Monday, 29 May 2017

Bava Batra 127: Who is Male in Order to Inherit? A Father's Word About his Son's Identity

Who counts as a firstborn when it comes to inheritance?  Must sons be recognizable as male from birth?  The rabbis speak about proofs that a son was male from birth: circumcision at eight days and his mother's status as tumah for 33 and not 66 days.  This leads to a conversation about the guidelines regarding tumah after the birth of a tumtum, an androgynos, or another child whose sex is in doubt.  

What is done when two children might be the firstborn?  The rabbis create procedures that allow the two to share their inheritance.  One signs a document allowing the other to have power of attorney, and the two divide the remaining portion between them.  

Is a father believed when he states that one son is his firstborn because the other was born to a divorcee or a chalutza?  The rabbis discuss why we might not believe the father's statement and why we might trust his statement.  

And what about a retraction?  If a father says that a boy is his son and then he says that the boy is his slave, is he believed?  The rabbis suggest that one who corrects himself in the other direction is telling the truth.  Further, if his statement is that his son serves him like a slave, it can be retracted.  It is understood that a father would not knowingly call his son his slave.  The status of a slave was clearly very defined and very far below that of a son.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Bava Batra 126: Firstborns Changing Their Minds; Who was Born First?

In amud (a), the rabbis continue to discuss the ins and outs of the firstborn's birthright.  We are told that the firstborn does not receive a double portion based on improvements made by brothers to the father's land after the father has died.  If the firstborn decides to divide the land evening and each improves his own property, then he will receive a double portion of the improved lands.  

Is this always true?  If the grapes or olives were improved, are they counted?  If the grapes or olives were simply harvested, can that "improvement" be part of the double portion? Does the forfeiting have to be stated in advance? What if the grapes were changed to wine?  Which is more valuable, grapes or wine?  And should that be a factor in whether or not the firstborn has access to his double portion when they are included?

Rav Asi posits that a firstborn son who takes a regular portion has forfeited his extra share.  Rav Papa, in the name of Rava, answers that one cannot pardon that which he does not already own, and thus the firstborn cannot forfeit his extra share until the field has been divided.  Rav Papi teaches that Rava also sad that the firstborn pardoned his extra share when it comes to all of his property.  Rava was said to have called a sale void when a firstborn sold his entire property and then his brothers, orphans, were hit by the new owner when they attempted to eat the dates from what was their field.  Based on the fact that the property was not yet divided and thus not yet belonging to the firstborn, the sale was null.  Rav Papi and Rav Papa disagree as to whether the entire sale was voided or whether the firstborn was permitted to sell his own share.  

A new Mishna teaches that if a father states that his firstborn (with his name included) will not receive a double portion or will not inherit with his brothers, this goes against Torah law and will not be in effect. If a person who believes he is about to die states how much each son should receive and the amounts are unequal or the firstborn's shares are equal, this will take effect.  If he writes this stipulation anywhere in a document, it takes effect.  However, if this was their inheritance, it does not take effect.  The Gemara considers other situations, like kiddushin, where words might cause one to change a vow and effectively dispute Torah law.

What happens when we do not know which son is actually the firstborn?  If a man says that a particular son is his firstborn, is that proof enough?  What if that son was the first born to a particular mother?  And what if a witness saw that another son was in fact the firstborn?  One argument is that the witness saw that this son was first born to one particular mother.   His father would call him "foolish firstborn" in such a case.  And we learn that a father might prove that one is his firstborn because it was witnessed that the father would call that son to use his spit to heal another person's eye aches.  This healing trait was thought to travel from father to firstborn son.

The rabbis wonder about a tumtum, one who's sex is indeterminate because his genitals are obscured. Does a tumtum revealed to be male inherit the double portion?  We are told that he must be demonstrably male from the time of his birth to be eligible to hold the status of firstborn son and the benefits that role assumes.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Bava Batra 125: Inheritance Across Generations and Sexes

The rabbis continue to discuss the extra portion allotted to the first born son as part of his birthright.  Who has the right to sell land before it has been bequeathed?  We learn that some rabbis agree that if the grandmother sells the land, that sale is actually valid.  The rabbis also compare the rules that apply to land inheritance to the rules that apply to monetary inheritance.  Some rabbis are very stringent and deny the first born son his double portion's interest in certain circumstances.  Others believe that he should not even be given the double portion itself.

We are introduced to a case where Levi said after he dies, his property should go first to his grandmother and then to any hires.  Levi's married daughter died within the lifetime of Levi and of his grandmother.  The widower claimed the property when Levi's grandmother died.  Do Levi's heirs include his heirs' heirs?  Who should inherit Levi's property?  Should the widower inherit?  What if the daughter had sons - should they inherit?

The rabbis argue about the possible lines of logic in each argument of inheritance.  This is where we learn that if the grandmother sold the property, her sale is valid - and thus the property might not be given to the daughter anyway.  Property that is ra'uy, that falls to someone automatically, would not be inheritable by the daughter's widower.  

We are given three guidelines:

  • a firstborn is entitled to the double portion that was given to his father, but not what was ra'uy to someone other than himself
  • a firstborn does not get a double portion in a loan that was owed to the father in land or money
  • when a firstborn owes money to his father, they divide the inheritance - he receives half of his extra share and gives half to his brothers
It is easy to imagine the myriad of complicated situations that must have come before the courts as people sorted through their inheritance questions.  These continue today, of course.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Bava Batra 123: Firstborn Birthrights, Priests and Inheritance

The Gemara discusses the double portion of the firstborn.  There could be a number of ways to actualize a double portion.  The considerations might be different if there were five brothers or only two brothers involved in the inheritance.  

