Bava Batra 113a-b

December 12, 2009

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

Ridiculous as this sounds, Rabbah bar Hanina's teaching appears to imply that this is so. He related a tradition before Rav Nahman 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 hukat 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.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the TalmudTo learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here. 

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