Thursday, 29 June 2017

Bava Batra 158: Husband and Wife (then Mother and Son) are Crushed: Who Died First?

Our new Mishna is a play on our previous Mishna.  If a husband and wife - who has no children by this husband - are crushed by a house and we do not know who died first, there is a problem.  The husband heirs will claim that she died first, leaving all of her property to him, and his inheritance will include her wealth.  The wife's family will claim that the husband died first, and they are owed her ketubah and whatever property she brought into the marriage.  

In this case, the Mishna says that Beit Shammai instruct all of their inheritance to be divided.  Beit Hillel say that property brought into the marriage retains its ownership status.  Thus the ketuba bequeathed to the husband's heirs, for it is his property.  Any usufruct property that the wife brought into the marriage is returned to her father and his heirs.

The Gemara demonstrates that great rabbis will debate and debate.  They continue to disagree about whether Beit Shammai, Beit Hillel, or other opinions are correct in this case.

We learn a second new Mishna, and in this case Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel actually agree!  If a son and a mother are crushed by a house and we do not know who died first, the mother's paternal family will argue that the son died first so that they can collect more inheritance.  The heirs of the son will claim that the mother died first and as he collected her inheritance before he died, he can collect more.  Both houses agree that in this case the property should be divided.  But Rabbi Akiva says that in this case the property retains its previous ownership status.  Ben Azzai chides Rabbi Akiva.  Are you seriously going to argue when Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel finally agree on something?!

As part of its argument regarding this Mishna, the Gemara suggests that the air in Eretz Yisrael must make a person wise as great rabbis changed their opinions there.  The importance of keeping one's wealth within a woman's tribe is suggested here,  One rabbi posits that ben Azzai was a disciple-colleague of Rabbi Akiva.  We know this because of his less formal language with Rabbi Akiva.  As such, his challenge is not regarded as rude, but familiar.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Bava Batra 157: Father and Son are Crushed: Who Died First?

We are introduced to a Mishna where a question is answered by Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel.  If a son and a father - or a person standing to inherit and the person who is giving the inheritance - die together when a house collapses on them, we need to know who died first in order to know whether the son's wife and creditors will be paid what they are owed or whether the father's inheritors will split the inheritance.  Beit Shammai say that we split the inheritance and the inheritors receive half while the son's wife and creditors receive half.  Beit Hillel say that we leave the inheritance as it was according to chazaka, and the inheritors each receive their inheritance.

The Gemara turns this situation upside down and inside out.  What if this, what if that?  They discuss entities that have not yet entered the world, collateral, the opinions of those with a stake in the outcome, the presence of witnesses, liens, orphans, promissory notes, postdated promissory notes, transferring ownership, enhancement of land that is then repossessed, profits above the cost of an enhancement, dividing and sharing the land.

It is as if today's daf allows the rabbis to demonstrate their knowledge of the interrelationships among all of the concepts that we have learned throughout Bava Batra all of these months.

Bava Batra 156: Adolescents, Gifts, Searching for Pubic Hair

We know that adolescents (under the age of 18 or 20) were giving land as gifts.  Perhaps these sales should be invalidated, it is argued, even if they received more than the worth of the land.  But we learn that one does not give gifts unless the recipient did something nice for the giver.  The Sages decide that adolescents are permitted to give gifts, as this will encourage people to do nice things for them.

The Gemara discusses what is permitted at which ages.  Boys over 13 and girls over 12 are checked for at least two pubic hairs regarding a number of legally regulated practices: kiddushin, engagement, gittin, divorce, chalitza, marriage of a childless widow to her brother-in-law, and mi'un, the refusal of/annulment of a marriage of a girl under 12.   The rabbis walk through practical reasons for each of these situations.  It is interesting to note which rabbis advocate for checking for pubic hairs and in which situations.  One of the more striking examples of this is Rabbi Yehuda, who asserts that a girl can do mi'un until it is "black", meaning that one hair grows into the area of the next hair and the pubic area is covered.  Rav Nachman states that she must protest before two hairs are found.  The halacha follows Rav Nachman.

In researching today's daf I came across a lecture that noted, from Tosafot, that the rabbis did not know how to search for hairs property.  Thus it should not be done and it should not have been done for two thousand years.  Why would this particular rite have been forgotten and eradicated?  There are a number of options.  The more innocuous would include the challenge of being consistent across different bodies and the need for men to look at girls' genitals, which is ordinarily forbidden.  The more likely reasons might include men becoming aroused in the process of searching, men having to put their faces very close to girls' and boys' genitals, children protesting, wives protesting, and other reasons related to the violation of privacy that this would cause.  

A new Mishna teaches that giving property is done similarly for those who are ill and those who are healthy.  Property with acharayut, responsibility, is purchased with money, a document, or chazakah, presumption of ownership based on past ownership.  Property without acharayut is acquired through meshichah, pulling or moving the property.

