TALMUD. The 23rd Massekhet – Bava Batra

Massekhet Bava Batra – the “last gate” – is the third and final section of Massekhet Nezikin, the large tractate that deals with financial matters.

Bava Batra differs from its predecessors, Bava Kamma and Bava Metzia, in two ways that are interconnected. While Bava Kamma and Bava Metzia dealt, on some level, with prohibitions, Bava Batra focuses solely on civil law. Parallel to this, the laws contained in the other two massekhtot were often based on sources in the Torah and on the interpretation of the Sages, while our massekhta is grounded in Rabbinic enactments whose sources are their understanding of human nature, on community agreements and on the need to establish boundaries and principles for business transactions in the Jewish community.
to be continued in the form of comments.

the link to the previous Massekhet:

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176 Responses to TALMUD. The 23rd Massekhet – Bava Batra

  1. Bava Batra 101a-b: Checking the Road for Cemeteries

    In the course of discussing burial practices, our Gemara quotes a Mishna that appears in Massekhet Nazir (64b).

    The Mishna deals with a situation where a person comes upon a place where he finds a body buried, and it is not clear whether this was a body that was buried here temporarily, with the intent of moving it to a proper cemetery when the opportunity arose, or if it is part of a shekhunat kevarot – a formal burial area – that cannot be disturbed. Such a discovery was likely to take place during the period before one of the shalosh regalim – the three pilgrimage holidays, Pesaḥ, Shavu’ot and Sukkot – when it was common practice to check the roads that the olei regalim – the pilgrims – would take in order to assure that they were clear of anything that would ritually defile them. The olei regalim would always need to remain in a state of ritual purity in order to bring sacrifices in the Temple, and it was, therefore, essential that the roads were kept clear of tum’ah on their behalf. Thus, discovering a dead body on or near the public thoroughfare led to the question “can this body be moved?”

    Generally speaking, halakha recognizes that met koneh et mekomo – that a dead person takes possession of the ground where he is lies and cannot be moved. Therefore, if we have reason to believe that a person was buried in a specific place, he cannot be moved, and the grave would need to be clearly marked. If, however, an unknown body was found, the Mishna teaches that it can be moved to a cemetery. One case where we are forced to assume that a body was buried in a place purposefully is when a number of bodies were found buried in close proximity, and another one is found nearby (within twenty amot), since raglayim la-davar – the status quo would indicate that this is a shekhunat kevarot.

  2. Bava Batra 102a-b: Selling a Land with Deficiencies

    Beit Kor, the seventh perek of Massekhet Bava Batra, begins on today’s daf. Its focus is on the purchase of different types of real estate, and in particular on how deficiencies or blemishes will affect the sale. Just as the previous perek dealt with deficiencies in moveable objects, similarly in real estate there are some deficiencies that are accepted as part of a field and others that no purchaser would knowingly accept. Since it is natural for fields to include hills and valleys, rocks and broken areas, it is necessary for the Talmud to establish what is a natural and acceptable blemish, and when the loss to the buyer is significant enough for him to demand a reduction in price, or a replacement for the area that cannot be used.

    The first Mishna teaches that if a person agrees to sell beit kor afar – land upon which a kor of grain can be grown – if there are crevices in the ground that are ten tefaḥim deep, or rocks that are ten tefaḥim high, those areas are not to be included in the sale. If, however, the agreement was that ke-beit kor – approximately a beit kor – was being sold, then such crevices or rocks would be included.

    A beit kor is a measure of volume; it is the size of a field that will grow 30 se’a of grain (248 or 430 liters, depending on the definition of a se’a), which is 75,000 square amot (17, 280 or 24,900 square meters). The Nimmukei Yosef points out that the agreement cannot possibly be one where they agree on a specific field or portion of a field, since in that case the agreement would take effect. The case of the Mishna must be when the seller presents a larger field and they agree that an unspecified area of a beit kor was to be sold.

  3. Bava Batra 103a-b: Rocks in a field

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf, if someone agreed to sell an area of land that will produce a beit kor, then obstacles on the field that will keep it from producing will not be included in the size of the field. The Mishna differentiated between rocks that are higher than ten tefaḥim, which are considered obstacles, and those that are lower than ten tefaḥim, which are considered part of the field.

    The Gemara limits this allowance to specific circumstances. Thus Rabbi Yitzḥak teaches that even smaller rocks will only be considered part of the field if they are less than the space needed for planting four kabin, and Rav Ukva bar Ḥama and Rav Ḥiyya bar Abba teach that they must be spread out over the field, and not collected in one place.

    Rabbi Yirmeya asks a series of questions to clarify this ruling. What if the rocks were set up in a pattern?

    What if they were set up in a circle?

    What if they were in a straight line?

    What if they were in the shape of a “V”?

    What if they were in a zig-zag shape?

    The rishonim explain that all of these questions aim at a similar point. In a case where the above criteria are met – there are fewer than four kabin of rocks spread out over the field – will a pattern change our ruling? The Rashbam explains that an occasional rock does not serve as a major obstacle, but that a series of rocks may be bothersome when working a field. The Ra’avad and Ramah understand the question to be whether rocks set up in a pattern will be considered to be gathered together in one spot, which would make them an obstacle which is not counted as part of the field.

    To all of these questions, the Gemara responds “Teiku.” The question stands and we do not have an answer.

  4. Bava Batra 104a-b: When There is an Error in a Sale

    The Mishna on yesterday’s daf taught that if someone who was selling land stated at the time of the sale that he was selling an exact amount – according to strict measurements – then even a small amount would have to be returned or paid for. If, on the other hand, the seller said that he was selling “more or less” that amount, then even if there was an error of up to one-quarter of a se’a of planting (which is 1/24 of the beit kor field that was being sold), we accept that it is within acceptable error and it need not be returned. The Mishna continues that if the error was larger than that amount, the additional land would need to be returned, concluding ve-lo et ha-rovah bilvad hu maḥzir, ela et kol ha-motar – and he returns not only the quarter that was given in error, but the additional bit beyond the quarter, as well.

    The Gemara reacts to this line in the Mishna by saying kelappei layya!? Shouldn’t it be the other way around!? The Gemara concludes that the Mishna should be worded otherwise – that not only is the small additional amount returned, but that the entire error must be given back, even the part that the purchaser could have kept had the error been smaller.

    The term kelappei layya!? is usually interpreted to mean “where are you turning?” or, in this context “how can you think that, since it is the opposite of what appears to be logical.” There are Ge’onim who offer an alternative interpretation, explaining this expression as though it were kelappei alya – “towards its tail” – meaning that it appears that you are riding backwards, i.e. your statement is the opposite of what you should be saying.

  5. Bava Batra 105a-b: Following the Last Statement

    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).

  6. Bava Batra 106a-b: A Long-Lost Brother’s Inheritance

    What happens if two brothers agree on dividing up their inheritance, only to discover that there is a third brother who appears and demands to receive his share?

    Our Gemara presents just such a case – two brothers divide the inheritance and a third brother comes from a far-away land – and brings a disagreement between Rav and Shmuel. Rav rules that in such a case the agreement falls apart and a new arrangement must be made. Shmuel rules mekametzin – each of the brothers takes part of what he received and gives it to the newly arrived brother so that he gets an equal share.

    Rav’s reasoning is fairly straightforward. Although the original agreement had the force of a kinyan – of a legally binding claim of ownership – nevertheless we have discovered that it was done mistakenly, and therefore it needs to be done over again.

    Shmuel’s ruling is subject to a number of different explanations. The Rashbam says simply that the original division remains in effect, but each of the two brothers who received a share will be obligated to take half of the amount that the third brother deserves and give it to him. According to this approach, the term mekametzin means to take a part of something, like the passage in Vayikra 2:2.

    Tosafot reject this reading of Shmuel, arguing that the two brothers do not have the right to determine what the third brother should receive. They explain that even according to Shmuel the third brother enters into negotiations about the part that he will receive, however the first division still remains in effect inasmuch as whatever he does not take will revert to the individuals who agreed to get it in the first place. According to this explanation, the term mekametzin appears to be related to the word kamtzanut – frugality or lessening the need for further divisions.

    The Ri Migash argues that even according to Shmuel the third brother can demand a new division of the estate. It is only if he agrees to accept what the brothers set aside for him that there is no need to redivide the estate from the beginning.

  7. Bava Batra 107a-b: Selling Half a Field

    On occasion, agreements to buy and sell something are unclear. The Mishna on today’s daf presents a case where the seller says “I am selling you half of my field” without specifying which half was for sale. The Mishna rules that they arrange to have the field evaluated and the purchaser receives half of the field. Similarly, if the seller says “I am selling you the southern half of my field,” the field is evaluated and the southern half is given to the purchaser.

    In the Gemara, Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba quoted Rabbi Yoḥanan as ruling that the seller gets to keep the more valuable half of the field and then followed it with a question. If the field is first evaluated to ensure that the two halves are of equal value, how can we discuss which half is the “better” one? Rabbi Yoḥanan responded with a word of rebuke – “while you sat and ate the flowers of the date palm (kafniyata) in Babylon, we were answering this question.” As the second case of the Mishna makes clear, even when we know that the southern half of the field is being sold, we still need to evaluate the field to ensure that the two halves of the field will be of equal value. Nevertheless, the difference between the quality of the different parcels of land remains, and the seller gets to keep the better quality land.

    Rabbi Yoḥanan’s rebuke to his Babylonian student effectively meant – “while you were wasting your time with things of no value, I was exerting myself in an attempt to understand the Mishna.” The kafniyata, or date palm flowers, are attached to the small branches of the palm tree. While they are young, these flowers are juicy and edible. Since date palms are either male or female, and only the female palms produce dates, ordinarily only the flowers from male trees would be eaten in order not to disturb the development of the dates on female trees.

  8. Bava Batra 108a-b: A Father Inheriting From His Son

    The eighth perek of Massekhet Bava Batra, Perek Yesh Noḥalin, begins on today’s daf . The focus of this perek is the laws of inheritance, and generally speaking, how a person’s property is divided up after his death.

