Masechet Bava Batra 112a-118b

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Divided Land
10 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 112a-b

Going back to the times of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs, Jewish tradition has seen great importance in burying the dead in a permanent grave, ideally in a family plot.

This tradition is used by the Gemara on today’s daf as a source for learning that a husband will inherit his wife if she passes away before he does.

According to the Mishnah (108a), among the categories of people who inherit we find that a man will receive his wife’s estate upon her death, although she will not receive his estate should he die first. Today’s daf opens in the midst of a search for the source for the law that gives the husband the right to inherit, something that is out-of-the-ordinary in a list of blood relatives who inherit one another. The Gemara points to a passage in Sefer Yehoshua (24:33) where we learn that Aharon‘s son, Elazar HaKohen, was buried in the land of his son, Pinchas. How might Pinchas come to have land that did not belong to his father? The Gemara concludes that Pinchas must have married someone from a different tribe, and he received the land as an inheritance from her.

Abayye objects to this proof, arguing that Pinchas may simply have purchased the land on which his father was buried. To this suggestion the Gemara responds that Elazar ha-Kohen could not possibly have been buried in land that was purchased, since such land would be returned to its owner at the yovel – the Jubilee year – and this righteous man would turn out to be buried in land that did not belong to him and his family.

In a responsum, the Chatam Sofer learns from this Gemara that it is incumbent on every Jewish person to purchase a burial plot, so that he will not be buried in land that does not belong to him.

Bava Batra 113a-b

Do inheritance laws change if the death occurred at night rather than during the day?

Ridiculous as this sounds, Rabbah bar Chanina’s teaching appears to imply that this is so. He related a tradition before Rav Nachman teaching that the passage in Sefer Devarim (21:16) that says “… then it shall be, on the day that he causes his sons to inherit that which he has…” indicates that inheritance takes place only during the day and not at night. Abayye is incredulous about this statement, and suggests that the teaching actually means that decisions made by a bet din – a Jewish court – regarding questions of inheritance are considered to be real legal cases that can only be decided during the day and not at night.

The source for this idea is a baraita that understands the passage in Sefer Bamidbar (27:11) that states that the laws of inheritance are chukat mishpat – a statute of judgment – to mean that all the rules of the legal system will apply to questions of estate law. The Rashbam understands this to mean that unlike ordinary situations of partnerships where the joint owners can choose to divide up their shared property in any way they want, estate law according to the Torah requires the involvement of a formal bet din, which, incidentally, operates only during the day. Tosafot bring the R”i who argues with the Rashbam and suggests that the significance of this ruling is that if three people come to visit someone on his deathbed and they hear his last requests and act upon them, they constitute a bet din and their decisions are binding on those who are inheriting.

Rabbi Avraham Av bet Din suggests that this teaching serves a different purpose. By teaching that a decision about questions of estate law can only be judged during the day, the Torah is setting up these laws as an archetype from which we learn that other legal decisions also can only be judged during the day.

Bava Batra 114a-b

Although contracts and agreements usually “seal the deal,” in contemporary law, there are certain circumstances under which the law will allow a buyer to change his mind about the purchase, even after agreeing to it. Our Gemara presents a similar question. Once a kinyan – a symbolic purchase agreement – is made, until when can the parties back out of the deal?

Rabbah rules that as long as the two parties are still sitting together, the kinyan can be cancelled; according to Rav Yosef they can only do it so long as they are still discussing that particular matter.

The R”i Albarceloni, quoted by the Ramban and others, brings an opinion that limits this question to the case of a shechiv me-ra – someone who is on their deathbed – who is instructing the people around him regarding how to dispose of his property after his death. According to this approach, it is only someone like this who may change his mind at any moment whose kinyan would not have full force. Rabbeinu Tam argues that the Gemara’s question applies to all cases and all circumstances.

Most rishonim agree with the position taken by the R”i Albarceloni himself, who limits the possibility of backing out of the agreement only to cases where the kinyan was performed by symbolic means, e.g. a kinyan sudar, where the means of the kinyan was an object that represents the item that was purchased. If the kinyan was meshicha or hagbaha (pulling or lifting the object itself as a show of ownership – see Bava Batra 84), then there would be no opportunity to back out of the agreement. The explanation given for this distinction is one of gemirut da’at – how certain were the parties about the finality of the sale. When the object itself has been taken by the party who is purchasing – or if money has changed hands, then we can be fairly certain that both parties have reached a final understanding that the exchange of ownership has taken place. On the other hand, if there was only a symbolic kinyan, the finality of the agreement is less clear and the Sages allow a small window of opportunity for the parties to cancel the agreement.

Bava Batra 115a-b

The Mishnah on today’s daf delineates the order of inheritance according to biblical law:

  1. Sons of the deceased or the sons’ descendants
  2. Daughters of the deceased or the daughters’ descendants
  3. Brothers of the deceased or the brothers’ descendants
  4. The father of the deceased
  5. The father of the deceased’s brothers.

In theory, this order can lead to a situation where a person’s granddaughters may receive his inheritance, even though his daughters will not. In the event that someone dies with both a son and a daughter, the son will receive the inheritance. Should that son die before his father, leaving daughters but no sons, then when the father dies his granddaughters will receive the inheritance – based on their father’s right to inherit – rather than their aunt, even though she is a more direct descendant.

