Lost Property - part 11
Property of a Proselyte who Dies
With this lesson we conclude our discussion of Lost Property. When a Gentile converts from any other religion to Judaism (i.e. when he becomes a proselyte or Ger) he is considered a newborn person. All former relatives are no longer his legal relatives. His prior marriage is not considered a marriage and his wife isn't his wife according to halacha. After his conversion, the Ger, whether or not he was married before his conversion: (a) might not ever marry (There is a Torah commandment to beget children and he may under certain circumstances be violating such commandment if he does not marry after he converted and beget children); (b) may marry his former wife, if she is Jewish when they now get married, either because she was born Jewish, or converted to Judaism prior to this new marriage; or (c) may marry any other Jewish woman (with certain restrictions). (The proselyte has to comply with the laws against bigamy if he marries a woman who was not his wife before he converted and he did not divorce her according to the laws of the land.) When he now marries a Jewish woman, she is his wife in halacha and children born to them are his recognized children according to halacha. (They are his children but not his heirs if conceived prior to his conversion.)
If the proselyte dies without having any children conceived after he converted and if he left no will disposing of his assets, then his assets, his objects, both real estate and personal property are ownerless in halacha.
As is the situation with all ownerless objects, whoever performs an act of acquisition on the object, with the intent to acquire the object acquires the object. The act of acquisition may be done for a person by his agent. The person acquiring the objects of the deceased proselyte is not obligated to pay for his funeral expenses. The reason given is that as soon as the proselyte dies his objects are immediately ownerless. There is no lien for his funeral expenses that have not as yet been incurred. There is also a dissent that holds that it is not equitable to have a person acquire the dead proselyte's assets and not use some of it to pay his burial expenses. When a proselyte dies heirless, all of the debts due to him are cancelled.
The proselyte owed money to Jews and he died heirless. Other Jews seized the assets of the proselyte. They must restore the assets to the creditors of the proselyte in inverse order of the seizings. For example, on January 1, the date of death of the proselyte he had debts of $100 and assets of $130. On January 2, Dan seized $20 worth of assets from the possession of the estate of the proselyte. On January 3, Gad seized $30 of assets from the possession of the proselyte. On January 4, Ephraim seized $30 of assets from the possession of the estate of the proselyte. On January 5, Menashe seized $50 of assets from the possession of the estate of the proselyte. The creditors will first retake the $50 from Menashe leaving a balance of $50 in debts. They will then retake $30 from Ephraim, leaving a balance of $20. They will then retake $20 from Gad, leaving him with $10 and Dan will keep the $20 he seized.
Real estate is acquired by an act of CHAZAKA necessary to acquire real estate when it is purchased. For example, Shimon wants to acquire the real estate. He comes to a large building built on the real estate of the proselyte and he puts on a coat of paint or whitewash or he paints a mural or decoration on the wall opposite the door and the mural is at least 1 ama square, about 2 feet by 2 feet. Or he spreads out mattresses or sleeping bags on the real estate; or he plows the field of the deceased proselyte; or he trims the twigs of vines or branches of trees or the leaves of trees on the real estate and he intends thereby to improve the trees. Or he gathers twigs, grass or stones in the field and he intends the improvement, or he levels the field with the intent to improve the land. The halacha lists many other acts of such acquisition and the local customs as to acquisition of real estate should be followed.
Shimon performs an act of acquisition (CHAZAKA) to acquire the real estate of the proselyte. If the real estate is one contiguous tract, delineated by boundaries, Shimon acquires ownership of the entire tract the moment he performs an act of acquisition, such as turning a shovelful of earth. If it is not delineated by boundaries, Shimon acquires ownership to the tract by plowing the tract from one end to the other and then plowing a furrow back again.
If the tract of land owned by the deceased proselyte before he died without heirs contained interior boundaries, then if Shimon performs an act of acquisition on one side of the boundary he does not acquire the area on the other side of the boundary. The items that form interior boundaries are generally those listed in the Talmud and subsequent codes, but would include such other boundaries as are now in effect to divide areas within tracts of land. The listed dividers are: a designated boundary, a hedge used on boundaries, a river, a rivulet, a ravine, a water-filled ditch, a road whether public or private, paths whether public or private used both in rainy seasons and dry seasons, different types of grasses, and anything that is the custom of the community. Where there is a large tract of land belonging to the deceased proselyte without any interior boundaries or any other dividers, then Shimon acquires as much of the area that is considered one unit as is associated with the name of the proselyte. There is an opinion that this law applies only to fields that are irrigated by springs throughout the year. But if they are rain irrigated fields where the rainy season is limited to certain seasons, then Shimon acquires only that area in which he performed an act of acquisition.
Assume that when a proselyte acquired the real estate, he received a deed, whether it was a deed of purchase or a deed of gift. After the death of the proselyte, Shimon takes possession of the deed. He has not acquired ownership of the real estate described in the deed. He does own the deed. He may use it to hang it on his wall as a decoration or some similar thing.
With this lesson we conclude our short discussion of the topic of lost and found objects. Books have been written on this subject. IYH we shall begin a new topic with the next lesson, in an entirely different area, that of matrimonial law.