The rabbis consider the experiences of our forefathers - for example, Joseph.  Although he was not the firstborn son, he was offered the birthright, which included all of the rights of the firstborn son.  Many potential prooftext are offered to demonstrate that Joseph's portion was double the property received by one of the inheritors (his brothers).

We are privy to the rabbis' discussions about why Joseph received his brother's birthright.  Is it because Joseph gave so much to his father Jacob that Jacob felt he must repay Joseph in this way?  Is it because of Reuven's earlier sin that Jacob gave the double portion to Joseph?  Rabbi Yonatan is said to have shared a parable:  In Genesis we learn about our fathers, Jacob, Joseph. But Leah's son with Jacob should have been given the birthright.  It was because Leah pleaded for Joseph - that she prayed, we are told - that allowed her to have Joseph first.  But Rachel's resulting patience and humility warranted Joseph receiving Jacob's birthright. 

And more - when Leah was sitting at the road, she heard predictions that she would marry an older son of Lavan and Rebecca would marry the younger.  When asking about them, she was told that the young son was dwelling in tents but that the older son  was an evil man who robs people.  She cried so much in prayer that her eyelashes fell out and her eyes became weak.  Further, the Gemara recounts the plotting of Jacob and Rachel to marry.  The rabbis go on to describe Rebecca's modesty through her deeds in assisting Leah to marry Joseph, which included signs that kept Leah's identity secret throughout the wedding.

The Gemara wonders if both Dinah and Joseph had twins, for the word et before their names when describing their births would suggest the birth of another person as well.  This would help us to understand why the count finds the people of Israel one short of their described number of 70 people in Joseph's family who descended to Egypt.   Or perhaps that person was Amram's wife Yocheved, who was born in Egypt but was conceived outside of Egypt.  Jacob is said to have seen, prophetically, that he had to leave Egypt when is son Joseph was born.  

Our daf ends with a new conversation.  The Gemara notes that priests who were firstborn were entitled to double portions as well.  Priests did not own land, and so their property included the gifts that were given to them.  Thus a double portion might include twice the choice parts of an animal.  

The Gemara confirms that a firstborn priest would only be entitled to that which his father possessed before his death.  One of the examples used is that of a cow who gives birth.  A double portion might translate into double the money earned when the cow is milked and the calf is sold.  The Gemara also considered protocol when the animal is found, or when the animal is leased and not in the priest's possession. 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Bava Batra 122: The Inequities of Inheritance; Striving for Fairness

The Gemara ask about how HaAretz was divided among the tribes - was the division based on groups or individuals?  A number of opinions are shared.  These include the inclusion of Levi as the 13th tribe when the division happens with Moshiach, by tribe, by land value, by lottery, by the Urim v'Tummim, the chest plate, according to the quality of the land, and so on.

Within this conversation is information about the dreams of our rabbis.  It is suggested that in the world-to-come, each person will receive equal shares of land - including mountain, valley and field.  The rabbis must have been keenly aware of the inequities that they had to accept and explain.  As well, they lived in a time of similar stratification and unequal divisions of wealth.

A new Mishna teaches that sons and daughters inherit in the same ways, except that a firstborn son will receive a double portion of his father's property but not his mother's property; daughters are cared for from their father's property but not from their mother's property.  

The Gemara asks what it means when we learn that sons and daughters inherit in the same way.  Do they split the inheritance?  But we know that a son inherits before a daughter.  We also know that Zelophchad's daughters inherited three portions, including their father's share of his father's portion (his second portion as firstborn).

The Gemara clarifies:  perhaps daughters inherit in the same way as sons inherit when there are no sons.  Perhaps when parents make a decision about inheritance and they have all sons or all daughters, their wishes should take effect.  In fact, R. Yochanan ben Berocha says that if a person should indicate that another should be his inheritor - and it is permitted - then that inheritance is valid.  Then again, perhaps this is not said because it is understood.

Finally, the rabbis state that when there are no sons, a daughter inherits the property of a mother and a father just like a son.  However, a firstborn son receives a double portion from the father's property but not in the mother's property.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Bava Batra 121: Dissolving Vows, Shabbat, Festivals, the 15th of Av, Long Lives, Inheriting HaAretz

We begin with a discussion about the Festivals and Shabbat.  Why is it that the Festivals are detailed but Shabbat is not mentioned in Leviticus 23:44?  Perhaps because Shabbat was mentioned a number of verses earlier, one rabbi suggests.  The group suggests that Shabbat represents the act of creation, which might explain why consecration at the Temple is different on different days.  Further, the rabbis note that the start of months and the placement of Festivals based on the stars in the sky requires a group of experts, but the dissolution of vows does not require a panel of experts.  They then note that in Numbers we learn that the 'heads of tribes' are permitted to dissolve vows - one expert.

In a conversation about the 15th of Av, the rabbis state that this day was the most joyous day in the entire calendar.  Jerusalem's women would wear each others' white dresses (to ensure that no-one was shamed because she had no white dress) and they would dance together.  This was said to the be the one day of the year that women could marry men from different tribes.  The oath that forbade anyone from intermarrying with the tribe of Benjamin was dissolved for this event.  The rabbis find proofs to defend their belief that this happened only in the one generation that was entering HaAretz; it was not practiced before or after that time and place.

