י״ח באדר ב׳ ה׳תשע״ו (March 28, 2016)

Kiddushin 17a-b: The Convert and the Inheritance

The Torah has extensive laws that deal with inheritance (see Bamidbar 27:5-11). Our Gemara discusses whether a man who owns an  will pass him to his son or daughter as an inheritance in the event that he dies. This discussion leads to a more general survey of the laws of inheritance, including the perspective that Jewish law has towards non-Jews, what they own, and how they bequeath it.

Rava teaches that Jewish law recognizes – on a Torah level – a non-Jew’s ownership of property and his ability to pass it to his son as an inheritance. The fact that a convert to Judaism will also receive an inheritance from his father is presented by Rava as a law of rabbinic origin. This is based on the fact that Jewish law views a convert as a newborn, who has severed all ties with his biological family. Nevertheless, the Mishna (Massekhet Demai 6:10) teaches that we allow him to receive his father’s inheritance, lest he feel that it is to his advantage to return to his non-Jewish life, and choose to leave Judaism.

The idea that Jewish law views a convert as a newborn, who has severed all ties with his biological family is emphasized by the ruling presented in a Mishna (Shevi’it 10:9) that a person who borrows money from a convert, should not return it to the convert’s children (in the event that he dies). Since, according to the halakha they are not truly related to their biological father, who has died. Even if the borrower wanted to do it on his own accord, returning the money to the children is discouraged by .

Although Rashi understands this ruling to indicate a lack of interest by the sages in this case, and that it is left to the discretion of the borrower, other rishonim believe that the sages actively discouraged paying back the children of a convert. They explain it as a rabbinic enactment whose purpose is to make it clear to people that the laws regarding converts are not identical with those of Jews from birth with regard to certain halakhot.

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