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Shabbat, 25 Elul 5774 / September 20, 2014

Rambam - 1 Chapter a Day

Rambam - 1 Chapter a Day

Nehalot - Chapter 7

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Nehalot - Chapter 7

Halacha 1

Heirs are not given their inheritance until they bring clear proof that the person whose estate they are inheriting did in fact die. Even if they heard that he died, or gentiles mentioned that he died in the course of conversation, despite the fact that this is sufficient for license to be given for the person's wife to remarry and to receive the money due her by virtue of her ketubah, the heirs do not receive their inheritance on this basis.

Halacha 2

When a woman comes and states: "My husband died," although her testimony is accepted and she is given license to remarry and to receive the money due her by virtue of her ketubah, the heirs do not receive their inheritance on this basis.

If she testifies: "My husband died," and is married by his brother, the brother receives the deceased's estate on the basis of her testimony. This is derived from Deuteronomy 25:6: "He will assume the name of his deceased brother," and he has assumed his position.

Halacha 3

When a person drowned in a body of water that has no end, and witnesses testify that he drowned in their presence and all traces of him were lost, his heirs may inherit his estate on the basis of their testimony, despite the fact that, at the outset, his wife is not permitted to remarry in this situation.

Similarly, if witnesses come and testify that they saw a person fall into a lions' or tigers' den, they saw him crucified with birds eating from his body, he was pierced in battle and died, or he was killed, but his face was not recognizable, but there were definitive signs on his body and they were identified - with regard to these and similar situations, if all traces of the person were lost afterwards, the heirs may assume possession of the inheritance because of such testimony, although the person's wife is not given license to marry.

I maintain that our Sages were stringent concerning these matters only because of the severity of the prohibition involving karelt involved. With regard to financial matters, by contrast, if witnesses testify with regard to matters that we can presume will lead to death, saying that they saw these matters, all traces of the person are lost, and afterwards it is heard that he died, we allow the heirs to assume possession of the estate on this basis. This is the standard practice followed on an everyday basis in all courts of law. We have not heard about anyone who rules differently regarding this matter.

Halacha 4

When a report was heard that a person who had been captive died, and the heirs assumed possession of his estate and divided it among themselves, we do not expropriate it from their possession. A similar law applies when a report is heard about the death of a person who fled because of danger to his life."

If, however, a report was heard that a person who voluntarily left his city died, and the heirs assumed possession of his estate and divided it among themselves, we do expropriate it from their possession unless they bring proof that this person died.

Halacha 5

The court is obligated to take responsibility for the property belonging to a person who was taken captive or one who fled because of mortal danger.

What do they do? They entrust all the movable property to a person deemed trustworthy by the court for safekeeping.'9 They give possession of the landed property to relatives who are fit to inherit it, so that they would work the land and care for the property until they know whether the person died or he comes.

When the person who was taken captive or who fled comes, we evaluate the increase in value brought about by the relatives who were granted trusteeship and the benefit they received according to the norms applying to sharecroppers in that region.

Why does the court not appoint a guardian at all times, both for movable property and for landed property, until the owners come or until it is definitely known that they died? Because the court is not obligated to appoint guardians for adults who are intellectually mature.

Halacha 6

When a person was taken captive or fled because of danger and left standing grain to reap, or grapes, dates or olives to harvest, the court takes possession of their property and appoints a guardian who will reap or harvest this produce and sell it. The money is then entrusted to the court for safekeeping together with the remainder of the movable property. Afterwards, the relative is given possession of the property as stated in the previous halachah. This procedure is followed because if the relative were given the land at the outset, he might harvest this produce - for it is already as if it had been reaped - and consume it.

This concept also applies with regard to courtyards, inns and stores that are fit to be rented out, do not need work, for here is no difficulty in tending to them, and they are usually not given out in a sharecropping agreement. We do not place them in the possession of an heir, for he would collect the rent and consume it.

What is done instead? The court appoints a collector and has the rent placed in the court until the heir brings proof that the owner died or until the owner comes and takes his property.

Halacha 7

A relative is never given possession of property other than fields, gardens, vineyards and the like. In these properties, he is considered as a sharecropper. This measure is instituted so that the properties will not be ruined and be left fallow and desolate.

Halacha 8

The following laws apply when a person left his dwelling place voluntarily, abandoning his property, and we do not where he went or what happened to him. We do not give his property to a relative. If, however, a relative takes possession of it, we do not remove him from it. The court does not have the responsibility to tend to such a person's property and appoint a guardian, neither for the landed property nor for the movable property. The rationale is that he voluntarily departed and abandoned his property.

What are the laws governing this person's property? The movable property should remain in the possession of the person in whose domain it is found until this person comes and claims it or until he dies and it is claimed by heirs.

Halacha 9

With regard to landed property in which he left someone dwelling, we do not collect rent from him. If there is a field or a vineyard left to a sharecropper, it should remain as he left it until he comes. If he left a field or a vineyard fallow, it should be left fallow. The rationale is that he willingly caused the loss of his property, and when a person willingly forfeits his property, we are not required to return it.

Halacha 10

If we hear a report that the person who had left voluntarily died, the court collects all the movable property belonging to him and entrusts it to a person whom they consider faithful. They give the fields and vineyards to a relative to care for as a sharecropper, until the heirs bring clear proof that the owner died or until the owner comes.

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When an officer falls in battle, will the ranks of the soldiers disperse and flee...?!
  –Chassidic master Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz (1760-1827), upon the passing of the Ulaner Rebbe
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