All of the talk about the building of a wall between the United States and Mexico is nothing new in the affairs of nations, states, cities and even neighbors. Just consider the walls around ancient Jericho, the medieval ghettos, the Warsaw Ghetto and Berlin … the list goes on.
Given current events it was most timely that the ongoing Daf Yomi Talmud study program recently reached the beginning of the study of Tractate Bava Batra, the third tractate of Seder Nezikin. And, given all the talk about building walls, how timely and ironic it is that the very first topic to be discussed in Bava Batra is, you got it, the building of walls.
Timed to the Daf Yomi program of study is the recent publication of the English edition of the Koren Talmud Bavli series Bava Batra, based on the commentary by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, under the editorship of Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb and Rabbi Joshua Schreier.
The topic of wall building in Jewish law is contained within the first chapter of Bava Batra, and to really understand this whole issue, a good reading of both the introduction and the concluding summery would be well worth your time and effort.
Here are exerts from this valued Koren Talmud edition for your learning pleasure:
“This chapter addresses issues concerning the division of jointly owned property and the erection of barriers. One series of questions relates to the separating wall: Are there fixed halachot concerning the height or thickness of the wall, or the materials of which the wall must be constructed? Where exactly is the wall erected, and who enjoys the rights to the wall, both the right to use it and the right to possess the materials from which it is constructed, should it one day collapse?
“When the two co-owners agree to build a barrier, the matter is relatively simple. But, what is the halacha when only one of the co-owners wishes to divide the property and erect a barrier? Can one compel the other to contribute to the construction costs? There are even more basic questions: Can one party insist that jointly owned property be divided? Are all properties subject to the halacha of division, or are there certain properties that cannot be divided, whether the division is made unilaterally by one of the parties or with the consent of both parties?”
These issues taken from the Koren edition introduction are among the basic ones that are addressed in the first chapter of Bava Batra.
While this fascinating topic as discussed in the Talmud under review is limited to an ancient time, and in geographic scope, the application of normative Jewish law to this issue given current events should give us all much pride in the integrity of our divinely ordained law and judicial tradition. The moral considerations that are inherent in the legal discussions should further enhance our appreciation of the deep devotion that our spiritual leaders of antiquity possessed in the development and deep discussion of this issue as applied to their times and needs.
These valued teachings should surely serve as an apt example and model for application in our own times. The next time when you sit down to learn from the text of this tractate please consider the points alluded to above, consider the events current in the world today, and come to better appreciate the values of our religious and moral traditions that go back thousands of years yet, are still most relevant unto our own very day.