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.

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