The 15th of Av was also said to be the day when those designated to be killed in the wilderness were dying.  Ella suggests that King Hosea removed the barriers stopping pilgrims from reaching Jerusalem on the Festivals on the 15th of Av.  Those slain in Beitar were said to be buried on the 15th of Av in a supernatural description of corpses that did not decompose.  The 15th of Av was also said to be the day when wood was no longer cut for use in the Temple, for it would not have time to dry out and burn well (this is the time of year when the sun is shorter in the sky).  

After discussing who died in the wilderness, the Gemara turns to the longest living people.  The rabbis suggest that seven people have spanned the existence of people: Adam, Methuselah, Shem, Jacob, Amram, Ahijah the Shilonite, and Elijah - who was said to be still alive at the time the Talmud was written.  

The Gemara then argues about which of these people could truly have lived that long, for it was recorded that battles killed everyone.  If that were true, then not all of these men could have lived to see the one before him still alive.  

We end today's daf with the beginning of a question regarding the inheritance of Israel.  Was each tribe given an equal portion of land, or were the portions decided upon based on the number of 'skulls' in each tribe at the time?  The answer to this and other interesting questions will be found in tomorrow's daf!  Stay tuned...

Monday, 22 May 2017

Bava Batra 120: Yocheved, Zelophchad's Daughters, and Authority

The rabbis look for proofs that might indicate that Yocheved also inherited.  Her age of 130 years, her place of birth in Egypt, her lineage - Levi, and her beauty that may have returned to her in her elder years are all used to justify this interpretation.  

Zelophchad's daughters are discussed in greater depth, as well.  Malka, Tirza, Hogla, Milka and Noa are treated as equal in stature due to their description as vatiyena, married.  This word shares the root for 'equal spiritual status'.  Was one of these daughters more wise than the others?  What was their order of birth?  Like in so many of our biblical stories, the order of their birth is meant to dictate which sibling holds authority, benefits from inheritance and receives the portion of the firstborn.  

Regarding their inheritance, the rabbis further investigate the marriages of Zelophchad's daughters.  They were said to be able to choose any husband that was fit for each of them.  But wouldn't the halachot of inheritance require that they marry within their tribe?  The rabbis suggest that the wisdom of these daughters is proven by their choice of men who were fit for them - and these men were of their tribe and thus fit for them.

In a similarly themed discussion, the Gemara examines the responsibilities of those chosen as heads of their tribes.  In particular, who is permitted to dissolve vows - to act as a judge?  The rabbis consider the role of three laypeople who might place judgement.  Who is permitted to dissolve vows - a husband? A head of his tribe? A halachic authority?  What about dissolving a vow regarding the dissolution of consecrated property?

These considerations are particularly Jewish.  The rabbis are figuring out 
- the rights of women
- the ordering of people in positions of authority
- how to dissolve vows
- when to apply halachot leniently and when to apply it stringently
- what makes a person wise
- how to choose a husband
- the ins and outs of managing consecrated property
- who inherits a portion of the land of Israel
- and more

This all happens over the course of one daf!  Their arguments are both orderly and chaotic; logical and based on minchag, tradition.  Very ambitious - and very natural.

Bava Batra 119: Inheriting on Exiting Mitzrayim or on Entering HaAretz; Zelophchad's Righteous Daughters

The Gemara continues to explore the halacha of inheritance.  First, they consider who is counted when receiving their father's portion.  If brothers all are counted, each will receive a small portion but if only the heads of families are counted, they will receive much larger portions.  We are taught that the land of Israel belonged to the children of Israel before they entered the land.  The proof is that a firstborn does not receive an extra portion in property that did not already belong to his father in his father's lifetime.

One baraita teaches that some, including the children on Korach's congregation, received inheritances of land from their grandfathers, thus those who left Egypt.  Another baraita teaches that these descendants received inheritances in their own merit - those who entered HaAretz.  These baraitot both hold that portions of land are given to those who left Egypt.  Perhaps the first baraita refers to children under twenty years old when they entered HaAretz where the second baraita referred to those over 20 years of age.

The Gemara debates the halacha about what is given to a firstborn.  The rabbis discuss those who might have been given extra portions due to their status as firstborn.  In discussing Moshe's difficulties with simply granting people what they were due - Zelophchad's daughters and the man who gathered wood on Shabbat.  Because Moshe was able to discern the right thing to do in each case, the rabbis teach that good things come through those with merit, and bad things come through unworthy people.  The Gemara also discusses Moshe's concerns about those who had already owned HaAretz.  It is explained that this was a prophecy announced at the crossing of the sea.  Moshe knew that it was not proven true until people chose to actually enter HaAretz.

The rabbis turn their attention back to Zelophchad's daughters.  They are seen as chachamot, wise women, for they asked Moshe at the right time, in the right context, about their inheritance.  First they asked others.  When they came to Moshe, all were discussing whether and when a scholar is permitted to honour one of his students.  Moshe was expounding about yibum, the requirement to marry a childless widow to her brother-in-law.  The daughters added that if they are like sons, they should get an inheritance.  If not, their mother should do yibum.  Then they expounded: if their father had let a son, they would not be requesting an inheritance.  The rabbis consider this and add that if their father had left a son who had a daughter,  they would not be requesting an inheritance, either.  

Zelophchad's daughters were considered to be righteous, in addition, because they chose to marry late - only to men who were fitting for them.  Rav Chisda taught that a woman who marries before 20 will have children until she is 60.  A woman who marries at 20 will have children until she is 40.  A woman who marries at 40 will not bear children.  Given the task of bearing and raising children in the time of the Talmud, I can't imagine a more effective means of postponing marriage.  

