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In the משנה in בבא מציעא ב:ג there are three cases in the first part:

  1. Finding tied birds behind a fence (גפה)
  2. Finding tied birds behing a wall (גדר)
  3. Finding tied birds in the pathways in the field (שבילין שבשדות)

When the mishna lists them, it seems to specifically group the first two, and says the third one separately:

[translations are not meant to be precise]

מצא אחר הגפה או אחר הגדר גוזלות מקשרין, או בשבילין שבשדות, הרי זה לא יגע בהן

If one found behind a fence or behind a wall tied birds, or in the pathways in the field, he should not touch them.

It would seem more logical to be written as:

מצא אחר הגפה או אחר הגדר או בשבילין שבשדות גוזלות מקשרין, הרי זה לא יגע בהן

If one found behind a fence, behind a wall or in the pathways of the fields tied birds, he should not touch them.

Is there anyone who discusses whether there is some significance to this wording?

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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The Tiferess Yisrael on this Mishnah asks exactly the same question.

He answers that the Gemara in Bava Metzia 25a establishes that the Mishnah is talking about young pigeons which can hop, and the Gemara in Bava Basra 23b teaches that such a pigeon does not hop more than fifty amos from its dovecote, but in the previous amud it teaches that in fields and vineyards it hops even more than fifty amos from its dovecote.

Therefore, if the Mishnah had taught the phrase "tied birds" after the phrase "or on pathways in the fields", I might have thought that since the Mishnah does not make a distinction whether the birds were found inside or outside fifty amos of neighboring dovecotes, it could also be discussing a case where they are found outside of fifty amos, and thus I might have thought that only when they are tied do we have to be concerned that someone placed them there and so he is not allowed to take it. But if they are not tied then even if he finds them more than fifty amos from the dovecotes he would be allowed to keep them since they may have hopped from one of the dovecotes.

Thus, I might have thought that the phrase "tied birds" only referred to the the case where he found the birds on the pathways in the fields, but if he finds them behind a fence or behind a wall outside of fifty amos then even if they are not tied he is not allowed to take them since they do not hop more than fifty amos from their dovecote. This is what I might have thought.

But in fact all this is not true, because the Shach in Choshen Mishpat Siman 260, note 28, proves that our Mishnah is speaking specifically about finding birds within fifty amos of the dovecotes. Therefore, the Mishnah deliberately puts the phrase "tied birds" after the first two cases, to teach us that even in these cases it is talking about finding the birds within fifty amos, and that only when they are tied does he have to be concerned that maybe someone placed them there.

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I think that the answer is Alliteration. The words in hebrew

מָצָא אַחַר הַ*גַּ*פָּה אוֹ אַחַר הַ*גָּ*דֵר *גּ*וֹזָלוֹת מְקֻשָּׁרִין, here the Gimmel is prominent

אוֹ *בִשְׁ*בִילִין *שֶׁ*בַּ*שָּׂ*דוֹת, here the Bet and Shin\Sin are prominent הֲרֵי זֶה לֹא יִגַּע בָּהֶן

This helps to remember by heart which is one of the main reasons behind the codification of the Mishna by Rabbeinu HaKadosh.

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+1 Even though you don't have a source for your answer I really like it! –  yydl Sep 29 '13 at 16:59
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