The Gemara shares the example of a dying mother who asks the Sages to give a certain clasp to her daughters for it was worth 1200 zuzim.  The Chachamim fulfilled her wish even though mothers are not permitted to bequeath to their daughters.  The commentary suggests that her sons did not deserve the clasp and that their action was a fine on her sons.

Another new Mishna is introduced.   Rabbi Eliezer states that a document would be required for a deathbed gift to be valid on a weekday but on Shabbat a verbal agreement would do.  Rabbi Yehoshua says that a fortiori, a verbal agreement would also be acceptable on a weekday.  Similarly, one can accept property on behalf of a minor but not on behalf of an adult because an adult could acquire on their own.  The Gemara attempts to understand exactly which rabbi says which statement.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Bava Batra 155: On the Rights of Competent Adolescents to Sell Land or Movable Property

The Gemara continues to debate whether or not a family is believed when it asserts that the person who wrongly sold inherited land was a minor.  

So how old must a person be to sell his father's land?  The first suggested age is sixteen.  The second suggestion is twenty.  Each rabbi suggesting these ages does so in accordance with other rabbis who have determined these ages in the past.  A case is shared where a person sells his father's property and then dies.  The family claims that the sale was invalid because he was a minor.  They wish to have the rabbis check his body for signs of adulthood: two pubic hairs.  Rabbi Akiva refuses because it is a disgrace and because the body might have changed after death. We are told that the young person was eighteen, but the family still hoped that his lack of body hair would disqualify him as an adult.

The rabbis wonder whether or not hairs should determine a person's status.  For example, if this young man was eighteen - or even twenty - and had no public hairs, is he automatically thought of as a minor?  Or is he classified as a eunuch, which is a man who does not develop secondary sex characteristics?*  The rabbis ask whether someone without pubic hair might not be a eunuch.  Might he be a minor?  And what is a minor, anyway?  Some rabbis believe that a minor is anyone under twenty.  Others believe that a minor is under the age of half one's expected life of 70 years, thus anyone under 35 years old.  We are reminded that men who approach rabbis when they are older and without hair might be told to gain or lose weight depending on their girth.  Either might cause hair to grow. 

What if the person had not yet turned 18 or 20?  A number of cases are shared regarding this type of question.  For example, what should we think of a young man who sold his father's property followed by and invalidation of his sale?  This is not a good example, we are told, because he frivolously freed his father's slaves.**  And what should be done if a girl of 14 understands business and sells her father's property? Does the sale stand?  What if someone behaves as if his is a minor but inadvertently demonstrates his maturity?  Does his sale stand?  

Finally, we are privy to the rabbis' conversation about when young people are permitted to buy and sell on behalf of their families.  Either at 18 or 20, the rabbis wonder whether they are permitted to speak for movable property/debts or whether they have access to decision-making regarding land as well.

*   Masechet Yevamot 80 lists the characteristics specific to a eunuch 
** From today's perspective, of course we wonder whether or not this young man was being frivolous at all by freeing his father's slaves.  Perhaps he saw their suffering and reasonably wished for their freedom over the benefit of their monetary worth.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Bava Batra 154: Inheritance, Witnesses, Proof, and Changing the Laws

What is the proof that will allow a person to accept money that was given by a person on his or her deathbed?  Are witnesses' testimonies enough, or must they sign documents?  This argument carries on through today's daf.  Complicated cases are shared to demonstrate that witnesses might be compromise in some way - perhaps they died; perhaps they were minors.  This argument is one of the longstanding, respectful but passionate arguments between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan. Reish Lakish believe that witnesses must have signed the document.  Rabbi Yochanan holds that the testimony of witnesses is enough.  Rav Huna and Rav Chisda agree with Reish Lakish.

A case is introduced in amud (b) involving one who sold his inherited property and then died.  Family members wished to invalidate the sale.  They claimed he was a minor when he sold the land - he was old enough to sell the land but he had never been checked to prove that he had the two pubic hairs which would prove his adult status.  Rabbi Akiva rejected their claim on two counts: it disgraces this man, and because the body changes after death, the examination would be meaningless.

The rabbis discuss the motivations of this man's family, the nature of 'disgracing' someone, and they process involved in checking for change in a body.  The conversation moves toward questions of validating documents and whether or not witnesses can be believed based on just their words.  The rabbis argue based on what past chachamim have argued.  One of their arguments asserts that changing the ruling now would mean changing the Mishna and the baraita that suggest otherwise.

