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There is a popular custom for boys to start their Gemara studies with Elu Metzios (the 2nd Perek in Bava Metzia).

The Gemara (Bava Basra 175b) does say that financial laws are conducive to becoming wise, which would make sense to learn such laws first.

ואמר רבי ישמעאל הרוצה שיחכים יעסוק בדיני ממונות שאין לך מקצוע בתורה יותר מהן והן כמעיין הנובע

Are you aware of a source for this custom? (I'm not just looking for a nice reason about Derech Eretz, and care for others belongings!)

  • I've heard that it's because "Elu m'tzios" is not terribly difficult but contains many ideas and formulations that are common to g'mara study in general (and that, for the same reasons, many start with "Hamafkid"). But I don't recall whom I heard this from (and I don't think I deemed it at the time a very reliable source on this matter), so I'm not posting this as an answer. – msh210 Feb 11 '15 at 20:20
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    ...and maybe also because "lost property" is something they can relate to. (Modern city boys can't really relate to wild cows, farming and building.) – Danny Schoemann Feb 12 '15 at 14:23
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I heard from Rabbi Paysach Krohn Shlita quoting Rabbi Moshe Feinstein Zatzal that the reason for this is we want the kids to learn about caring for someone else's property, as this is a Yesod in Yiddishkeit.

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    I thought the question specifically didn't want this? I've heard this too, but my experience has been that kids don't get that message anymore (Yeridas Hadoros, I guess) and instead focus on finding the loophole to make what they want to take hefker. – Yishai Feb 12 '15 at 19:29
  • @Yishai That's true regardless of the Halacha learned. – Shmuel Brin Jul 12 '15 at 21:21
  • @ShmuelBrin, not in my experience. – Yishai Jul 13 '15 at 16:55
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Here in a publication by Torah Academy of Minnesota, it quotes a different version of what Rav Moshe Feinstein said about why Elu Metzios is learned first. R. Idstein, the dean, writes:

A friend of mine recently related to me a fascinating story about Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. Rav Moshe was often asked about the widely accepted practice that boys start learning Gemora with Elu Metzios, dealing with the laws of returning lost items, as opposed to Mesechta Brochos,which many people find to be more useful and practical to everyday life. Rav Moshe explained that since many of the laws of Brochos are not carried out in exact accordance to the stringent halacha (and many rely on legal loopholes due to their specific situations), it is best to begin the study of Talmud with a set of laws that are adhered to always, and as is. In this way we will inculcate from youth the need and necessity to always act in meticulous accord with halacha and to shy away from leniencies.

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    What loopholes are there in Hilchos Brachos? – Shmuel Brin Jul 12 '15 at 21:22
  • @ShmuelBrin, an obvious one would be the way Plag Mincha is some days yes some days no. – Yishai Jul 13 '15 at 17:01
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A Rosh Kollel told me that he was told the reason is because, in the middle of a long debate between Abaye and Rava, we find תרגמא רבא אליבא דאביי, Rava interpreted on behalf of Abaye. Namely, Rava answered a challenge to the opinion of Abaya even though he was the "nemesis" in the debate. This teaches a fundamental lesson in learning the Talmud, which is full of arguments and disagreements. The point is not that I should win the argument, but that we should reach the truth. Children are taught this chapter in order to expose them to that lesson in intellectual integrity and search for truth.

The Rosh Kollel who told me this pointed out that we find the same thing in Sukkah, but we both agreed that factors of simplicity necessary background probably make Elu Metzios the better choice between the two.

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