The Medrash Rabbah בראשית ל''א ס''ק ה says that what the people of the Dor Hamabul did in order not to have to be punished by their courts is to steal less that a Prutah (minimal Monetary Value) which Halachicly makes them not responsible to pay.The question is that Halacha only applies to Jews a Ben Noach is responsible even for less then a worth of a Prutah?


Some say that the Dor HaMabul had the halachik status of Bnei Yisroel, so they did have a shiur of Shava Prutah.

Source: Rabbi Yechiel Halpern of Minsk (1660- 1747) in Sefer HaLikutim, Mabul, §1

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  • Rabbi Yechiel Halpern of Minsk (1660- 1747) in Sefer HaLikutim, Mabul, §1 – Reb Chaim HaQoton Oct 27 '11 at 12:28

Even so, the definition of chamas, as opposed to gezel, according to Rabbi Chanina in Bereishit Rabba is less than a shava peruta. (So too Rav Acha in Yerushalmi Bava Metzia.) Since the pasuk mentioned chamas, rather than gezel, it is a midrashic approach to look at the halachic definition of a chamsan.

The courts back then, presumably, did not work according to the halacha. And so they did this in order to evade their courts, taking action just like a modern-day halachic 'chamsan'.

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  • I guess you mean Chamas when you write chamsan – simchastorah Oct 27 '11 at 22:39
  • actually, I meant חמסן, chamsan. An extortionist (or whatever violation this is is a chamsan), and he commits the action called chamas. See the linked yerushalmi, as well as this post: parsha.blogspot.com/2011/10/… – josh waxman Oct 27 '11 at 23:46

Although this is speculation, you are talking about a Midrash explaining why the Dor HaMabul deserved the flood. Post-Mabul Bnei Noaḥ - by definition - have different rules than the Bnei Adam who lived prior to (and were punished by) the Mabul. Prior to the Mabul, perhaps, their courts had a Perutah requirement - or perhaps the Midrash is just using that terminology to explain just how corrupt and despicable the Dor HaMabul was. That, essentially (though perhaps not literally), they used every loophole they could think of to be within the law but outside the bounds of morality or simple human decency and therefore deserved to be punished and wiped out. Bnei Noaḥ then, perhaps, were given a stricter set of rules than they otherwise should have needed, either as punishment or as preventive measure against future corruption (or both). The Midrash does not have to be historically accurate with regard to how the courts generally worked in the days of the Dor HaMabul. On the other hand, it could even be that the Midrash has a Mesorah about one such case in which this happened, and it's pointing to that as a demonstration as to just how low they had gone to maintain the non-culpability with their behavior.

But in any case, I think the points made by Josh Waxman and Reb Haim shed some light on this from a textual/Halachic standpoint.

I'm not convinced that the courts at that time used Bnei Yisrael's system of Halachah with regard to determining the minimum amount of money for which a thief is liable, though I remain open to that possibility. I am, however, fairly certain that the Midrash is using the example of deliberate less-than-Perutah theft to show how evil they were (because you must agree that this is evil) OR to make a point (you may not think this is evil, but see what happens if you employ this type of tactic!).

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  • "Bnei Noaḥ"? I think you're talking about Bnei Adam! – Isaac Moses Oct 27 '11 at 14:29
  • @IsaacMoses No, my point is that the asker is making the mistake of assuming the Bnei Noaḥ have the same rules as Bnei Adam. I used Dor HaMabul to refer to those who were punished and Bnei Noaḥ for those who came later. Unless I messed up somewhere...? – Seth J Oct 27 '11 at 14:32
  • OK, I misread. I'm going to take the liberty of editing in a slight clarification. – Isaac Moses Oct 27 '11 at 14:36

The only viable answer seems to be that then, as now, there was no legal responsibility under Divine law for stealing less than a perutah's worth, despite sources that on their surface state otherwise.

Since under Noahide law, according to the Rambam, the punishment for violation of any of the 7 laws is the death penalty, it cannot be that such a harsh penalty applied to stealing less than a perutah's worth (less than a nickel today).

G-d does not promulgate laws that would constitute a chillul Hashem.

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  • 1
    What chillul Hashem? – Double AA Dec 10 '13 at 22:38
  • It is possible this Medrash holds that a shava pruta minimum applies equally to everyone. The Gemara clearly decides differently. | Why is stealing a dime any different vis-a-vis harshness? – Yishai Dec 10 '13 at 23:39

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