Finally, we learn that because Zelophchad's daughters were righteous, they were rewarded with bearing children even after they were married at at least 40 years of age.  It would be interesting to learn whether or not these women were actually interested in conceiving children at all. 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Bava Batra 118: Protesting one's Lack of Inheritance; Dividing Inheritance

We continue to learn about the halacha of inheritance through the example of Zelophchad's daughters.  Those daughters protested the inheritance of land in HaAretz that they believed was rightly theirs. We are told that they protested on a number of grounds:

  • All who left Egypt were entitled to land, including their grandfather Chefer
  • All who entered Israel were entitled to land
  • They received their father's portion when he died with no sons
  • They received their father's double portion because he was a first born son 
The rabbis compare the daughters' protest with the protest of Joseph's descendants.  He is connected to Korach and the revolt - and ultimate deaths - of thousands of people who followed Korach's protests in Egypt.  

One of the interesting facts we learn is that the tribe of Joseph were thought to be immune to the evil eye.  This is because of a phrase that was interpreted to mean that the evil eye had no power over Joseph.  

The Gemara wonders whether Zelophchad's daughters and Joseph's descendants were the only recorded protesters because they were the only somewhat successful petitioners.  This questioning of the correct interpretation of Torah is significant.  The rabbis are openly speaking to the fact that they do not know with certainty the meaning of the Torah.  They recognize that they don't even understand  whether the Torah has adequately recorded everything that we need to know to create interpretations.

Today's daf also addresses the ways in which land might have been inherited by different tribes and within each tribe.  It is possible that much of the allotment of land was done inequitably - where there were more children, each person may have had a smaller piece of property. 

Friday, 19 May 2017

Bava Batra 116: Sons and Inheritance

The Gemara focuses on how it has been determined that the daughter of a son will not inherit with her brothers.  This was done after the war where few sons (b'nei Binyamin) survived; daughters would transfer their inheritances to other tribes if they married out of their tribe.  

The rabbis discuss what it means to die without a son.  They point to verses that suggest dying without a son is dying without any inheritors.  They also discuss one who dies without sons: he is similar to one who dies without students.  Rabbi Yochanan says that G-d hates one who dies without a son to inherit him.  Perhaps scholars should interrupt their studies to visit a house of mourning for a man who has died without sons.  We also learn about David lying about having a son, and Yoav leaving no son because he died.  Or perhaps David had a son who was like himself while Yoav had a son who was not like himself.

We are privy to an important detail.  When describing the importance of having a student (see above), Rabbi Yochanan admits that he does not believe the argument that he presented.  Instead, he was simply quoting the opinion of his Rebbe.  I often wonder whether or not the rabbis actually adhered to the opinions that they shared.  Often when I share ideas in meetings, I would not necessarily stand behind those ideas.  I state the ideas because I believe that they should be heard and considered.  Were our Sages in the same position?

Verses are chosen to justify why poverty in one's home is worse that 50 plagues.  The ten makot in Egypt are called the fingers of G-d.  Thus the hand is worth 50.  Similarly, if one has a sick person in his home, he should ask a Torah Scholar to pray for him.

A new Mishna teaches a general rule: who ever has precedence to inherit, all of his descendants have precedence as well.  Further, a further will precede his own descendants.

The Gemara begins with a question: who should inherit, one's paternal grandfather or one's paternal uncle?   The answer is that the father takes precedence.  Another rabbi repeats the same question, not having heard the answer.  He asks who has precedence to inherit, one's paternal grandfather or his brother?  The answer is that the father precedes his own descendants.  Is this conclusive?  A father night precede his own descendants but does he precede his grandchildren?

To answer these questions, we learn that whomever has precedence to inherit lends that ability to all of his descendant .  Thus if the father is alive, he inherits before the paternal grandfather.  If the father is dead, his son inherits before his paternal grandfather.

A new Mishna teaches us that Zelofchad's daughters received three portions as their inheritance.  These were Tzelafchad's portion who left Egypt, Zelofchad's share of his father's portion, and Zelofchad's extra share of his father's portion as he was a first child and thus he received a double portion.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Bava Batra 115: Gender and the Order of Inheritance; Incest and a Sadducee Argument

The rabbis struggle to determine an order of inheritance and to whom different people can bequeath.  A number of verses are examined in attempts to prove that daughters and sons inherit equally from their mothers, that daughters cannot bequeath to their parents, and more.  

We learn about the halacha of inheritance in a new Mishna:

  • sons and their descendants inherit before all others
  • if the son dies without offspring, daughters and their offspring inherit
  • if the daughter dies, the father of the deceased inherits
  • if the father of the deceased has died, his brothers and their descendants inherit
  • if there are no brothers or descendants of brothers, then sisters of the deceased and their descendants inherit
  • if there are no sisters or descendants of sisters, then the deceased's paternal grandfather and his descendants inherit (the aunts and uncles of the deceased)
  • if there are no living paternal grandfather nor aunts and uncles of the deceased, then the deceased's paternal great-grandfather and his descendants inherit
  • if these people are not alive or do not exist, then the search continues this pattern until an inheritor is located
The principal is:
When a person precedes another regarding inheritance, his/her descendants precede others as well.
When a father inherits, he precedes all of his descendants.

The Gemara uses verses Numbers (27:8-9) to prove that daughters inherit when there are no sons.  It reminds us that there will always be someone to inherit if we look back far enough.  

