The Burdensome Beast
‘He Put His Donkey On The Ferryboat’
(Bava Kamma 117b)
Our daf rules that a person who damages his fellow’s property in an effort to save his own life is obligated to reimburse his fellow. The Gemara (117a) cites the example of an individual who was accosted by highwaymen. To save his life, he gave the bandits his fellow’s money. Though he used the money to save himself from mortal danger, he nevertheless must reimburse his fellow.
A baraisa cited in the Gemara (supra 116b) rules similarly. It presents the case of a ship encountering stormy waters with the passengers fearing for their lives. Seeking to lighten the ship’s load, they threw some cargo overboard. Even though the passengers’ lives were in danger, they must their fellow for his loss.
Our Gemara relates an incident of a man who brought his wild donkey onto a ferryboat. Since the donkey was causing the ferryboat to capsize, one of the passengers threw it overboard. Abaye initially reasons that the man (or all the passengers) should compensate the animal’s owner for his loss because of the above-mentioned rule. Rava, however, rules that there is no obligation to reimburse the owner since the animal was a rodef (lit., a pursuer out to kill). Rashi (s.v. “malach leh” ad loc.) explains that it is actually the owner of the donkey who is considered the rodef due to his bringing the donkey aboard.
The Gemara reasons that since it is permitted to kill a rodef to save one’s life, it is certainly permitted to damage a rodef’s property to save human lives.
Chamra – A Cask Of Wine
The Rambam (Hilchos Chovel U’Mazik 8:15), in codifying this halacha, only mentions a boat overloaded with cargo; he makes no mention of a donkey. Mirkeves HaMishna suggests that the Rambam had an alternate text of the Gemara that read “chamra” – [barrels of] wine (which is an example of cargo).
The Raavad (to Rambam ad loc.) asks why the owner of the donkey (or wine) was not entitled to compensation while the owner of the cargo in the storm was (116b, mentioned above).
The Maggid Mishnah (to Rambam ad loc.) explains that a person who brings extra cargo on board is considered a rodef because he is endangering the lives of the passengers. Therefore, it is a mitzvah to throw his cargo overboard and there is no obligation to pay for it. However, the baraisa about the stormy sea is referring to an ordinary passenger. He personally did nothing wrong. The entire boat’s cargo is weighing the boat down. No one individual is considered a rodef. Therefore, if some of the passengers decide to throw the cargo of a particular individual overboard to lighten the load, they must reimburse him for his loss.
The Raavad (as explained by the Mirkeves HaMishna), though, maintains that even someone who brought extra cargo on board is not classified as a rodef since he is only an indirect cause (gerama) of the boat’s sinking; he is not actively sinking the ship with his own hands. The donkey mentioned by the Gemara, though, is a rodef because it is actively sinking the ferryboat by running and jumping wildly. Thus, the passengers need not reimburse the owner for his loss, according to Rava.Rabbi Yaakov Klass