By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 8, 2009

On December 30, the seven-year daf yomi cycle of studying a page of Talmud each day began the talmudic order of Nezikin. It will take almost two years to complete.

Nezikin means damages, from the verb l’hazik, to hurt or damage. The tractates comprising Nezikin discuss the whole gamut of civil and financial law, covering contracts, employment, civil damages, damages from personal assault, theft, robbery, returning lost objects, property rights, disputes between neighbours and much more.

Within this range, nezikin is used more specifically to refer to civil damages. The opening of tractate Baba Kama, the first tractate of Nezikin, lists the arba avot nezikin, the four categories of damage. The Gemara (Baba Kama 3a) understands these to be damage caused by a human, by an ox, by an uncovered pit and by fire. These are archetypes defined by their characteristics, not fixed lists. For example, today, a toxic waste dump might be include under pits — something that is dangerous, static and entailing a responsibility for its owner to safeguard it; a coal-fired electricity plant might come under fire, a hazard that is inanimate and by nature spreads its harm.

The ethics in Nezikin are central to Judaism. The Talmud says that someone who want to be truly righteous should make sure she fulfils the requirements of Nezikin. Of course, to be practised they must first be known. Join a daf yomi class now!

Last updated: 5:25pm, January 8 2009