October 23, 2022

Ketubot 108

There is a concept in the Gemara, itself based on a biblical verse (see Shemot 22:8), of מודה במקצת – literally, ‘one who admits something in part’ – which refers to a situation when someone admits owing part, though not all, of something or a group of things that another claims to have lent to them.
However, as the Mishna (Ketubot 13:4) in our daf (Ketubot 108b) explains, the rules pertaining to מודה במקצת only apply if someone admits to owing part of the type of item that the claimant claims to have been borrowed. What this means, as the Rambam details in his Hilchot To’en VeNitan 3:8, is that:
‘A person who admits a portion of a claim is not obligated to take an oath unless the admission is of the same nature as the claim. What is implied? If a plaintiff claims: “You owe me a kor of wheat”, and the defendant responds: “I only owe you a letach of wheat,” then he is liable to take the oath. If, however, the defendant responds: “I only owe you a kor of barley,” he is not liable. The rationale is that the defendant did not admit owing the species which the plaintiff claimed, and the plaintiff did not claim the species which the defendant admitted owing.’
In the same spirit, and here too basing himself on teachings found in our daf, the Rambam rules (Hilchot To’en VeNitan 3:13):
‘similarly, the defendant is not held liable for an oath when the plaintiff claims: “You have a quantity of oil large enough to fill ten jugs of mine in your possession,” and the defendant answers: “I owe you only ten empty jugs.” The rationale is that the plaintiff claimed oil and the defendant admitted owing only earthenware.’
While these rules clearly have legal ramifications in terms of whether or not an oath is required, I’d like to examine them from an emotional and psychological perspective because the examples discussed in our daf come to show us that there are times when people think that others owe them a certain quantity of wheat when they actually owe them a smaller quantity, and there are times when they claim that others owe them oil when they actually owe them empty jugs – with the problem being that until this misunderstanding is addressed and resolved, there can be resentment from the seemingly confused lender about why the borrower hasn’t returned what the lender truly believes they lent them.
By being human it means that we make mistakes, and sometimes our mistaken beliefs can lead us to foster resentment and negative thoughts toward others. Given this, the whole point of the laws of מודה במקצת is about seeking to resolve this tricky issue when two people recollect different things.
Ultimately, sometimes our memory differs from another. However, instead of choosing resentment, the Torah encourages us to choose resolution, because it is better to reach an amicable solution to a problem such as this, than to continue to believe that another has done you an injustice.
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