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Q&A

What happens if the goring ox was provoked?

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Exodus 21:28-29 (and onward) gives us laws concerning the ox that gores. If it happens once, they kill the ox but do not punish the owner. But if the ox has a pattern of goring and the owner has been warned, and it happens again, not only do they kill the ox but the owner is subject to death. (I think, from the Rashi there, that this means death from Heaven.)

What protection does an owner have from a malicious actor? This seems like a way for one who hates his neighbor to at least cause material loss by provoking an animal into attacking someone. Does halacha say that's the owner's problem (he should have taken stronger measures to protect his animals from interference), or is this more like the case of false witnesses, where the malicious witnesses are themselves punished with whatever damage they were trying to inflict?

Further, in the case of provocation, is there ever a case that spares the ox? While in the torah's context an ox is just property (and can be replaced), I believe this law has been applied to non-livestock too, including dogs. In modern times people keep dogs as pets and are specifically attached to them; they're not fungible property.

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2 comments

"But if the ox has a pattern of goring and the owner has been warned, and it happens again, " -- not quite accurate. וְאִ֡ם שׁוֹר֩ נַגָּ֨ח ה֜וּא מִתְּמֹ֣ל שִׁלְשֹׁ֗ם וְהוּעַ֤ד בִּבְעָלָיו֙ וְלֹ֣א יִשְׁמְרֶ֔נּוּ -- the harsher penalty applies if the ox has a habit of goring and owner has been warned and not taken heed Aliza‭ 14 days ago

@Aliza but what does "has not taken heed" mean, practically speaking? Do we say that if it gored again he obviously didn't take heed (enough), or is there a threshold that counts as taking heed and if somebody breaks into his barn and sets it loose despite his precautions, or taunts it to agitate it, that's not on the owner? That's the core of my question: is there a level of precaution that is enough to save the owner from culpability, or is he responsible no matter what happens? Monica Cellio‭ 13 days ago

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