One of the most difficult situations in business dealings is when the agreed upon price or condition is stated in a confusing manner. The Mishna on our daf discusses cases where two statements were made, one seemingly insisting on an exact measurement, and another indicating willingness to be less exacting. Ben Nanas rules that the last statement is the one that we will rely upon.
A similar case is presented by Rav Huna as what was taught in Rav’s school – if a man agrees to a price saying istera, me’a manei (an istera coin, worth 96 ma’ot, followed by 100 ma’ot), we view the price as 100 ma’ot. If he switched the order, then the price will be an istera coin.
The term 100 ma’ot as used in this example is a colloquial usage, for the intent is not actually to ma’ot – which are small silver coins, each of which is worth one-third of an istera – rather the intention is 100 perutot. Under ordinary circumstances, an istera was valued at 96 perutot, although there were occasionally currency fluctuations so the amount of perutot may have changed slightly.
An istera was a copper half-dinar coin. In Greek it was referred to as a στατήρ (stater). When such coins were made of gold, they were worth a sela – four dinarim – but the story in our Gemara is referring to matbe’a medina, common currency, which was worth one-eighth the value of the larger matbe’a tzuri. Therefore the istera was worth half a dinar.
Ben Nanas’ ruling is rejected by his peers who rule that the disputed amount that stems from confusing language in their agreement should either be divided between them or else left in the hands of the one who has a more definite claim to the money (see the case of the disputed rental agreement in Bava Metzia 102a-b).