Bava Kamma Chapter Nine Mishnayoth Ten and Eleven



Mishnah ten deals with a scenario similar to the one dealt with in mishnah nine.  Mishnah nine was concerned with the laws of inheritance in a case where a son stole from his father and the father subsequently died.  The mishnah created a way in which the robbing son could still retain his inheritance.  Our mishnah deals with the inheritance of a son whose father took an oath that the son could not benefit from his property.


Mishnah eleven deals with a robber who steals from a convert who subsequently dies.  A convert’s non-Jewish relatives do not inherit his money (at least according to Torah law) and therefore a convert who dies before he has children has no legal inheritors.  Our mishnah deals with this case, and in extension any case in which the original owner of the property died before the property was returned to him, and did not leave inheritors.


Mishnah Ten

1)                     If a man said to his son, “Qonam, you will not derive any benefit from that which is mine”, and he died, the son may inherit him.

2)                     [But if he moreover said], “Both during my life and at my death”, when he dies the son may not inherit from him and he must restore [what he received from his father’s inheritance] to the [father’s] sons or brothers.

3)                     If he has nothing, he takes out a loan, and the creditors come and exact payment. 


Explanation—Mishnah Ten

The word “Qonam” is a nickname that people used in Mishnaic times for the word “Qorban” which means “sacrifice”. If a person wanted to make an oath forbidding his things on someone else or someone else’s things on himself, he would say that the things he wishes to forbid should be like a sacrifice.  Sacrifices were generally forbidden for public consumption.  The person taking the oath is in essence saying that the item mentioned should be forbidden like a sacrifice.  In the case mentioned in our mishnah the father says that his property should be “qonam” or forbidden to one of his sons.  Section one of the mishnah tells us that this will be true only during the father’s life.  In this case the oath does not have effect after death and the son may receive his proper share of the inheritance.

In the scenario in section two the father swears that his property should be forbidden to his son both during his life and after his death.  In this case the son cannot take part in the inheritance and he must return anything which he has taken from the inheritance to the other inheritors (generally the father’s sons or brothers).

According to section three there is a way for the son to get around this problem.  If the son is poor and dependent on his share of the inheritance he may borrow the sum of his inheritance and then the creditors can collect from the other inheritors.  In this way he receives the amount due to him as part of his inheritance without benefiting directly from his father’s estate.


Mishnah Eleven

1)                     If a man stole from a convert and swore [falsely] to him, and the convert died, he must repay the value and the added fifth to the priests, and the Guilt-offering to the altar, as it says:  “If the man has no kinsman to whom restitution can be made, the amount which is repaid shall go to the priest—in addition to the ram of atonement, whereby atonement shall be made for him” (Numbers 5:8).

2)                     If he brought the money and the Guilt-offering and then died, the money shall be given to his sons, and the Guilt-offering shall be left to pasture until it suffers a blemish, when it shall be sold, and its value falls to the Temple treasury.


Explanation—Mishnah Eleven

As stated in the introduction, a convert does not have inheritors from his previous family.  Therefore, if he should die without having children, he will have no inheritors.  If a person should steal from a convert and then falsely swear that he did not steal, the robber will be obligated to restore the value to the convert, plus an added fifth and to bring a Guilt-offering, just as a robber is obligated to do if he were to steal from a non-convert.  If, however, the convert should die before the money is returned the sacrifice is brought, there is a problem.  To whom should he return the money?  Since there are no inheritors, the robber cannot simply return the money to them.  The answer to this question is found by our mishnah in Numbers 5:8, which states the money should go the priests.  The Guilt-offering, as usual, must still be brought as an offering at the Temple.

Section two brings up an added wrinkle to our case.  In the new scenario, after the convert died, the robber died as well, before he had been able to deliver the money to the priests nor the sacrifice to the Temple.  In this case the money that would have gone to the priests goes to the children of the robber.  Since there are no inheritors of the convert, there is no one who “loses out” by not receiving the restored money and therefore the children of the robber can keep the money as part of their general inheritance.  The sacrifice cannot be offered on the altar since sacrificial animals whose owners have died may never be offered on the altar.  The animal will go out to pasture until it receives a blemish, thereby disqualifying it from being fit to sacrifice.  The animal can then be sold (and subsequently used) and the money will go to the Temple.   This is a common procedure that was done to animals that could not be offered as sacrifices on the altar.


Questions for Further Thought:

·                      According to mishnah ten, section three, there is a way for the son, whose father has taken an oath that the son shall not benefit from his property, even after his death, to still retain his share of the inheritance.  Why would the Rabbis want to allow the son to subvert the oath taken by his father?

·                      According to mishnah eleven, section two, if the robber and the convert should die before the money was restored, the money can go to the robber’s inheritors?  Why shouldn’t the priests receive the money, as they would in the previously mentioned case?