    The laws of inheritance are stated in a clear manner in the Torah (see Bamidbar 27:6-11). In response to the request made by the daughters of Tzelafḥad to receive their father’s inheritance in the absence of any male children, the Torah delineates how an estate should be divided. Nevertheless, there is a need to clarify details of these laws and to investigate questions like: are these laws obligatory, or can – perhaps even should – the patriarch divide his worldly possessions according to his own priorities and desires?

    The first Mishna opens by stating that some relatives both receive an inheritance and bequeath it to others, some inherit but do not bequeath, some bequeath but do not inherit and some neither inherit nor bequeath. The first two cases of relatives who both receive an inheritance and pass it on to others are a father, who receives an inheritance from his children and passes it on to them, and a son who receives an inheritance from his father and passes it to him.

    The Gemara queries why the first case that the Mishna chooses to teach is one of tragedy – a father who receives an inheritance from his son. For such a case to happen, a double tragedy must occur – the child must die in his father’s lifetime, and he could not have had any offspring of his own. The Gemara suggests that a better case to be first would have been a son who inherits from his father, since that is the way of the world.

    The Gemara answers that the law granting the father the right to receive an inheritance from his son is not clearly written in the Torah, and the author of the Mishna preferred to offer a teaching based on a rabbinic derivation rather than a law that is simply stated in the Torah.

  9. Bava Batra 109a-b: The Pseudo-Priest’s Family

    While discussing whether the primary family relationship regarding laws of inheritance is from the mother’s side or the father’s side, the Gemara enters into a discussion of a difficult case – the identity of the pseudo-priest in the story of pesel Micha – Micha’s idol.

    According to the story at the end of Sefer Shoftim (chapter 17), during a period when “there was no king in Israel, every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” a man named Micha stole money from his mother, who then gave it to him to create an idol. When a Levite from Bethlehem in Yehuda came calling, Micha was pleased to have a Levite serve as priest in his temple.

    Our Gemara points to the fact that the passage (Shoftim 17:7) identifies him as a Levite – so apparently his father was from that tribe – yet he is also identified as being from the tribe of Yehuda, so apparently his mother’s tribe is significant, as well. In response, Rava bar Rav Ḥanan suggests that he really was from Shevet (tribe of) Yehuda, and the pasuk simply means that his name was Levi.

    This suggestion is rejected out of hand, since the Tanakh clearly identifies the Levite as Yehonatan ben Gershom ben Menashe (see Shoftim 18:30). The Gemara concludes that even this passage is unclear, since Yehonatan, the Levite, was not the grandson of Menashe, rather he was the grandson of Moshe Rabbeinu. Rather, the navi chose to identify him with Menashe, since his behavior was similar to that of Menashe, the evil king of Judea; in a like manner, he was identified as coming from the tribe of Yehuda, the tribe from which King Menashe came.

    As the Rashbam points out, a clear indication that this pseudo-priest was a descendant of Moshe is that the letter nun of Menashe in Sefer Shoftim 18:30 is left hanging, suggesting that it should not be read, leaving the pasuk clearly identifying Yehonatan as the son of Gershom, the son of Moshe.

  10. Bava Batra 110a-b: Working For a Living

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf, our Gemara identifies the pseudo-priest who served in the temple erected by Micha (see Sefer Shofetim chapter 17), as Yehonatan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moshe Rabbeinu. An obvious question that comes up is how the grandson of the preeminent leader of the Jewish people would find himself involved in idol worship.

    According to our Gemara, this is the very question that the tribe of Dan asked him when they seduced him to abandon Micha’s house and join them together with the idol. The passage in Sefer Shofetim (18:3) that includes the phrases:
    •Who brought you here?
    •What are you doing in this place?
    •What do you have here?

    are all understood in the context of asking how he could have become a priest in a temple of idol worship.

    According to the Gemara, Yehonatan answers that he has a family tradition that a person should sooner hire himself out for idol worship (avoda zara) than accept charity from others. The Gemara comments that this maxim was misunderstood by Yehonatan, for its true intent was that a person should accept work that is not what he ordinarily does (avoda she-zara lo) rather than accept charity. To support this interpretation, the Gemara relates something that Rav once said to Rav Kahana – you should be willing to skin animals in the marketplace and get paid, and you should not say that it is below the dignity of an important person such as yourself.

    The Rashbam explains that there is no embarrassment involved in working for a living, so there is no ḥillul HaShem for a scholar to work, even in tasks that appear to be demeaning.

    While the Talmud Yerushalmi rules that a dayan – a religious court judge – who is serving the community, should have servants appointed so that he should not have to perform work in public, there is certainly nothing wrong with him taking on private work or choosing an occupation that is not degrading, and it is encouraged in order to keep from becoming a burden on the community. A parallel question to this one is whether a scholar is permitted to be supported by the community. The Rambam forbids this in strong language in his Commentary to the Mishna in Pirkei Avot, but it has become accepted practice in most Jewish communities.

  11. Bava Batra 111a-b: Inheriting From One’s Mother

    According to Torah law, when do daughters receive a share of an inheritance from their parents?

    Most of the Torah’s laws of inheritance are stated after the daughters of Tzelafḥad object to the possibility that their family will lose out on its inheritance in the land of Israel simply because they had no brothers. In Sefer Bamidbar (27:6-11) the Torah teaches that their argument was accepted and that although sons usually received their father’s inheritance – the expectation being that they would take care of their sisters until their marriage – in the absence of sons, the inheritance would go to the daughters.

    All that is true regarding an inheritance from the father. The Mishna (108a) teaches that this is true of a mother’s estate as well. Our Gemara searches for a source for the fact that a son inherits his mother, and concludes that it is learned from the fact that a daughter inherits her mother. One of the pesukim that describes the laws derived from the story of the daughters of Tzelafḥad (Bamidbar 36:8) teaches that “any daughter inheriting from the tribes of Israel,” which is understood to include a situation where mother and father are from separate tribes. Having determined that a daughter inherits from her mother, the Gemara suggests a kal va-ḥomer – an a fortiori argument – as follows. If a daughter, who has less rights of inheritance from her father’s estate, nevertheless inherits her mother, certainly a son, who has stronger rights in inheriting his father’s estate, will inherit from his mother.

    Following this argument, the Gemara continues and concludes that since both sons and daughters inherit their mothers, the sons have priority in this case just as they do in cases when their father passes away. This position is rejected by Rabbi Zekharya ben HaKatzav who believes that sons and daughters should share equally in the mother’s estate, because of the concept of dayo. The rule of dayo la-ba min ha-din le-hiyot ka-nidon limits what we learn from a kal va-ḥomer to the original teaching, so that the newly derived law cannot have greater impact than the original source.

    The Gemara relates that several amora’im wanted to accept Rabbi Zekharya ben HaKatzav’s ruling, and the Talmud Yerushalmi reports that the Babylonian Sages had a tradition that followed his teaching. Nevertheless, the halakha follows the other opinion, and boys receive preference in inheritance laws also in the case of a mother’s estate.

  12. Bava Batra 112a-b: A Husband Inherits From His Wife

    Going back to the times of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs, Jewish tradition has seen great importance in burying the dead in a permanent grave, ideally in a family plot.

    This tradition is used by the Gemara on today’s daf as a source for learning that a husband will inherit his wife if she passes away before he does.

    According to the Mishna (108a), among the categories of people who inherit we find that a man will receive his wife’s estate upon her death, although she will not receive his estate should he die first. Today’s daf opens in the midst of a search for the source for the law that gives the husband the right to inherit, something that is out-of-the-ordinary in a list of blood relatives who inherit one another. The Gemara points to a passage in Sefer Yehoshua (24:33) where we learn that Aharon’s son, Elazar HaKohen, was buried in the land of his son, Pineḥas. How might Pineḥas come to have land that did not belong to his father? The Gemara concludes that Pineḥas must have married someone from a different tribe, and he received the land as an inheritance from her.

    Abaye objects to this proof, arguing that Pineḥas may simply have purchased the land on which his father was buried. To this suggestion the Gemara responds that Elazar HaKohen could not possibly have been buried in land that was purchased, since such land would be returned to its owner at the yovel and this righteous man would turn out to be buried in land that did not belong to him and his family.

    In a responsum, the Ḥatam Sofer learns from this Gemara that it is incumbent on every Jewish person to purchase a burial plot, so that he will not be buried in land that does not belong to him.

  13. Bava Batra 113a-b: Deciding an Inheritance During the Day

    Do inheritance laws change if the death occurred at night rather than during the day?

    Ridiculous as this sounds, Rabba bar Ḥanina’s teaching appears to imply that this is so. He related a tradition before Rav Naḥman teaching that the passage in Sefer Devarim (21:16) that says “… then it shall be, on the day that he causes his sons to inherit that which he has…” indicates that inheritance takes place only during the day and not at night. Abaye is incredulous about this statement, and suggests that the teaching actually means that decisions made by a beit din regarding questions of inheritance are considered to be real legal cases that can only be decided during the day and not at night.

    The source for this idea is a baraita that understands the passage in Sefer Bamidbar (27:11) that states that the laws of inheritance are ḥukat mishpat – a statute of judgment – to mean that all the rules of the legal system will apply to questions of estate law. The Rashbam understands this to mean that unlike ordinary situations of partnerships where the joint owners can choose to divide up their shared property in any way they want, estate law according to the Torah requires the involvement of a formal beit din, which, incidentally, operates only during the day. Tosafot bring the R”i who argues with the Rashbam and suggests that the significance of this ruling is that if three people come to visit someone on his deathbed and they hear his last requests and act upon them, they constitute a beit din and their decisions are binding on those who are inheriting.

    Rabbi Avraham Av Beit Din suggests that this teaching serves a different purpose. By teaching that a decision about questions of estate law can only be judged during the day, the Torah is setting up these laws as an archetype from which we learn that other legal decisions also can only be judged during the day.

