Talmudic pages

Ketubot 92

Rights and repossessions.

Today’s daf includes a number of scenarios governing the handling of real estate deals between two parties. We’ll call these parties Reuven and Shimon, since that’s what the Talmud does. In all these cases, Shimon has acquired a piece of Reuven’s property, but Reuven has some debts he cannot repay. According to rabbinic law, Reuven’s creditors have a right to the land he sold to Shimon — and more importantly for the current discussion, they can claim it without compensating Shimon. 

How is this possible? Well, Reuven’s debt puts a lien on his property, which is not abrogated when the property is sold. But what about Shimon? Why should Reuven’s inability to pay an old debt force Shimon to give up land that he purchased fair and square?

It turns out, Shimon can protect his investment by including a guarantee in the sale of the property that requires Reuven to compensate him if the land is repossessed by creditors in the future. Today’s daf discusses a number of such scenarios, each with its own particularity. If you are one of those readers who like it when the Gemara’s imagination causes it to ask a series of what-if questions, today’s daf is definitely for you. 

Here’s an example:

Reuven sold a field to Shimon without a guarantee, and Shimon came and sold (the field back) to Reuven with a guarantee and Reuven’s creditor came and repossessed (the field) from him, the law is that Shimon must go and compensate Reuven.

In this scenario, Reuven sells some land to Shimon with no stipulations about compensation should it be repossessed. Later, Shimon sells the property back to Reuven with such a guarantee in place. When Reuven’s creditors come and take the land as payment, Reuven demands compensation from Shimon because, after all, his purchase of the land came with protection for just such an occurrence. In this case, Rami bar Hama rules in Reuven’s favor because Shimon guaranteed the sale against these exact circumstances.

Rava then brings the following objection:

Granted, that (Shimon) took upon himself to guarantee (the sale in) general. Did he also take upon himself to guarantee (if it were to be repossessed by the purchaser’s) own creditors?

In other words, Rava agrees that Simon guaranteed the sale, but only for his own creditors — not for those of his buyer. How can Shimon be on the hook for a loan that Reuven can’t pay? In this case, says Rava, Reuven should be responsible for his own debts.

But this doesn’t change Rami bar Hama’s mind. Why? Because when Shimon guaranteed the sale, he does so not only for himself, but also for any and all previous owners. And as we know, Reuven is both a purchaser and a previous owner. So when his creditors come to collect on the loan (assuming it was made before Reuven originally sold the property to Shimon), the debt should be covered by Shimon’s guarantee. 

Rava is not convinced. Neither are the later commentators, who rule that the law follows Rava — this is, when creditors come to collect Reuven’s debts, Shimon’s guarantee does not require him to cover Reuven’s loss.

Although Rami bar Hama and Rava are at odds over who must shoulder the financial burden in this case, there is no dispute about the creditors’ right to claim the land to settle the debt. This principle derives from the larger one we’ve seen already in this tractate — namely, that a woman’s marriage contract is guaranteed by all of her husband’s property. When a woman is divorced or widowed, she then becomes a creditor with a claim to that property. Like the creditors in today’s cases, this gives her the power to repossess lands that her husband sold to collect what she is owed. 

Read all of Ketubot 92 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a 
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