Rav Huna refers to Rav in insulting those who agree that daughters should inherit like sons.  The proof is found in Megillat Ta'anit, where it is said that the Sadducees believe that daughters inherit like sons.  This is argued as well.  A story is told of a man named Zibeon who has intercourse with his mother, producing a son named Anah.  Zibeon is both father to and brother of his son Anah.  Anah is Sier's grandchild, and he inherits, which counters the Sadducee's belief about inheritance.  And of course this argument is countered as well; perhaps these are two different people named Anah.  We are introduced to one last counter-argument before our daf ends.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Bava Batra 114: Cancelling a Deathbed Gift; Mothers Inheriting from Sons?

The rabbis are discussing visiting a person who is sick.  We are permitted to make decisions about inheritance when we are on our deathbeds.  Today the rabbis ask about a person who makes a gift on his deathbed but does not die immediately.  Until when can that person change his/her mind and cancel the gift?  Perhaps it is alright to cancel one's gift as long as the parties are seated.  Perhaps until the discussion ends.  

Three people are permitted to write down or execute one's wishes in a deathbed experience.  But why is this the case if the dying person can retract his/her statement of inheritance?  The three people can only take action once the conversation has changed and/or once the visitors have left.

A new Mishna teaches that a woman can bequeath to her son but cannot inherit from him.  Why do we teach this, the Gemara asks?  Didn't we learn already that a son inherits from his mother but does not bequeath to her?  The answer is that we learn from this Mishna that a mother bequeaths to her son just like she bequeaths to her husband.  And just like a husband does not inherit from his wife after his death  - because her wealth goes to her family rather than his - a son does not inherit from his mother after his death when that money would be bequeathed to his paternal brothers.

At the end of our daf, we learn that both fathers and mothers inherit from their sons.  This statement might suggest that the tribes of the mother and of the father are seen as equal.  It is not only the father's tribe that is gifted the property of a son.  The mother's tribe matters as well.

To lose one's child is horrendous.  It would be critical to understand the rules of inheritance before the death of a child - whether or not this is an adult child - to avoid any arguments at that unthinkable time.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Bava Batra 113: Primary/Secondary Inheritors, Day and Night

The rabbis analyze the directive to limit inheritance from being transferred from one tribe to another.  The Gemara compares verses from Numbers (36:9) and (36:7).  Perhaps the tiny differences between these two verses teach us that we might transfer inheritance from one tribe to another through the father or through the son.  The rabbis then argue that a son's inheritance goes through his mother and not his father, and so this cannot be the case.  

Next, the rabbis note that each person is supposed to cleave to our inheritance.  Is this connected to the husband who also cleaves to his wife?

The rabbis share instances of sons who inherit from their mothers, including Yair and his father Seguv; Elazar and his father Pinchas.  They move on to consider the inheritance of sisters and their sons.  If a man dies and he has no offspring, father, paternal brother or paternal nephew, the sister of the deceased and her children may inherit.  But does that apply to all children, or only the boys?

In principal, daughters can inherit from their paternal uncles, for their mothers can do so.  But if there are sons, do those sons precede their sisters in inheriting?  The rabbis use the argument of primary inheritance to limit women's inheritance.  A son is the primary inheritor of his father.  Should there be no son, we look for secondary inheritors.  The rabbis argue that because of this rule, a secondary inheritor son takes priority over a secondary inheritor daughter.  

Because the words "that day" were used earlier, the rabbi assert that transactions about inheritance must be done during the day and not at night.  Similarly, three men visiting the sick may not act as judges unless it is daytime.  

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Bava Batra 112: Inheriting Through the Father or the Son

The Gemara continues its discussion regarding inheritance; in particular, whether or not a husband or wife should inherit from the other.  According to Numbers (36:8), a daughters who inherits should not marry outside of her tribe, for her inheritance could then belong to her husband's tribe.  There is a push for wealth to remain within each given tribe.  Rabbis question whether men were not able to inherit from both their fathers and their mothers.  They also question whether such leniencies could lead to people being buried outside of their own land.

The Gemara considers why transferring inheritance might be a problem.  If a woman inherits from both parents, her mother's property will transfer to her husband - even if he is from her father's tribe - if she marries.  If a man does not inherit from his wife, there will still be a transfer of inheritance.  In other cases as well, there is a transfer regardless of other factors.   The rabbis consider creative ways to prove that her inheritance might not transfer - or that transfer is not an issue.

Using a number of examples, the rabbis wish to establish that transfer might happen through the father or through the son.  

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Bava Batra 111: Excluding Daughters and Wives from Inheritance

The rabbis discuss the access of daughters and sons to inheritance.  First we learn that daughters are permitted to inherit quite freely:  Numbers (36:8)  And every daughter who possesses an inheritance from the tribes of the children of Israel.  How could it be that daughters inherit from more than one tribe?  Well, this daughter could inherit from both parents when they die when each parent comes from a different tribe.  As long as there is no son, the daughter inherits from both parents. However, one argument is that she inherits from her mother in all cases.  Another is that the son and daughter inherit equally from their mother, for halacha based on an a fortiori source cannot extend beyond the limit of the source.  The rabbis wonder whether or not an a fortiori argument is valid in this case.

We are told that when Rav Nittai rules that daughters and sons have equal access to inheritance, he is asked from where he derived this ruling.  He quotes that he and Rav Tavla, who ruled similarly in the past, both based basted their rulings on Rabbi Zekharya ben Katzav.  Rav Nachman threatens Rav Nattai, saying, "I will take Rav Chinnina bar Shelamya out of your ear".  This rabbi agreed with Rabbi Zekharya ben Katzav's ruling.  The phrase is said to mean that he will punish Rav Nittai severely for going against halacha.  There are many other stories about the shame that follows those who agree with Rabbi Zekharya ben Katzav regarding the equality of daughters and sons in inheritance law.  