  14. Bava Batra 114a-b: Backing Out of a Deal

    Although contracts and agreements usually “seal the deal,” in contemporary law, there are certain circumstances under which the law will allow a buyer to change his mind about the purchase, even after agreeing to it. Our Gemara presents a similar question. Once a kinyan – a symbolic purchase agreement – is made, until when can the parties back out of the deal?

    Rabba rules that as long as the two parties are still sitting together, the kinyan can be cancelled; according to Rav Yosef they can only do it so long as they are still discussing that particular matter.

    The R”i Albarceloni, quoted by the Ramban and others, brings an opinion that limits this question to the case of a shekhiv me-ra – someone who is on their deathbed – who is instructing the people around him regarding how to dispose of his property after his death. According to this approach, it is only someone like this who may change his mind at any moment whose kinyan would not have full force. Rabbeinu Tam argues that the Gemara’s question applies to all cases and all circumstances.

    Most rishonim agree with the position taken by the R”i Albarceloni himself, who limits the possibility of backing out of the agreement only to cases where the kinyan was performed by symbolic means, e.g. a kinyan sudar, where the means of the kinyan was an object that represents the item that was purchased. If the kinyan was meshikha or hagbaha (pulling or lifting the object itself as a show of ownership – see Bava Batra 84), then there would be no opportunity to back out of the agreement. The explanation given for this distinction is one of gemirut da’at – how certain were the parties about the finality of the sale. When the object itself has been taken by the party who is purchasing – or if money has changed hands, then we can be fairly certain that both parties have reached a final understanding that the exchange of ownership has taken place. On the other hand, if there was only a symbolic kinyan, the finality of the agreement is less clear and the Sages allow a small window of opportunity for the parties to cancel the agreement.

  15. Bava Batra 115a-b: The Order of Inheritance

    The Mishna on today’s daf delineates the order of inheritance according to biblical law:

    1.sons of the deceased or the sons’ descendants
    2.daughters of the deceased or the daughters’ descendants
    3.brothers of the deceased or the brothers’ descendants
    4.the father of the deceased
    5.the father of the deceased’s brothers.

    In theory, this order can lead to a situation where a person’s granddaughters may receive his inheritance, even though his daughters will not. In the event that someone dies with both a son and a daughter, the son will receive the inheritance. Should that son die before his father, leaving daughters but no sons, then when the father dies his granddaughters will receive the inheritance – based on their father’s right to inherit – rather than their aunt, even though she is a more direct descendant.

    This anomaly was, apparently, part of the debate between the tzdokim (Sadducees) and the perushim (Pharisees – the Sages of the Talmud). Thus we find Rav Huna quoting Rav as ruling that anyone who suggests that in such a case the daughter will share the inheritance with the granddaughters will be disregarded, since such a suggestion is ma’aseh tzdokim – the work of the Sadducees.

    The disagreements between the Sages of the Talmud and the Sadducees existed on a number of different levels, ranging from broad concept of faith, like the question of the existence of a World to Come, to practical issues of halakha where the Sadducees rejected the oral traditions of the Sages of the Talmud. Generally speaking, the Sadducees were among the elite population who had close relationships with the later Hasmonean kings, and they had significant political power, even as they were a minority of the population. Their attempts to create tension between the Sages and the monarchy led the Sages to publicly reject their positions, even when there may have been good reason to consider them.

  16. Bava Batra 116a-b: Feeling God’s Wrath

    In the midst of the Gemara’s discussion of inheritance laws, the Gemara segues to a discussion on the importance of having children.

    Rabbi Yoḥanan quotes Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai as teaching that God is filled with evra – wrath – at someone who does not have a child who will inherit him. This teaching is based on the parallel language usage in the laws of inheritance (Bamidbar 27:8), where it says ve-ha’avartem et naḥalato, and the passage in Tzefaniah (1:15) where we find a description of a “day of anger” – yom evra ha-yom ha-hu.

    The Gemara continues in its teaching that the actual intent of Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai is a matter of dispute between Rabbi Yoḥanan and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, one of whom believes that he was referring to someone who does not have an actual child, and the other who understands the reference as talking about someone who does not have a student to follow in his path.

    Rabbeinu Gershom explains the second approach as referring to a person who refuses to teach Torah to others, and we can well understand why such a person deserves to have the wrath of God directed at him. In a similar fashion the Ramah explains the first approach as referring to someone who chooses consciously to refrain from having children. Nevertheless, some point to the fact that the continuation of the Gemara appears to apply this even to someone who had children and lost them. In an attempt to establish which position Rabbi Yoḥanan took and which Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi took, the Gemara tells the story of how Rabbi Yoḥanan would show to others the bone of his tenth child – all of whom had died. The point of the Gemara is that Rabbi Yoḥanan was not embarrassed to let people know that he had no living children, so it must be he who said the verse referred to someone who does not leave behind a student.

  17. Bava Batra 117a-b: Dividing the Portions in Eretz Yisrael

    How was the Land of Israel divided up among the Children of Israel who arrived after the 40 year trek through the desert?

    Two passages in the Torah appear to offer different versions of the method used for dividing the land –

    The pasuk in Bamidbar (26:55) teaches that the land was divided according to “the name of the tribes of their fathers.”

    Two pesukim before (Bamidbar 26:53) the Torah states that the land would be divided “among these…according to the number of names.”

    Our Gemara quotes three different opinions about how to interpret these pesukim.

    1. Rabbi Yoshiya emphasizes the first pasuk and rules that the land was divided according to those who left Egypt. The passage is understood as teaching that the division was not done according to individuals, rather according to the families of each of the tribes. The heads of the families that were to receive a share in the land were determined by the people who left Egypt.

    To illustrate, if two brothers were among those who left Egypt, and upon entering the land of Israel one had five sons and the other had a single child, the five sons would divide one portion between them, while the single son would get a whole portion for himself.

    2. Rabbi Yonatan sees the second pasuk as the one that is crucial for understanding the method of division, so the determining factor is who entered the land.

    To illustrate, if three brothers left Egypt, and upon entering Israel the first brother had four children, the second had three children and the third had two children, the family has nine portions of land (4+3+2). We then must divide the portions amongst the three families so that each father has three portions to give. Thus the four children of the first brother get three-quarters of a portion, the three children of the second brother get a full portion each, and the two children of the third brother get one-and-a-half portions.

    3. Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar accepts both pesukim and says that both those who left Egypt and those who entered Israel received a portion. According to this opinion, it would even be possible for someone to receive two portions, for example, if his father left Egypt and he entered the land, he would receive both his father’s full portion, as well as his own.

  18. Bava Batra 118a-b: Those Without a Portion

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf there is a disagreement about how the portions of the Land of Israel were divided up – according to the families that left Egypt during the Exodus, according to the individuals who entered the land after 40 years in the desert, or by using both methods. A baraita that was quoted earlier seemed to indicate that there were some people who did not receive a portion at all – that the portion of the meraglim (the spies) was divided between Yehoshua and Calev. Furthermore, according to the baraita, the mitlonenim (the complainers) and adat Koraḥ (those who joined Koraḥ’s rebellion against Moshe’s rule) also received no part of the land.

    The source for these exceptions stems from the argument made by the daughters of Zelopheḥad who were appealing to receive their father’s portion. In their introductory argument they clarified that their father deserved a portion of land. They said (Bamidbar 27:3 – as interpreted by the baraita):

    “Our father died in the desert…” – this refers to their father, Zelopheḥad

    “And he was not part of the company…” – that is, the company of spies

    “That gathered themselves together against God…” – the complainers

    “In the company of Koraḥ…” – those who joined in Koraḥ’s rebellion.

    Since the sin that led to his death – which some identify with the sin of the mekoshesh eitzim (the individual who gathered wood on Shabbat) – was his own, he did not deserve to lose his right to the land as did the other transgressors.

    It is obvious that this discussion follows the opinion that the land was divided according to the families that left Egypt, since all of the people who are presented as having lost their inheritance were part of the Exodus, but did not enter the land. According to this, some of the rishonim ask why Zelopheḥad’s daughters needed to complain. After all, weren’t they still going to get their grandfather, Ḥefer’s portion? Rabbeinu Yona points out Zelopheḥad was a firstborn and had rights to a double portion of his father’s inheritance. Had he been involved in one of these groups then his daughters would have lost out on their opportunity for that extra portion.

  19. Bava Batra 119a-b: Marrying Late

    One concern in contemporary society – that women are marrying later, and that at a later age fertility rates are lower and it is more difficult to conceive – was a matter of concern for the daughters of Zelopheḥad, as well.

    As we have learned, the daughters of Zelopheḥad appealed to Moshe that they deserved their father’s share in the land of Israel, given that he died with no sons. Our Gemara quotes a baraita that credits these women with being intelligent, well spoken and righteous. According to the Rashbam, their righteousness was clear from the fact that they listened to Moshe’s advice and married within their tribe so that their father’s inheritance would not be transferred to another tribe. Furthermore, it appears that they were very selective, waiting to marry an appropriate husband.

    The Gemara notes, however, that this led all five daughters to marry at a late age – Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov taught that the youngest was 40 when she got married. Tosafot suggest that this is obvious from dating the story in the desert. If Zelopheḥad died immediately after the sin of the spies, and his daughters only married in the 40th year when the land was being divided up, clearly they were at least 40 years old.

    This leads the Gemara to ask how they could have had children at that advanced age, given Rav Ḥisda’s teaching that a woman who marries before the age of 20 can conceive until she is 60. If she marries after 20, she can conceive until she is 40. If she marries after she is 40, she can no longer have children. The Gemara responds that they were deserving of a miracle due to their righteousness, and they succeeded in conceiving.

    One possible explanation for Rav Ḥisda’s teaching is based on women’s physiology. Every woman is born with a limited number of ova. When a woman has her period, at least one ovum is released. During pregnancy, the hormones in a woman’s body do not allow for menstruation, a condition that often continues while a woman nurses. Thus, a woman who marries young, gives birth and nurses her children, has a much larger number of ova remaining in her later years, while a woman who marries late and has been menstruating throughout her childbearing years, has fewer possibilities for conceiving when she marries.

