Masechet Bava Batra 105a-111b

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03 Dec 2009

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

Bava Batra 105a-b

One of the most difficult situations in business dealings is when the agreed upon price or condition is stated in a confusing manner. The Mishnah on our daf discusses cases where two statements were made, one seemingly insisting on an exact measurement, and another indicating willingness to be less exacting. Ben Nanas rules that the second statement is the one that we will rely upon.

A similar case is presented by Rav Huna as what was taught in Rav‘s house – if a man agrees to a price saying istira, me’ah manei (an istira coin, worth 96 ma’ot, followed by 100 ma’ot), we view the price as 100 ma’ot. If he switched the order, then the price will be an istira coin.

The term 100 ma’ot as used in this example is a colloquial usage, for the intent is not actually to ma’ot – which are small silver coins, each of which is worth one-third of an istira – rather the intention is 100 perutot. Under ordinary circumstances, an istira was valued at 96 perutot, although there were occasionally currency fluctuations so the amount of perutot may have changed slightly.

An istira was a copper half-dinar coin. In Greek it was referred to as a στατήρ (statir). When such coins were made of gold, they were worth a sela – four dinarim – but the story in our Gemara is referring to matbe’a medina, common currency, which was worth one-eighth the value of the larger matbe’a tzuri. Therefore the istira was worth half a dinar.

Ben Nanas’ ruling is rejected by his peers who rule that the disputed amount that stems from confusing language in their agreement should either be divided between them or else left in the hands of the one who has a more definite claim to the money (see the case of the disputed rental agreement in Bava Metzia 102a-b).

Bava Batra 106a-b

What happens if two brothers agree on dividing up their inheritance, only to discover that there is a third brother who appears and demands to receive his share?

Our Gemara presents just such a case – two brothers divide the inheritance and a third brother comes from a far-away land – and brings a disagreement between Rav and Shmuel. Rav rules that in such a case the agreement falls apart and a new arrangement must be made. Shmuel rules mekamtzin – each of the brothers takes part of what he received and gives it to the newly arrived brother so that he gets an equal share.

Rav’s reasoning is fairly straightforward. Although the original agreement had the force of a kinyan – of a legally binding claim of ownership – nevertheless we have discovered that it was done mistakenly, and therefore it needs to be done over again.

Shmuel’s ruling is subject to a number of different explanations. The Rashbam says simply that the original division remains in effect, but each of the two brothers who received a share will be obligated to take half of the amount that the third brother deserves and give it to him. According to this approach, the term mekamtzin means to take a part of something, like the passage in Vayikra 2:2.
Tosafot reject this reading of Shmuel, arguing that the two brothers do not have the right to determine what the third brother should receive. They explain that even according to Shmuel the third brother enters into negotiations about the part that he will receive, however the first division still remains in effect inasmuch as whatever he does not take will revert to the individuals who agreed to get it in the first place. According to this explanation, the term mekamtzin appears to be related to the word kamtzanut – “saving” or lessening the need for further divisions.

The R”i mi-Gash argues that even according to Shmuel the third brother can demand a new division of the estate. It is only if he agrees to accept what the brothers set aside for him that there is no need to redivide the estate from the beginning.

Bava Batra 107a-b

On occasion, agreements to buy and sell something are unclear. The Mishnah on today’s daf presents a case where the seller says “I am selling you half of my field” without specifying which half was for sale. The Mishnah rules that they arrange to have the field evaluated and the purchaser receives half of the field. Similarly, if the seller says “I am selling you the southern half of my field,” the field is evaluated and the southern half is given to the purchaser.

