[We begin at the very last word of Baba Metzia 21a. The term "itmar" (it is said), introduces statements by amora'im (the plural of "amora," scholars the era that followed the era of the tanna'im and the Mishna.]

[The topic we begin now is "despair (of recovering the lost object) without awareness." The previous talmudic discussion has made it clear that the original owner's despair of lost recovery is critical. It implies that the owner has given up the hope of its ever being recovered (i.e., "Oh darn, I lost it and I'll never see it again"). Without this element of despair on the part of the loser, the finder cannot establish ownership of a lost item. But what if the original owner does not yet _realize_ that the item was lost? If I lose a dollar in the middle of a busy street, I will certainly abandon it in despair -- once I know that it is lost. But what if you find the item before I even know that it was lost? That is the issue of despair without knowledge.]

[The central figures in this debate are Abbaye and Rava, two of the most widely-cited amora'im, who flourished in the first part of the fourth century C.E. Halakhic disagreements between them appear throughout the talmud.]

The gemara begins:

It is said: Despair without awareness: Abbaye says it is not despair (since the owner does not know that it has been lost), and Rava says it is despair (since the owner will abandon it once he knows that he lost it).

The gemara now clarifies the disagreement:

If the item has an identifying mark, everyone (even Rava) agrees that there is no despair, and even if we later (after the object has been found) hear that the owner despaired of recovering the item, it is not despair -- when it came into the possession of the finder, it was prohibited (i.e., the finder could not legally claim it), because, when the owner realized that he lost it, he did not abandon hope, because he said to himself "I have an identifying mark, and I will present the identifying mark and retrieve it from the finder.

[Yes, we know that this is a run-on sentence. But that is the flavor of the original text. And, although we are both usually careful about non-sexist style [i.e., using he instead of he/she] in other contexts, we will use the masculine form in deference to the text and for ease of reading.]

The gemara continues:

If the object had been washed up by the tide of the sea or deposited in the shallows of a river, even though it had an identifying mark, the Torah permits the finder to keep it, as we will explain later. Again, Abbaye and Rava agree.

When do they disagree? In the case of an item which does not have an identifying mark: Abbaye says it is not despair, because the owner does not know that he lost it. Rava says it _is_ despair, because when he becomes aware that he has lost it, he will abandon hope, saying "I have no identifying mark -- so he is deemed to have despaired of it at the moment that it was lost.

[We are now at the parentheses 14 lines down from the top of 22a. The parenthetical mnemonic acronym identifies a long list of proofs that will be brought to bear on the debate between Abbaye and Rava. Such acronyms remind us that, before the redaction of the Talmud, these issues were remembered without the benefit of a written text.]

[We begin 15 lines from the top of Baba Metzia 21b, with the words "Ta Shma" (literally, "Come, hear," introducing a statement from a Mishna or a B'raita -- in this case, our Mishna). Remember: We are dealing with an unmarked item that was found before the original owner was aware that it was lost. Abbaye says the despair without awareness is not despair (so that the finder does not gain ownership). Rava says that despair without awareness is despair (so that the finder does become the owner).]

[Implicit in the analysis to follow is that an amora like Rava or Abbaye cannot maintain a position that has no Mishnaic support. Hence, throughout the talmud, you will find amora'im appealing to a Mishna for support.]

Proof 1. Scattered Fruits.

Come, learn (from our Mishna proof that Rava is correct): "Scattered fruits" (our Mishna tells us, belong to the finder). But the owner does not know that the fruits have been dropped! (thus supporting Rava's position that despair without awareness _is_ despair).

The gemara rejects this proof:

Rav Ukva Bar Hama already said [we learned it a few posts back] that our Mishna is discussing produce left on the threshing floor, and the owner knows that it was left there. [Thus, this case is irrelevant to the Rava vs Abbaye dispute of despair without awareness.]

Proof 2. Scattered Coins.

Come learn (from the second case in our Mishna): "Scattered coins" (belong to the finder). Why? The owner doesn't know that they are lost [precisely Rava's position]!

The gemara rejects this proof too:

That statement (about the scattered coins) is consistent with R. Yitzhak, who said that a person constantly checks his purse (to be sure that the money is there). Here too, a person constantly checks his purse (so that the owner was certainly aware of the loss ... and again, this is irrelevant to the question of despair without awareness.) [R. Yitzhak was a tanna, and the citation is from a "B'raita" -- a tannaitic statement not included in the Mishna collection. As far as discussions among amora'im are concerned, all tanna'itic statements -- whether from a B'raita or a Mishna -- are authoritative {although a B'raita is authoritative only if not contradicted by a Mishna}.]

