Bava Batra, Chapter Three, Mishnah One
In order to understand our mishnah and the remaining mishnayoth of the chapter we will need to explain how one can demonstrate ownership over a piece of land by possession. In general in Jewish law there is an assumption of ownership to the one who possesses a certain item. If Reuven possesses an item and Shimon claims that the item is his, and Reuven responds that Shimon sold him the item, Shimon will have to bring proof that the item still belongs to him. Since the item is in Reuvens possession it is assumed to be his. This is true with regards to movable property. However, with regards to land, a person who is on a piece of land cannot necessarily claim ownership to the land. If Reuven is on a piece of land and Shimon claims it is his and Reuven responds that Shimon sold it to him, Reuven will have to prove his claim. If, however, Reuven has been living on this land, or in another way possessing the land for three years, he has an assumption of possession. In such a case Shimon will need to prove that he still owns the land if he wishes to recover it from Reuven. The idea behind this law is that if a person demonstrated ownership over a piece of land for an extended period of time and no one protested, it is reasonable to assume that the land is his.
The third chapter of Bava Batra deals with the rule of three year possession called chazakah in Hebrew. The rule, as we shall see, does not apply in the same way with everything.
1) The legal period of possession [in order to establish ownership] for houses, cisterns, trenches, caves, dovecotes, bath-houses, olive-presses, irrigated fields and slaves and anything which continually produces a yield is three complete years.
2) The legal period of possession [in order to establish ownership] for a field irrigated by rain water is three years and they need not be completed.
a) Rabbi Yishmael says: Three months during the first year, and three months during the last year and twelve months during the middle year, which makes eighteen months.
b) Rabbi Akiva says: One month during the first year and one month during the last year and twelve months during the middle year, which makes fourteen months.
3) Rabbi Yishmael said: When does this apply? With regards to a sown field, but with tree plantation, if he brought in his produce (grapes), collected the olives and gathered in his fig harvest, this counts as three years.
If a person demonstrated ownership over the items listed in section one for three years, than they are assumed to be his. For instance, if Reuven used a house for three years and after this time Shimon came and claimed that the house was his, if Reuven were to respond that Shimon sold or gave him the house, Reuven needs to bring witnesses that he has possessed the house for three years, and then it belongs to him. In order to establish a presumption of ownership over these items one must possess them for three full years.
In order to establish a presumption of ownership over a field irrigated by rain water, one need not possess the field for three full years, but rather it is sufficient to posses them for parts of three years. This difference in law is explained by the difference between the irrigated field mentioned in section one and the field irrigated by rain water in section two. A field irrigated by man will yield produce many times in a season and therefore to demonstrate ownership one must actively possess the field for three full years. The field irrigated by rain will only yield one crop per year and therefore it is enough to harvest or work three crops to demonstrate possession. In order to do this one can work the field for three partial years. Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva disagree with regards to the nature of the partial three years.
In section three Rabbi Yishmael states that there is a difference between a field sown with produce and a field with fruit trees. When Rabbi Yishmael stated that one needed eighteen months in order to demonstrate ownership, this related to sown fields. In a sown field there is only one harvest per season, and therefore he would need three harvests in order to demonstrate ownership through possession. With regards to trees, each type of tree has its own harvesting season. Therefore if he were to harvest the grapes in one season, the olives in another and the figs in a third, that would be enough to establish possession, even though they were all done in one year.
Questions for Further Thought:
· Given what we have tried to explain in the introduction, that the reason why a person can assume ownership of a field through possession is that if someone else owned the field he would have protested, why are there different times for possession over different objects?