Kiddushin 26

This land is your land?

Today’s daf continues a discussion about how to acquire things — in this case unmovable property, i.e. land. The mishnah states: 

Property that serves as a guarantee (i.e. land) can be acquired by money, by a document, or by possession

The Gemara interrogates the biblical source for each of these methods of acquisition. 

From where do we learn by money? Hizkiyya said the verse states: “They shall acquire fields with money” (Jeremiah 32:44).

Well, that seems like a clear source. Onward!

By a document, from where do we learn? 

If we say because it is written: “And write in a document and sign, and witnesses shall testify” (Jeremiah 32:44), but didn’t you say it is merely a document of proof? 

The Talmud first looks to the second half of the same verse in Jeremiah that was the source for acquiring through money. There’s mention of a document there, but this part of the verse has already been used in a previous discussion about confirming an acquisition (as opposed to effecting it). And the rabbis have a rule about only deriving one halakhah from each part of a biblical verse. So they turn to a different verse from Jeremiah for proof that a document can effect an acquisition: 

Rather, from here: “And I took the deed of purchase” (Jeremiah 32:11).

Two down, one to go. 

By possession, from where do we learn? Hizkiyya said the verse states: “And dwell in your cities that you have taken” (Jeremiah 40:10). In what (manner) have you taken? By dwelling. 

Once again, Hizkiyya turns to a verse from Jeremiah to show that living on land is a form of acquisition. 

Let’s take a step back. Why are all three of these proofs from Jeremiah? Most rabbinic law is at least nominally derived from the first five books of the Torah. Jeremiah is a later prophetic book, set during the period of the Babylonian conquest of Judah and the destruction of the first Temple.

Jeremiah 32 offers us a fascinating connection between current land transactions and a redemptive future in which the soon-to-be-exiles will return from Babylon and reclaim possession of the land of Israel. And in Jeremiah 40, the speaker is the governor appointed by the Babylonian conquerors — Gedaliah ben Ahikam (whose death is still marked today by the Fast of Gedaliah). Gedaliah tells the people now living under Babylonian rule to continue to live their lives on their land. 

The Talmud doesn’t explain why the Gemara turns to the book of Jeremiah to source the mishnah’s modes of acquisition. But Jeremiah was famous for buying land even as the Babylonians were laying siege to Jerualem, a purchase seen as a gesture of faith that the exile would not last forever. For him, the purchase of land was a legal transaction, but also a highly symbolic one — with real theological stakes. 

In the Talmud’s use of Jeremiah as prooftext, perhaps we can intuit that it is in these heightened moments of transition, conquest, exile and return that the public and legal ownership of land is most important. Who owns lands during and after violent conquest? And if/when the conquest is eventually overthrown, who will get to claim it and live there? These are the moments where legal modes of acquisition are most fraught, most acute — and most important.

Read all of Kiddushin 26 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 8th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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