  20. Bava Batra 120a-b: Getting Remarried

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf the daughters of Zelopheḥad married late in life and under ordinary circumstances would not have been able to conceive. Nevertheless, their status as righteous women made them deserving of a miracle, and they did have children. The Gemara says that they were deserving of a miracle similar to that enjoyed by Yokheved.

    According to Rabbi Ḥama bar Ḥanina, Yokheved, who was Moshe’s mother, became pregnant with him when she was 130 years old. This teaching is based on the assumption that Yokheved was born in Egypt after being conceived by Levi’s wife prior to arriving in Egypt.

    The Gemara in Sota (12a) talks about this story. The Gemara there introduces Moshe’s father, Amram, as the gadol ha-dor – the leader of his generation. Upon hearing of Pharaoh’s decree to kill every male child, Amram chose to divorce his wife, an act that led many others to follow his example.

    The baraita teaches that Moshe’s sister, Miriam, argued with her father, pointing out that his decision to refrain from having children was even worse than Pharaoh’s. By divorcing his wife, Amram had effectively destroyed the future – not only of Jewish sons, but of Jewish daughters, as well. While Pharaoh’s decrees were only effective in this world, Amram’s decision would have an effect in the next world as well. Furthermore, while the evil Pharaoh’s decree might or might not have been successful, Amram’s actions would certainly be successful. Under the force of her arguments, Amram remarried, encouraging others to do so as well.

    Our Gemara questions whether the text supports this approach, arguing that the passage va-yikaḥ et bat Levi (Shemot 2:1) sounds like a description of a first marriage. To this Rav Yehuda bar Zevida responds that in his desire to get others to remarry their wives, Amram made their wedding a public act, as though it were a first marriage. He arranged for them to be carried by two people in an appiryon – a palanquin – with Aharon and Miriam dancing before them.

  21. Bava Batra 121a-b: The Happiest Days of the Year

    The Gemara on today’s daf brings the last Mishna in Massekhet Ta’anit, which closes with a discussion of two of the happiest days on the Jewish calendar – Yom Kippur and T”u b’Av, the 15th of Av, when the daughters of Jerusalem would go out to the dance in the vineyards in borrowed white clothing (so that girls who were poor would not be embarrassed), calling out to the young men suggesting that they choose wives from among them.

    The Gemara is clear on the reasons for rejoicing on Yom Kippur. It is, after all, a day of divine forgiveness, the day on which the second Tablets of the Law were given. What is the reason for the celebrations on the 15th of Av?

    Several reasons are suggested by the Gemara.

    •Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel as saying that it was the day that women who had inherited land were released from the restrictions limiting them to marry only members of their tribe.
    •Rabba bar bar Ḥana suggests that it was the day that the tribe of Binyamin was permitted to marry. According to the story at the end of Sefer Shofetim (see Chapter 21) wives needed to be found for the remnants of the tribe of Binyamin, which had almost been wiped out.
    •Rav Dimi bar Yosef quotes Rav Naḥman as teaching that it was the day that the Israelites stopped dying in the desert. The Rashbam explains this based on the Midrash Eikha, which teaches that following the sin of the spies and the punishment decreed for all adults to perish in the desert, every year about 15,000 (1/40 of 600,000) people would die on Tisha b’Av – the anniversary of the spies’ sin. In the 40th year, the people were surprised to find that no one had died, and were convinced that they had made a mistake regarding the calendar. After a few more nights passed with no one dying they looked at the full moon (i.e. the 15th of the month) and realized that punishment was over.

  22. Bava Batra 122a-b: The Land Lottery

    How was the land of Israel divided up between the tribes when they entered the land?

    The pasuk in Sefer Bamidbar teaches (26:55-56) that all of the tribes received a fair and equivalent portion, whether the tribe was large or small. This was done by means of a system that included both a lottery as well as consultation with the Urim VeTummim. The Gemara describes the process as follows:

    Elazar HaKohen stood in the garments of the High Priest, including the Urim VeTummim, with Yehoshua and the entire Jewish people standing before him. Also in front of him were two boxes, one with the name of each of the tribes and the other with the proposed divisions of the land. According to the Gemara, Elazar would first announce a tribe and its allotted inheritance and then he would reach into the two boxes, from which he would remove those same pieces of information, thereby assuring the people that his prophetic statement was correct. This method assured that even those tribes that received less preferable pieces of land could not complain that his division was unfair.

    The Gemara is forced to describe this complicated lottery method because of a discrepancy between two pesukim. On the one hand, the Torah teaches that the land would be divided akh be-goral – by means of a lottery. On the other hand, it says that the land would be divided al pi ha-goral – by the voice of the lottery. Although there are midrashim that interpret this to mean that the lottery itself miraculously cried out (see Bamidbar Rabba 21:9), our Gemara offers a more rational interpretation – that Elazar HaKohen announced the results of the lottery based on his prophecy by means of the Urim VeTummim. The Ramah offers a further support for this interpretation by pointing out the parallel language – al piv yetzu – describing how Elazar HaKohen assisted Yehoshua in leading the people after Moshe’s death (see Bamidbar 27:21).

  23. Bava Batra 123a-b: Inheriting the Double Portion of the Firstborn

    Although the laws of inheritance require that the eldest son receive a double share, we know that the stories of the patriarchs in Sefer Bereishit do not follow this rule.

    Rabbi Ḥelbo asks Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani why Ya’akov chose to take the double portion of the firstborn from Re’uven and give it to Yosef. In response Rabbi Yonatan is quoted as teaching that the right of the firstborn was really supposed to come from one of Raḥel’s children – after all, she is the one who Ya’akov really wanted to marry, and the Torah identifies Ya’akov’s toladot – his descendants – as Yosef (see Bereishit 37:2). God, in His mercy, gave the firstborn to Leah, but He returned it to Raḥel due to her modesty.

    Both of these assertions deserve explanation.

    1. Leah was deserving of God’s mercy, according to Rav, because she spent much of her time crying and lamenting her destiny. For she heard the talk in the public thoroughfare, where people were saying “Rivka has two sons, and her brother Lavan has two daughters. The eldest will marry the eldest and the youngest will marry the youngest.” Fearful that she would end up marrying Eisav, the pasuk teaches that she “cried her eyes out” (see Bereishit 29:17). The Maharsha explains that it was common knowledge that in Avraham’s family marriages were arranged within the family, so the expectation was a natural one.

    2. Raḥel’s modesty that returned the rights of the firstborn to her is explained based on the Gemara’s interpretation of the passage in Bereishit (29:25) that it was only the morning after that Ya’akov discovered that she was Leah and not Raḥel. The Gemara explains that he did not realize this the night before because Raḥel had shared their secret code with her sister so that she should not be embarrassed publicly when Ya’akov realized that he had been deceived.

  24. Bava Batra 124a-b: When the Estate Grows After Death

    As we have learned, the Torah commands (see Devarim 21:15-17) that the firstborn son will receive a double portion of the estate left by his father at the time of his death. What if the estate grows after the father’s death, but before the children have had time to divide it up into the shares that they will receive? Will the firstborn get a double portion in those additional profits?

    Our Gemara quotes a baraita that indicates a difference of opinion on this matter.

    According to the Tanna Kamma, the firstborn has no unique right to anything beyond what was actually in the estate at the time of the father’s death. The Gemara explains that this is derived from the passage that says that the father will “give him a double portion” (Devarim 21:17) – “giving” is understood to mean that this is a type of present, and a person cannot give a present until he actually has possession of it. Based on this understanding, the firstborn cannot expect a double portion from anything that his father did not actually have in his possession at the time of his death.

    Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi disagrees, arguing that the firstborn has rights to profits that the estate earned even after the father’s death. The source for this ruling, according to the Gemara is from the same passage, but Rabbi emphasizes the expression pi shenayim – double -which is understood to mean “two times of a single share,” so that whatever a single share would be is simply doubled for the firstborn.

    The Ri Migash points put that even according to Rabbi’s opinion there is no suggestion that the firstborn would have special rights to money that comes into the estate after the father’s death – no one accepts that possibility. Rather this opinion is limited to that property that the father already had in his possession during his lifetime that increases in value after his death.

  25. Bava Batra 125a-b: The Story of Grandma

    What rights does a person have to determine the ownership of an object after he has given it away?

    Our Gemara tells the story of “grandma.” That is, someone announced that he was giving all of his money to his grandmother, stating that he did so with the proviso that after she died the money would go to his descendants rather than to the people who would inherit her. That man had a married daughter who died before the grandmother died, and her husband came and demanded the inheritance after the grandmother died.

    Rav Huna ruled that he should get the money, since his wife was supposed to get the inheritance so the father’s original condition remains in effect and he inherits his wife’s rights to the estate.

    Rav Anan ruled that he does not get the money, since the father’s intention was only that the money should go to his own descendants. Since his daughter died before the grandmother, the father did not mean for his son-in-law to get his estate.

    This is the reading that appears in the standard Gemarot, following the interpretation of the Rashbam. Sefardic manuscripts, as well as the ga’onic tradition, have a slightly different reading of this story. According to their reading, the man gave his money as a present to his mother, with the proviso that afterwards it would go to the people who inherit her.

    The objection to this reading is simple and straightforward. If his intention was to give the money to his mother as a clear present, then it would obviously go to those people who inherit her! They explain that he conditioned his gift on the agreement that after the mother’s death the money would go to her descendants as a present from him, and not through the channels of inheritance.

    This type of present offers a number of differences from standard inheritance. For example, if the mother died leaving outstanding loans, they will not be paid off from this money, since it is not part of her estate – it was promised to her descendants by someone else.

  26. Bava Batra 126a-b: Estate Planning Counter to Torah Law

    According to Jewish law, can someone write a will so that his estate will be divided up according to his own wishes and desires after his death?

    Torah law (Devarim 21:15-17) makes clear that the double portion belonging to the firstborn cannot be transferred to another child – even to the firstborn child of the preferred wife. According to the Mishna on today’s daf, a father will also be unable to cut one of his sons out of the inheritance. All of these acts are considered to be matneh al mah she-katuv ba-Torah – he is making a condition that negates Torah law – which is considered null and void.

