Ketuvot 37 - 43
“This is the rule: Anyone who admits to owing more than he damaged is not obligated to pay anything based on his own admission.”
This rule concludes the mishna that begins at the top of our daf. The basis for this rule is that a person’s word can obligate him only in true monetary remuneration (“mamon”), but not obligate him a “penalty payment” — “modeh b’knas patur” (Rashi).
The gemara points out that this rule is also true not only if a person admits to an amount that is more than he damaged, but also if a person admits to an obligation that is less than what he damaged — such as the damage caused by his normal ox (tam, for which the obligation according to halacha is only half of the damage). In both scenarios he is admitting to knas and not to mamon. So why does the mishna state “more” and not “less” as well?
The gemara poses this question and answers that the Tana who taught the mishna wanted to teach something that was without any exception. “More” is always true that he does not pay based on his admission. “Less”, however, is not always true. If his animal caused damage via “tzerorot” — small stones kicked by his animal as it walked in the public domain in a normal manner — it is a “halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai” that he is obligated to pay half of the damage as “mamon”, and not “knas”. Due to this case of his being obligated to pay less than the full damage by his own admission, the Tana teaches “more” but not “less” in order to state a rule that is without exception.
- Ketuvot 41a&b
“This question was unresolved by the two great Sages — Rabba and Rav Yosef for 22 years, and was not resolved until after Rabba passed from this world and Rav Yosef became Rosh Yeshiva in his place and answered it.”
Rashi explains the context for this statement in our sugya. Originally Rabba was the Rosh Yeshiva and was called “Uprooter of Mountains” due to his especially sharp, analytical prowess. After 22 years when Rabbi passed, Rav Yosef became the Rosh Yeshiva. His reputation was one of vast and exceptional knowledge of teachings of the Oral Law, and was therefore known as “Sinai”. However, his reputation was one of less “sharpness” than had been attributed to his predecessor, Rabba. Therefore, he was given a special help from Heaven to be able to answer the question that even Rabba failed to answer, in order to receive a reputation that now included great “sharpness” in order to lead the people with the appropriate respect due a Rosh Yeshiva.
- Ketuvot 42b