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S.A.L.T. - Tuesday

 

Parashat Behar introduces the laws of the yovel (jubilee) year, during which all purchased lands return to their original owners.  This institution may possibly have ramifications for even the nature of one's possession over purchased land before the yovel year.  When the laws of yovel are in force (the halakhot of yovel apply only when the majority of Jews live in Eretz Yisrael, and they are therefore not in effect nowadays), one never acquires permanent possession over purchased land.  The question thus arises, can one be said to truly own land that he knows he must return in a given number of years?  This question forms the basis of a very famous debate in the Gemara (Gittin 47b-48a and elsewhere) between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, known as "kinyan peirot ke-kinyan ha-guf dami."  According to Rabbi Yochanan, when the yovel laws apply, one enjoys absolute possession over purchased lands despite the temporary nature of his ownership. Although he practically enjoys only "kinyan peirot," or unlimited rights to the land's produce, halakha nevertheless considers these privileges akin to "kinyan ha-guf," full-fledged ownership over the property.  Reish Lakish, by contrast, holds that a kinyan peirot is not legally equivalent to a kinyan ha-guf.  The fact that the buyer enjoys unlimited rights to the fruit in the interim does not render him the true owner over this land, since he must return the land on the jubilee year.

The practical ramification of this debate, as noted by the Gemara, involves the mitzva of bikkurim (the annual bringing of the first fruits to Jerusalem), specifically the associated obligation of "mikra bikkurim," the recitation normally required when bringing bikkurim.  The obligation to recite the text of mikra bikkurim applies only to one who brings bikkurim from his own field.  According to Rabbi Yochanan's view, that temporary ownership over land amounts to complete ownership, one would, indeed, perform this recitation when bringing bikkurim grown from purchased land.  According to Reish Lakish, however, who maintains that unlimited rights to fruits does not constitute actual possession over the land itself, in such a situation one does not recite mikra bikkurim.  Only when bringing bikkurim from land inherited from his fathers does a farmer recite mikra bikkurim.

The Gemara in Masekhet Gittin (48a-b) draws proof for Reish Lakish's view from a verse in Parashat Behar.  As we discussed earlier this week, the Torah in this parasha requires that land be sold at a fair price, in accordance with the number of years left until the jubilee year.  Since one purchases the land only until the yovel, the price tag on any given piece of property must be adjusted depending on for how many years it will remain in the buyer's possession.  The verse reads, "He [the seller] shall charge you [the buyer] for the number of crop years [remaining]" (25:15).  Chazal took note of the Torah's reference to the sale as "crop years," which perhaps serves as a subtle indication of the nature of the transaction.  The seller does not actually sell the property itself; rather, he sells "crop years," access to the land's yield until the jubilee.  This, the Gemara claims, provides textual support for the position of Reish Lakish, that when the yovel laws apply purchased property is not fully owned.  Indeed, it is generally assumed that whereas we usually accept the position of Rabbi Yochanan in his disputes with Reish Lakish, in this instance halakha follows Reish Lakish's opinion.

We will continue our discussion of this debate be"H tomorrow.

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