    At the same time, the Mishna has a recommendation for a parent who wants to divide up his wealth as he sees fit – he can give his property away to his children or, for that manner, to anyone he wants – while he is still alive. Even if he arranges to give away all of his money so that there is none left in the estate at the time of his death, he has every right to do what he wants with his money when he is alive. The only prohibition would be for someone to try to abrogate the biblical laws of inheritance.

    The Gemara points out that the fact that halakha will not let someone choose to will his property to whoever he wants after death appears to negate a principle taught by Rabbi Yehuda, who rules that tenai she-bamamon kayam – that with regard to money matters, a person can choose to make a condition that does not follow Torah laws. The specific example brought by the Gemara is when someone marries a woman and makes it conditional on his not being obligated to clothe or support her – biblically mandated requirements (see Shemot 21:10) – Rabbi Yehuda rules that he can arrange for a marriage under those conditions.

    The Gemara distinguishes between the two cases, arguing that in the case of marriage, the woman agrees to the condition. Apparently such a case would not be viewed as an abrogation of Torah law, but as the wife’s choice to relinquish rights that are coming to her.

  27. Bava Batra 127a-b: Male From Birth

    As we have learned, Torah law (Devarim 21:15-17) makes clear that the firstborn son receives a double portion of the inheritance once his father dies.

    Rabbi Ami teaches that this law applies only to a child that was clearly born as a firstborn son. If the child was a tumtum, then he would not receive the double portion, even if we later found him to be a male child.

    The Gemara describes a tumtum as someone whose gender cannot be determined. Sometimes this condition stems from an inherent genetic defect, and the child will remain in that state for his entire life. Other cases of a tumtum are caused by low levels of male or female hormones in the developing child. Under such circumstances, the sex organs may actually develop at a later time – sometimes years later. In such cases, if the male sex organ develops, it appears as if the physical covering that hid the sexual organ has been removed (in the language of the Gemara it is nikra, or “torn” off) and the individual can be identified as male.

    A tumtum – even one whose gender is determined after a time – will not receive the double portion because the passage (Devarim 21:15) refers to ha-ben ha-bekhor – the son who is firstborn – which is understood to require the firstborn to be a son at the time of birth, and not someone whose gender was determined at a later date.

    Although the tumtum would not be considered a firstborn male child for the purposes of receiving a double share, he will still receive a simple share as a male child. Ameimar teaches that even though he will receive a portion he would not be considered a male son when calculating the firstborn share. Thus, if there were four children in the family – a firstborn son, two ordinary children and the tumtum who was found to be male, we first calculate the estate as if there were four shares – the firstborn, who receives two shares and his two brothers who receive one share apiece. After we give the firstborn his extra quarter share, the three-quarters that are left will be divided into four shares – one for the firstborn, one each for the two ordinary brothers and one for the tumtum.

  28. Bava Batra 128a-b: A Father’s Testimony

    As we have learned, Torah law (Devarim 21:15-17) makes clear that the firstborn will receive a double portion of the inheritance when his father dies, and that the father cannot show preference and choose another child – even one who is the firstborn to the preferred wife. One issue that is left unclear is how we determine which child is the firstborn.

    Rabbi Abba teaches that if a father points out one of his children, we rely on the father’s testimony about his children. Rabbi Yoḥanan disagrees and says that the father cannot be relied upon. Rava explains this argument as referring to a case where the father points to one of his children and states that he was the firstborn – even if another one of the children had been assumed to be the firstborn, Rabbi Abba rules that we believe the father. Rabbi Yoḥanan rules that we must rely on what was generally known and accepted before the father made this statement. The Rashbam points out that even Rabbi Abba would not require a statement from the father. Under ordinary circumstances we would give the double portion to the child who was known to be the oldest. If, however, the father tells us that what was commonly assumed to be true was mistaken, we believe him.

    The Ba’al Halakhot Gedolot understands from this that we will believe the father even if that will lead us to conclude that the other children who grew up in his house are mamzerim – the product of an adulterous relationship – since he denies that they are his children. According to most rishonim the father will be believed to say that any one of his children is illegitimate. The Ri”d argues with this ruling and suggests that the case in our Gemara is when one child appears to be smaller than his siblings and is therefore assumed to be younger. In such a case the father is believed to state that the smaller child is, in fact, the older one.

  29. Bava Batra 129a-b: In The Same Breath

    As we have learned (see daf 126) a man cannot choose to change biblical inheritance laws, but he does have the right and the ability to divide his wealth any way he wants to while he is still alive. The Mishna (126b) teaches that as long as he says that what he is doing is a gift it will work, even if he also says that he means it to be an inheritance. The Gemara on our daf explains that this will work in all cases where the statements are made tokh ke-dei dibbur – when they are said “in the same breath.”

    The idea of tokh ke-dei dibbur is established by the Sages as the amount of time that it would take to say three words, e.g. the words of greeting Shalom alekha Rabi.

    The Rashbam explains that when two statements are made in the same breath, it is as if they were said simultaneously. Therefore, if we can apply both statements, we will do so. If only one of them is a viable statement – like in our case where the two statements refer to a gift and inheritance and only the statement about the gift can be applied, that is the one that we listen to. If the two statements contradict, then we have a difference of opinion as to whether we should listen to the first statement or the second, or perhaps divide the thing in question or leave it in the hands of the person who has possession of it. In any case, if the second statement was one where the person says “I take back my first statement” then that is what we give credence to.

    The foundation of this rule is, according to Rabbeinu Tam, of rabbinic origin. The Sages wanted to give someone who was in the midst of negotiations the opportunity to greet his teacher, and then return to his business without affecting it. Other rishonim explain that this law has biblical effect, and is simply based on the idea that until a person has completed his statement he can alter or negate it.

  30. Bava Batra 130a-b: Determining the Law

    What is the best way to determine a ruling in Jewish law – to learn the rules from a teacher or to see him act on a given issue or question?

    This question is a point of disagreement between amora’im in our Gemara. The Rashbam explains that each of these has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. When a student sees his teacher acting, he cannot know all of the details and facts that may be unique to this case. Furthermore, as the Ritva points out, perhaps this is a hora’at sha’ah – a one-time ruling made for a specific reason. On the other hand, actually acting on a question is a much more powerful statement about the certainty of the ruling than is a verbal statement. Such a ruling can be viewed as definitive, unless of course, there was a clear statement indicating that it was not appropriate in other cases or settings.

    The Gemara quotes a baraita that rules on this issue. According to the baraita, the halakha may not be derived either from a theoretical discussion or from a practical decision unless one has been told that the halakha is to be taken as a rule for practical action (halakha le-ma’aseh). Once a person has asked and was informed that a halakha was to be taken as a guide for practical action, he may base future decisions on this precedent, provided he draws no comparisons.

    The Gemara then limits this caveat “provided he draws no comparisons” only to cases like tereifot – recognizing a diseased animal that is not kosher – where damage to one organ may be fatal, while the same damage to a different organ may not be fatal. Otherwise it is commonplace that legal decisions will be based on precedent, parallels and comparisons, for, as the Gemara says kol ha-Torah kulah damuye me-daminan lah – the entire legal code of the Torah is made up of comparisons. The Ramah explains this line as meaning that it is obvious that no law book can contain all of the different possibilities that a person will face, and the only way to decide a legal question is by inferring from one case to another.

  31. Bava Batra 131a-b: Must a Father Support His Children?

    Must a father support his children?

    Strange as this may sound, there does not seem to be a clear source in the Torah obligating a father to support his children, although it is certainly a mitzva for him to do so. In fact, the Mishna in Ketubot (52b) that is quoted in our Gemara teaches that if an agreement to support the children was not clearly written into the ketuba nevertheless the husband’s estate will be forced to support them after his death, because it is a tenai beit din – it is a required condition of marriage.

    The Gemara quotes Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya who taught before the Sages in Kerem beYavne that the parallel language in the ketuba that guarantees that the sons will inherit and the daughters will be supported by his estate indicates that the promise to support the daughters comes into being at the same time as the inheritance, i.e. only after the man’s death. Thus during his lifetime there is neither a biblical, nor a rabbinic obligation for a father to support his children, even though the local court will place sanctions on a parent who does not do so (see Ketubot 49).

    The Sages of Kerem beYavne were those who learned in the great yeshiva in Yavne, which was the seat of the Nasi after the destruction of the second Temple. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi, the gathering was not called Kerem beYavne because of a vineyard that grew there (kerem = vineyard), but rather it was because the students sat in a series of long rows that were reminiscent of the standing vines of a vineyard. Since this was the gathering place of the majority of the Sages of that generation, it became known as the beit ha-va’ad – the gathering-place of the committee (of scholars). This is the place where the most serious issues of halakha – those that would impact on the future of the Jewish community in a particularly difficult period in history – were raised for discussion; therefore the decisions that were made in Kerem beYavne were treated with the greatest respect by all.

  32. Bava Batra 132a-b: She Lost Her Marriage Contract

    The ketuba is one of the safeguards that the Sages developed for the protection of the interests of a married woman. Among the guarantees in a ketuba is a sum of money that the woman can collect (usually 100 or 200 zuz) in the event that her husband dies or divorces her. This obligation is guaranteed by land that he owns, and she will be able to collect her ketuba from that land if there is no money available to pay her otherwise.

    Our Gemara quotes a Mishna in Massekhet Pe’a (3:7) that teaches that if a man divides his wealth between his children at the end of his lifetime and includes a portion of land for his wife, as well, then ibdah ketubatah – she has lost her ketuba.

    The Gemara questions why she should lose her ketuba simply because she was given part of his wealth while he was alive. Three explanations are offered by the amora’im:

    Rav suggests that she played a role in transferring the property to the children

    Shmuel says that the case is one where she stood and watched the division of the property without objecting

    Rabbi Yosei b’Rabbi Ḥanina says that it is when he gave her land and specified that it was payment for her ketuba.

