Ketubot 109

Let him fly through air.

I recently went house hunting in Los Angeles and I came upon a property that shared ownership of a common road. There were plenty of stipulations over what that road could be used for and how it would be maintained. It raised a ton of questions for me as far as how these easements were guaranteed, and whether I could access the property if I came to purchase it.

Today’s daf offers a legal case that contains a warning about investing in a property like this. A situation arises as described in the mishnah:

With regard to one who went overseas and in the meantime the path leading to his field was lost.

Admon says: Let him go to his field by the shortest possible route.

The rabbis say: Let him buy himself a path, even if it is 100 dinars, or let him fly through the air.

A man owns property with no public access and goes away for some time. Upon his return, the agreed footpath through his neighbor’s field has become overgrown and there is now no clear way for the man to access his own parcel. In this mishnah, the judge Admon says he simply walks the most efficient route across his neighbor’s field — presumably the path that is least disruptive.The rabbis, however, believe he should buy access to his land even if it is expensive or, as they comedically suggest, he’ll have to fly through the air.

The Gemara takes a deeper look at this apparent difference of opinion, imagining that part of the difficulty is that his property locked in by multiple properties, the owners of which are all refusing him access: 

Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: The mishnah is dealing with a case where the field was surrounded on four sides by (the property of) four different people.

Rav thinks the problem is that he cannot prove which of the four had originally offered him access, which is why he now has no choice but to buy himself a new path.

But there is no hint of this in the mishnah. It seems that Admon was talking about a different situation in which there was only one owner whose land blocked access. Nonetheless, the rabbis overrule Admon because:

The rabbis hold that (the landowner can say to the man): If you will stay silent, then stay silent (and we will work something out); and if not, I will return the document of each field to its previous owner and you will not be able to negotiate with them. 

The person with the peripheral property has enormous power here, and the rabbis worry he might wield it by selling off parts of his own land to make life difficult for the person who has no public access to his property. 

Especially in the absence of public access roads, it’s vital to understand who owns the property around you, and even more important to build trust with them. Perhaps this is yet another reason why the rabbis were so insistent that everyone be a good neighbor. For myself, I ended up purchasing a different property — one on a public road.

Read all of Ketubot 109 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on October 24th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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