This anomaly was, apparently, part of the debate between the Tzedukim (Sadducees) and the perushim (Pharisees – the Sages of the Talmud). Thus we find Rav Huna quoting Rav as ruling that anyone who suggests that in such a case the daughter will share the inheritance with the granddaughters will be disregarded, since such a suggestion is ma’aseh Tzedukim – the work of the Sadducees.

The disagreements between the Sages of the Talmud and the Sadducees existed on a number of different levels, ranging from broad concept of faith, like the question of the existence of a World to Come, to practical issues of halacha where the Sadducees rejected the oral traditions of the Sages of the Talmud. Generally speaking, the Sadducees were among the elite population who had close relationships with the later Hasmonean kings, and they had significant political power, even as they were a minority of the population. Their attempts to create tension between the Sages and the monarchy led the Sages to publicly reject their positions, even when there may have been good reason to consider them.

Bava Batra 116a-b

In the midst of the Gemara‘s discussion of inheritance laws, the Gemara segues to a discussion on the importance of having children.

Rabbi Yochanan quotes Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai as teaching that God is filled with evra – anger – at someone who does not have a child who will inherit him. This teaching is based on the parallel language usage in the laws of inheritance (Bamidbar 27:8), where it says ve-ha’avartem et nachalato, and the passage in Tzefania (1:15) where we find a description of a “day of anger” – yom evra ha-yom ha-hu.

The Gemara continues in its teaching that the actual intent of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is a matter of dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, one of whom believes that he was referring to someone who does not have an actual child, and the other who understands the reference as talking about someone who does not have a student to follow in his path.

Rabbeinu Gershom explains the second approach as referring to a person who refuses to teach Torah to others, and we can well understand why such a person deserves to have the wrath of God directed at him. In a similar fashion the Ramah explains the first approach as referring to someone who chooses consciously to refrain from having children. Nevertheless, some point to the fact that the continuation of the Gemara appears to apply this even to someone who had children and lost them. In an attempt to establish which position Rabbi Yochanan took and which Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi took, the Gemara tells the story of how Rabbi Yochanan would show to others the bone of his tenth child – all of whom had died. The point of the Gemara is that Rabbi Yochanan was not embarrassed to let people know that he had no living children.

Bava Batra 117a-b

How was the Land of Israel divided up among the Children of Israel who arrived after the 40 year trek through the desert?

Two passages in the Torah appear to offer different versions of the method used for dividing the land:

Our Gemara quotes three different opinions about how to interpret these pesukim.

  1. Rabbi Yoshi’a emphasizes the first pasuk and rules that the land was divided according to those who left Egypt. The passage is understood as teaching that the division was not done according to individuals, rather according to the families of each of the tribes. The heads of the families that were to receive a share in the land were determined by the people who left Egypt.

To illustrate, if two brothers were among those who left Egypt, and upon entering the land of Israel one had five sons and the other had a single child, the five sons would divide one portion between them, while the single son would get a whole portion for himself.

  1. Rabbi Yonatan sees the second pasuk as the one that is crucial for understanding the method of division, so the determining factor is who entered the land.

To illustrate, if three brothers left Egypt, and upon entering Israel the first brother had four children, the second had three children and the third had two children, the family has nine portions of land (4+3+2). We then must divide the portions amongst the three families so that each father has three portions to give. Thus the four children of the first brother get three-quarters of a portion, the three children of the second brother get a full portion each, and the two children of the third brother get one-and-a-half portions.

  1. Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar accepts both pesukim and says that both those who left Egypt and those who entered Israel received a portion. According to this opinion, it would even be possible for someone to receive two portions, for example, if his father left Egypt and he entered the land, he would receive both his father’s full portion, as well as his own.

Bava Batra 118a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf there is a disagreement about how the portions of the Land of Israel were divided up – according to the families that left Egypt during the Exodus, according to the individuals who entered the land after 40 years in the desert, or by using both methods. A baraita that was quoted earlier seemed to indicate that there were some people who did not receive a portion at all – that the portion of the meraglim (the spies) was divided between Yehoshua and Calev. Furthermore, according to the baraita, the mitlonenim (the complainers) and adat Korach (those who joined Korach’s rebellion against Moshe’s rule) also received no part of the land.

The source for these exceptions stems from the argument made by the daughters of Tzelafchad who were appealing to receive their father’s portion. In their introductory argument they clarified that their father deserved a portion of land. They said (Bamidbar 27:3 – as interpreted by the baraita):

It is obvious that this discussion follows the opinion that the land was divided according to the families that left Egypt, since all of the people who are presented as having lost their inheritance were part of the Exodus, but did not enter the land. According to this, some of the rishonim ask why Tzelafchad’s daughters needed to complain.  After all, weren’t they still going to get their grandfather, Chefer’s portion? Rabbeinu Yonah points out Tzelafchad was a firstborn and had rights to a double portion of his father’s inheritance. Had he been involved in one of these groups then his daughters would have lost out on their opportunity for that extra portion.

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.