Bava Metzia 67

You and she are relatives.

A woman wants to purchase some property from relatives who are in financial need; she appoints an agent to conduct the transaction. During the negotiation, the sellers ask the agent if the woman will be open to selling the land back to him should their situation improve. The agent responds:

You and she are relatives.

The statement is ambiguous. The agent might be saying: “You are relatives, ask her yourself.” Or perhaps: “You are relatives, so you would know better than me.” Or even: “You are relatives, so I imagine she would.” Whatever he intends, his lack of clarity creates a legal problem, as Rabba bar Rav Huna points out:

In the case of any expression such as, “You and she are relatives,” that the agent says, the seller relies (on the assumption that the agent will be able to come to an agreement), and therefore does not conclusively resolve to enable the other to acquire the field.

If, based upon the agent’s statement, the sellers believe that they will be able to buy back the field some time in the future, then the transaction, from their perspective, is not really a sale, but a loan with the property as collateral. As a result of the different understandings of the agreement, ultimately the transaction is voided, the money is refunded and the land is returned to the original owner. 

The Gemara asks a question that brings things back to the concern about not charging interest on loans (as the Torah prohibits) — something we have been exploring for several pages now:

In this case, what is the law regarding the produce that is consumed by the buyer in the interim? Is it deemed fixed interest and can it be removed by judges? Or perhaps it is considered like a hint of interest and therefore it cannot be removed by judges?

The question assumes that despite the agent’s ambiguous statement, the transaction was completed: the relatives accepted payment and the woman took possession of the land for a time. When the agent’s vague language was discovered and the sale voided, the woman received her money back and her relatives retook possession of the land. But what about the crops that the land produced while she was in possession of the land? If the original transaction was actually a loan, does that mean she (inadvertently) charged her relatives interest? If so, it is biblically forbidden for her to keep them. Or are they considered to be “a hint of interest”? This would mean they are interest-like but do not fall under the biblical prohibition against charging interest. If so, while keeping them is forbidden rabbinically, the courts do not have the power to forcibly remove them from her possession.

Both Rava and Rabba bar Rav Huna rule:

It stands to reason that it is like a hint of interest, and it cannot be removed from the buyer by means of legal proceedings adjudicated by judges.

The woman benefited from the voided land deal by acquiring the fruit of the land that was produced while it was in her possession. It was certainly not her intent to charge her relative interest, as she believed she was buying the land outright. While the rabbis would prefer for her to return the produce, they agree that what she has gained, or perhaps the way in which she has gained it, does not fall under the biblical prohibition on charging interest.

It’s worth adding: It might be time to find herself a new agent, one who will keep her away from even “a hint” of a legal mess.

Read all of Bava Metzia 67 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 5th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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