And then the rabbis argue about whether or not only daughters inherit from their mothers.  The rabbis use the verse from Numbers (36:8) to demonstrate that just like the juxtapositioning of mothers' and fathers' tribes prove that a son precedes a daughter regarding a father's inheritance, it should prove that a son precedes a daughter regarding a mother's inheritance.  Similarly double portions should be allotted to the firstborn of a father's tribe and a mother's tribe.

The Gemara considers who is considered to be a firstborn: a stepchild?  a non-viable child?  One fascinating point: for the purposes of inheritance, a firstborn son is only one whom the father is pained about when he dies.  The rabbis decide that this means that a newborn baby who dies is not considered to be a firstborn child - a father would only feel grief about a child who has lived.  

We learn that the halacha is that the firstborn son receives a double portion only from his father.  His mother's inheritance is divided equally among her sons.  

We had understood that a husband inherits from his wife but that she does not inherit from him.  Why would this be so?  The rabbis decide that the "kinsmen" who receive the husband's inheritance are his blood kin and not his wife.  Rava attempts to argue with the logic used in this proof.  He states that words have been changed; letters moved.  But the rabbis disagree. 

Today's daf ends with the story of Pinchas, who found his fortune when his wife died and he inherited her land.  This proves that husbands inherit from their wives.  Today the Gemara was determined to undermine the potential for women - whether daughters or wives - to inherit from their fathers or husbands.  This choice in interpretation serves to exclude women from the power that accompanies the ownership of land in this ancient culture.  As long as women are reliant on the men in their lives to meet their basic needs (food, shelter, clothing), they cannot revolt against a system that dehumanizes them.  We see this pattern continue every day in both Jewish and secular society.  

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Bava Batra 109: Proof that Men Inherit Before Women

Usually my commentary on the daf, if included at all, follows a somewhat detailed review of the day's daf.  Today's post is a departure from that pattern.  Much of what is interesting to me of what I read was not the detail but the general tone and topic of the conversation.

The rabbis wish to discuss inheritance guidelines as they were set out in yesterday's daf.  Who is thought to be the first to inherit and why?  What is meant by the word "family" in some of our texts?  Why are wives not the first inheritors?  When do women inherit and why?  The rabbis provide proofs both through their texts and through their lines of questioning for the logic of the guidelines in our Mishna.  

Such arguments are circular, though genius.  Circular because each question is based on the limited scope of the questioners at that time.  We only know as much as we can know given our place in time, geography, relationships, status, gender, etc.  The arguments are genius because our rabbis are able to call upon the specific texts which will answer their questions in a manner that matches their logical origins.  

And so, of course, the rabbis determine that fathers and sons are the primary inheritors.  They explain how levirate marriage might influence their understandings of who inherits and in which cases one inherits.  But they cannot find texts to prove that women should inherit in these particular cases.  This makes sense, as women were in fact property of their husbands.  In fact, women only achieved "peoplehood" over the past hundred years in North America, so our world view is not so terribly different from those of the rabbis of the Talmud.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Bava Batra 108: Who Can Inherit, Who Can Bequeath

A new Mishna teaches us that some people are permitted to inherit from and bequeath to others.  Others are permitted only to bequeath to someone or to inherit from someone.  One group of people are not permitted to inherit to or bequeath from anyone.

We learn the following:

Permitted to Bequeath:

Permitted to Inherit:                      
fathers to their sonsfathers from their sons
sons to their fatherssons from their fathers
sons to their paternal brothers sons from their paternal brothers
a man from his mother
a man from his wife
a man from his sister's sons
a woman to her husband
a woman to her sons
a woman to her maternal uncles
Not permitted to Bequeath nor to Inherit:
Maternal brothers

The Gemara first wonders why we learn about fathers inheriting from their sons and not sons inheriting from their fathers.  We learn that we should not begin an example with a calamity.  For a son to lose his father is an expectation, but a father losing his son is a calamity.  Further, if a father is inheriting from his son, it means that there was no grandson to inherit from.  This is an even greater calamity.  Finally, the rabbis mention Numbers 27:8, where we learn that when a man dies and has no sons, his daughters are his inheritors. 

The rabbis also discuss other possible reasons for the list to be shared in this order.  They note that closeness of kin is the most important factor.  When a relative is permitted to have certain responsibilities, this is used as proof of closeness in the area of inheritance as well.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Bava Batra 107: Assessing and Buying Land

The rabbis discuss what should be done if a creditor approaches two brothers who have inherited their father's land.  Is it halachically sound for the creditor to take one of the son's portions in its entirety without touching the other brother's portion?  To rectify this, one option is to consider the original division of property void.  The brothers would then split the remaining portion as that is their true inheritance.  Another option is to consider the brothers as inheritors with guarantees.  In this case, the brother without a portion would take half of the remaining portion but one quarter would be in land and the other quarter would be in money.

The rabbis move on to discuss what should be done if land is assessed differently by different assessors.  If two assessors say that the land is worth 100 dinars and one says that the land is worth 200 dinars, do we give weight to the assessment of the two who agree?  Do we split the difference?  What if all assessors are exaggerating or simply misjudging the value of the land?  How are discrepancies in assessment settled?  Does it matter if different measures are used (selas or dinars, for example)?  What about if neither measure goes over 100 dinars?  The last thing we learn is that the rabbis do not understand the reasoning Amorim in the diaspora, but they may choose to use that method of division.  If so, the difference between the extreme assessments is calculated and then split into thirds.  One of those thirds is added on to half of the value of the portion of property.

