א׳ בסיון ה׳תשע״ז (May 26, 2017)

Bava Batra 125a-b: The Story of Grandma

What rights does a person have to determine the ownership of an object after he has given it away?

Our Gemara tells the story of “grandma.” That is, someone announced that he was giving all of his money to his grandmother, stating that he did so with the proviso that after she died the money would go to his descendants rather than to the people who would inherit her. That man had a married daughter who died before the grandmother died, and her husband came and demanded the inheritance after the grandmother died.

Rav Huna ruled that he should get the money, since his wife was supposed to get the inheritance so the father’s original condition remains in effect and he inherits his wife’s rights to the estate.

Rav Anan ruled that he does not get the money, since the father’s intention was only that the money should go to his own descendants. Since his daughter died before the grandmother, the father did not mean for his son-in-law to get his estate.

This is the reading that appears in the standard Gemarot, following the interpretation of the Rashbam. Sefardic manuscripts, as well as the ga’onic tradition, have a slightly different reading of this story. According to their reading, the man gave his money as a present to his mother, with the proviso that afterwards it would go to the people who inherit her.

The objection to this reading is simple and straightforward. If his intention was to give the money to his mother as a clear present, then it would obviously go to those people who inherit her! They explain that he conditioned his gift on the agreement that after the mother’s death the money would go to her descendants as a present from him, and not through the channels of inheritance.

This type of present offers a number of differences from standard inheritance. For example, if the mother died leaving outstanding loans, they will not be paid off from this money, since it is not part of her estate – it was promised to her descendants by someone else.

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