, loc. cit.]
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Baba Mezi'a 73b

A certain heathen gave a house in pledge1  to R. Mari b. Rachel,2  and then sold it to Raba. Thereupon he [R. Mari] waited a full year, took the rent, and offered it to Raba.3  Said he to him: 'The reason that I have not offered you rent before this is that an unspecified pledge is a year. Had the heathen wished to make me quit [within the year], he would have been unable;4  but now you must take rent for the house'. He replied: 'Had I known that it was pledged to you, I should not have bought it. Now I will treat you according to their laws; for until they redeem the pledge5  they receive no rent; so I will take no rent from you until you are paid out'.6

Raba of Barnesh7  said to R. Ashi: See, Sir, the Rabbis enjoy8  usury. For they advance money for wine in Tishri, and receive choice quality in Tebeth!9  He replied: They too pay their money for wine, not vinegar, and from the very beginning, wine is wine, and vinegar, vinegar;10  it is then [when they pay] that they select choice wine.11

Rabina gave money [for wine] to the residents of Akra dishanwatha,12  and they supplied13  a liberal addition.14  So he went to R. Ashi and asked him: Is it permitted?15  Yes, he replied; they but forego [their rights] in your favour.16  But, said he, the land is not theirs!17  — The land is pledged for the land tax, he replied, and the king has decreed: He who pays the land tax is entitled to the usufruct.

R. Papa said to Raba: See, there are some scholars who advance money for people's poll tax and then put them to much service! — He replied: I might have died, without telling you this thing. Thus said R. Shesheth: The surety18  of these people lies in the king's archives, and the king has decreed that he who does not pay his poll tax is made the servant of him who pays it [on his behalf].

R. Se'oram, Raba's brother, used to seize people of disrepute and make them draw Raba's litter. Said Raba 'to him: You have done well. For it has been taught:19  If you see a man who does not behave in a seemly fashion, whence do we know that you may make him your servant? From the verse, They [sc. Canaanite slaves] shall be your bondmen for ever and your brethren the children of Israel [likewise].20  I might think that this is so even of one who behaves in a seemly fashion; therefore it is taught, but over your brethren, the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.21

R. Hama said: If a man gives his neighbour money to buy wine for him, and he negligently fails to do so, he must compensate him as it is sold in the market of Belshafat.22  Amemar said: I repeated this ruling before R. Zebid of Nehardea, whereupon he observed: R. Hama's dictum applies only to unspecified wine, but not to a particular wine, [for] who knows that he could have obtained it for him?23  R. Ashi said: Even for unspecified wine it is also not [correct]. Why? Because it is an asmakta, and an asmakta establishes no legal claim.24  But in R. Ashi's view, how does this differ from what we learnt: [If the tenant-farmer declares], 'If I let it lie waste without cultivating it, I will pay with the best [of produce,'25  he is bound to do so]? — There it is in his power [to cultivate it];26

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. V. supra 67b.
  2. He was the son of a Jewess and a proselyte, conceived before conversion and born after, and was therefore called by his mother's name.
  3. For the coming year, but not for the past.
  4. Therefore I was entitled to live rent-free in the house. V. supra 67b.
  5. Lit., 'make (the creditor) quit.
  6. Lit., 'until I cause you to quit by (payment of) money,' i.e., until I compel the heathen to repay you. This was not forbidden as usury, since not Raba but the heathen owed him money (Rashi).
  7. [Near Matha Mahasia, a suburb of Sura, Obermeyer, op. cit. p. 297.]
  8. Lit., 'devour'.
  9. Whereas had they taken it in Tishri, it might have turned sour by Tebeth. Thus in return for their advancing the money before the receipt of the goods the vendor takes the risk of deterioration, which is usury. Now, though it was stated, supra 72b, that one may buy wheat ahead if the buyer has stock when the money is paid, Raba of Barnesh thought that wine is different, because it is liable to turn sour. (Rashi).
  10. I.e., good wine remains good; if it turns now, it was poor from the very beginning, already containing the germs of deterioration, as it were, but its faultiness was not then discernible.
  11. And they insist on receiving it, because only if it is sound now was it sound then.
  12. [Fort of Shanutha, 4 parasangs west of Bagdad, and identical with Be-Kufai; v. B.B. (Sonc. ed.) p. 120, n. 8, the former being the Arabic, the latter the Aramaic name of the Fort, Obermeyer, op. cit., p. 268.]
  13. Lit., 'they poured'.
  14. [So Jast. Others: an additional jug, measure.]
  15. Or is it usury for having paid the money in advance?
  16. The right of giving you exactly the stipulated quantity.
  17. By paying the land tax on behalf of the original owners, who, being unable to pay it, had fled, they had become possessed thereof, and it is questionable whether they have the right to dispose of the wine.
  18. So Jast. Rashi: the service-warrant.
  19. [So according to some texts; cur. edd.: 'we learnt'. The quotation however is not from a Mishnah.]
  20. Lev. XXV, 46.
  21. Ibid. The verse, of course, is not actually thus interpreted, but merely cited in support of his practice, with the caveat that men of good standing must not be molested.
  22. Walshafat, v. B.B. (Sonc. ed.) p. 409, n. 6. Having neglected to buy a vintage, when wine is cheap, so that it must now be bought at ordinary market prices, he must duly compensate him. [Obermeyer, op. cit. p. 185, renders: he pays him (the agent) only in accordance with the (low) price current in the wine market of Balash-Abad.]
  23. Even had he not been negligent, he might have failed to obtain the particular wine ordered.
  24. V. Glos. Even if the agent undertook to forfeit the loss, should he not buy the wine, his pledge is invalid, not having been meant seriously.
  25. V. infra 104a.
  26. Therefore his undertaking is not an asmakta, but seriously meant.
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