Davar Ha-Gorem Le-Mammon (Part 2) To Which Items Does The Principle Apply?

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The previous shiur, addressed R. Shimon’s position that a gorem le-mammon is halachikally regarded in the same manner as a classic possession. At a minimal level, this may warrant that compensation is required for damages to monetary interests, even when those items are not legally owned by the victim of the damages. Alternatively, this Halakha asserts that this monetary interest actually creates a new form of ownership. In that shiur, we attempted to probe this question by exploring the scope of abilities and liabilities for gorem le-mammon items. In this shiur, we will explore the types of items that can be classified as gorem le-mammon.
The gemara in Bava Kama (98b) discusses compensation for the destruction of a monetary contract (shetar). Although the actual paper material is worthless, the contract enables collection of substantial debt, and its absence is therefore financially detrimental. The gemara cites two opinions as to whether the gorem le-mammon principle would mandate compensation for a destroyed contract. R. Huna suggests that gorem is only effective for items of monetary value, such that it does not apply to a contract, which possess no inherent monetary value.
Presumably, the gemara is debating the two models of gorem le-mammon. If this principle merely monetizes “financial interests,” it would be difficult to distinguish between destroying a contract and stealing a hekdesh-designated animal. In both instances, the victim did not own the item that was directly damaged (the hekdesh-owned animal or the valueless shetar), but was nevertheless financially damaged by the harm caused to that item, and he therefore should be compensated. R. Huna’s distinction between the destruction of a shetar and the gorem le-mammon principle may indicate that he maintained that classic gorem le-mammon redefines ownership. Although a hekdesh-owned animal is not classically owned by the original designator of the korban, that person’s liability to replace the korban in event of loss grants him a stake in the animal, and he is therefore considered partial owner. This reassignment of ownership can only take place when the item has monetary worth. The scenario of a contract does not present a re-assignable “item of value;” the debt was not directly damaged and the paper possess no value. Thus, the logic of gorem le-mammon as redefining ownership is irrelevant.
An additional question arises regarding employing this doctrine to establish a change in an object’s identity and to create consequences for a third party who does not possess any financial interests. Typically, chametz on Pesach is considered to be valueless; by extension, illegal benefit on Pesach from chametz that someone else had dedicated as hekdesh would not violate mei’la. However, some Rishonim (Pesachim 29) claim that if a person had dedicated this chametz and retains an obligation to compensate hekdesh in the event of loss, this chametz would be defined as a gorem le-mammon for that original owner who designated the hekdesh. As a consequence, the chametz – which usually does not possess value – would now be considered an item of value, and its abuse by a third party would therefore constitute me’ila and require me’ila payments to Hekdesh.
Essentially, the principle of gorem le-mammon can establish value and ownership for items that are devoid of halakhic utility. Once assigned value, there are consequences even for parties in this case ‘Hekdesh’ for whom the item is not gorem le-mammon (since they have no compensation responsibilities and hence no financial interests). This very ambitious logic clearly assumes that gorem is a manner of establishing the identity of an item. Classically, it reassigns ownership to the person who maintains financial interest. In the instance of hekdesh chametz, the existence of financial interest to the original owner creates halakhic value and hence consequences for an entirely different party - Hekdesh. If gorem le-mammon merely created compensation responsibilities toward those whose financial interest is damaged, it would have no application to third parties who possess no gorem le-mammon interests.
On a different but related note, if gorem actually creates second-hand indirect compensation obligations, perhaps it can extend well beyond the reassignment of ownership. Perhaps gorem le-mammon can serve as a template for the halakhic recognition of “secondary impact” just as the doctrine mandates compensation for the damaging of these interests it may yield additional consequences. An interesting gemara in Shavuot (32a) discusses the halakha of shevuat ha-eidut, essentially a form of subpoena. A litigant can force an oath upon witnesses whom he suspects harbor important monetary testimony. By compelling them to take an oath that they have no testimony or knowledge, the litigant is effectively trying to elicit whatever testimony they might possess. Typically, such an oath/subpoena can only be imposed regarding testimony that could conceivably create monetary obligations. Based on this, the gemara considers whether a shevua can be imposed upon a lone eid, who typically cannot mandate monetary payments but who can trigger an oath upon the defendant, which under certain situations can itself morph into a monetary obligation. Does this potential to create indirect monetary obligations expose the lone eid to a possible subpoena shevua? The gemara hinges this question on the debate between the Rabbanan and R. Shimon about whether gorem le-mammon is considered mammon.
Many Rishonim (such as the Ramban in his Sefer Dina De-Garmi) disassociate the two concepts; although identical language is employed, the two debates are completely unrelated. This severing between the two discussions possibly reflects a logic that views classic gorem le-mammon as a novel way to define ownership of objects. Although a sacrifice is not owned by the original designator, it still provides financial interests, and according to R. Shimon it may therefore be considered as partially owned by that person. This definition has absolutely no carryover to the issue of oaths and subpoenas for a witness who can indirectly create monetary obligations. Gorem le-mammon asserts a new way of defining ownership upon items, whereas the gemara in Shavuot is probing the relevance of subpoenas for a witness who can only indirectly trigger monetary obligations.
If, however, the gorem le-mammon doctrine suggests culpability for indirect financial interests, perhaps there is some overlap between the two discussions. Gorem le-mammon monetizes financial interests, and it can similarly monetize witnesses who can indirectly cause obligation. Although the two discussions can be separated, they may be interrelated.
Similarly the gorem le-mammon principle may monetize items even without reassigning ownership. The gemara in Bava Batra (94a) describes a case in which pebbles and dirt are mixed with edible grains. Would someone who collects these pebbles be obligated to compensate the owner? After all, even though this dross has no inherent value, it can be included when selling grains (thereby reducing the volume of actual grains delivered to the purchaser and increasing profit). This interesting question seems to be unrelated to the gorem le-mammon issue. The pebbles are clearly owned by the owner of the bushel of grain, and questions of compensation for acquiring these pebbles should be independent of the gorem le-mammon debate. Nevertheless, the Rivam (cited by Tosafot, Bava Batra 94a) claims that payment for these pebbles depends on whether we adopt R. Shimon’s gorem le-mammon concept. Evidently, the Rivam views gorem le-mammon as a manner of monetizing financial interests. It can similarly monetize pebbles, which would otherwise be worthless but can cause financial impact. If gorem merely reassigns ownership, it indeed would have no relevance to this situation, since the ownership of the pebbles is complete and unquestioned.