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Exodus 22:10-11

If anyone gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to their neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, 11 the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the Lord that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person’s property

Exodus 22:12

But if the animal was stolen from the neighbor, restitution must be made to the owner.

So what’s the difference between stolen and taken away

2 Answers 2

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The word in the first verse is נשבה. This word typically refers to someone being forcibly taken captive, e.g. Genesis 14:14 when Abram is told that Lot was taken captive in the war between the four kings and the five kings. Indeed, the rabbinic commentators explicitly interpret the case in the first verse as where the animal was taken by bandits or a marauding troop.

The second verse would simply be a normal theft. The reason for the difference in law, in this reading, is that a guardian may be expected to take measures to prevent a basic theft, but is not expected to stand up against dangerous invaders.

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There are two different situations here in Ex 22:10-12 -

Situation #1 Ex 22:10, 11

Person A gives an animal to his neighbor to care for during person A's absence. During that time, the animal either dies or wanders off and is lost, or is stolen by an unknown third party while the caring neighbor did not see.

This law simply says that the neighbor must swear that he did not steal the animal himself as the animals' loss might have occurred under the original owner's care anyway. Thus, no restitution was required.

Ellicott says this:

(10) And it die, or be hurt, or driven away.—The animal might “die” naturally, or “be hurt” by a wild beast or a fall down the rocks, or “be driven away” by the marauding tribes of the desert. Both parties might be agreed on the fact of its disappearance; the dispute would be as to the mode of the disappearance. Here the trustee might bring proof, if he could (Exodus 22:13); if not, he might clear himself by an “oath of the Lord” (Exodus 22:11).

The Cambridge Commentary offers this:

  1. be hurt lit. be broken, i.e. be maimed or wounded: so v. 14, Ezekiel 34:4; Ezekiel 34:16, Zechariah 11:16, Leviticus 22:22.

or driven away better, carried away, viz. by raiders (Job 1:15; Job 1:17); 1 Chronicles 5:21 Heb., 2 Chronicles 14:15. The word commonly rendered taken captive, 1 Samuel 30:3; 1 Samuel 30:5, &c.

Situation #2 Ex 22:12

If the neighbor actually stole the animal, then the neighbor must make restitution for person A's loss.

Ellicott says this:

(12) If it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution.—It seems to have been considered that theft could have been prevented by proper care, but that hurts from wild beasts or accidents were not preventable.

This is a perfect example of the practical nature of the Torah laws and how they were to operate.

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  • If the neighbor actually stole the animal Do you mean that the second verse is talking about a case where the guardian himself stole the animal?
    – Alex
    Feb 28, 2022 at 2:42
  • @Alex - yes that is correct
    – Dottard
    Feb 28, 2022 at 5:54
  • That would seem to be a very difficult reading of the verse.
    – Alex
    Feb 28, 2022 at 11:48
  • @Alex - either stolen by the a neighbor or by the guardian - either way the guardian is responsible.
    – Dottard
    Feb 28, 2022 at 20:07

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