MISHNA: With regard to a dove chick [nippul] that was found within fifty cubits of a dovecote, it belongs to the owner of the dovecote. If it was found beyond fifty cubits from a dovecote, it belongs to its finder. In a case where it was found between two dovecotes, if it was close to this one, it belongs to the owner of this dovecote; if it was close to that one, it belongs to the owner of that dovecote. If it was half and half, i.e., equidistant from the two dovecotes, the two owners divide the value of the chick.
GEMARA: Rabbi Ḥanina says: When resolving an uncertainty with regard to the halakhic status of an item, e.g., a found item, if the status of the majority of like items indicates that it has one status but the item in question is proximate to a source that indicates otherwise, one follows the majority. And even though the halakha of majority applies by Torah law and the halakha of proximity also applies by Torah law, even so the majority is preferable.
Rabbi Zeira raises an objection from the Torah’s statement with regard to a murder victim where the identity of the murderer is unknown. In a case of this kind, the court measures the distances between the corpse and the nearby towns, in order to determine which town is closest and must consequently perform the rite of the heifer whose neck is broken. The verse states: “And it shall be, that the city that is nearest to the slain man, the Elders of that city shall take a heifer of the herd…and shall break the heifer’s neck” (Deuteronomy 21:3–4). And this town is chosen even though there might be another town that is larger in population than it. According to Rabbi Ḥanina, in a case of this kind one should follow the majority.
The Gemara answers: This verse is referring to a situation where there is no other town that is larger than that one. The Gemara asks: And still, if one follows the majority, why should the court follow the closest city? Let us follow the majority of the world, as most people are found elsewhere. The Gemara answers: This is referring to a case where the city sits in isolation between mountains, and therefore it is unlikely that the murderer arrived from elsewhere.
The Gemara continues to discuss the issue of majority as opposed to proximity. We learned in the mishna: With regard to a dove chick that was found within fifty cubits of a dovecote, it belongs to the owner of the dovecote. And as the mishna does not make a distinction between different cases, it indicates that this is the halakha even though there is another dovecote that is larger than the proximate one in terms of number of birds. This shows that closeness, not majority, is the determining factor. The Gemara answers: This is referring to a case where there is no other dovecote in the area.
The Gemara asks: If so, say the latter clause of the mishna: If it was found beyond fifty cubits from a dovecote, it belongs to its finder. And if there is no other dovecote in the area, it certainly fell from that dovecote. How, then, can it be given to the finder? The Gemara answers: With what are we dealing here? We are dealing with a chick that hops from place to place but does not yet fly. As Rav Ukva bar Ḥama says: With regard to any creature that hops, it does not hop more than fifty cubits. Consequently, any bird found within fifty cubits of a dovecote is assumed to have come from there. If it is farther away than that, it likely came from elsewhere or was dropped by travelers.
Rabbi Yirmeya raises a dilemma: If one leg of the chick was within fifty cubits of the dovecote, and one leg was beyond fifty cubits, what is the halakha? The Gemara comments: And it was for his question about this far-fetched scenario that they removed Rabbi Yirmeya from the study hall, as he was apparently wasting the Sages’ time.
The Gemara further suggests: Come and hear the mishna: In a case where it was found between two dovecotes, if it was close to this one, it belongs to the owner of this dovecote; if it was close to that one, it belongs to the owner of that dovecote. The Gemara comments: And this is the halakha even though one of them is greater in number of birds than the other one. Apparently, one rules based on proximity, not majority. The Gemara explains: With what are we dealing here? We are dealing with a situation where the two dovecotes are equal in size. The Gemara asks: But even so, why should one follow the closer dovecote? Let us follow the majority of the world, as there are many other dovecotes besides these, and the number of doves they contain is greater. The Gemara responds: With what are we dealing here?