Earlier we saw a dispute over whether a slave whose master cuts off his testicles goes free. This dispute matches the dispute here over whether an animal whose testicles have been removed can be offered as a sacrifice.
Today’s section contains a mishnah which teaches how large animals such as cows and oxen, and small animals such as sheep and goats are acquired. We should note that money does not acquire animals, nor does it acquire any other movable property. According to mishnaic law a person must actually come into contact with the animal in order to acquire it. We should note that while this may have worked for the small agricultural communities of Palestine in antiquity, it became very difficult by and perhaps long before the Middle Ages. By that time Jews were heavily involved in international trade and could not possibly physically handle every commodity that they acquired. Hence alternative legal means were worked out whereby money could be used to acquire legal rights to movable commodities.
According to Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Elazar large animals are acquired by being “handed over” from their owner to the purchaser. This would entail the purchaser taking hole of the reins, saddle or even hair of the animal. Small animals, however, may be lifted and therefore they are acquired only through lifting. They are not acquired by being handed over or by being led.
The sages disagree with regard to the acquisition of small animals. Despite the fact that they can be lifted, it is still difficult to do so. Therefore they are acquired by being led. Since goats and sheep do not have reins they are led by being pushed or directed by voice commands.
Today’s sugya discusses acquisition of large animals—cows, oxen and elephants!
Meshikhah is pulling the animal towards oneself, or causing it to come to oneself by calling it. Rav seems to state that large cattle are acquired by meshikhah. However, other statements, including one by Rav himself, say that large cattle are acquired by mesirah, which involves taking the reins of the animal.
I should note that the relationship between meshikhah and mesirah is disputed. Rashi holds that mesirah is a more effective method of acquisition, and therefore one who holds that the animal is acquired through mesirah would hold that it is not acquired through meshikhah, the less effective manner. But the Tosafot hold the opposite—meshikhah is more effective.
Rav rules according to a different position. Both large and small cattle (goats and sheep) are acquired by meshikhah. According to Rashi this would mean even by meshikhah, all the more so by mesirah. R. Shimon holds that both are acquired by lifting.
R. Joseph notes that if large animals need to be acquired by lifting, then how can one ever acquire an elephant? (I’m not sure why he needs to ask about an elephant. Isn’t a cow hard enough to lift? Maybe he just likes elephants.)
Abaye provides two other ways of acquiring objects. One is through “halifin” symbolic exchange. I give you something of little value, a pen, and you exchange it for the thing of value of mine that you are buying. Alternatively, I can transfer ownership to you by putting my stuff on your place. So if you rent the place where my elephant is, I can transfer ownership of it to you.
Note that these are two ways the amoraim developed to ease transfer of large objects.
R. Zera suggests putting vessels underneath each of the elephant’s feet. In this way, the purchaser’s vessels contain the elephant and will acquire it. I would not suggest using your fine china.
R. Zera’s statement seems to take one side in a dispute from Bava Batra over whether a person’s vessels can acquire when they are on the seller’s property.
In order to avoid taking a stance on this dispute, the Talmud suggests that this transaction (of an elephant) takes place in an alley!
Alternatively, the elephant can be acquired by having it step on bundles of sticks hire than three handbreadths from the ground. This is considered “lifting.”
I might add that I don’t suggest buying an elephant. They eat 200-600 pounds of food a day.