    It should be noted that even when the Gemara says ibdah ketubatah – she has lost her ketuba – it only means that she loses the guarantee of payment for her ketuba. The actual money that is owed to her remains, and should he get other money or property before his death, the estate would pay the obligation as written in the ketuba.

    The Gemara concludes with Rav Naḥman’s ruling that none of these situations is necessary. In fact, since the husband put her on equal footing with the children in his wealth, she loses her ketuba. According to the Rashbam, this means that the honor he is giving to her in receiving a share of the inheritance leads her to give up her rights as guaranteed in the ketuba.

  33. Bava Batra 133a-b: Disinheriting the Kids

    We have learned that a person cannot determine who will get his possessions after he dies, but he can divide up his property any way he wants to while he is still alive. According to the Mishna on today’s daf a person can give all of his possessions away during his lifetime, even if he has children, although such behavior is discouraged by the Sages. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel teaches that if the children do not behave appropriately, then his actions are “remembered for good.”

    The Gemara asks whether or not the first opinion in the Mishna agrees with Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s ruling, and attempts to bring stories that prove their position one way or another. The Gemara concludes that the Tanna Kamma objects to any outside attempt to influence the inheritance, even if it was to give money to a good son rather than a bad son or to make sure that the daughter gets a share.

    The Rashbam explains that the Sages’ objection to giving away the estate to a child who does not deserve it were we to follow Torah law, stems from their desire to see the laws of the Torah applied properly. The Maharal offers a different approach. The normal way of the world is for elderly parents to die and to leave their estate to their children. Any attempt to transfer monies to other people before death so that the inheritance will not go to the children in a normal manner runs counter to the ordinary flow of events in the world – something that the Sages considered to be inappropriate.

    It should be noted that although our Mishna has Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel teaching his ruling in a case where the children do not behave appropriately, a variant reading of the Mishna – which is the reading that appeared before the Rif, the Rambam and the Shulḥan Arukh – suggests that if the children do not behave appropriately towards him, he can arrange for the inheritance to skip them, even if their behavior towards the rest of the world was appropriate.

  34. Bava Batra 134a-b: Great Minds

    On the previous daf Gemara told a story of a man whose children behaved inappropriately, and he gave all of his money to Yonatan ben Uzziel. The Gemara relates that Yonatan ben Uzziel sold one-third, gave one-third to the Temple and returned one-third to the man’s children, a decision that some of his peers objected to. In connection with that story, the Gemara mentions that Hillel HaZaken had eighty students – thirty who are described as deserving of divine revelation like Moshe Rabbeinu, thirty who merit the cessation of heavenly orbits as did Yehoshua bin Nun, and twenty on an intermediate level between the other two. The greatest of his students was Yonatan ben Uzziel; the least of them was Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai.

    In what fields was the “least of the students” expert?

    It was said of Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai that his studies included the written Torah, the Mishna, the Gemara, the Halakhot, and Aggadot; the subtle points of the Torah and the minutiae of the Scribes; the inferences from minor to major and analogies; astronomy and geometry (the simple meaning of the word in Greek is land measurements, but it was commonly used to mean engineering or mathematics in general); the language of the ministering angels; the language of the demons, the whisper of the palms, washer’s parables and fox fables, and matters great and small.

    The report on Yonatan ben Uzziel was that when he would sit and study Torah, a bird that flew above his head would immediately burn up.

    We have surprisingly little biographical information about Yonatan ben Uzziel. His life’s work, for which he is best known and remembered, is his translation of the books of Nakh (nevi’im ) into Aramaic. It is not clear whether the translation that we have today is actually the one that he wrote, or whether it is based on his work. In any case, it is not simply a translation, but a free interpretation, which includes many details and elucidations. Although a translation into Greek already existed at the time, his work was groundbreaking in that it included interpretations beyond the simple meaning of the words and was done according to – and with the approval of – the Sages of his generation.

    We find that Yonatan ben Uzziel was so well regarded during his lifetime, that even Shammai HaZaken, who served as the Av Beit Din, sought him out to discuss issues of halakha with him.

  35. Bava Batra 135a-b: Who Should Your Wife Go To?

    How much faith can we put in the statement of a person regarding his family status? The Mishna (134a) taught that a person is believed to say “this is my son,” and a share of the inheritance will go to him. A person is not believed, however, to say “this is my brother” and none of the other brothers who deny the relationship will have to share the estate with him, although the one who admits the relationship will have to do so.

    Our Gemara discusses a case where a man who is on his deathbed is asked “who should your wife go to?” – essentially whether she will fall to yibum or can she marry anyone. The man’s answer – according to the reading in our Gemara – was “she can marry the kohen gadol.” The Gemara discusses whether we can accept the man’s assertion that his wife will not be a yevama.

    It is clear that the statement “she can marry the kohen gadol” is an exaggeration, inasmuch as at that time there was no operating Temple (although Rav Ya’akov Emden wanted to suggest that he meant that she could marry an important person in the community named Kahane). Nevertheless, this statement is odd, since a widow who is not a yevama can marry an ordinary kohen, but not a kohen gadol. The Ramah and others suggest that in our case the marriage was an eirusin – halakhic engagement – and the marriage was never consummated.

    Most rishonim , however, understand that the couple was married and that the man was saying that his wife would not fall to yibum, either because he had children (Rabbeinu Gershom) or because he had no brothers (Bartenura). According to this approach, the statement about a kohen gadol was simply an exaggeration meant to emphasize his point.

    An alternative reading in the Gemara leaves out the kohen gadol aspect and talks just about being permitted to a kohen. One version has this as a question – “Can she marry a kohen?! I divorced her!” – while according to another approach he was saying that she could return to her father’s home, where she could eat teruma, if her father was a kohen.

  36. Bava Batra 136a-b: Halakhic Estate Planning

    We have already learned that a person cannot decide who receives portions of his estate after he dies – that will be determined by Torah law – but he can make any decisions that he wants about dividing up his property during his lifetime. The Mishna on today’s daf describes a person who writes to his sons that he is giving them his property “from today and after my death.” What he accomplishes with this is that the property will transfer at that time according to his wishes, but until that time, he will be able to use the property.

    The Gemara questions this ruling, pointing out that with regard to gittin – divorce law – a get that says “from today and after my death” will be viewed as a questionable get. In response, the Gemara distinguishes between divorce law where it is not clear to us whether the clause “after my death” is a condition that will activate the divorce from the earlier date or if it is a negation of the planned divorce from today. In our case, however, both statements can be meaningful – ownership of the land will transfer at the time of death, even as it remains in the possession of the original owner until that time.

    The Rashbam explains that a person might make such a present during his lifetime if he is about to enter into a second marriage, and he does not want his children from the first marriage to lose part of their estate because of obligations that he has to his new wife. Were he to simply write that they would get the money after his death, it would have no validity, since he cannot choose how to divide his possessions after he has died. This method allows him to continue using the land having ensured that it would be divided according to his wishes at the time of his death.

  37. Bava Batra 137a-b: Property Transfer

    We have already learned (see Bava Batra 125) that a person can give a gift to another and retain the rights to determine who will get it after the recipient passes away. Our Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches in a case where someone says “I am giving you this property and afterwards it should go to so-and-so,” the Tanna Kamma says that the second recipient will get the property, even if it has been sold to a third party. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel argues, ruling that it will only transfer to the second person if it is still in the hands of the original recipient. If he has sold it or destroyed it, the second person will only get what remains.

    Several of the amora’im in the Gemara agree that the halakha follows Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel. Nevertheless, Abaye states that someone who recommends to the first person to sell the property is considered a rasha arum – a cunning wicked person.

    The Rashbam explains that he is a rasha (a wicked person) because he negates the wishes of the person who gave him the gift, and he is arum (cunning) because he can successfully arrange for the gift to end up in the hands of another. He adds that Abaye only applies this appellation to someone who advises to do this. The person who does it, who is simply looking out for his own interests, would not be considered a rasha for doing this.

    Rabbi Yoḥanan limits Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s ruling to an ordinary sale, but if the person tried to give the property away to a third party at the time of his death via a matnat shekhiv me-ra – a gift given by a person on his deathbed – then it would not affect the transfer of ownership to the second person. Abaye explains that such a gift takes effect only after death, and by that time the original transfer has occurred and the dead man has no ability to transfer the property.

  38. Bava Batra 138a-b: Turning Down a Gift

    What right does a person have to turn down a gift that is given to him?

    In a case where someone writes a legal document giving his property to another person, if that person refuses to accept it and says “I don’t want it,” we find two different statements. Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel as saying that the property belongs to him, even if he is shouting his opposition; Rabbi Yoḥanan says that he has successfully turned down the present. Rabbi Abba bar Memel says that there is not really a disagreement; it depends whether the objection was voiced immediately – in which case he never accepted the gift – or if he was quiet at first, and only later on he raised his voice to object.

    The general attitude of the Gemara is that zakhin le-adam she-lo be-fanav – that something beneficial can be given to a person even when he is not present. The Rashbam explains that a person can refuse to accept a gift if he voices his objection right away because we do not view a gift as something that can be assumed to be to his benefit, based on the passage in Mishlei (15:27) that teaches that someone who detests presents will live.

    What will be the status of the property, if it was rejected by the recipient of the present?

    Based on Reish Lakish’s opinion in a Gemara in Karetot (24a) it appears that such property becomes hefker – it is ownerless and anyone who takes it first becomes the owner. The Rashbam and others understand that case to be similar to ours – where the potential recipient objected immediately to accepting the gift. In such a case, although he never takes possession of the property, nevertheless it has left the possession of the original owner and is therefore left ownerless. Most of the rishonim, however, view Reish Lakish’s ruling as applicable only in a case where the potential recipient was first quiet, and only objected at a later time. It is only in such a case where the property can be viewed as having left the possession of the original owner.

  39. Bava Batra 139a-b: Collecting Money After a Wife Dies

    When a woman passes away and her husband inherits her property, do we view him as someone who purchased the property or someone who inherited the property? The difference presented by the Gemara between these two possibilities is whether someone who was owed money by the wife who passed away can collect. A milveh al peh – a loan made with a verbal agreement – collects from the estate, but not from someone who purchased property.

