Sunday, February 7, 2016

Gittin 51 – Limit people's desires

Imagine that someone (Shimon) bought land, worked it, has crop coming, and now it is found out that the land was stolen. The one from whom the land was originally stolen comes and reclaims the land, together with the crop, and Shimon is left with nothing. So he goes to the seller of the land (who is, as it turned out, a thief) and wants to collect his money from him. But the seller has no cash; and his fields have meanwhile been sold as well. Shimon then goes and collects from the purchasers of the thief's land. By right, he should be able to collect the price of the field and the crops.

However, the Sages limited his collection rights, for the benefit of the world. For if someone can always come and collect not only a field, but also unexpected and unlimited amounts for the crops, people would be so nervous to buy fields that commerce would stop.

An oath is a serious thing, and there is only one money-related oath in the Torah. It happens when someone in court admits to a part of the claim. Say the lender claims that someone owes him 200 coins, and the borrower admits that yes, indeed, he owes money, but only a 100 coins. In that case, the Torah says that the court can require an oath from the borrower. Why is that? The borrower can rationalize and say, “I will return the money, but later, so now, to avoid being a bad guy, I will just say that I only owe a part.” With the oath, he won't say it.

By right, the same oath would apply if someone returns a wallet with a 100 coins, and the owner claims that there were really 200. However, the Sages canceled the oath in that case, or else people would never return lost objects.

Art: Harvest in Provence by Vincent Van Gogh

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Gittin 50 – Credit obligations

When someone guarantees the payment of the Ketubah, he incurs no obligation. If the husband later defaults and does not pay the Ketubah to his wife, our guarantor is off the hook. Why is that? The guarantor relies primarily on the husband to pay the Ketubah and reasons that most likely he will never have to pay. Moreover, in encouraging the pair to marry, he is simply doing a mitzvah! That is why we can assume that he does not seriously obligate himself.

We mentioned earlier that a debt, if one cannot pay it, is collected from his lands of medium quality. Why is that? In truth, he could even give his worst land. The Torah said that the lender “Cannot come into the house to take a deposit, but must wait outside till the debtor will bring him something.” What will the debtor bring? – Of course, the worst. However, the Sages raised the obligations of the borrower, for otherwise nobody would want to loan money to his fellow.

However, when a man dies and a creditor comes to collect the debt, now he can collect only from the worst. This is so because he collects not from the borrower but from the orphans that he left. If they are minors, they surely need protection, and even if they are adults, they likely did not pay attention to their father's loans, and can be easily fooled. Here the Sages left the Torah law intact, because lenders seldom consider the possibility of death of the borrower and would give out loans anyway.

Art: La Mariée - The Bride - by Marc Chagall

Friday, February 5, 2016

Gittin 49 – Why does land quality matter?

If one's animal damage his fellow's field, he must pay with the best of his field” tells us that there damage payments. However, we started discussing that it is not clear what “his field” means.

Rabbi Ishmael says, “His field was damaged, and his field is now used to measure the quality.” That is, the damaged party's best field determines the quality of the land to be collected. Rabbi Akiva says, “He must pay with the best of his field” clearly tells that the one who pays is the one whose field we are talking about.

But why all this talk about best land, medium or bad one? Rabbi Shimon, who was the only one who explained reasons behind Torah laws, said: why does the damager pay from his best land? – So that people would think thus: “What's the point of robbing or stealing? Tomorrow the courts will take it all away from me, and moreover, they will do it by taking my best land!”

Now, why is a debt repaid with a medium quality land? So that a rich person would not think thus: “I will advance a loan to this fellow of mine, and then, when he cannot repay, I will collect his best vineyard!” But according to this logic, he should collect the worst land!? – If you do this, people will refrain from giving loans altogether?

Finally, the Ketubah of a woman (after all, we are studying divorces) is paid from the worst land of the husband, why is that? – Because the various advantages that a woman derives from marriage are significant, and women will not refrain from getting married just because they know that their Ketubah payment will be paid from bad quality land.

Art: Le prêteur et sa femme (The moneylender and his wife) by Quentin METSYS

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Gittin 48 – When to give the best land

In discussing the sale of the land in Israel, the Talmud asks: if one sells just the trees, for their crops, is it considered as if the land is sold with them, or not? Rabbi Yochanan says that the land is considered as sold with the trees, and Rabbi Asi comments that he better say this, or else “Rabbi Yochanan will not find his hands and feet in the study hall.”

Why is this? Because in another place the same Rabbi Yochanan said that brothers who inherit land from their father are considered as buyers of land from each other. In those times when the Jubilee year was observed, the land would return to the owners every fifty years. Unless the land went with the fruit, nobody would ever own land in the true sense of the word, and nobody would ever bring first fruit!

Continuing with the laws promulgated “for the benefit of the world,” the next one is this: if one harms his neighbor, he pays for it, “with the best of his land.” We are talking about material damagers here, and if the tortfeasor (let's call him “damager”) has cash, he should simply pay cash. However, if he does not, then he may have land, and the courts collect from his land. The amount they collect is equal to the damage. But the quality of the land is up to the court, and the rule is “take the best.”