Proof 3. Cakes of Figs and Baker's Loaves.

"Round cakes of figs and baker's loaves" (belong to the finder). Why? The owner doesn't know that they have fallen [again, supporting Rava's position]!

The gemara rejects this argument too: Here too (in the case of the Mishna), they (the figs and loaves) are heavy, so the owner is certainly aware that the items have fallen. Again, asserting that this has no bearing on the issue of despair without awareness.]

Proof 4. Tongues of Purple Wool. The gemara keeps plugging away:

Come, learn: (Our Mishna spoke of) "tongues of purple wool" (belong to the finder). Why? The owner did not necessarily know that they had fallen (i.e., this is a case of despair without awareness, and it _is_ despair, as Rava proposed).

And the gemara rejects the proof: Here too, because they (the tongues of wool) are valuable, the owner constantly touches them, as in the statement of R. Yitzhak (about how people constantly check their purses. Again, the owner of the wool would know that it had gotten lost, so the case is irrelevant to the despair without awareness debate.)

[We are 26 lines from the bottom of 21b. What you have seen here is classic talmudic analysis. The amora'im have our Mishna before them. The challenge is to find incontrovertible evidence (from our Mishna or from some other tanna'itic source) supporting either Rava or Abbaye. Many people who really "get into this" form of analysis find it enjoyable and stimulating.]

The gemara continues its attempt to support Rava's position that despair without awareness _is_ despair.

Proof 5: Money Found in a Synagogue:

Come, learn [this time from a B'raita, a tanna'itic text that was not included in Rabbi Judah the Prince's compilation]: If a person finds money in synagogues or study halls, or anyhwere that many people are commonly found, the money belongs to the finder, because the owners despair (of recovering the money). Why? The owner did not know that the money had fallen from him? (And, since the finder _can_ keep the money, it must be that Rava is right, and that despair without awareness _is_ despair!)

[This proof is similar to Proof 2. (Scattered Coins), which had already been rejected by the gemara. Several of the classical commentators wonder why essentially the same point is raised again. Answers suggested include: Proof 5 was offered independently by an amora who was unaware that Proof 2 had been raised and rejected; that the B'raita is stronger, in that it holds everywhere many people gather, even in synagogues and study halls - where a person is less likely to check his purse; that, against the joint view of Rava and Abbaye - it even holds when the money can be identified.]

The gemara rejects this proof on the same grounds that it rejects Proof 2: R. Yitzhak said (with respect to this case as well), a person habitually checks his purse constantly (so that, when the money was found, the owner probably knew of the loss, and the B'raita is thus not relevant to despair without awareness).

Proof 6: Leket:

[According to the Torah (Lev 19: 9-10), a few stalks of grain that a reaper drops must be left for the poor (cf. the gleaners in the Book of Ruth). Those stalks of grain are called "leket."]

Come, learn (from a Mishna): At what point can anyone (i.e., even those who are not poor) collect leket (i.e., when can we assume that the poor people have despaired of finding the leket)? When the rummagers have gone through the field.

Who are the rummagers? Old people who walk with canes [who move slowly and therefore leave very little behind them]. Resh Lakish said: Those who glean after the gleaners.

But why is it that once the rummagers have gone through the field, anyone (even non-poor) can take the leket? Granted that the poor people who were _there_ (and saw the rummagers) gave up hope of finding any more grain, but there are poor people in other areas who do not know of the rummagers, and who have thus not despaired. (And this seems to support Rava's contention that despair without awareness _is_despair.)

The gemara rejects this proof too: Because there are local poor people, poor people in other areas despair from the very beginning, saying to themselves "those poor people will collect it all." (Thus, the only poor people involved are the local ones, and they _did_ see the rummagers, so that their despair is not without awareness.)

