We begin at the top of 23b, with a discussion of the nature of particular identifying marks.

Our Mishna: And strings of fish (belong to the finder, presumably because they lack any identifying marks).

Why? Shouldn't the form of the knot be an identifier?

The gemara answers: We are talking about fishermen's knots that everyone ties the same way.

The gemara objects: But shouldn't the number of fish be an identifier?

The gemara answers: When there is a standard number of fish on a string. (But, presumably, if the number were not standard, then the number _could_ serve as an identifier.)

They (the rabbis) asked R. Sheshet: Is the number of items an identifier? R. Sheshet responded: We learned in a b'raita: "If one found silver vessels or copper vessels or pieces of lead of any metal vessels, one need not return them until (the claimant) provides a sign or states their weight."

[The GR"A, the Gaon of Vilna, calls attention to the next Misnha (on 24b), that states, "Fruit found in a vessel (must be returned)", because, as Rashi says: "As a vessel ordinarily has an identifying mark". He concludes that our text is corrupt: It cannot have originally referred to vessels, but must be emended to refer to unworked metal rather than to vessels, as follows: "If one found silver, copper, tin ("gistron", cf. Mena`hot 28b), lead, or other metals, he need not return them until (the claimant) provides a sign or states their weight".]

(R. Sheshet concludes:) Since weight is an identifier, size and number are also identifiers.

Our Mishna stated: "Pieces of meat" (belong to the finder).

Why? Shouldn't the weight be an indentifier?

The gemara answers: We are discussing a case in which there are standard weights.

Then shouldn't the piece itself be an identifier, whether it was from the neck or the thigh?

The gemara answers by citing a b'raita: "Did we not learn in a b'raita that if one found pieces of fish or a piece of fish with a bite mark, (the finder) must announce it. Jars of wine or oil or grain or figs or olives belong to the finder." [This seems to imply that the piece of fish itself could be an indentifier ... and so should the piece of meat.]

The gemara rejects the b'raita's proof: Here (in the b'raita) we are talking about where the shape of the cut is an identifier, like the practice of Rabba b. Rav Huna who would cut his meat into triangles. [Rashi explains that Rabba b. Rav Huna would have his meat delivered by a non-Jew, and cut the meat into triangles to prevent the substitution of non-kosher meat.]

We can infer this from the precise wording of the b'raita, which gives the parallel to bitten fish (i.e., the identifier must be as distinctive as the bite mark on a piece of fish).

The gemara now addresses the second clause of the b'raita: The master said: Jars of wine or oil or grain or dried figs or olives belong to the finder. But did we not learn in a mishna (on 25a; we'll get there in a few days) "jugs of wine or oil must be announced"?

R. Zeira said in the name of Rav: Our mishna deals with sealed jars. [Rashi explains that jugs of wine bottled during the summer were sealed at the winery. In the winter, the jugs would be opened and sampled. Some jugs would be sold immediately (unsealed); other jugs,those sold in bulk to retailers, would be resealed. These resealed jugs were readily identifiable, and had to be announced.]

This implies that the b'raita (which says that the finder may keep the jug) was dealing with an open container. But if the jug was opened, isn't that intentional abandonment (since the wine in an open jug would be spoiled by insects -- and, under such circumstances, there is no question that no announcement need be made)?

R. Hosha`ia said: "It was covered" (i.e., the jar was covered, so that the wine would not be ruined by insects. Still, it is considered unidentifiable, and no announcement is required).

The gemara presents an alternative explanation:

Abbaye said: You may even say that the mishna and b'raita both deal with resealed containers, but there is no contradiction. Here (the mishna) refers to a time before the storehouses were opened (so that resealed containers were quite rare, and could thus be identified). But here (in the b'raita), it is after the storehouses have been opened (and there are many resealed jars, so that the resealing is not a valid identifier, and no announcement is necessary).

This is as in the case of R. Yaakov b. Abba who found a cask of wine after the storehouses were opened, and came before Abbaye. Abbaye said to him "Go take it for yourself."

We begin on 23b, 30 lines from the top of the page, and the discussion returns to the previously cited b'raita.

Rav Bibi asked Rav Nachman: Is the place [where an item was lost] an identifying mark or not?

[Rav Nachman] replied: We learned this is a b'raita: "If he found casks of wine or oil or grain or dried figs or olives, these belong to him [the finder]." If you think that the place of loss is an identifying mark, the place should be announced.

The gemara rejects that proof: Rav Z'vid said: What are we dealing with? [Objects lost] on the banks of a river [where cargo boats are unloaded and there are many casks, so that the place itself does not serve as an identifying mark].