This is a larger question in Jewish law.  Much of halacha, from its origins until now, is based on what greater thinkers have determined to be correct in the past.  Each new law builds on the truth that has come before.  Once we change a law, we change both the present and we change the past, for we are claiming that we know as much or more than the sages who came before us.  And even if we argue that we do know more than our ancestors about this particular context in which we live, we are changing basic ideological foundations when we discount the 'everlasting truth' of what has come before us.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Bava Batra 153: Questionable Deathbed Gifts, Specific Wording in Deeds

Different guidelines that apply to gifts made by an ill person on his/her deathbed and a healthy person who might be on his/her deathbed.  Gifts made by people who are ill can be retracted if they recover.  Gifts made by people who are deathly cannot be retracted if they recover from their minor illnesses.  The rabbis discuss situations where a person might be considered healthy and/or ill when giving his/her gift.  Can such a gift be retracted if the person returns to health?  Does it make a difference if the gift is written in a deed?

We are told of a woman who gave a gift on what she thought might be her deathbed, writing a document saying that the gift was given in life or in death.  The woman recovered and then wished to retract.  Rava ruled against her.  She then bothered him for some time, stating that he had not judged her property.  Rava told his scribe, Rav Pappa, to write certain phrases in her ruling that would demonstrate to the court that the ruling was simply a ruse to encourage her to leave him alone.  The woman figured this out and cursed him: May your ship sink; you have deceived me.  He immediately soaked his clothing in water to avoid a more serious actualizing of this threat.  Unfortunately Rava died later when his ship did sink.  Of note are the rabbis critiques of Rava's dismissal of this woman when he in fact ruled against his own opinion.

A new Mishna teaches us Rabbi Meir's opinion: if a person does not write in a deed that s/he is on a deathbed, s/he cannot argue deathbed status later if challenged by witnesses saying that s/he was healthy.  Proof of ill health is required.  The rabbis disagree, believing that the recipients must provide proof.

The Gemara moves to case examples.  First, they provide cases where the ultimate proof of death - a grave - is not necessarily taken to be unchallengeable.  Next, they consider the laws regarding possession: who is permitted to remove something from another's possession?  Next a comparison is made between these laws and those of ritual impurity regarding an item in someone's private domain versus the public domain.  This extends to questions about the season of the year in which the question of public v. private domains occurs.  

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Bava Batra 151: What is Property?, Stories About Retractions

A brief summary of today's daf, which offers a number of examples to illustrate deathbed gifts as they have been discussed.  Here are a few examples:

  • animals, birds and tefillin are considered to be property as they can be sold even if they are consecrated
  • a sefer Torah is not called property if we know that it cannot be sold; it is called property because we could in fact sell it to learn Torah or to marry - thus this question is left unresolved.
  • Rav Zutra bar Tuvya's mother wrote her property to him to protect it before she married Rav Zevid who then divorced her.  Can she retract the gift?  The rabbis agree that she can, for she gave the gift only in order to marry and now she is not married.
  • Rami bar Chama's mother signed her property to Rami bar Chama at night and then again to Rav Ukva bar Chama the next morning.  She died.  Did she retract her first gift?  The rabbis agree that she can, for one may retract in order to keep it or to give it to someone else.
  • Rav Dimi bar Yosef's sister would give her orchard to him when she was sick and then retract it.  Once he refused to take it, and so she offers no retraction.  Instead he left a part for her and took the rest.  She recovered and retracted, standing in front of Rav Nachman. Rav Dimi did not come to court because she had kept a part of the land and thus it was a healthy person's gift - he need not return it.  Rav Nachman threatened Rav Dimi, which upset his sister who said "I will die without seeing him".  Rav Nachman said, aha! She believed she would die!  Thus she can retract!
  • if a healthy giver recovers from a minor illness, he cannot retract
  • a gift given from one's deathbed does not require a formalized process of acquisition
  • The rabbis discuss the intricate rules around acquisition, deathbed gifts, and in-between circumstances.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Bava Batra 150: How Much Land, Rules When Giving Away Property, Meaning of Property

Does "land" mean land and land only?  Or does "land" suggest that other types of property are included?  The Gemara discusses the halacha of pe'a and how it is brought to the Temple, bikurim and how it might be used toward handing over debts through a prozbol so that they will not be cancelled by shemita - all of which apply to any amount of land.

Any amount of land?  The rabbis offer a number of possible examples of counting for minimum amounts.  It is almost unfathomable to imagine that any size of land would be subject to the same halachot.

What if a person claims that his property is only movable property.  What does this include?  Wheat, barley, one's upper millstone?  One more question - is a slave considered to be more similar to movable property or more similar to land?  The rabbis have a long conversation about ways that slaves might be included or excluded from one's list of lands or movable property.  When are houses included?  When are animals included?  There is an understanding that slaves are somehow different from all other categories of property, but without the context of the twenty-first century it is difficult to demonstrate a logical reason for that difference.  Rav Ashi decides that keeping movable property does not suggest that one also keeps a part of the slave.

