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If Goats Had Wheels
‘The Goats Ate Husked Barley’
(Bava Basra 36a)

Our daf discusses an incident in Neharde’a, where some goats were found eating husked barley. Subsequently, the owners of the barley seized the goats and claimed a large loss.



A Vehicle In Dispute

Levi was known to have a car and Shimon started using it, but when Levi asked him to desist, Shimon retorted that he had bought it from him. The licensing bureau was on strike, so Levi summoned Shimon to a beis din. Shimon claimed the right of chazakah – that anything a person now holds is assumed to be his (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 133:1).

In general, anyone purporting to own real estate known as another’s must produce a bill of sale or other proof. Regarding chattel, though, the present holder of the goods may claim ownership on the basis of chazakah without further proof of acquisition; his physical possession proves his ownership. We assume he did not enter the owner’s premises and steal them; rather, he made a legal purchase or other legal acquisition.

Our sugya discusses a person with goats in his possession which are being claimed by the original owner who asserts that chazakah in this case is inapplicable. The Rashbam (s.v. “hagoderos”) offers two reasons to differentiate goats from other chattel: (a) They move about by themselves, as opposed to other chattels. (b) Other chattels are kept at home whereas goats are usually out grazing.

The normal chazakah for chattel stems from the assumption that whoever currently has them owns them since most people are not so brazen as to rob items from another’s home. Goats, though, may be stolen without invading another’s premises since: (a) they may wander into the holder’s premises by themselves and (b) he could take them from a public or ownerless area. The ease with which one can steal them undermines the chazakah.


How Is A Goat Different Than A Car?

In Netzach Yisrael (41), Rabbi Yisrael Grossman asserts that according to the Rashbam’s first reason, cars are not like goats: They don’t move by themselves. According to his second reason, however, cars may be compared to goats as they are not kept at home. To decide if the normal chazakah applies to a car, then, we must determine whether the Rashbam believes that both reasons – or only one – must be applicable for the normal chazaka to be undermined. Rabbi Grossman derives from Tosafos (Gittin 20b, s.v. “ta shema”) that one reason is enough and Shimon must therefore prove his ownership.


A Man’s Car Is His Castle

In his Darchei Choshen (1:197), Rabbi Yehuda Silman insists that entering and driving another’s car is the same as breaking and entering into his premises. Most people are not suspect of such crimes and Shimon therefore does not have to prove his ownership. (See also Rabbi Silman’s remarks about proof of ownership by a licensing bureau.) Others suggest reconsidering the comparison between cars and goats. Some poskim seem to indicate that our sugya relates only to animals, which are able to be quickly and stealthily stolen and hidden – criteria which do apply to other chattel.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.