Property Value

During the school year, I participate in a weekly Talmud class with QC professors. The class takes place in the office of Prof. Wallace Goldberg, chair of the mathematics department. It’s a lively bunch, and the class is led by a different person each week.

One recent Thursday, it was my turn to present. The general topic was how to deal with sales of property that do not stipulate exactly what is included (Bava Basra 67a). For example, if someone says, “I am selling you my courtyard,” does that also include the adjacent houses? What about a well? Or a bathhouse?

Rashbam (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir; France, c.1085 – c.1158) asks: Why can’t we just determine what was included in the sale based on the price? It should be fairly obvious, based on market value, what the seller intended to include.

This suggestion is rejected, because of the concept that while the Torah forbids selling movable items at overly inflated prices, this prohibition does not apply to land. The Sefer HaChinuch (anonymous; Spain, 13th cent.) explains that the reason is that people are willing to pay exorbitant prices for land (did someone say New York?), because they know that land is permanent.

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In fact, the prohibition of not cheating someone is found in this week’s Torah portion, Behar: “…you should not cheat one another” (Lev. 25:14).

Rabbi Simcha Bunem of Psishchah (Poland, 1765-1827) would say: The Torah warns us not to cheat another person; a Chassid is careful to not even cheat himself…

Shabbat Shalom,