We are taught that there are five laws that apply when a person gives away all of his property.  This regards a person on his death bed, a slave, a wife, sons, and a gift to evade.
  1. a person on his deathbed cannot retract; if he keeps no land for himself, he can retract
  2. a person on his deathbed who gifts all of his possessions to his slave, the slave goes free; if he kept any amount of land, the slave stays with his owner
  3. If a person writes a document giving all of his property to his wife, he has only made her an overseer
  4. If a person writes his property to his sons but leaves some land to his wife, she forfeits her right to her ketuba in some cases
  5. If a woman writes a mavracha, an evasion document giving her land to someone other than her husband-to-be, the groom does not take possession of her land.
The rabbis argue these last two points.  They wish to understand how much of her property a wife might give to someone else, whether or not she has rights to that land later, whether or not she would really lose rights to her ketuba, etc.

Our daf ends with a lengthy discussion about what is included in the notion of 'property'. For example, we learned in our Mishna that if one gives all of his property to his slave, the slave goes free.  The rabbis understand this to mean that slaves are included in the calculation of one's property.  We are taught that in addition to slaves being property that land is property, garments are property, money is property and documents are property.

On this last point, the rabbis discuss some of the nuanced consideration that goes into laws regarding documents.  Of importance is the notion that a document is separate from the gift that it might authorize.  A person might retract their name from a document, but the gift that the document represented would continue to be valid.  Other rules regarding documents are mentioned, including the fact that the buyer need not be present when the seller signs a document; documents that cannot be upheld can be taken away.

Bava Batra 149: Inheritance, Gifts, Deathbeds, Admissions, and Land

We begin with the Gemara resolving (or leaving unresolved) some outstanding questions.  If a  man on his deathbed says that someone should benefit from his property, is all or some of that property a gift?  What if he says that someone should be seen in his property, or someone should stand in his property, or someone should rely on the property?  These dilemmas remain unresolved.  

If a person sells his property on his deathbed and then he survives, the rabbis disagree about whether or not the sale can be retracted.  Rav Yehuda says that Rav held both views at different times.  The resolution: the sales can be retracted only if the dinars from the sales available.  If they have been used to pay off debts, one cannot retract the sales.

What if one admits to a debt on his deathbed?  Is that considered a gift to the person who benefits from the truth?  We are told of Issur the convert who left 12000 dinars with Rava while his son, Rav Mari, questioned the ownership of those coins.  Rav Mari was conceived before his father's conversion.  He was born after his father's conversion.  

Could Rav Mari acquire these dinars as an inheritance?  He is not considered his father's son because of the timing of his conception.  Could Rav Mari acquire these dinars as a deathbed gift?  Could they be acquired through pulling or symbolic exchange?  Or though acquisition of land?  Rav Ika solved this problem by suggesting that Issur admit that the dinars belong to Rav Mari.  Rava was angry with this resolution, for teaching people legal claims caused him a financial loss.  Or, our notes teach, he was angry because he wished to give the dinars to Rav Mari as an act of piety.

Our last Mishna teaches that a person on his deathbed can reserve for himself any amount of land, his gift stands if he recovers.  The Gemara questions how much is "any".  Enough to provide for his livelihood?  Or could that be covered by movable property?  The rabbis argue about whether or not "land" always refers to land.  An example is provided from Masechet Pe'a regarding freeing a slave through giving him land.  But the owner might keep a tiny portion of the land for himself, nullifying the emancipation.

Hopefully we will dig deeper into this particular question tomorrow.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Bava Batra 148: One Tree, Two Gifts; Deathbed Schemes; Gift Retraction

The rabbis discuss the case of a tree and it's fruit.  Can one give his palm tree as a gift to one person but give the actual dates to a different person?  Perhaps this situation is similar to that of one who sells a house to another on the condition that the top floor still belongs to the original owner.  This is understood to be allowed as "additional rights", including the building of projections from that upper floor.  Thus a date tree could be sold while the dates are reserved for the seller.

The rabbis return to the question of one who offers gifts of property on his deathbed.  If he dies, the gifts cannot be retracted.  If he survives, he is permitted to retract the last gift, which was reserved as a place for him to live.  To determine that he did not use this as a tactic to distribute his land in an unorthodox manner, the rabbis suggested that he would have to be left with no land of his own.  Currently, the rabbis wonder whether such a person might actually have land hidden away somewhere for himself.  Likely not, the rabbis presume in the end.

The Gemara discusses the notion of full and partial retractions of gifts given on one's deathbed.  Numerous possible circumstances are suggested.  Many of these are left unresolved.  It seems that the rabbis continue to be extremely concerned about the lengths that people might go to bequeath their property to whom they choose.  Many of these conversations leave me wondering how much the halacha were actually adhered to in ancient Jewish community.  At the very least, people have always wanted what we have wanted.  We continue to be hesitant to do what we are told to do when what we want to do is something different.

