Saturday, 25 February 2017

Bava Batra 34: Complex Cases Clarify the Halacha re: Disputed Properties

A case is introduce in Bava Batra 33b.  It asks what should be done if one person admits that he snatched something from another person.  He admits this only after a witness testifies about his behaviour.  At that point the 'snatcher' explains that he did this only because it was his own property.  The rabbis reason that they cannot order the thief to pay, because there was only one witness against him.  They cannot let him off completely, because there was one witness to his crime.  They cannot ask him to take an oath, because he admitted to stealing and those who are thieves cannot take oaths. Rabbi Abba remembers that those in his position - liable but unable to take an oath - must pay damages. 

The Gemara wonders whether or not this last comment holds true in all cases. The rabbis question how many witnesses would be required to force a person to pay for their produce when they claimed to profit from that land for two years or for three years.  

We then consider "a certain boat" that two people claim to own independently.  One of them tells the court to seize it until he can find witnesses to attest to his ownership.  Rav Huna says this action is permitted while Rabbi Yehuda says that we have no reason to take action at this point.  They decide to seize the boat.  No witnesses are found, and that person asks the court to release the boat and whomever has a stronger case will win it.  Rabbi Yehuda says that the boat is not released.  Rav Pappa says that it is released.  The Gemara decides that we do not seize disputed property, but if it is seized, we do not release it.

Our daf ends with the introduction of a related case.  When two people argue that each of them has claim to property because it belonged to their ancestors, can we also say, "whomever is stronger prevails"?  Is this the same as the case where two people produce deeds to the same property, and those deeds were written on the same day?  Tomorrow's daf will help us to better understand this question.

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