We learn from a new Mishna: if one sells half of his field without designating which field, an assessor decides on how to divide the field.  If one sells the southern half of his field, an assessor judges the land on the north and south of the field and the buyer takes the southern half, losing some land to build a fence between the two halves of the field.  He also agrees to lose the space for the larger (six handbreadths) and smaller (three handbreadths) ditches built to deter animals.

The Gemara tells us that Chiyya bar Abba tells Rabbi Yochanan that the buyer should take the poorer quality land.  Why else assess the land at all?  Rabbi Yochanan responds with an insult: Have you been eating dates and neglecting your studies in Bavel?  We explained this according to the latter clause.  That is, the assessment is done to determine the value of the southern and northern portions of the land.  If there is inequity, then the seller reimburses the buyer with money when the southern part of the land is acquired.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Bava Batra 106: Sales that are Slightly Off; Division of Property; Division of HaAretz

We begin with a new Mishna that teaches us about rounding up and rounding down.  If a person sells a beit kor of land (the amount needed to sow a particular amount of produce) within given borders but the sale is actually one sixth or less of a beit kor, the sale is nullified.  If the land is actually more than a beit kor minus one-sixth, then the sale holds.

The Gemara outlines rabbis' arguments about whether or not these decisions to round up or down are valid.  They draw on other decisions to add weight to their opinions.  One of the more convincing arguments regards a person who knows that the sale is less generous than one-sixth less the measure given.  If the buyer went though with the sale anyway, why should the sale be nullified after the fact? Even if the seller misrepresented the measure that he was selling, why should we pursue justice if the buyer acquiesced with full knowledge of the misrepresentation?  

Amud (b) shares a comparison between the division of property in a sale with division of inherited property among brothers.  That would include a lottery, or even more than one lottery, to ensure that brothers were considered according to their presence at the time and according to their birth order.  The rabbis use the division of the land of Israel as a further site of comparison.  It would be important for such a division to include other factors including the urim v'tumim, the names/letters listed on the High Priest's breastplate.  

Knowledge of one part of the Talmud requires knowledge of all parts of the Talmud.  The rabbis were able to refer to related arguments in disparate parts of the Talmud with fluidity and fluency.  To watch these conversations move from one sub-argument to another is overwhelming for those of us who are only able to grasp one small part of one argument at any one given moment.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Bava Batra 105: The Last Statement; Keeping Status Quo; Disadvantaging the Buyer

Through a number of case examples, the rabbis reestablish a number of principles through their conversation in today's daf.

First, they walk through the addition of a month in the course of a year.  If one is to pay a certain amount of money per month, or 12 per year, what is done if a 13th month is added to the year?  The rabbis look at the contract.  However, they assert that the last agreement is the one that will hold.  This principal of leaving arrangements as they are puts the onus on the buyer to make changes through the court.

The Gemara is concerned with whether or not we should follow the last statement in contrast with whether or not we should follow the agreement that is least advantageous to the buyer.  The example of a landlord collecting his tenant's rent in the middle of the month is used to illustrate this question.  It is clear that in some cases, the buyer is more disadvantaged and in others the buyer is less disadvantaged.  The rabbis watch these arguments bump up against each other.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Bava Batra 104: Specifically Measured with a Rope, More or Less

Our daf begins with the Gemara of a new Mishna which discussed how one must respond when there is an overpayment or an underpayment; a slightly larger measure or a slightly smaller measure.  One of the key components is identifying whether or not the seller was specific about how much was being sold. 

The Gemara focuses on examples of exact measures of seed.  When a sale is slightly more or less (in specific measures) in a field, in a garden, or in other specific places, there are different forms of restitution.  It seems that the rabbis are concerned about people attempting to get away with inappropriate exchanges.  Sometimes these sales are private, but in other cases the public is affected, like in the case of a public thoroughfare through a privately owned field.  It is significant that the rabbis are equally concerned with wrongdoing regardless of whom/how many people are affected.  

We end today's daf with a new Mishna.  It teaches about what should be done if a seller contradicts himself in his contract.  He might say that he is selling a plot of land that was precisely measured with a rope, more or less.  The "more or less" nullifies his earlier statement about a precise measure.  To correct this error, there must be at least a quarter-kav per se'a surplus.  Similarly, if the seller says that he is selling a plot of land that has been measured more or less precisely with a rope, the precise measure by a rope comment nullifies the "more or less" comment.  

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Bava Batra 102: Measures of Land for Sale

The Gemara focuses on the practical implications of what we have been learning about catacombs.  If a person comes across three dead bodies and the distance between the outer two is four cubits, one must check to determine whether or not the site is an ancient burial place.  The ground must be raised for 20 cubits beyond that spot.  If a corpse is found within that radius, then another check of 20 cubits is taken on.  The rabbis note that the corpse between the two outer corpses is assumed to have been buried there incidentally.

The rabbis question how this search is to happen. Why or why not might the search happen diagonally?  The length might be longer in such cases.  Might such niches have been constructed for non-viable newborns?  

To better understand the layout of a catacomb and where corpses might be found, the rabbis compare this with a vineyard where the vines are placed closer than four cubits together.  Just like the middle corpse is considered to be invisible, might some vines be considered invisible?  Perhaps one of the vines was intended to be uprooted.  But how will the rabbis know which one?  This is not a direct comparison with bodies!  We note that the rabbis decide to uproot whichever vine does not fourth in this situation.  