Bava Batra 147: Gifts on the Deathbed; Predicting the Weather; Debts on the Deathbed

A very brief review of today's daf:

The Gemara compares the halacha regarding inheritance transferring from sons to daughters and the case where a person gives a gift on his deathbed that must be rescinded when he survives.

We learn about how the Sages predict the weather based on the weather on Festival days.   What difference would it make to know the future weather?  Only the prayers of the High Priest would be affected.  It would assist him to know specifically what to pray for when attempting to help the people ‘receive the weather’ that would be beneficial to their crops.

Regarding a person on his deathbed, the rabbis ask whether a debt can be forgiven.  This will also be used to better understand the reasoning behind the halacha of inheritance.

Bava Batra 146: Returning the Gifts: Grooms, Dying Men

A very brief review of today’s daf:

A new Mishna teaches us that a betrothed  groom who gives even 10,000 dinars to his father-in-law does not receive the gift back if the marriage is not effected.  No gifts are returned at all (unless the bride brings them to her betrothed’s home to be used there, briefly).

The rabbis discuss this Mishna by suggesting relatively wild circumstances where we might think that gifts should be collected back by the giver.

We learn that there are minor differences in the halacha around returning gifts between gifts that can be consumed and gifts that cannot be consumed.

Before our daf ends, we learn a second new Mishna:
When a man gives his land away on his death bed and he in fact survives, those gifts are only returned if he left no land for himself.  In such a case, it is clear that his wishes were to be effected only if he were to die.

The Gemara takes issue with this - how might we assume a person’s intentions?  Ever?

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Bava Batra 144: Acquisition of a House, Shushvinus

The rabbis discuss how to understand a son's acquisition of a house.  Does a son automatically acquire his father's home?  Well, if the father does not live there, and if this is the oldest son, and if he marries a virgin, and if this is his first marriage, and if he is the first son to be married?  Perhaps he only acquires a part of the house?  Must the house be completely unused? What if a dovecote was in the house - and the house was actually a storehouse?  

Believing that having any item of their own in the house would prevent their sons from acquiring their houses, rabbis left just one sandal or just one cup of oil in the house.  Some rabbis believe that if a man leaves all of his possessions to his wife, he is not preventing his sons from inheriting.  Instead he is ensuring that his sons honour their mother.  

We learn a new Mishna which teaches that if brothers inherit together and one of them then gets a well-paid job, the brothers share his income.  If one brother becomes ill, the other pays for his treatment.  

The Gemara considers the circumstances that might have been behind this Mishna.  For example, was one son conscripted to the king's service?  Was one son named a tax collector?  Must the sons recognize that one's success is due to the other?  The rabbis discuss a baraita that teaches if one brother takes money from the estate to learn Torah or a trade, the other can say that you must live here to continue to receive food from the estate.   Rav Huna explains that a house is more blessed when more people are there.  Rabbi Chananel suggests that it is more economical to live together, for example all people can benefit from just one lamp.  

When discussing the cost of illnesses, we learn that some rabbis believe that all illness is from heaven except for fevers and colds, which are due to our poor self-care.  

We learn a new Mishna regarding shushvinus, the custom of bringing gifts to a groom knowing that the gift-giving will be reciprocated in the future.  If the father sent shushvinus with some of the sons and then the groom returned the shushvinus after the father died, do all sons share them?  We know that shushvinus can be collected in a court, just like a debt.  If a man sent wine and oil to another man who is not a groom, the court does not force a reciprocal gift, for this was an act of chesed and not of obligation.

The Gemara considers who should keep the shushvinus that is given just to one son, or to sons after the father (who gave the original shushvinus) has died.  If the shushvinus must be returned, how would that happen?  Is shushvinus something that one person can do to another?  The return of shushvinus is discussed at some length. Who would pay for these unused gifts?  What if they were returned to heirs?  Is is necessary to create a painful circumstance?

It seems that there must be much more to know about shushvinus.  The halacha regarding this practice seem to be based on custom rather than Torah law.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Bava Batra 143: Inheritance Without Clear Directions

The rabbis consider the question of dividing one's inheritance without specific directives.  For example, if one states that he wishes his property to go to his wife and his sons, does half go to his wife and half to his sons?  Or does each person inherit equally, including the wife?

