Friday, July 24, 2009

Unenforcable Obligations

Rava explained that although one who muzzles an ox is punished with lashes, and therefore is not forced by the court to pay the ox’s owner the damages of the withheld food, he is still fundamentally obligated to pay. Rava compares it to the case of one who paid his mother an animal in exchange for relations with her. Although the son is killed, and we therefore the court cannot enforce his obligation to pay his mother, if he did so, he fulfilled a contractual obligation, and the animal is unfit as a sacrifice.

Rava made the same statement (Bava Kamma 70b) in relation to one who transferred a stolen animal to a customer on Shabbos, concurrent with a violation of Shabbos. Although the court cannot enforce the sale, it is valid, just as the son’s payment to the mother is considered a bona fide payment.

The Rishonim discuss the extent of Rava’s statement. The Raavad quotes those who say that this applies only to obligations explicitly taken. In the case of paying his mother, the son obligated himself to pay, and in the case of the sale of the stolen animal, the thief entered into the sale.

The Raavad disproves this from our Gemora, where Rava is discussing the obligation of the thresher to feed the ox. This does not seem to be an instance of anyone explicitly undertaking an obligation, yet the Gemora applies Rava’s statement.

Rav Chaim Soloveichik (Chidushei Rambam Me’ila 8:1) states that while the obligation to allow a worker to eat from the food he’s working with is a monetary obligation, the prohibition of muzzling an ox is fundamentally a religious obligation.

The Kehilos Yaakov (BK 13:4) suggests that our Gemora therefore indicates that when the Torah stipulated a religious obligation, any resultant recipient of monetary payment is considered a bona fide owner of that money. Therefore, the obligation of the thresher to the owner of the ox is still considered a bona fide obligation. He discusses whether one can apply this other religious obligations that require monetary payment (e.g., meats from a sacrifice given to Kohanim).