Saturday, 17 September 2016

Bava Kamma 109: Robbing One's Father; Consequences After a Death

Our blog begins the Gemara on our last Mishna, introduced in daf 108 (b):

If a bailee swears an oath to the owner that the owner's deposit has been lost but witnesses say otherwise, the bailee owes the principle of the deposit.  If the bailee admits on his own that he took a false oath, he must pay the principle plus the one-fifth payment and a guilt offering.   If the bailee swears an oath that the owner's deposit was stolen but witnesses say that it was the bailee who stole it, the bailee must pay double the principal.  If the bailee admits to his false oath, the pays the principle, the one-fifth payment and a guilt offering. 

Our notes teach us that full atonement, achieved through the one-fifth payment and the guilt offering, cannot be done until a person admits his/her own guilt.  If witnesses are the ones to identify one's guilt, one lives with the weight of his/her unabsolved guilt.

The Mishna continues: if one swears falsely that he did not rob his own father and then his father dies, followed by the son admitting his guilt, we have a conundrum.  The principle and the one-fifth payment should be paid to the heirs of his father's estate.  But he is an heir.  The Mishna instructs him to pay the principal and the one-fifth payment to his fathers sons or brothers and then he brings a guilt-offering and forgoes his own share.  If he does not have the funds to do this, he borrows the amount of the stolen item.  The creditors of that payment are paid back in part from the son's share of his inheritance.  

Finally, the Mishna teaches that when a father dies after vowing to his son that  the son may not derive any benefit from his property - it is konam, like a forbidden offering - the son inherits the property anyway.  This is because the property no longer belongs to the father after he dies.  If the father vows that his son may not derive benefit from his property in his life or after his death, he does not inherit - her returns the inheritance to other sons or heirs.  If he cannot afford to survive without his share, he borrows money in the amount of his inheritance and pays the creditors back from his share.

We learn from a note that the creditors are repaid only when he declares that the inheritance is forbidden to him.  Further, Meiri suggests that the paying off a loan is not actually deriving benefit from one's father's property.  The creditors collect this without the son's involvement from the estate itself. 

The Gemara focuses on what seem to be more trivial points: 

  • whether one can forgive a debt to oneself
  • whether it is possible for Jews to have no relatives
  • whether this Mishna refers to a convert
  • whether this Mishna could apply to a female convert
  • whether this MIshna could apply to a priest in one of a number of roles
and more.

For me, what is most intriguing is the idea that a son would rob his father and lie about it, and that a father would try to block his son from inheriting his property.  We are taught that children must honour their parents.  "Honour" is defines very specifically.  We are taught that we are not allowed to steal, and robbery/stealing is also laid out clearly in the Talmud.  These can be capital crimes; they are very serious and discussed at length.  So how is it that we are learning how to deal the consequences of a child who actually steals from his own parent?  How is it that we are discussing "payment of the principal plus one-fifth payment" and other comparatively trivial consequences?  Perhaps we are being given a hint about the actual workings of this ancient society rather than the model of good behaviour.

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