A number of cases are used as comparisons to clarify the halacha in this situation.   These includes cases about:

  • how much money is given when one states that a donkey should acquire 
  • when giving a cucumber as teruma, an extra portion of the inside of a cucumber should be added to account for the possibility that the inside of the first cucumber is bitter
  • when a man attempts to betroth five women simultaneously by giving a basket of figs to one of the women and stating his intention, the kiddushin is not valid if two of the women are sisters
  • when silks are sent home by a man, they should be given to the most suitable receiver - depending on the silks, this could be his son, his daughter or his daughters-in-law

We are introduced to a new Mishna about the use of inherited property.  If a man dies and he has both adult and minor sons and the adult sons improve the property, it is assumed that the increased value of the land is divided among the bothers.  However, if they specify that they are improving the land, the profits are intended to go to themselves.  Similarly, a widow who improves land left to her by her deceased husband, the improved value of the land is assumed to be share amongst her and her sons.  If she states that she is improving the land, the assumption is that she is going to keep any increase in profit herself. 

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Bava Batra 142: Inheriting as a Fetus and Inheriting as a Child

Today we learn about the difference between a fetus and a child.  The rabbis use the word fetus to refer to one who has not yet been born.  They also use the term fetus to refer to one who is just born but less than one day old.  From one day of age, we refer to one as a child rather than a fetus.

And so is it permissible to transfer ownership, whether through inheritance or otherwise, to a fetus?  It is not permitted to transfer ownership to something that does not yet exist.  The person that the fetus will become does not yet exist.  More importantly, the rabbis understand that a fetus may never turn into that person.  They expect that many fetuses will die within those first twenty four hours.  If that is the case, ownership would be transferred to one who does not exist.

The rabbis discuss the very real cases that demonstrate conflict between brothers regarding who is firstborn, who is not yet born when a father declares who will inherit, and other similar arguments.  All sons should receive a portion from their father.  This includes sons from previous marriages.  Further, all sons should receive a portion of their father's property, whether or not they were born when the father stated who would receive which portions.

One of the more interesting facts for me in today's dvar is that a fetus is not considered to be alive until at least one day after it has been born.  The question of abortion is based on very different considerations if a fetus is definitively not a person.  Fascinating that evangelical Christians went in such a different direction when understanding this question.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Bava Batra 141: Fetuses Cannot Inherit; First Born Girls, Boys, Tumtumim, Inheritance and Gifts

When our last Mishna speaks about a wife giving birth, the rabbis assume that fathers prefer to have sons because daughters cost more to sustain.  Rabbi Yochanan taught that G-d hates a man who dies without a son who will be his heir.   As well, the inheritance is kept within one tribe.  Men are thought to give larger gifts to daughters because it is is said to be abnormal for daughters to beg for food.  We are offered a window into the valuing of girls and boys.

The Gemara discusses a man who has his first child.  Is he happier to have a boy or a girl?  Rav Chisda claims that a daughter would be a good sign.  He says that he prefers daughters.  Daughters will raise future children, after all.  Further, the is no akin ha'ra, evil eye when the first child is a girl - a boy would receive a double portion, which provokes the evil eye.

The rabbis move on to measure the benefits and disadvantages of having girls and boys.  How do we know that fathers want to spend more money on daughters?  In fact, Rav Yehuda teaches that G-d gave everything to Avraham - wouldn't this prove that having a son is preferable to having a daughter?  And Rabbi Meir says that if it is a mitzvah to feed daughters, isn't even more of a mitzvah to feed sons?  This is countered by Rabbi Yehudah, who says that it is a mitzvah to feed sons, and all the more so daughters.  This would be to save their reputation, however, rather than to demonstrate true care of one's daughters.**

A baraita is said to explain that if the woman gives birth to a boy and a girl, the boy receives 150 zuz and the girl receives 50 zuz.  The rabbis walk through the reasoning for this division given that we learned earlier that the boy and girl would receive 100 zuz each.  Ravina suggests that the father might have agreed to pay the first person who informed him about the birth of his children - more specifically who was born first.  A nafel, a stillborn baby, is never good news, people will not be rewarded for sharing that information.

We are told about a man who tells his pregnant wife that his property belongs to the child she is carrying.  Rav Huna suggests that a kinyan, agreement of acquisition, on behalf of a fetus is invalid.  We are not to transfer ownership of something that is not yet in the world.  But a promise about the future holdings of a child born in the future might be valid - for example, a promise to give a son 100 zuz upon his birth.  The rabbis argue about which rabbis would agree or disagree with the transfer of property when it involves a fetus.

Rabbi Yossi states that a fetus disqualifies slaves from partaking of teruma (these slaves would have been inherited from a kohen father).  The mother is not permitted to eat Truma either.  Until the fetus has been born, it is not considered to be a kohen.  So how could a fetus be directed to own or inherit anything before its birth?  The rabbis teach that inheritance is different from kinyan because inheritance is automatic.  

The rabbis move on to a discussion about gifts and inheritance with regard to a fetus.  Should a fetus be permitted to receive a gift?  or inheritance?  or neither?  It is understood that someone who is not in the world should not inherit.  The rabbis are clear that a fetus is not understood to be a person in the world until it has been born.  But because the fetus will eventually be the child who will inherit or receive a gift, and because men are permitted to choose to give gifts to anyone, there is some degree of conflict.  Plus, if the child is a tumtum, and it is the only child, then it will inherit everything regardless of whether or not it is given a gift before birth.  

