Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Repentance of thieves in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Smoothing the Path to a Sinner’s Repentance. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ ancient oral law makes it easier for thieves to regain spiritual balance with their victims—a reminder of the kinship of all Jews. Excerpt:
This week’s reading returned to the question of the barriers to repentance. This time, the problem had to do with how much effort should be required of a thief to locate the person from whom he had stolen. According to the mishna in Bava Kamma 103a, the burden on the thief is virtually unlimited: a robber must bring the money to his victim “after him to Medea.” Medea or Media was a region of northwestern Iran, thus quite distant from the Babylonian heartland where the Bavli was composed. The implication is that even a very long journey should not be a deterrent to repentance.

But in the Gemara, we find that the rabbis modified this law in the direction of greater leniency, or perhaps greater realism. The Sages “instituted a great ordinance stating that if the expense required to return a stolen item to the victim is greater than the principal,” then the thief does not have to track down the victim. Instead, he can make restitution to a court. The Talmud does not go on to say what the court does with the money—does it have an obligation to send it on to the victim, or does it use the money for communal purposes?
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.