Proof 7: Figs and Olives

Come, learn (from a Mishna: Cut figs found on the road, or even (spread out to dry) near a field of figs -- and similarly, a fig tree that overhangs a road, and one found figs beneath it -- are permitted with respect to the laws of theft (i.e., the finder can keep them), and are exempt from ma`aser. [Ma`aser (tithe) applies to produce grown in Israel; the owner must set aside a share for a Kohen, and a share for a Levi, plus second ma`aser consumed by the owner in Jerusalem on the first, second, fourth, and fifth year of every seven-year sabbatical cycle, and set aside for the poor on the third and sixth years. For the present purposes, the relevant rule is that _ownerless_ produce is exempt from ma`aser. Thus, the first part of this Mishna suggests that these figs, etc. are ownerless, presumably supporting Rava's position that despair without awareness is despair.]

The second part of the Mishna: But in the case of olives and carobs (found under the same circumstances), it is prohibited [i.e., the finder cannot keep the found olives or carobs. This seems more consistent with Abbye's position that despair without awareness in not despair.]

The gemara begins its analysis: The first part of the Mishna does not contradict Abbaye, because the figs are valuable, and the owner constantly checks them [so we can assume that, by the time the figs were found, the owner had already consciously despaired]. Similarly, in the case of the figs, the owner knows that figs fall off trees [so he despairs as soon as they fall. These are thus cases of conscious abandonment, and the fact that the finder can keep the items is consistent with both Abbaye and Rava.]

But the concluding part of the Mishna is inconsistent with Rava, because it says "Olives and carobs are prohibited." [Rava, remember, holds that despair without awareness is despair. Since, in these cases, it seems reasonable to assume that there was despair without awareness, Rava would say that the finder can keep them. But the Mishna seems to disagree with Rava!]

The gemara answers: R. Abbahu said: The case of the olives is different because their appearance prove ownership, and even though they fall to the ground, it is known that a person's place belongs to that person (i.e., any olives under a tree clearly belong to the the owner of the tree). [Thus, even according to Rava, the owner would not despair.]

If so, the gemara asks, shouldn't this apply to the beginning of the Mishna too? [The beginning of the Mishna ruled that figs fallen from a tree belong to the finder. But if it "a person's place belongs to that person," should we not assume that the owner of the figs, like the owner of the olives, will not despair?]

Rav Pappa answered: A fig is spoiled when it falls to the ground (so that the owner of figs immediately despairs when they fall to the ground).

[Thus, we again find ourselves left without any tanna'itic evidence that can help us decide between Rava and Abbaye. We are now at the last word of the next-to-the-last line of 21b.]

Proof 8: Robbers and Thieves

[We begin with the last word of the next-to-the-last line of Baba Metzia 21b. This next attempt at finding tanna'itic support for either Rava or Abbaye is based on the distinction between a thief (who is sneaky) and a robber (who acts in the open by use of force).]

Come learn [a B'raita that supports Rava]: A thief that took something from one person and gave it to someone else, and similarly, a robber who took from one and gave to another, and similarly the Jordan River [Rashi: or any other river] that took from one and gave to another (i.,e., washed an object from one person's yard to another's): What it took it took and what it gave it gave. [In other words, the recipient can keep it.]

The cases of the robber and the Jordan are reasonable -- the owner sees them and despairs immediately. But in the case of the thief, does the owner see it, so that he actually despairs? [Presumably not -- so that we have evidence that despair without awareness _is_ despair, as Rava said!]

The gemara answers: Rav Pappa said: (The _thief_ that our B'raita is talking about is) an armed bandit (such that the owner _does_ know that the object has been taken, and may thus immediately despair, and this case is not evidence in favor of Rava).

The gemara asks: If so (if the B'raita's thief is an armed bandit), he is a robber, so why does the B'raita distinguish between them)?

The gemara answers: There are two kinds of robbers. [One kind is called a robber and the other is called a thief. But the thief in the B'raita is not the person who sneaks into a house to remove items without the owner's knowlege; he is the kind of person who robs someone in a dark alley. But the "sneakiness" implicit in robbing someone in a dark alley (as opposed to the middle of the street in the daytime) is sufficient to earn the name "thief.]

[This distinction is not accepted by everyone. Elsewhere (Bava Qama 114a), in a chapter concerned specifically with robbery, Rabbi Judah the Prince is cited in a B'raita to the effect that an object stolen by an ordinary thief is in the same category as one taken openly by a robber; the owner despairs in both cases. At a guess, the idea is that it is not the moment of theft that counts but the moment that the stolen object passes into the hands of someone else, by which time the owner will have become aware that it has been stolen and despaired of recovering it. This interpretation too fails to support Rava's claim that despair without awareness is despair.]

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