But why is it called a “decree of the Sages?” It is Torah law that everyone already knows?!  – Actually, yes. However, it would be only according to Rabbi Ishmael, who understands the "best field "differently. The best field, but of whom? – Of the damaged party! A rich damager would just give some bad land, because it would be like the best of the poor damaged party. The Sages prevented this by requiring that the damager gives of his best.

Art: Still Life with a Basket of Fruit by Balthasar Van Der Ast

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Gittin 47 – What to leave in a will

If one sells himself and his children as slaves to idolaters, the community should redeem him. However, if he keeps doing this repeatedly, they refrain. After the father's death, the community should redeem his children. While the father was alive, he watched over them, but now they should not be taught the wrong way of life.

There was a village near the city of Lod whose residents were occasional cannibals. A man sold himself to them, and asked Rabbi Ami to command the community to redeem him. Rabbi Ami quoted the above rule and said that it should apply, especially here, where the man's life was in danger. They told Rabbi Ami, “He eats forbidden foods!” He answered, “Maybe there was nothing else?” They told him, “No, he did it on purpose.” Rabbi Ami said to the man, “Sorry, they don't let me redeem you.”

Resh Lakish heard of this and sold himself to the people near Lod. As a last wish, he asked to be permitted to sit them down, tie them, and give them a light blow with his backpack. Inside the backpack was a stone, and in this way he killed them.

Resh Lakish worked hard but spent his earnings liberally and kindheartedly. All he left as inheritance was a quart of safflower oil, but he was still upset, quoting “They left their possessions to strangers.” A man should not amass wealth and pass it to his descendants, since they may be unworthy.

When an non-Jew buys land in Israel, does he own it ritually, so that even tithes need not be given? Some say no, because “I (God) own the land.“ Others says yes, because it says, “Take tithe of your grain” (and not of grain owned by non-Jew). Either way, the Sages established that the seller should keep buying first fruit from this land and bringing it to the Temple. This was done to discourage such sales.

Art: The Money Lender by Dutch School

Friday, January 29, 2016

Gittin 46 - Divorce that cannot be undone

If one divorces his wife and states during his divorce that he is doing it because of the bad name that she got - he can never re-marry her. Why? Should he later find out that she was maligned, he could say, "Had I only known this, I would have never divorced you - even if they paid me a lot of money!" Such words can make her Get invalid. Then she would still be considered married to him, and her children from the next husband would get the status of mamzerim. With the new rule, however, he understands that this divorce is final, and even if the accusations were false, he will not be able to return her. Thus, his actions show that he does not love her any longer, and his claim "Had I only known" is not to be believed.

If one divorces his wife because she is incapable of childbearing - and states so - then likewise he cannot remarry her. For, if she marries again and has children, he could cliim "Had I only known that you can have children, I would have never divorced you." This could invalidate her divorce and the legitimacy of his children.
Since this divorce is her fault, as it stands, she does not get the Ketubah payment. However, if she now marries, has children and then asks for the Ketubah payment (claiming wrongful divorce), the husband can counterclaim and say, "Your silence is better than your words." That is, if you keep silent - well and good, but if you demand the Ketubah, I can say this, "Had I known that in the end, after my divorce, I will also have to pay the Ketubah, I would have never divorced you" - which leads to the same consequences.

Art: Allegory of the art of painting by Jan Vermeer

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Gittin 45 - Ransoming hostages - how much to pay?

When bandits demand money to release hostages, they should not be given extraordinary amounts - for the benefit of society. Is the intent not to impoverish the society, or is it to discourage future hostage taking? A certain Levi bar Darga redeemed his daughter for twelve thousand golden coins. Since he paid the money himself, there was no burden on the society. Does it not prove that the second reason - that the bandits should not take more Jews hostage in the future - does not apply? Said Abaye, "Who said that the Sages approved of his actions?" - Rather, this rule is intended to discourage future hostage taking.

Another rule: not to help hostages escape, but rather continue with the ransom negotiations. What is the reason here? Some say, it is to prevent harsher treatment of future hostages, while others say that it is to prevent torture of the remaining ones. Why does the reason matter if the rule is not to help them escape? - It will make a difference in case of a single captive: the first reason would still apply, but the second would not.

Likewise, the Torah scroll, tefillin and mezuzah can only be bought from idolaters for reasonable amounts, for the benefit of society. If one does not buy them, the sellers may destroy them in anger, but if he buys them for too much - they may continue stealing.

However, a question may be asked: perhaps they wrote the Torah, and if so, how can it be used to read in the synagogue? Rabbi Eliezer would say that anything that an idolater does is for the sake of his idol - so this Torah scroll should be destroyed. Rav Hamnuna said that Torah scroll written by a non-Jews or anyone who is not proper to write it, such as a non-observant Jew, is invalid and should be buried. Our rule works according to the opinion that if the Torah is written correctly, anyone can write it - if only the leather was prepared for the sake of writing a Torah scroll on it.

Art: Two Bandits in the Hills by William Simpson