Talmud Tips

For the week ending 6 May 2017 / 10 Iyyar 5777

Bava Batra 102 - 108

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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A Fair Division

Shmuel says, “They must be ‘metzamzem’ (lit., withdraw from what they have).”

Our sugya deals with a case where two brothers divided their father’s estate which they inherited. After the division, if a third brother shows up and claims his fair share, what is done?

Whereas Rav rules to redo the lottery, and ignore the original division between the two brothers, Shmuel rules in a different manner. He says to be “metzamtzem”, meaning that the first two brothers should be “frugal” and withdraw in some manner from the property they originally took in order to share with the third brother.

One explanation of this new manner of division is the following: If each brother had originally taken three fields, each one should give the third brother one field. This results with each of the three brothers ending up with two fields apiece. (See Tosefot who disagrees with this explanation, and offers an alternative view of the gemara.)

This gemara reminds me of the following true case that occurred in Europe, which deals with division of property, and was resolved with what might appear to be a “surprising” ruling.

There were two travelers, Reuven and Shimon, who had stopped to eat their meal. Reuven had three portions of food with him, while Shimon had two portions. Before they began to eat, a stranger came by and told them he had no food at all, and asked if they would share their food with him. They agreed. After the meal, the stranger told them that he had five coins with him, which he would give them in payment. Of course, Reuven felt that he was entitled to three of the five coins, since he had contributed three portions, while Shimon had contributed only two. Shimon, on the other hand, argued that they had agreed to share with the stranger, and therefore they should split the five coins. They brought the case to the local Rav, who ruled that Reuven should get four of the coins!

The Rav’s decision was based on the following reasoning. For ease of calculation, divide each of the five portions into thirds, so altogether, between Reuven and Shimon, there were fifteen thirds in the collective pot. Reuven contributed three portions (nine thirds), and Shimon contributed two portions (six thirds). Since the three men shared the pot, each man actually ate five thirds. Therefore, Reuven ate five thirds, and donated four thirds to the stranger, while Shimon also ate five thirds, but donated only one third to the stranger.

  • Bava Batra 106b

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