Our daf ends with a new Mishna and the beginning of its Gemara in Perek VII.  The Mishna teaches about flat land versus more bumpy land.  If one sells another enough land to grow a for of wheat and the land has crevices deeper than 10 handbreadths or rocks higher than 10 handbreadths, those dips and rises in the land are not counted in its area.  Instead the land is sold based on the area of the land exclusive of the crevices or rocks.  Similarly, if the seller says that s/he is selling 'approximately' the size of a beit kor of land, then the crevices and rocks are included in the area of land sold.  

The Gemara begins with a comparison between this Mishna and a related Mishna.  We will learn more of this tomorrow.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Bava Batra 101: Catacomb Construction

Today's daf outlines different interpretations of catacomb design.  The Mishna suggested a number of ways in which catacombs might be built, ensuring that guidelines about the distances between each coffin were met.  Most of the designs allow for thirteen bodies to be buried.  The entrances always open onto a courtyard, which is higher than the rest of the site.  From the courtyard one can enter different chambers, and from each chamber there are 'niches' available to house the bodies.  

The rabbis are clear that one must never be able to walk on top of the dead.  Further, in at least one of the designs, there are two niches which are very small and would not allow for the minimum requirement of space between bodies.  The rabbis wonder if these were intended for newborn infants who would require very little space.  No guidelines would be broken.

It is interesting that the rabbis went to the effort of designing more than one catacomb.  Why not simply go with the first design?  We would never know exactly what was intended through the Mishna's description. Why bother attempting to capture every possible option?  The rabbis were creative, brilliant, learned, and curious.  They poured those traits into their study.  It was never enough to learn just one option or one interpretation.  That was not the tradition of Jewish study, and that was not the best way to develop halachot.  

The Jewish tradition continues to value generating options, inspiring debate, and allowing curiosity to guide our learning.  

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Bava Batra 100: Thoroughfares, Acquisition and Catacombs

The rabbis continue their discussion about thoroughfares.  When a public road runs through a person's private property, there must be many opportunities for disputes.  After considering whether or not is as ever acceptable to replace a public road, the rabbis discuss how acquisition of a field with a road might take place.  There are proofs available to support walking the length and width of the land.  The Gemara looks at fields with vineyards and fields with fences to help the discussion.

Is a private path really four cubits wide, or enough for a donkey to pass?  Other suggestions include two and one half cubits.  A road from city to city is generally eight cubits in width.   And what about the road to a funeral, where many mourners might gather and stand for some time?  The rabbis discuss different practices when it comes to mourning.  When there is no eulogy, on Shabbat for example, people might sit for some time.  Some people stand and sit seven times in honour of the deceased.  There are questions about whether this is only done in the cemetery; whether it is done only on the first day of mourning or on the second day, instead.  

A new Mishna discussed the construction of a catacomb.  This is an underground set of burial plots. There are standard sizes of the different rooms in the catacomb: each chamber should be four by six cubits, and each of the eight niches in which the coffins will be placed should be four cubits by seven handbreadths high by six handbreadths deep.  The layout of the catacomb is detailed as well.  Rabbi Shimon suggests a much larger and more complicated catacomb.  Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel reminds us that the size and design of a catacomb is dependent on the type of rock at the site.  

Monday, 1 May 2017

Bava Batra 99: Accessing Property Through Another's Property

The Gemara takes note of the empty space that is designated above, below and surrounding the cherubs in the Holy of Holies.  The rabbis debate how the cherubs might have been standing in different positions.  Their calculations are attempts to establish proofs for what are the appropriate sizes for homes.

Continuing on the topic of cherubs, the rabbis consider the direction that the cherubs were facing.  Were they representing the relationship between people and G-d?  Were they representing a student leaving a teacher?

We learn a new Mishna with a very short Gemara.  The Mishna teaches about how to manage access to a cistern that is only accessed by entering the home of someone who does not own the cistern.  The guidelines:

  • one can only enter and leave at times when people ordinarily enter and leave
  • animals cannot be brought through the home; a pail of water is brought out to water the animal
  • the homeowner should have a lock on his property and the cistern owner should have a lock on the cistern
The Gemara discusses the need for two different locks.

A second new Mishna shares a similar issue.  When one has a garden located beyond another person's garden, one is permitted to enter and exit only at usual times.  One cannot bring a merchant through the garden or enter it just to get to a field.  It is permitted for the owner of the outer garden to sow the path to the inner garden.  If there is a passageway to the inner garden from a different field, then the inner garden can be accessed by anyone at any time.  The owner of the outer garden may plant on the path, as well.  

Rabbi Yehuda quotes Shmuel as describing a very bizarre and unusual case where the owner of an outer garden asks to purchase part of the inner garden.  What can be planted?  Where can it be planted?  Why?  The Gemara also asks about a field that has been damaged by water.  The owner who has taken on the responsibility of the banks of a field is now responsible for the damages.

We end our daf with a third new Mishna.  It concerns a person who appropriates the road that is built through his/her field after building an alternative road through a different part of his/her property.  The thoroughfare must be for public and not his private use.   We learn that a private road is said to be four cubits while a public road is sixteen cubits and a king's thoroughfare and a funeral procession have no maximum width.  

The Gemara's discussion demonstrates the rabbi's awareness that the owner might wish to limit traffic across his/her property.  The rabbis use the example of a person using a stick to dissuade people from travelling on their thoroughfare.  Or create a circuitous route only for others with a straight route for themselves.