Our last thought is about the specificity of words used: when she will give birth the baby will receive... might indicate a loophole.  Rav Huna notes that the baby will not acquire even in this case.  

**It is important to note that even when the rabbis speak about the valuing of girls, they do this in comparison with the obvious preference for boys.  One example is that of the celebration of a girl as one's first child because this wards off the evil eye.  The evil eye follows good fortune - and having a boy as a first child is understood by all to be good news.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Bava Batra 140: How Sons, Daughters, and Tumtum Children Inherit and are Sustained After Parents Have Died

The rabbis determine how to allocate food to their sons and daughters through inheritance.  Rava suggests that we put aside money that will feed the daughters until they reach bagrut, the stage of life when they will be married off and provided for by their husbands' families.  The boys are fed by the rest.  Other rabbis suggest other ways of ensuring that all inheritors are fed.  Property might lose or gain in value.  Does the profit go to the heirs?  Or does inheritance not apply - and so everyone receives what should be theirs at the time of the parent's death?  In this last case, the girls would keep the excess profits above and beyond what they consume.  If the boys sold a small property, the sale would stand. This would be proof of their inheritance.

The rabbis wonder whether or not the cost of feeding the widow is entered into the calculation when the estate is divided.  Because she may remarry, she would not need to be sustained.  And what if this widow had a daughter whom the deceased husband had agreed to sustain?  And what about creditors - would they enter the calculation?  And whose needs would take precedence if there was not enough food/money to meet everyone's needs?  Rabbi Avahu suggests that this situation is like daughters and sons who have not inherited enough: the daughters are fed and the sons beg.  Similarly, the widow is fed and the daughter begs.

The Mishna has told us that Admon wonders why should he lose out just because he is male and must learn Torah?  Why should he lose out when there is not enough property?  This reminds me of men's rights groups which promote male equality.  These groups focus on how men, who often have vast advantages over women, should continue to have every advantage when they might have to share what they have been given.

A new Mishna teaches that if a man died and left sons, daughters and a tumtum, one who's sex is not determinable because the genitals are covered, the tumtum does not inherit when there is a lot of property.  The boys say that the tumtum should be like the girls.  If there is only a small property, the tumtum is not fed with the girls.  The girls say that the tumtum should be with the boys.  If a Levi said that his male child should receive 100 zuz, his request is granted.  If he says that a female infant should receive 200 zuz, his request is granted.  If he requests that twins should receive these same amounts, his requests are granted.  However, if his wife gives birth to a tumtum, what does the child receive?  Nothing?  Why shouldn't any baby receive such a gift?  The Mishna then states that a tumtum inherits if there are no other children who could be heirs.

The Gemara walks through these possibilities.  The tumtum might be fed like a girl, and boys might force the tumtum to be with the girls, but the tumtum does not truly fit with the daughters.  A Mishna states that an animal was about to give birth for the first time.  Its owner promised it as an burnt offering offering if it was male.  If it was female, he promised that it would be a peace offering.  If it was a tumtum or an androgynos, then it would not be an offering at all.

Does a tumtum inherit like a son?  Does a tumtum get fed like a daughter?  Are there certain circumstances, like whether or not there is a large or small property to inherit, that would determine a tumtum's inheritance or sustenance?  And do these things actually happen, whether or not they are supposed to happen?

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Bava Batra 139: Gifts and Protests, Order and Witnesses

The rabbis continue to argue about what is to be done when a person protests the gift that is given from the beginning compared with a person who is first quiet and then protests later.  Examples regarding a gift of slaves are discussed with regard to heirs and to access to teruma. 

Next, the rabbis consider the order in which gifts are given.  We learn that property is gifted in order of value, for example, 200 zuz means 200 zuz worth of land is followed by 300 zuz and so on.  The payment of a wife's ketuba is discussed in this context as well.

We turn to the importance of witnesses.  People are expected to write down the details of their contracted sales/purchases.  Witnesses are expected to write down details only when they know that those details are true.  Some rabbis believe that a witness's written words might be misunderstood as truth by a beit din, causing the beit din to err in its judgement.  Others believe that we should not be concerned about the judgement of a beit din, for its judges will always do due diligence and check on witnesses' statements.  

When the Mishna stated that a father bequeathed his property to a son from today and after I die, what are the implications regarding whether or not he can gift his produce to another person?  The rabbis begin their discussion about when an heir might claim that produce as his own. 

Who knew that it would be so hard to give a gift?