Rav Mari said: Why is it that the rabbis ruled that the river bank is not an identifying mark? We say to him [the claimant] "Just as it happened to you, it could have happened to your friend."

There are those who say: Rav Mari said: Why did the rabbis rule that _place_ is not an identifying mark? Because we say to him [the claimant] "Just as it [the loss] happened to you, so it could have happened to your friend in the same place."

[The difference between these two versions of Rav Mari's statement is that the first version specified the river bank; the second version refers to any identification based on location. Rashi points out that, according to the first version, a claimant identifying a specific place, except in places like an unloading zone on the river bank _could_ claim the object; according to the second version, no place identification can ever be effective, no matter how precise. According to the first version, Rav Mari accepts Rava's view that location, in general, is an identifier. Acccording to the second, he supports Rabba's opinion that it is not.]

The gemara now gives a specific incident:

A certain man found some pitch in a winepress. He came before Rav [seeking advice about what to do], and [Rav] said to him "Take it for yourself." He [Rav] saw that the man was hesitant; [Rav] said to him "Give a portion to Hiyya, my son." [Rav wanted to show that he was certain of the propriety of his ruling, and that there was no question of whether it was appropriate for the finder to keep the object; Rav would certainly not suggest that his own son accept ownership of an illegally-claimed item.]

The gemara now analyzes Rav's ruling: Does this imply that Rav holds that place is not an identifying mark?

R. Abba said: They were able to take it because of abandonment by the original owners, because [Rav] say that there were weeds growing on the pitch [showing that the pitch had been there for a long time, so that the owners had certainly abandoned hope of recovery].

We begin 9 lines from the bottom of BM 23b, at the two dots.

Our Mishna says: R. Shimon b. Elazar says [one who finds anporya jars does not have to announce the find].

The gemara begins:

What is anporya? Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel "new vessels that have not yet become familiar [literally, "that have not yet satiated the eye," in other words, vessels so new that the owner cannot yet identify them with certainty].

[In presentating the mishnah (p.21a), we noted the etymological connection with the Greek "emporia" (merchandise), i.e. a vessel that had just been purchased. Rashi provides Hebrew "back etymology": "ayn po ra`ayah" (there is no proof here).]

What are the circumstances? If they have identifying marks, what difference does it make even if they have not yet become familiar [they would, of course, have to be announced]. And if they do not have an identifying mark, what difference does it make if they _have become_ familiar [since, without the identifying mark, they would still not have to be announced]?

The gemara answers: Actually, [we are dealing with a case] in which there is no identifying mark. The practical implication of this ruling is returning the item to a rabbinic scholar on the basis of visual recognition. If the owner [a rabbinic scholar] has become familiar with them, he is certain about it, we return it him on the basis of visual recognition. If he is not yet familiar with it, and he is not certain, we do not return the item to him.

[This raises a practical question: If an item without an identifying mark is found, we know that the item need not be announced. But why not? Should we not be concerned that, even though there was no identifying mark, we should announce it since it might have been lost by a rabbinic scholar? One possibility is that the object was found in a place frequented by rabbinic scholars (e.g., a study hall or yeshiva). Alternatively, it may the kind of item (e.g., a rabbinic text) that was likely to have been lost by a scholar.]

[There is also the implicit assumption in the discussion here that we can rely on the integrity of the rabbinic scholar more than we can rely on the integrity of the general population.]

For Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: In only these three matters do the rabbis "change their words" [i.e., dissemble, or are less than candid]:

[The bracketed comments below reflect the explanations of Rashi and Tosafot.]

[in their knowledge of a] tractate [a rabbi can be self-effacing and, despite his expertise, claim only limited knowledge],

[in matters of the] bed [i.e., sexual matters. If a rabbi had engaged in conjugal relations and, went to the mikvah for ritual immersion rather than go the study hall, he need not explain the reason for his absence]

[in matters of] hospitality [i.e., if a rabbi was treated well as a guest, he should not announce this in public, lest the general public take advantage of the host's generosity].

What are the consquences of this statement? Mar Zutra said "To return a lost object on the basis of familiarity: If we know that he does not dissemble except in these three matters, we return the lost item [on the basis of visual recognition], but if he dissembles in other matters, we do not return [a lost object] to him [on the basis of visual recognition alone].

[The gemara tells an anecdote in reference to the trustworthiness of rabbinic scholars]:

Mar Zutra the Pious [was involved in a case in which] a silver cup was stolen from his host. He saw a young student wash his hands and dry them on a friend's garment. [Mar Zutra] said: "This is the one [the thief], for he does not care about his friend's property." [Mar Zutra] had him [the suspect] arrested and he confessed.

We are now 9 lines from the top of 24a.