And when an ox gores a man or a woman, and they die, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be absolved. But if the ox was a goring ox in time past, and warning has been given to its owner, and he has not secured it, and it killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is placed upon him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatsoever is placed upon him. Whether it has gored a son or has gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done to him. If the ox gores a slave or a maidservant, he shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. (Exodus 21:28–32)
And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit and not cover it, and an ox or a donkey fall therein, the owner of the pit shall pay, he shall recompense money to its owners and the carcass shall be for him. (Exodus 21:33–34)
And if one man's ox hurts the ox of another, and it dies; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide its monetary value, and the carcass they shall also divide. Or if it is known that the ox was a goring ox in time past, and its owner has not secured it, he shall pay an ox for an ox and the carcass shall be his. (Exodus 21:35–36)
If a man causes a field or a vineyard to be eaten and he set his animal loose and it consumed in the field of another, the best of his field and the best of his vineyard he shall pay. (Exodus 22:4)
If a fire breaks out and catches in thorns, so that a stack of grain, or standing grain, or the field is consumed, the one who kindled the fire shall pay compensation. (Exodus 22:5)
The Torah teaches that one is responsible for damage caused by the animals in his possession – by goring, eating, or trampling – or for damage caused as a result of his actions – by digging a pit or igniting a fire.
This chapter, which serves as a general introduction to the principles of damage caused by one's property, addresses one's liability to pay restitution in cases of damage. The chapter delineates in which cases one is exempt and in which cases he is liable, and the extent of his liability; in some cases one is liable to pay the full cost of the damage and in others only half the cost of the damage. Included is a discussion of when the location of the damaged item is a factor in determining one's liability. Also considered is the form of payment, the way in which the cost of the damage is appraised, and how the payment is collected.
The opening discussion in this chapter concerns the four primary categories of damage. The cases presented in the Torah are paradigms from which the principles defining these primary categories are derived.
The Torah differentiates between two forms of payment that one can pay for damage caused. The first is a payment of restitution worth the full cost of the damage. The one liable for the damage makes the payment from the “best of his field” (Exodus 22:4). The other form is a payment of half the cost of the damage, which is made from the proceeds of the sale of the body of the belligerent animal. The chapter addresses the precise meaning of paying restitution from the “best of his field”: How is this accomplished, and what is done in cases where it is not possible to do so?
Another issue considered is in which cases one is liable to pay the full cost of the damage and in which cases one pays for only half the cost of the damage. Accompanying this is a discussion of whether the payment of half the cost of the damage is considered to be monetary restitution or a fine imposed by the Torah.
During all these discussions, the Gemara also discusses the basic halakhic exegesis of the verses that detail the cases of damage caused by one's property. The Gemara also tangentially covers the subject of the payment for damage caused by a person willfully or due to negligence on his part.