Bava Metzia 14

Go to peace.

The rabbis say that one can collect a debt from the property (i.e. land) of the debtor even if the related legal documents do not establish a lien. Why is this the case? According to Shmuel:

The rabbis hold that omission of the property guarantee is a scribal error.

In other words, it is the standard practice for a creditor to require the borrower to put up collateral for the loan. If the loan documents do not mention a lien on the borrower’s property, we can assume that the scribe who wrote the loan document made an error and the creditor is permitted to collect the loan from the property. 

But, as the following narrative suggests, we do not make the same assumption for the buying and selling of property:

Avuh bar Ihi purchased a loft from his sister. Her creditor came and repossessed the loft from him. He came before Shmuel to file a claim against his sister.

Shmuel said to him: Did she write you a guarantee in the deed of sale?

He said to Shmuel: No.

Shmuel said to him: If so, go to peace.

He said to Shmuel: But wasn’t it you, Master, who said that omission of the guarantee of the sale from the document is a scribal error?

Shmuel said to him: This statement applies only to promissory notes, but with regard to deeds of buying and selling it does not apply, as a person is apt to purchase land for a day.

Avuh bar Ihi’s sister had borrowed some money using her loft as collateral. Before paying off that loan, she sold the loft to her brother and the sale documents did not stipulate that she was responsible to compensate him if the loft was repossessed by a creditor. Avah bar Ihi goes to court to enforce his claim to the loft when her sister’s creditor does indeed come to take it from him and Shmuel denies his claim.

Avuh bar Ihi is surprised. “Don’t you hold that the omission of a guarantee is considered to be a scribal error?” he exclaims. Shmuel explains that while this is true in the matter of a loan, it does not apply to the buying and selling of property. Why? Because, he posits, people do buy property without a guarantee, ostensibly at a price that makes financial sense to them, assuming they can still turn a profit by working the land in the short term. 

The Gemara brings this story to clarify a legal matter which has been the center of its attention. It also helps resolve a perceived inconsistency in Shmuel’s legal reasoning by explaining why he rules that a missing guarantee is seen to be an oversight in one case (loan) but not another (sale).

At the same time, it leaves unanswered a number of questions about what was going on between Avuh bar Ihi and his sister: What led her to sell him the loft? Did she take advantage of him by selling it knowing that it might be repossessed? Did he purchase it at a low price because he was aware of the lien? If so, why did he forgo including a purchase guarantee in the sale documents? What prevented them from settling the matter on their own instead of taking it to court?

As Shmuel rejects Avuh bar Ihi’s claim, he offers him traditional parting words: Lech l’shalom — go to peace. Perhaps these words are meant to comfort him because of the financial loss he has suffered. Or perhaps Shmuel is aware of the tension that exists between the siblings, whether longstanding or due to the sale of the loft, and his words are a prayer for a peaceful resolution to the family drama.

Read all of Bava Metzia 14 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 13th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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