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Bava Batra 137: Gifts with Conditions

The rabbis discuss gifts that are given with conditions attached.  For example, a person might say that his property is given to one person and when that person dies, it is given to another person.  That third person is permitted to acquire the property from another person if it was gifted or sold to another person erroneously.  The rabbis discuss how far these conditions might be taken.  Is it always possible to police gifts after they were re-gifted?  What about variations on this theme?  

This conversation turns to the timing of a receiving a gift.  If one gives a gift on his deathbed, is the gift acquired immediately or must acquisition wait until after the one on his deathbed has actually died?  And would acquisition take place at the moment of death (Abaye) or after death (Rava)?  This argument is compared with a husband who gives his wife a get with the condition that he dies first.  In such a case, the get is not valid.  

What if a person gives another person an etrog as a gift, and specifies that the etrog belongs to someone else after the receiver dies?  If the etrog cannot be used until after a person has died, then the etrog is not being used for its purpose and thus its owner has transgressed.  What if orphans bought an etrog with the money they inherited and one of them took it with the lulav to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav, but the others must permit him to eat it to demonstrate acquisition?  As part of this discussion, the rabbis agree that it is valid to give a gift and have it used (for example the etrog used for its mitzvah) and then return it. 

The rabbis share another example.  When Leah took fruit from her date tree located on Rav Bivi bar Abaye's property, he would get upset.  She transferred ownership to him for the rest of his life, and he bequeathed the tree to his son when he died.  The rabbis are appalled.  Of course this is not permitted!  One must specify the specific conditions around transferring ownership.  How specific would a person have to be to ensure that a gift is returned at a certain point in time?

At the very end of our daf, the rabbis wonder about an unwanted gift.  Must he acquire it?

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Bava Batra 136: Shared Ownership Through Early Inheritance

We learn a new Mishna: Rabbi Yehuda argues that a man must write that his sons can derive benefit from his property "from today until after he dies" to ensure that when he remarries, his wife's ketuba cannot be collected from his property.  Rabbi Yossi says that it is enough to specify that the property will be theirs after he dies.  If the son is given rights to his property "from now until after his death," neither the son nor the father can sell the property while the father is alive.  

The Mishna continues: if the father does sell the property, the buyer may benefit from its produce until the father's death, at which point the property is returned to the son's ownership.  If the son sold the property while his father was alive, the buyer has no rights to the property until after the father dies.  

The Gemara discusses the ramifications of writing down specific messages on documents.  The rabbis argue about the possible meanings of "from today until after my death."  They were interested to know that scribes working for different rabbis were aware of the distinctions they might be documenting.  Scribes also helped the rabbis introduce the importance of witnesses.  

Moving on to the topic of the buyer in this circumstance, the rabbis wonder how different factors might affect his ownership and his benefit from the land.  For example, how might one's conditional ownership affect the blessings one would say over bikurim, first fruits?  

Finally, the Gemara considers the intentions of a father who leaves his property to his sons while he is still alive.  The rabbis note the halacha relating to inheritance and other possible heirs.  

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Bava Batra 135: Deathbed Gifts, Believing the Word of One's Brother

What if a childless man states on his deathbed that his wife will not be a yevama nor will she participate in yibum.  Instead, she is fit for a Kohen Gadol.  The rabbis clarify how this could be possible.  Is he believed if he says that he divorced his wife, and thus he simply meant that she would not do chalitzah nor yibum.  Of course we know that a kohen gadol is only to marry a virgin.  Can he be believed about the future if we do not believe him regarding the past?  Rava suggests that we require his wife to perform chalitzah to be stringent.

But what if a man were to claim that he does not have brothers on his deathbed when people overseas say that he does have brothers?  Rabbi Chanina taught that a woman is believed if she tells a beit din that she was captured but not raped, or defiled.  In such a case would she be forbidden to her husband because people overseas know that she was in fact raped?  Abaye affirms that we are lenient about a captured woman's word.  This is because she makes herself repulsive to her captors. But should people become lenient and allow women to marry when perhaps they should perform chalitza?   The rabbis are conflicted.

The Mishna taught that a man is not believed if he says that another man is his brother.  The Gemara walks through what should be done if the other brothers admit the relationship or if they deny it. The rabbis also consider the distribution of property if one brother should die, and the possibility that the value of the property changes quickly.

A new Mishna teaches that if a brother dies with documents tied to his thigh regarding gifts to be given after one's death, they should be ignored.  If the brother states that he wishes to give whatever is written in the note to someone, it is permitted even if that line of inheritance is not accepted.  A healthy person's gift, however, might say: from today and after I die.  The rabbis are unclear about whether or not something can be a gift if it says "from now".  The rabbis continue to argue about whether or not we believe and follow the instructions that accompany a gift.   Are there conditions on the acceptance of such a gift?  For example, if a person states that the gift is intended to help the other person, is that enough to justify its acceptance?