It’s In The Will
‘A Non-Jew Receives His Father’s Estate’
Our Daf discusses situations where a non-Jew inherits his father’s estate, whether according to the rules of the Rabbis (MiDeRabbanan) or biblical law (MiDeOraitha). Is a Jew who sold himself into slavery to a non-Jew inherited by the sons upon the death of their father? Indeed, we learn that the death of a non-Jew has halachic implications in certain situations, as the case that follows. For example, if chametz was sold to a non-Jew before Pesach and that non-Jew dies, the question whether his sons are entitled to his estate may have serious halachic consequences.
An Arab-Owned Gemach
A large kitchenware free-loan society (gemach) “owned” by an elderly Arab in the Old City of Jerusalem but managed by a Jewish person created a complex halachic problem when the “owner” disappeared suddenly and was believed dead. The decision to permit the gemach to continue its operation was based on our Gemara. After discussing our sugya, we will briefly explain the halacha that deals with the immersion of vessels (tevilas kelim) before returning to the question about the free-loan society.
Who Inherits a Non-Jew’s Estate?
Our Gemara cites Rava’s opinion that, according to Torah law, a non-Jew’s son inherits his father’s estate. The Meiri (on our sugya) notes that other relatives can also inherit a non-Jew’s possessions. Rambam (Hilchos Nachalos 6:9) states that the basic Torah rule is that the son inherits, but that other relatives may inherit according to the prevalent local custom, and thus all are eligible to receive the inheritance. The Makneh (on our sugya) and the Chasam Sofer (on Yoreh De’ah 2:127) maintain that the Meiri is in agreement with Rambam. But the Minchas Chinuch (Mitzvah 400:2) interprets Rambam to mean that only a non-Jew’s son(s) can receive the inheritance.
Too Large to Immerse
Vessels of metal or glass purchased from a non-Jew require tevilah (ritual immersion in a mikveh). The Shulchan Gavoha (Orach Chayyim 451) states that if a Jew buys from a non-Jew a massive barrel that cannot be immersed in a mikveh because of its size, the outsized vessel should be sold back to the non-Jew and then rented or borrowed from him, thereby avoiding the need to immerse it (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 120:8). This is what the manager of the free-loan society in Jerusalem had originally done. He gave the free-loan society’s utensils to an elderly Arab acquaintance from the Old City, who then loaned them back to him so that he would not have to immerse all of them in a mikveh.
Many Years Passed
But then the manager of the free-loan society lost contact with the Arab “owner.” He was worried that the Arab might have passed away. If this were the case, the utensils would, in fact, be his and would require tevilah like any utensils purchased from a non-Jew. Rabbi Pinchas Zelig (author of Atereth Paz) rules (op. cit., Choshen Mishpat 3:13) that it is not necessary to immerse the utensils even if the non-Jewish owner had died, because his sons and daughters would have inherited them. Should there not be any sons or daughters, most poskim maintain that other relatives may also inherit a non-Jew’s possessions. The ownership of the utensils had therefore been transferred to the non-Jewish heirs and the Jews in Jerusalem were permitted to continue to use the utensils freely.
It should be pointed out that the heter to allow a non-Jew to be gifted a utensil in order not to have to immerse it is not a simple matter. The Taz (Yoreh De’ah 120:s.k.18) rules that this permission regarding the utensils is applied only temporarily. In addition, several later halachic authorities (Nachalas David on Bava Metzia 22b; Or Same’ach on Rambam’s Hilchos Gezelah VaAvedah ch. 11) explain that ownership of an article ceases when the owner lacks the ability to use it, just like an object “mi’zoto shel yam” that the tide has thrown up (lit. from the bottom of the sea). It therefore remains doubtful whether the Arab heirs could inherit vessels to which they have no access and of whose existence they are not even aware.
Sell the Chametz But Not the Vessels
Since we must immerse in a mikveh a utensil purchased from a non-Jew, the son of the Noda BiYehuda notes (Shivas Tziyyon 11) that when we sell our chametz on erev Pesach, the generally accepted practice is to only sell the chametz and not the vessels and utensils, so that after Pesach we will not need to immerse them when repurchased from the non-Jew.