Thursday, May 07, 2009

Halachic Rulings

By: Rabbi Yechezkel Khayyat

The Gemora discusses the status of a disputed bathhouse, and whether either claiming party can consecrate it. The Gemora's conclusion is that the power needed to consecrate an item depends on the type of item. If the item is real estate, anyone who can retrieve the item in court may consecrate it, even before retrieving it. However, a movable item can only be consecrated when the one consecrating has de facto and de jure possession.

The Baal Hamaor and the Ramban (BK 18 in Rif pages) discuss why one may not consecrate an item which was stolen from him. The Baal Hamaor says this is simply because it is out of his reach, and an item must be accessible to be consecrated. The Ramban says it is because the thief has certain liability for the item, and therefore has acquired some ownership by his theft.

Based on the Ramban's opinion, Rabbi Akiva Eiger (BM 7 bemasusa) asks how our Gemora reaches its conclusion. The Gemora distinguishes between stolen real estate and movable items, since real estate is immutable, and cannot be acquired through the standard acquisitions of theft. However, this distinction seems irrelevant in the case of the bathhouse, where neither party did any acquisition.

Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz Shiurim BK #9) points out that the Baal Hamaor brings our Gemora as a proof to his opinion. He therefore states that the Ramban agrees that inaccessibility precludes consecration, but adds that the partial ownership acquired by theft also blocks consecration. In our Gemora, where the bathhouse is inaccessible, both Rishonim agree that neither can consecrate it.

The Ramban and Baal Hamaor only disagree about a thief who is ready to hand over the item, but has not yet done so. (In fact, that is the context for their discussion of the rules of consecration).

Rav Elchanan therefore answers Rabbi Akiva Eiger's question by explaining that the distinction of acquisition between real estate and movable items is only relevant when the consecration is prevented by theft acquisition. However, when the consecration is prevented by sheer inaccessibility, if one can retrieve a real estate asset in court, he may consecrate it, since the one holding the real estate cannot truly hide the item from its owner. If he cannot retrieve it in court, he cannot consecrate it, since it is still inaccessible.
Grabbing vs. Holding
The Gemora states that the Mishna, which evenly splits a garment held by two parties, is a case where each side is only grabbing a fringe, which doesn't confer any possession. Therefore, they swear and take half. However, the braisa of Rav Tachlifa discusses a case where each party is holding a segment of the garment. In that case, each party takes what they are grabbing, and then split the rest.

The Rishonim point out that the word used in the Mishna is ochazin – holding on to, since the parties are only holding onto the edge. However, Rav Tachlifa uses the word adukin – attached, since the parties are grabbing a segment of the garment. The Gemora says Rabbi Avahu indicated that the split in the adukim case is done with each side swearing.

The Rosh (1:13) and Tosfos (7a Machvei) say that they must swear on everything that they will take, including the portion they are grabbing. The Rosh proves this from the statement of the Gemora on 3a that the oath in the Mishna is to prevent people from forcibly grabbing other people's garments. This logic applies to the whole garment, including the portion they are currently grabbing.

The Ramban agrees, and proves it from the language of the Gemora, which says that Rabbi Avahu machvei – showed – that the split should be with an oath. Rabbi Avahu was physically showing that the whole garment is subject to an oath.

The Rambam (To'ain v'nit'an 9:9) says that the oath is only on the section that they are not grabbing, but each can cause the other party to swear on the part they are grabbing through gilgul – an ancillary oath.

The Shulchan Aruch (HM 138:3) rules like the Rambam. The Gra (12) supports this position from the Gemora's statement that holding on to a portion of the garment is sufficient for chalipin, indicating that grabbing a section of a garment is full ownership, with no need for proof or swearing. The Shach (5) and Sma (11) dispute this, and rule like the Rosh.

The Shita discusses why the Gemora didn't resolve the contradiction by stating that the Mishna was a case of each grabbing exactly half the garment. The Shita quotes a number of answers:
1. They wouldn't swear in this case, since they are not splitting anything out of their direct possession. This answer follows the Rambam's ruling above.
2. It is a rare (even impossible) case, and therefore not a good answer.
3. The Mishna would not need to tell us such an obvious halacha in that case.
How to Split a Contract?
The Gemora cited statements of Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Yochanan about splitting a contract held by the debtor and creditor. Rabbi Elazar said they only split it evenly when they are both holding the detail and form section of the contract, but if one is holding the details and one the form, they each get the section they are holding. Rabbi Yochanan said that they also split the contract evenly when the detail and form section are in the section not held by either side.

The Rif and Rambam do not cite these opinions and limitations on the rules of splitting a contract, and the Shulchan Aruch (HM 65:15) follows their ruling in the first version of this halacha.

The Rosh does cite the statement of Rabbi Elazar, and the Shulchan Aruch cites this opinion as well.

The Gra explains that this dispute depends on the understanding of how a split is done when each is holding the detail or form section. The Gemora says that the advantage of holding the detail section is the increased value a date adds to a contract. Rashi (7b Shtara) states that Rabbi Elazar is discussing Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel's statement that we split the contract, even if the signatures were not validated, since Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel does not require validation of the signatures. Therefore, the value of the detail section is not in the signatures, since they need not be validated. The value is not in the names of the parties, since those are repeated in the form section. The only element which is crucial in the detail section is the date of the contract, and that is the increased value of that section.

Tosfos (7b d'is) disagrees, and says that elements of each section that would render the contract unfit are not included in the possession gained by grabbing, since each party doesn't want the counter party to remove such elements. The only element which is nonessential is the date.

According to Rashi, the statement of Rabbi Elazar, and the discussion following it, are only according to Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel's opinion, that a contract that is not forged need not have its signatures validated. We, however, rule like Rebbi, and therefore will not hold of Rabbi Elazar's statement. However, according to Tosfos, Rabbi Elazar's statement is in accord with Rebbi as well, and therefore halacha includes it. See Gra HM 65:45 and Note 1 on the Rosh for further discussion.