In the Gemara, Rabbi Chiya bar Aba quoted Rabbi Yochanan as ruling that the seller gets to keep the more valuable half of the field and then followed it with a question. If the field is first evaluated to ensure that the two halves are of equal value, how can we discuss which half is the “better” one? Rabbi Yochanan responded with a word of rebuke – you asked this question “because you sat and ate the flowers of the date palm (kafniyata) in Babylon.” As the second case of the Mishnah makes clear, even when we know that the southern half of the field is being sold, we still need to evaluate the field to ensure that the two halves of the field will be of equal value. Nevertheless, the difference between the quality of the different parcels of land remains, and the seller gets to keep the better quality land.

Rabbi Yochanan’s rebuke to his Babylonian student effectively meant – “while you were wasting your time with things of no value, I was exerting myself in an attempt to understand the Mishnah.”  The kafniyata, or date palm flowers, are attached to the small branches of the palm tree. While they are young, these flowers are juicy and edible. Since date palms are either male or female, and only the female palms produce dates, ordinarily only the flowers from male trees would be eaten in order not to disturb the development of the dates on female trees.

Bava Batra 108a-b

The eighth perek of Masechet Bava Batra, Perek Yesh Nochalin, begins on today’s daf. The focus of this perek is the laws of inheritance, and generally speaking, how a person’s property is divided up after his death.

The laws of inheritance are stated in a clear manner in the Torah (see Bamidbar 27:6-11). In response to the request made by the daughters of Tzelafchad to receive their father’s inheritance in the absence of any male children, the Torah delineates how an estate should be divided. Nevertheless, there is a need to clarify details of these laws and to investigate questions like: are these laws obligatory, or can – perhaps even should – the patriarch divide his worldly possessions according to his own priorities and desires?

The first Mishna opens by stating that some relatives both receive an inheritance and pass it on to others, some receive but do not pass on, some pass on but do not receive and some neither receive nor pass on. The first two cases of relatives who both receive an inheritance and pass it on to others are a father, who receives an inheritance from his children and passes it on to them, and a son who receives an inheritance from his father and passes it to him.

The Gemara queries why the first case that the Mishnah chooses to teach is one of tragedy – a father who receives an inheritance from his son. For such a case to happen, a double tragedy must occur – the child must die in his father’s lifetime, and he could not have had any offspring of his own. The Gemara suggests that a better case to be first would have been a son who inherits from his father, since that is the way of the world.

The Gemara answers that the law granting the father the right to receive an inheritance from his son is not clearly written in the Torah, and the author of the Mishnah preferred to offer a teaching based on a rabbinic derivation rather than a law that is simply stated in the Torah.

Bava Batra 109a-b

While discussing whether the primary family relationship regarding laws of inheritance is from the mother’s side or the father’s side, the Gemara enters into a discussion of a difficult case – the identity of the pseudo-priest in the story of pesel Micha – Micha’s idol.

According to the story at the end of Sefer Shoftim (chapter 17), during a period when “there was no king in Israel, every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” a man named Micha stole money from his mother, who then gave it to him to create an idol. When a Levi from Bethlehem in Yehuda came calling, Micha was pleased to have a Levi serve as priest in his temple.

Our Gemara points to the fact that the passage (Shoftim 17:7) identifies him as a Levi – so apparently his father was from that tribe – yet he is also identified as being from the tribe of Yehuda, so apparently his mother’s tribe is significant, as well. In response, Rava bar Rav Chanan suggests that he really was from Shevet Yehuda, and the pasuk simply means that his name was Levi.

This suggestion is rejected out of hand, since the Tanach clearly identifies the Levi as Yehonatan ben Gershom ben Menashe (see Shoftim 18:30). The Gemara concludes that even this passage is unclear, since Yehonatan, the Levi, was not the grandson of Menashe, rather he was the grandson of Moshe Rabbeinu. Rather, the navi chose to identify him with Menashe, since his behavior was similar to that of Menashe, the evil king of Judea; in a like manner, he was identified as coming from the tribe of Yehuda, the tribe from which King Menashe came.

As the Rashbam points out, a clear indication that this pseudo-priest was a descendant of Moshe is that the letter nun of Menashe in Sefer Shoftim 18:30 is left hanging, suggesting that it should not be read, leaving the pasuk clearly identifying Yehonatan as the son of Gershom, the son of Moshe.

