ט״ו בסיון ה׳תשע״ז (June 9, 2017)

Bava Batra 138a-b: Turning Down a Gift

What right does a person have to turn down a gift that is given to him?

In a case where someone writes a legal document giving his property to another person, if that person refuses to accept it and says “I don’t want it,” we find two different statements. Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel as saying that the property belongs to him, even if he is shouting his opposition; Rabbi Yoḥanan says that he has successfully turned down the present. Rabbi Abba bar Memel says that there is not really a disagreement; it depends whether the objection was voiced immediately – in which case he never accepted the gift – or if he was quiet at first, and only later on he raised his voice to object.

The general attitude of the Gemara is that zakhin le-adam she-lo be-fanav – that something beneficial can be given to a person even when he is not present. The Rashbam explains that a person can refuse to accept a gift if he voices his objection right away because we do not view a gift as something that can be assumed to be to his benefit, based on the passage in Mishlei (15:27) that teaches that someone who detests presents will live.

What will be the status of the property, if it was rejected by the recipient of the present?

Based on Reish Lakish’s opinion in a Gemara in Karetot (24a) it appears that such property becomes hefker – it is ownerless and anyone who takes it first becomes the owner. The Rashbam and others understand that case to be similar to ours – where the potential recipient objected immediately to accepting the gift. In such a case, although he never takes possession of the property, nevertheless it has left the possession of the original owner and is therefore left ownerless. Most of the rishonim, however, view Reish Lakish’s ruling as applicable only in a case where the potential recipient was first quiet, and only objected at a later time. It is only in such a case where the property can be viewed as having left the possession of the original owner.

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