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.  

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