כ״א באייר ה׳תשע״ה (May 10, 2015)

Ketubot 97a-b: Calling Off a Sale

The main focus of the eleventh perek of Massekhet Ketubot is the ability that a widow has to collect what is owed to her from her late husband’s estate. Generally speaking there are two monetary claims that a widow has on the estate:

  1. Mezonot – support for purchase of food
  2. Ketuba – payment of the monies promised in the wedding contract

A widow is entitled to mezonot until such time as she collects her ketuba. Once the ketuba is paid, the heirs to the estate have no other obligations to her.

While she receives mezonot from the estate, she does not need to go and receive a stipend on a daily basis, rather she has the right to sell her late husband’s property in order to support herself. In the context of this discussion, the Gemara raises a general question dealing with assumptions that are made at the time of a sale. What if a person sells property because he needs the money for a certain project or purchase, and then discovers that the project or purchase has fallen through. Can he insist on calling off the sale of his property with the claim that it was a mistaken sale?

The Gemara brings a number of cases that can act as possible sources for a ruling on this question, concluding with the statement that the seller can call off the deal if it turns out that he did not need the money from the sale. Rashi limits this rule to situations where it was clear to all parties involved that the sale was only taking place because of the particular need that the seller had at that time. Most of the rishonim follow the position presented by Rav Hai Ga’on that even that case will fall into the category of devarim she-ba-lev and cannot impact on a sale. According to Rav Hai Ga’on, the Gemara’s question is in a case where the seller clearly states at the time of the sale that his intention was to do something specific with the proceeds, but did not make it a condition of the sale. It is only in such a case that we can allow the sale to be cancelled.

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