א׳ בתמוז ה׳תשע״ז (June 25, 2017)

Bava Batra 154a-b: Selling Property While Still a Minor

Our Gemara relates a story that occurred in Bnei Brak, where someone who inherited property from his father sold it and died soon afterwards. Family members then claimed in court that the person who sold the property was underage at the time that it was sold and that the sale should be cancelled. Rabbi Akiva heard the case together with the suggestion that the body be exhumed in order to ascertain whether he had reached maturity before he died. Rabbi Akiva ruled that he could not allow for nivul ha-met – desecration of the dead – in such a case; furthermore, he argued that the physical condition of the body changes after death, so that examining the body would not offer a definitive clarification of the situation.

As we will see on tomorrow’s daf the time that a person is considered an adult to engage in buying and selling property – particularly property that he received as an inheritance – is not the ordinary 13-year old age of maturity, but 18 or 20. Even so, there remains an element of concern with physical maturity, as someone who does not reach physical maturity may not be considered competent to engage in business even at the later age.

The continuation of the Gemara suggests that Rabbi Akiva’s argument about nivul ha-met may only apply to relatives, as Tosafot explain, either because they should be expected to be more concerned with the dead man’s honor or because there is no out-of-pocket loss for them, since they were not purchasers. In theory, someone who was not a relative could argue that his loss was so great that he would not be concerned if someone else’s body would be desecrated. The Gemara concludes that that is why Rabbi Akiva offered a second reason that the body should not be exhumed – in any case due to physical changes in the body, we will not be able to determine whether the dead man had reached maturity.

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