    One suggestion made by the Gemara was based on one of takkanot Usha that allowed the husband to take his wife’s property from a purchaser after she dies.

    What are takkanot Usha?

    According to the Gemara in Massekhet Rosh HaShana (31a), at the time of the destruction of the Temple, as the Jewish people were sent into exile, God joined them by removing His presence from the Temple in a series of stages. In a parallel move, the Sanhedrin gradually removed itself from its offices on the Temple Mount, as well, making its way to the Galilee, where most of the remaining Jews were to live under Roman rule.

    The Sanhedrin’s first stop after leaving Jerusalem was the city of Yavne, which was established as a center of Torah study by Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai, and became most famous under the direction of Rabban Gamliel of Yavne. Throughout its continuing travels, the Sanhedrin was headed by descendants of the family of Hillel.

    It appears that the Sanhedrin was moved to Usha in the aftermath of the Bar Kokheva revolt, where a series of Rabbinic enactments – called takkanot Usha – were established. Under the leadership of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel there was an unsuccessful attempt to return the Sanhedrin to Yavne, but due to the overwhelming devastation in the southern part of the country, they returned to the Galilee, first to Usha and then to Shefar’am.

    Takkanot Usha deal mainly with establishing the norms of monetary relationships within families. While these enactments were not included in the Mishna , they were known to the amora’im based on oral traditions.

  40. Bava Batra 140a-b: A Daughter’s Guarantee of Support

    The ninth perek of Massekhet Bava Batra, Perek Mi she-Met, began on yesterday’s daf. This perek, like its predecessor, deals with questions of inheritance. While the last perek focused on biblical inheritance laws, this perek deals with situations that arise out of rabbinic enactments and community minhagim (traditions).

    One important rabbinic enactment, the ketuba, includes a clause called ketubat bnan nukvan – “the daughter’s ketuba” – that guarantees that the daughters will be supported by the father’s estate until they marry or reach the age of maturity and become independent. The first Mishna deals with the question of what to do when there is not enough money in the estate to support both the sons, who are entitled to inherit according to biblical law, and the daughters who are entitled to be supported according to rabbinic enactment.

    According to the Tanna Kamma, in such a situation, the daughters should be supported even if the sons are forced to beg for their sustenance. The Tanna Admon objects to this ruling, saying “why should I lose out simply because I am male?”

    Rabban Gamliel agrees with Admon’s comment.

    The Gemara on our daf asks what Admon meant with his comment, and Abaye explains that he meant to say that he did not understand why being commanded to study Torah should make him lose his rights to his inheritance. Rava objects to this interpretation of Admon, pointing out that Torah study has no bearing on the right to inherit. Rav’s explanation is that Admon was simply commenting that if there was a large estate, his rights as a male would give him priority in inheriting, and he did not understand why he should lose those rights if there was a smaller estate.

    Although the Gemara in Ketubot (109a) states that whenever Rabban Gamliel supports Admon’s ruling that becomes the accepted halakha, in this case our Gemara seems to accept the position of the Tanna Kamma. Rabbeinu Tam suggests that perhaps in our Mishna Admon is not arguing with the Tanna Kamma, but simply reacted in strong language to a ruling that surprised him – surprise that is echoed by Rabban Gamliel.

  41. Bava Batra 141a-b: Girls Vs. Boys

    What are better, sons or daughters?

    The Mishna (140b) brings a case of a man who says regarding his pregnant wife “if a boy is born he should be given a maneh (100 zuz).” The Mishna rules that if a son is born, he will be given that sum of money. Similarly, if the man says “if a daughter is born she should receive 200 zuz,” the child, if a girl, will receive that money. If the man says “if a boy is born he should receive a maneh, and if a daughter is born she should receive 200,” then if twins are born – one boy and one girl – then each will receive the money that was promised.

    The Gemara on our daf wonders why all of the cases in the Gemara have the man offering a daughter more than a son – is a daughter preferable to a son? Several answers are offered by the Gemara:

    Shmuel says that the case of the Mishna is when it is a first born child, and this follows the teaching of Rav Ḥisda who said that a first born girl is a siman yafeh – a good sign – for future sons. Some say this refers to the fact that an oldest daughter will help raise her younger siblings, while others interpret it to mean that it helps avoid eyna bisha – the evil eye. The Maharsha explains this as stemming from the fact that a first born son will receive a double portion, which is bound to create a certain amount of jealousy and tension between brothers. If a daughter is born first, all of that tension dissipates.

    Rav Ḥisda says simply that he found his daughters to be better than his sons.

    The Rashbam explains this statement based on his understanding that all of Rav Ḥisda’s sons died during his lifetime. Rabbeinu Tam argues that some of Rav Ḥisda’s sons remained alive, and suggests that his daughters married men who were great Sages and leaders of their generation. The Maharal says simply that Rav Ḥisda’s daughters were righteous and scholarly, and outshone his sons.

    The Gemara concludes that the Mishna may follow the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda who felt that daughters must be given more since it is more difficult for them to go out and support themselves than it is for sons to do so.

  42. Bava Batra 142a-b: A Gift to the Unborn

    According to Jewish law, can a gift be given to an unborn child?

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf, from the simple reading of our Mishna, it would appear that a gift can be given to an unborn child. Nevertheless, the Gemara on today’s daf clearly rules that ha-mezakeh le-ubar lo kanah – that when someone attempts to give a gift to an unborn child – the kinyan, the act of ownership – does not take effect. How can this ruling be reconciled with the Mishna that allows a father to give gifts to his unborn children? The Gemara explains that the case in our Mishna is unique because da’ato shel adam kerovah etzel beno – a person’s thoughts are particularly close regarding his son.

    From the Rashbam’s commentary it appears that he interprets this answer as meaning that the problem with an unborn child taking possession of gifts does not stem from a difficulty with the kinyan, rather its source is the inability of the person giving the present to have sufficient da’at makneh – he cannot possibly have full intent to give the gift if the intended recipient is not yet in this world.

    Another approach is suggested by Rav Hai Gaon, the Rambam, Ritva, and others. They explain the case of our Mishna to be referring specifically to a case of a shekhiv me-ra – someone on his deathbed – who is granted unique rights to divide up his property even without a kinyan as is ordinarily required. This enactment was established by the Sages out of sensitivity to the situation of someone who, in the last hours of his life, wants reassurance that his wishes are being fulfilled. According to this approach, the law that appears in the Mishna is part of this unique enactment that is made so that the shekhiv me-ra will not lose his sanity, since da’ato shel adam kerovah etzel beno. It would not work in any other case, however. In all other cases an unborn child is not considered to be a person who can take possession of property.

  43. Bava Batra 143a-b: Gifts of Silk

    Our Gemara discusses the division of swaths of silk that were sent as a present by the father.

    Rabbi Ami teaches that when someone sends silk to his house, the pieces that appear to be prepared for men should be given to the sons, but those that appear to be prepared for women should be given to the daughters. This is true only if his sons are not yet married. If they are married, however, then we can assume that the silk was meant for his daughters-in-law, unless there were unmarried daughters, who we can assume were meant to receive the silk.

    The difficulties involved in producing silk are such that even today real silk is a very expensive commodity. This was certainly the case in Talmudic times, when all silk was produced in China, and the distance to import such fabric was immense, given the realities of transportation at that time. With this in mind, we can well understand that dividing up even a small amount of silk would be a matter of importance within the family. It appears from the Gemara’s description that in this case the pieces were already colored or cut in ways that made it clear if the material was meant for men or for women.

    It is clear that the case of the Gemara is not a situation of inheritance, for in such a case all of the material would be divided up according to ordinary inheritance laws, rather we are talking about someone who sent material to members of his household while he was still alive. Since we are not talking about an estate, the Ri”f quotes a statement from the Talmud Yerushalmi that says that even if the man simply sent this present “to my children” it would be understood to include daughters as well as sons.

    Rabbeinu Ḥananel suggests that after he sent the present the man died. Apparently he understood that the simplest things to do would have been to ask the man how he meant to divide up the silk. Since the Gemara does not suggest this, we must assume that he was no longer available.

  44. Bava Batra 144a-b: Becoming Ill Through Negligence

    How much of what happens to us is in our hands, and how much is in God’s hands?

    This question is the crux of a discussion about how much brothers will be responsible for each others’ illnesses.

    The Mishna on today’s daf teaches that brothers who are being supported by their father’s estate will share equally in profits or losses made by one of the brothers who was pressed into imperial service, since he was chosen as the representative from the family. If one of the brothers becomes ill and must pay medical bills, he is responsible to pay that out of his own pocket.

    In the Gemara, Ravin quotes Rabbi Ela as teaching that the sick brother is responsible for his medical bills only if he was the cause of his own illness. If he could not have prevented his illness, then all would share to pay for his medical care.

    What illness is he responsible for? Rabbi Ḥanina taught – ha-kol be-yedei shamayim, ḥutz mi- tzinin u’paḥim – all is in God’s hands, except for colds and obstacles. Thus a person is responsible to avoid illnesses caused by these things.

    That tzinin u’paḥim are in human hands is decided based on a passage in Mishlei (22:5) that teaches that tzinin u’paḥim are stumbling blocks that an intelligent person knows to avoid. As far as the passage in Mishlei is concerned, most of the commentaries there agree that the words tzinin u’paḥim mean thorns and obstacles. Nevertheless, in the context of our Gemara the term is interpreted in a number of different ways. Rashi and most of the commentaries on the Talmud understand it to mean “cold and heat.” The intention, however, is one. Most calamities that befall a person appear suddenly, and a person cannot possibly prepare himself for them. There are, however, calamities that a person brings upon himself because he is not careful and does not plan in advance.

  45. Bava Batra 145a-b: The Poor and the Good-Hearted

    What is more satisfying – facing the challenge of developing a deep understanding of one’s Talmud study, or being able to read simple straightforward Mishnayot?

