Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stealing for Pain

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Runya had a field which was enclosed on all four sides by fields of Ravina. Ravina fenced them and said to Runya, “Pay me (your share) what I have spent for the fencing.” Runya refused to pay. Then Ravina said, “Pay me at least the cost of a cheap fence of reeds.” He again refused. Ravina said, “Then pay me the hire of a watchman.” He still refused. One day Ravina saw Runya harvesting dates from his palm trees, and he said to his sharecropper, “Go and (in Runya’s presence) take a cluster of dates from him.” He went to take them, but Runya shouted at him, whereupon Ravina said, “You have demonstrated through this that you are satisfied with the fence (and happy that it offers protection for your trees). Even if it is only goats that you are afraid of, does your field not need guarding?” He replied, “A goat can be driven off with a shout (so there is no purpose for a fence).” Ravina asked him, “But don’t you require a man to shout at it?”

They went before Rava, who said to him: Go and appease Ravina with what he accepted (the payment for half a watchman), and if not, I will issue judgment against you according to Rav Huna’s interpretation of the ruling of Rabbi Yosi (and you would be required to pay for half the actual cost of the fence).

The Ritva asks from a Gemora in Bava Metzia (61b), which states that one should not steal in order to pain someone. If so, how was Ravina allowed to send his agent to steal?

He answers that the dates in this case were ready to be sold and their price was set. Accordingly, one is permitted to take them with the intent of paying for it. Ravina did it in this manner in order to demonstrate that Runya was pleased with the protection afforded by the fence. It was therefore not regarded as stealing at all; it only appeared that way.

He also answers that it is only forbidden if the person’s intent is to pain his fellow. Here, it was done to bring about a correct judgment.

This answer, however, is somewhat problematic, for the Gemora there states that it is forbidden to steal even if the intent is to provide him with the keifel (double the value; if someone wishes to give charity to a poor person, but he refuses, he could steal from him and the keifel will serve as his charity).