By Dr. Sara Ronis
Under rabbinic law, there are two ways to transfer property outside of a commercial transaction: gifting and inheritance.
In his 2019 book, Jonathan Milgram lays out some key halakhic differences between these two forms of property transfer. For the rabbis, inheritance is unilateral, which means that when the original owner dies, their property is immediately transferred to their heirs. The heirs don’t have to doanything to receive it. But gifting is bilateral, which means that the giver needs to do something (give the gift) andthe recipient needs to accept it. If the recipient doesn’t accept the gift, the giver hasn’t effectively transferred it to them. And that’s a good thing, because we’ve all gotten a gift or two we’d prefer to decline.
But the rabbis carve out one exception to the rules of bilateral gifting — in a case where the person gifting is on their deathbed. After all, the recipient might not be around and time is limited. In this case, the dying person’s gift is acquired more like inheritance — unilaterally. We’ll explore these laws (which are called mattanat shekhiv me’ra) in more depth when we get to Tractate Bava Batra, but today’s daf draws a parallel between the deathbed transfer of a gift and the deathbed transfer of a get. The question the rabbis ask is this: What happens if the person who issues a get on their deathbed doesn’t die? We learned on yesterday’s daf:
Rav Huna said: His bill of divorce is as his gift. Just as his gift, if he arose it is retracted, so too, his bill of divorce, if he arose it is retracted.
A deathbed transfer only works if the person dies. If they miraculously survive their illness, then the transfer is deemed ineffective: The gift is returned, the marriage continues.
But what if the person does die … eventually? If someone experiencing an illness gives a gift or issues a bill of divorce, recovers, and then dies from another illness, is the gift or divorce effective? About a get, today we learn:
We require assessment where he walked with his staff. But in another case, we do not even require assessment.
If the person heals of their first illness to the extent that they can walk with a mobility aid, then the rabbis require us to investigate whether their death was caused only by the second illness, or whether the first illness was a contributing factor. Only if the first illness was a contributing factor to the ultimate death does the initial transfer of the get effectively kick in. And as for deathbed gifting, our daf concludes:
Can you conclude from it a person on his deathbed who proceeded from illness to illness, his gift is a valid gift? Yes, as Rabbi Elazar says in the name of Rav: A person on his deathbed who proceeded from illness to illness, his gift is a valid gift.
Just like in the case of a get, a deathbed gift is effectively transferred even if the person dies of a secondary illness.
Read all of Gittin 73 on Sefaria.