Masechet Bava Batra 132a-139b

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31 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 133a-b

We have learned that a person cannot determine who will get his possessions after he dies, but he can divide up his property any way he wants to while he is still alive. According to the Mishna on today’s daf a person can give all of his possessions away during his lifetime, even if he has children, although such behavior is discouraged by the Sages. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel teaches that if the children do not behave appropriately, then his actions are “remembered for good.”

The Gemara asks whether or not the first opinion in the Mishna agrees with Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s ruling, and attempts to bring stories that prove their position one way or another. The Gemara concludes that the Tanna Kamma objects to any outside attempt to influence the inheritance, even if it was to give money to a good son rather than a bad son or to make sure that the daughter gets a share.

The Rashbam explains that the Sages’ objection to giving away the estate to a child who does not deserve it were we to follow Torah law, stems from their desire to see the laws of the Torah applied properly. The Maharal offers a different approach. The normal way of the world is for elderly parents to die and to leave their estate to their children. Any attempt to transfer monies to other people before death so that the inheritance will not go to the children in a normal manner runs counter to the ordinary flow of events in the world – something that the Sages considered to be inappropriate.

It should be noted that although our Mishna has Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel teaching his ruling in a case where the children do not behave appropriately, a variant reading of the Mishna – which is the reading that appeared before the Rif, the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch – suggests that if the children do not behave appropriately towards him, he can arrange for the inheritance to skip them, even if their behavior towards the rest of the world was appropriate.

Bava Batra 134a-b

On the previous daf the Gemara told a story of a man whose children behaved inappropriately, and he gave all of his money to Yonatan ben Uziel. The Gemara relates that Yonatan ben Uziel sold one-third, gave one-third to the Temple and returned one-third to the man’s children, a decision that some of his peers objected to. In connection with that story, the Gemara mentions that Hillel ha-Zaken had eighty students — thirty who are described as deserving of divine revelation like Moshe Rabbeinu, thirty who merit the cessation of heavenly orbits as did Yehoshua bin Nun, and twenty average students. The greatest of his students was Yonatan ben Uziel; the least of them was Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai.

In what fields was the “least of the students” expert?

It was said of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai that his studies included the written Torah, the Mishna, the Gemara, the Halakhot, and Aggadot; the subtle points of the Torah and the minutiae of the Scribes; the inferences from minor to major and analogies; astronomy and geometry (the simple meaning of the word in Greek is land measurements, but it was commonly used to mean engineering or mathematics in general); the language of the ministering angels; the language of the demons, the whisper of the palms, washer’s proverbs and fox fables, and matters great and small.

The report on Yonatan ben Uziel was that when he would sit and study Torah, a bird that flew above his head would immediately burn up.

We have surprisingly little biographical information about Yonatan ben Uziel. His life’s work, for which he is best known and remembered, is his translation of the books of Nach (nevi’im) into Aramaic. It is not clear whether the translation that we have today is actually the one that he wrote, or whether it is based on his work. In any case, it is not simply a translation, but a free interpretation, which includes many details and elucidations. Although a translation into Greek already existed at the time, his work was groundbreaking in that it included interpretations beyond the simple meaning of the words and was done according to — and with the approval of — the Sages of his generation.

We find that Yonatan ben Uziel was so well regarded during his lifetime, that even Shammai ha-Zaken, who served as the Av Bet Din, sought him out to discuss issues of halacha with him.

Bava Batra 135a-b

How much faith can we put in the statement of a person regarding his family status? The Mishna (134a) taught that a person is believed to say “this is my son,” and a share of the inheritance will go to him. A person is not believed, however, to say “this is my brother” and none of the other brothers who deny the relationship will have to share the estate with him, although the one who admits the relationship will have to do so.

Our Gemara discusses a case where a man who is on his deathbed is asked “who should your wife go to?” – essentially whether she will fall to yibum (Levirate marriage) or can she marry anyone. The man’s answer – according to the reading in our Gemara – was “she can marry the kohen gadol – the High Priest.” The Gemara discusses whether we can accept the man’s assertion that his wife will not be a yevamah.

It is clear that the statement “she can marry the kohen gadol” is an exaggeration, inasmuch as at that time there was no operating Temple (although Rav Yaakov Emden wanted to suggest that he meant that she could marry an important person in the community named Kahane). Nevertheless, this statement is odd, since a widow who is not a yevamah can marry an ordinary kohen, but not a kohen gadol. The Ramah and others suggest that in our case the marriage was an erusin – halakhic engagement – and the marriage was never consummated.

Most rishonim, however, understand that the couple was married and that the man was saying that his wife would not fall to yibum, either because he had children (Rabbeinu) or because he had no brothers (Bartenura). According to this approach, the statement about a kohen gadol was simply an exaggeration meant to emphasize his point.

An alternative reading in the Gemara leaves out the kohen gadol aspect and talks just about being permitted to a kohen. One version has this as a question – “Can she marry a kohen?! I divorced her!” – while according to another approach he was saying that she could return to her father’s home, where she could eat terumah, if her father was a kohen.

Bava Batra 136a-b

We have already learned that a person cannot decide who receives portions of his estate after he dies – that will be determined by Torah law – but he can make any decisions that he wants about dividing up his property during his lifetime. The Mishna on today’s daf describes a person who writes to his sons that he is giving them his property “from today until after I die.” What he accomplishes with this is that the property will transfer at that time according to his wishes, but until that time, he will be able to use the property.

