Baba MEZI‘A, lit., ‘Middle Gate’, is, as its name implies, a continuation of Baba Kamma, the ‘First Gate’, with which, in fact, it originally formed one treatise. The main subject discussed in it, as in the earlier treatise, is Claims; but whereas Baba Kamma is concerned only with claims for compensation arising out of loss or injury, Baba Mezi'a deals with claims arising out of any transaction in which two parties have a share, from a joint finding to wage agreements. Hence it contains more than any other Tractate of the Talmudical law relating to trade and industry.
CHAPTER I treats of the two kinds of lost property: (i) that which could not be identified by the owner, and (ii) that which could be identified; the former immediately belonged to the finder, it being assumed that the owner, knowing his inability to establish his claim, must have abandoned it. Here is also discussed the means whereby the lost article becomes the finder’s. CHAPTER II continues the subject matter of Chapter I, but in greater detail. An enumeration is made of the articles which belong to the finder, and which must be proclaimed. Moreover, seemingly lost articles might not have been lost at all, and so definitions are necessary of what constitutes lost articles. CHAPTER III. The finder of a lost article which must be proclaimed is in the position of a bailee. By a natural transition, therefore, this chapter deals with a real bailee, i.e., a person with whom an article is deposited. CHAPTER IV. In an agricultural community, much of the commerce would take the form of barter; moreover, owing to the shortage of actual coin, one could not easily change large coins into those of smaller denomination but such a change would constitute a special transaction in itself. Laws governing this exchange, as well as barter and the normal operations of buying and selling, are treated of in the fourth chapter. CHAPTER V is based on the Biblical injunctions against usury. The term is understood in a far wider sense than is admitted in modern usage, and it is even forbidden to charge a higher price for an article when sold on credit. CHAPTER VI and part of CHAPTER VII enter into a discussion of labor conditions and the relationship between employer and employee, in respect to broken contracts, hours of work, and the rights of laborers to eat of the produce upon which they are engaged. CHAPTERs VII and VIII. The discussion on deposits, which formed the subject matter of the third chapter, is resumed in the middle of the seventh and continued in the eighth. The different kinds of bailees are discussed, and their respective liabilities. CHAPTER IX. Toward the end of the eighth chapter the subject is changed, and there follows a discussion of tenancy, and the obligations of the landlord and the tenant. This forms a natural bridge to the ninth chapter. Owners let out their estates in return either for a fixed rental, paid in the produce of the rented field, or a percentage of the crops, and regulations for this are laid down. CHAPTER X. In the tenth and last chapter, the joint ownership of houses is discussed, and also the individual’s rights and duties in respect to the community as a whole. The Tractate contains very little aggadah. Of that little, particularly noteworthy are the statements that Jerusalem was destroyed because people there insisted on their full rights according to the strict letter of the law; the declarations that the Torah is no longer in Heaven and that no attention is paid to a Heavenly Echo intervening in a halachic dispute—a remarkable assertion of the independence of human reasoning; the stories about R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon and R. Ishmael son of R. Jose, who hunted down criminals for the State; how Resh Lakish became a scholar. [Adapted from the Introduction.]