Bava Metzia 101

Whining over wine.

Jewish civil law provides protection for tenants, regulating the amount of lead time a landlord must provide before ending a lease agreement. Some of the details appear on today’s daf. As we’ll see, however, it’s not always the law that carries the day. 

Here’s the mishnah:

One who rents out a house to another in the rainy season cannot evict from Sukkot until Passover. In the summer, the landlord must give 30 days. 

There were basically two seasons in ancient Israel — the rainy season, which runs from Sukkot until Passover, and the summer season, from Passover until Sukkot. One cannot evict a tenant at all during the rainy season. If they rent from you, they are allowed to stay until the season is over. In summer, mid-season evictions are allowed, but with 30 days notice.

Why would the mishnah differentiate between winter and summer rentals? The Gemara explains: 

In the rainy season … houses for renting are not found.

In other words, the 30-day policy should be the case for rainy-season rentals as well, but the housing market dries up during the rainy season, and landlords cannot push out their tenants during a time when they have nowhere to go.

beraita provides the same protection to landlords:

Just as a landlord needs to give notice, so too a renter needs to give notice. 

The Talmud recognizes that there are extraordinary circumstances in which it makes sense to set this rule aside. For example,

If the house fell down, the landlord can say to them: You are no better than me.

Out on the street because their home has collapsed, a landlord can evict tenants from a rental property with no notice at all. Because no matter what happens, one of the two will be out of a home and the renter does not deserve the home more than the landlord does. Rather, it is the landlord who owns the property and thus has a stronger claim to it than their tenant, who is merely paying to use it. 

These laws all seem sensible and fair and, barring unforeseen disasters, should provide for smooth relations between landlords and tenants. But as the following anecdote suggests, when bad actors try to take advantage of the law, extra-legal solutions are needed:

A certain man purchased a boat laden with wine. He was unable to find a place to store it. He said to a certain woman: “Do you have a place to rent to me?” She said to him: “No.” He went and betrothed her, and she gave him the place to bring his wine. He went back to his home and wrote a bill of divorce for her, which he then sent to her. 

Unable to secure a lease on a storage facility from a woman, the man offers her his hand in marriage. Once betrothed, she gives him the lease that he sought. As soon as his wine is safely tucked away, he calls off the marriage. And how does she respond?

She went and hired porters, paying them from the wine itself, and instructed them to take it out and put it on the road. 

Using a portion of the wine as payment, the woman hires a crew to remove the barrels from her property and dump them on the road. The man then takes her to court seeking compensation on the grounds that acquiring the lease during the brief betrothal was legit. Should the woman want to now terminate it, she should have to give him notice. But that’s not how the judge sees it:

Rav Huna, son of Rav Yehoshua, said: “Like he did, so shall be done to him, his repayment shall come back on his head.”

Rav Huna is wise to recognize that while the woman is required to give at least a year’s notice before she can terminate a lease, the law does not provide for the justice she deserves. Given that he took her into his household only to dump her after he got the storage space he wanted, it’s more than justified that she did the same to his wine. Although the law is technically on the man’s side, he is hard pressed to find a judge to enforce it.

Read all of Bava Metzia 101 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on June 8, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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