Bava Batra 110a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, our Gemara identifies the pseudo-priest who served in the temple erected by Micha (see Sefer Shoftim chapter 17), as Yehonatan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moshe Rabbeinu. An obvious question that comes up is how the grandson of the preeminent leader of the Jewish people would find himself involved in idol worship.

According to our Gemara, this is the very question that the tribe of Dan asked him when they seduced him to abandon Micha’s house and join them together with the idol. The passage in Sefer Shoftim (18:3) that includes the phrases:

Are all understood in the context of asking how he could have become a priest in a temple of idol worship.

According to the Gemara, Yehonatan answers that he has a family tradition that a person should sooner hire himself out to for idol worship (avodah zara) than accept charity from others. The Gemara comments that this maxim was misunderstood by Yehonatan, for its true intent was that a person should accept work that is not what he ordinarily does (avodah she-zara lo) rather than accept charity. To support this interpretation, the Gemara relates something that Rav once said to Rav Kahane – you should be willing to skin animals in the marketplace and get paid, and you should not say that it is below the dignity of an important person such as yourself.

The Rashbam explains that there is no embarrassment involved in working for a living, so there is no hillul ha-Shem for a scholar to work, even in tasks that appear to be demeaning.

While the Talmud Yerushalmi rules that a dayan – a religious court judge – who is serving the community, should have servants appointed so that he should not have to perform work in public, there is certainly nothing wrong with him taking on private work or choosing an occupation that is not degrading, and it is encouraged in order to keep from becoming a burden on the community.  A parallel question to this one is whether a scholar is permitted to be supported by the community. The Rambam forbids this in strong language in his Commentary to the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot, but it has become accepted practice in most Jewish communities.

Bava Batra 111a-b

According to Torah law, when do daughters receive a share of an inheritance from their parents?

Most of the Torah’s laws of inheritance are stated after the daughters of Tzelafchad object to the possibility that their family will lose out on its inheritance in the land of Israel simply because they had no brothers. In Sefer Bamidbar (27:6-11) the Torah teaches that their argument was accepted and that although sons usually received their father’s inheritance – the expectation being that they would take care of their sisters until their marriage – in the absence of sons, the inheritance would go to the daughters.

All that is true regarding an inheritance from the father. The Mishnah (108a) teaches that this is true of a mother’s estate as well. Our Gemara searches for a source for the fact that a son inherits his mother, and concludes that it is learned from the fact that a daughter inherits her mother. One of the pesukim (=verses) that describes the laws derived from the story of the daughters of Tzelafchad (Bamidbar 36:8) teaches that “any daughter inheriting from the tribes of Israel,” which is understood to include a situation where mother and father are from separate tribes. Having determined that a daughter inherits from her mother, the Gemara suggests a kal va-homer – an a fortiori argument – as follows. If a daughter, who has less rights of inheritance from her father’s estate, nevertheless inherits her mother, certainly a son, who has stronger rights in inheriting his father’s estate, will inherit from his mother.

Following this argument, the Gemara continues and concludes that since both sons and daughters inherit their mothers, the sons have priority in this case just as they do in cases when their father passes away. This position is rejected by Rabbi Zekharia ben ha-Katzav who believes that sons and daughters should share equally in the mother’s estate, because of the concept of dayo. The rule of dayo la-ba min ha-din le-hiyot ka-nadun limits what we learn from a kal va-homer to the original teaching, so that the newly derived law cannot have greater impact than the original source.

The Gemara relates that several amoraim wanted to accept Rabbi Zechariah ben ha-Katzav’s ruling, and the Talmud Yerushalmi reports that the Babylonian sages had a tradition that followed his teaching. Nevertheless, the halacha follows the other opinion, and boys receive preference in inheritance laws also in the case of a mother’s estate.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.