The Gemara questions this ruling, pointing out that with regard to gittin – divorce law – a get that says “from today until after I die” will be viewed as a questionable get. In response, the Gemara distinguishes between divorce law where it is not clear to us whether the clause “after I die” is a condition that will activate the divorce from the earlier date or if it is a negation of the planned divorce from today. In our case, however, both statements can be meaningful – ownership of the land will transfer at the time of death, even as it remains in the possession of the original owner until that time.

The Rashbam explains that a person might make such a present during his lifetime if he is about to enter into a second marriage, and he does not want his children from the first marriage to lose part of their estate because of obligations that he has to his new wife. Were he to simply write that they would get the money after his death, it would have no validity, since he cannot choose how to divide his possessions after he has died. This method allows him to continue using the land having ensured that it would be divided according to his wishes at the time of his death.

Bava Batra 137a-b

We have already learned (see Bava Batra 125) that a person can give a gift to another and retain the rights to determine who will get it after the recipient passes away. Our Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches in a case where someone says “I am giving you this property and afterwards it should go to so-and-so,” the Tanna Kamma says that the second recipient will get the property, even if it has been sold to a third party. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel argues, ruling that it will only transfer to the second person if it is still in the hands of the original recipient. If he has sold it or destroyed it, the second person will only get what remains.

Several of the amoraim in the Gemara agree that the halacha follows Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel. Nevertheless, Abayye states that someone who recommends to the first person to sell the property is considered a rasha arum – an evil trickster.

The Rashbam explains that he is a rasha (an evildoer) because he negates the wishes of the person who gave him the gift, and he is arum (a trickster) because he can successfully arrange for the gift to end up in the hands of another. He adds that Abayye only applies this appellation to someone who advises to do this. The person who does it, who is simply looking out for his own interests, would not be considered a rasha for doing this.

Rabbi Yochanan limits Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s ruling to an ordinary sale, but if the person tried to give the property away to a third party at the time of his death via a matnat shechiv me-ra – a gift given by a person on his deathbed – then it would not affect the transfer of ownership to the second person. Abayye explains that such a gift takes effect only after death, and by that time the original transfer has occurred and the dead man has no ability to transfer the property.

Bava Batra 138a-b

What right does a person have to turn down a gift that is given to him?

In a case where someone writes a legal document giving his property to another person, if that person refuses to accept it and says “I don’t want it,” we find two different statements. Rav Yehuda quotes Rav as saying that the property belongs to him, even if he is shouting his opposition; Rabbi Yochanan says that he has successfully turned down the present. Rabbi Abba bar Memel says that there is not really a disagreement; it depends whether the objection was voiced immediately – in which case he never accepted the gift – or if he was quiet at first, and only later on he raised his voice to object.

The general attitude of the Gemara is that zachin le-adam she-lo be-fanav – that something beneficial can be given to a person even when he is not present. The Rashbam explains that a person can refuse to accept a gift if he voices his objection right away because we do not view a gift as something that can be assumed to be to his benefit, based on the passage in Mishlei (15:27) that teaches that someone who detests presents will live.

What will be the status of the property, if it was rejected by the recipient of the present?

Based on Reish Lakish‘s opinion in a Gemara in Keritot (24a) it appears that such property becomes hefker – it is ownerless and anyone who takes it first becomes the owner. The Rashbam and others understand that case to be similar to ours – where the potential recipient objected immediately to accepting the gift. In such a case, although he never takes possession of the property, nevertheless it has left the possession of the original owner and is therefore left ownerless. Most of the rishonim, however, view Resh Lakish’s ruling as applicable only in a case where the potential recipient was first quiet, and only objected at a later time. It is only in such a case where the property can be viewed as having left the possession of the original owner.

Bava Batra 139a-b

When a woman passes away and her husband inherits her property, do we view him as someone who purchased the property or someone who inherited the property? The difference presented by the Gemara between these two possibilities is whether someone who was owed money by the wife who passed away can collect. A milveh al peh – a loan made with a verbal agreement – collects from the estate, but not from someone who purchased property.

One suggestion made by the Gemara was based on one of takanot Usha that allowed the husband to take his wife’s property from a purchaser after she dies.

What are takanot Usha?

According to the Gemara in Masechet Rosh ha-Shana (31a), at the time of the destruction of the Temple, as the Jewish people were sent into exile, God joined them by removing His presence from the Temple in a series of stages. In a parallel move, the Sanhedrin gradually removed itself from its offices on the Temple Mount, as well, making its way to the Galilee, where most of the remaining Jews were to live under Roman rule.

The Sanhedrin’s first stop after leaving Jerusalem was the city of Yavneh, which was established as a center of Torah study by Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, and became most famous under the direction of Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh. Throughout its continuing travels, the Sanhedrin was headed by descendants of the family of Hillel.

It appears that the Sanhedrin was moved to Usha in the aftermath of the Bar-Kochba revolt, where a series of Rabbinic enactments – called takanot Usha – were established. Under the leadership of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel there was an unsuccessful attempt to return the Sanhedrin to Yavneh, but due to the overwhelming devastation in the southern part of the country, they returned to the Galilee, first to Usha and then to Shefaram.

Takanot Usha deal mainly with establishing the norms of monetary relationships within families. While these enactments were not included in the Mishna, they were known to the amoraim based on oral traditions.

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.