    Our Gemara quotes a passage in Mishlei (15:15), and brings a number of homiletic approaches to explain it. The simple rendering of the pasuk would teach that all the days of a poor person are difficult, but someone with a good heart has a continual feast. The Maharsha explains that none of the Sages choose to explain this passage to be referring to a poor person, since the parallel line in the second half of the pasuk does not refer to someone with monetary wealth, rather to someone with a “good heart,” i.e. someone who enjoys spiritual prosperity.

    Rabbi Zeira quotes Rav as interpreting this passage to mean that the poor person is a ba’al talmud, while the man with a good heart is a ba’al mishna. Thus, someone who must struggle to analyze the ideas and concepts has a difficult time, in contrast with someone who studies the simple meaning of the Mishna, who has a much easier time.

    Rava argues that it is exactly the other way around – that the ba’al mishna finds challenges in his learning, while the ba’al talmud has it easier. Rabbeinu Gershom explains that the ba’al mishna has so little to work with and must struggle in his study, while the ba’al talmud is steeped in learning and finds much greater satisfaction in his study. The Maharal suggests that the ba’al mishna reads and reviews with little comprehension, which is a source of pain and anxiety for him, while the ba’al talmud finds pleasure and satisfaction in his study.

    Other interpretations of this passage include:

    Rabbi Ḥanina, who suggests that it refers to someone with a bad wife or a good one.

    Rabbi Yannai, who interprets it as distinguishing between someone who is overly sensitive and someone who is more relaxed in his attitude.

    Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who argues that it differentiates between someone who is limited to a short term view of life and someone who can see the bigger picture.

  46. Bava Batra 146a-b: The Days and Nights of the Poor

    In discussing the plight of the poor, who cannot even enjoy improvement in their situation, the Gemara quotes Sefer ben Sira as saying that “All the days of a poor man are bad,” for even Shabbat and the holidays are difficult for him. Furthermore, ben Sira is quoted as saying, “The nights also. Lower than all the roofs is his roof, and on the height of mountains is his vineyard, so that the rain of other roofs pours down upon his roof and the earth of his vineyard is washed down into the vineyards of others.”

    These statements are based on the passage in Mishlei (15:15), and the quote appears to be additional insights that are attributed to ben Sira.

    Sefer ben Sira is one of the earliest books composed after the closing of the Biblical canon. It was authored by Shimon ben Yehoshua ben Sira, a native of Jerusalem, who was a younger contemporary of Shimon HaTzaddik, prior to the Hasmonean era. The book of ben Sira was held in great esteem, and after its translation into Greek by the author’s grandson (in the year 132 BCE in Alexandria), it because widely known even among those who were not familiar with the Hebrew language. Sefer Ben Sira is included as a canonical work in the Septuagint (and therefore is considered such in many other translations of the Bible), and although the Sages chose to view it as one of the sefarim ḥitzoni’im – books outside of the canon – they quote it in a respectful manner throughout the Talmud, sometimes even referring to it as ketuvim. Still, because of confusion between this work and another one that was known as Alfa-Beta d’ben Sira, which was a popular – and problematic – work, we find statements in the Gemara for bidding the study of Sefer ben Sira.

    For generations Sefer ben Sira was known only from its translations, but recently parts of it have been found in the original Hebrew (in Masada and elsewhere). Since it was not part of the official Biblical canon it appears that the copyists felt more freedom when working with it and we find several different versions of the same text. When it appears in the Talmud it seems likely that it is being quoted by heart by the Sages, rather than from a written text. The statements quoted in our Gemara, for example, are not found in extant translations or manuscripts of Sefer ben Sira.

  47. Bava Batra 147a-b: A Deathbed Gift

    The Mishna (146b) presents the law of a shekhiv mera – someone who is on his deathbed – who commands that his property be distributed. Although under ordinary circumstances property cannot be transferred without a formal kinyan (a formal act of taking ownership), according to the Mishna a shekhiv mera can do so simply by making a statement. What is the source of this unusual law?

    The Gemara on our daf brings a series of amora’im, all of whom claim that the law of matnat shekhiv mera is of biblical origin. Among the sources that are offered to support this claim are two stories in navi –

    1.When King Ḥizkiyahu was on his deathbed, the navi Yeshayahu told him that he was destined to die and suggested to him that he command his house (see II Melakhim 20:1).
    2.When Aḥitophel realized that his support of Avshalom’s rebellion against King David was doomed to failure, he returned home, commanded his house, and committed suicide.

    In contrast, Rava quotes Rav Naḥman as teaching that the law of matnat shekhiv mera is of rabbinic origin, shema titraf da’ato alav – lest he become insane.

    Several explanations are offered regarding Rav Naḥman’s teaching. One explanation brought by the Rashbam is that he may become insane if he believes that his final wishes will not be fulfilled. Rabbeinu Gershom follows this approach and adds that there are circumstances that will not allow for standard kinyanim to be performed, and we must work to accommodate the needs of the shekhiv mera. Others suggest that we are concerned lest the dying man may lose his sanity and be unable to complete his final requests in a formal way.

    The Gemara concludes that even if this law is not biblical, the Sages gave it the strength of biblical law, allowing the dying man’s wishes to be carried out in the face of other claims. Tosafot suggest that even those amora’im who quoted biblical passages in support of the position that matnat shekhiv mera is from the Torah, recognize that it is of rabbinic origin, but because of the strength of the rabbinic enactment they looked for hints in the Torah that could be used to support it.

  48. Bava Batra 148a-b: When the Dying Man Recovers

    As we have learned, matnat shekhiv mera is a present given by an individual who is on his death bed. Unlike other examples of property transfer where the most basic requirement demands that a formal kinyan – an act of transfer – take place, in the case of matnat shekhiv mera the Sages ruled that no such kinyan is necessary. This rule was established in order to ease the concerns that rest on a dying person who wants to be sure that his will is carried out prior to his death. Nevertheless, there are restrictions to this unique rule of matnat shekhiv mera; according to the Mishna (146b), this gift only works if the dying man bequeaths all of his possessions while on his death bed. This clarifies to us that he is only distributing his wealth because he assumes that he has no more need for physical possessions, which leads to one final rule that applies to a case of matnat shekhiv mera – in the event that the dying man recovers, all of these presents must be returned, since they were given under a mistaken impression.

    On our daf Rav Aḥa bar Minyumi quotes Rav Naḥman as ruling that even if someone on his deathbed gave away all of his property, he will not get it back if he recovers, since we suspect that he may have property in another place that he did not give away. According to this ruling, the Mishna’s teaching that he will get his property back if he recovers is limited to specific cases:

    According to Rav Ḥama, only where his instructions stated clearly “I am giving away all of my property”, or

    According to Mar bar Rav Ashi, where we are fairly certain that he has no other property.

    Rav Naḥman’s ruling appears odd. Why would we suspect that someone is holding property that we don’t know about, and use that suspicion to keep him from getting his property back? The rishonim offer different suggestions that limit this halakha. The Ra’avad suggests that it is true only if he gave away his property in a manner that implies that he might have other property. Rav Avraham Av Beit Din says that it applies in a case where he specified the assets that he gave away, which indicates that it is likely that he owns additional assets not included in the gift.

  49. Bava Batra 149a-b: A Deathbed Debt

    As we have learned, (daf 146b) in the case of a shekhiv mera – someone who is on his deathbed – who commands that his property be distributed, we listen to and fulfill his commands. Our Gemara asks whether we will accept the words of a shekhiv mera who informs us that he owes money to a certain person and ensure that the money gets to him.

    In response, the Gemara tells a story about Issur Giyura (Issur the convert) who had 12,000 zuz entrusted with Rava, and he wanted that money to be given to his son, Rav Mari. The complication in this case was that although Rav Mari was born after Issur Giyura’s conversion, he was conceived before Issur Giyura became Jewish. This status did not allow Rav Mari to receive the money as an inheritance, and furthermore limited his ability to take possession of the money since he was not in the vicinity to make a kinyan and take physical possession of it. Ultimately the suggestion was raised to have Issur Giyura state that he owed this money to Rav Mari, which would require that the money be given to him by means of a matnat shekhiv mera.

    It appears that Rav Mari in our story is one and the same as the amora known in the Gemara as Rav Mari the son of Raḥel the daughter of Shmuel. During Shmuel’s time there were wars waged in his city, Neharde’a, and apparently his daughter Raḥel was kidnapped or taken captive. She ended up married to her captor, Issur, who later on became a righteous convert. Nevertheless, since his son Mari was conceived while Issur was still a non-Jew, Mari is usually identified in the Gemara with his mother rather than his father.

  50. Bava Batra 150a-b: Leaving the Poor a Corner

    Our Gemara quotes a Mishna in Massekhet Pe’a (3:6), in which Rabbi Akiva taught that even a very small amount of land is obligated in pe’a and bikurim and could be used as the basis for writing a prosbol.

    According to the Torah, among other things the Sabbatical year annulled most private loans (see Devarim 15:1-3). Recognizing that lenders were reluctant to offer loans as the Sabbatical year approached – which was, itself forbidden by the Torah (see Devarim 15:9-11), Hillel HaZaken established a method that would allow the lenders to collect the debts that were owed to them, even after the Sabbatical year. His suggestion was to write a document – called a prosbol – that effectively turned the loan over to the courts, which were not constrained by the laws of shemita, since they do not apply to public debts. Thus, when the Sabbatical year was over, the court would be collecting the debt, rather than the individual. This legal fiction was viewed as a benefit for both the rich – who would now be able to recover their loans – and the poor – who would now be able to borrow money when they needed to.

    Rashi explains the need for land as the basis for a prosbol as stemming from the fact that this law only applied to “normal” loans. In order to be considered a “normal” loan, land had to be made available as a guarantee that the loan would be repaid.

    The source for the term prosbol is Greek, although it is not entirely clear what the word refers to. One suggestion is that it means simply “an announcement delivered to the courts.” Another suggestion is that it means “finalizing the sale.” Other suggestions have been raised, as well.

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