כ׳ בסיון ה׳תשע״ז (June 14, 2017)

Bava Batra 143a-b: Gifts of Silk

Our Gemara discusses the division of swaths of silk that were sent as a present by the father.

Rabbi Ami teaches that when someone sends silk to his house, the pieces that appear to be prepared for men should be given to the sons, but those that appear to be prepared for women should be given to the daughters. This is true only if his sons are not yet married. If they are married, however, then we can assume that the silk was meant for his daughters-in-law, unless there were unmarried daughters, who we can assume were meant to receive the silk.

The difficulties involved in producing silk are such that even today real silk is a very expensive commodity. This was certainly the case in Talmudic times, when all silk was produced in China, and the distance to import such fabric was immense, given the realities of transportation at that time. With this in mind, we can well understand that dividing up even a small amount of silk would be a matter of importance within the family. It appears from the Gemara’s description that in this case the pieces were already colored or cut in ways that made it clear if the material was meant for men or for women.

It is clear that the case of the Gemara is not a situation of inheritance, for in such a case all of the material would be divided up according to ordinary inheritance laws, rather we are talking about someone who sent material to members of his household while he was still alive. Since we are not talking about an estate, the Ri”f quotes a statement from the Talmud Yerushalmi that says that even if the man simply sent this present “to my children” it would be understood to include daughters as well as sons.

Rabbeinu Ḥananel suggests that after he sent the present the man died. Apparently he understood that the simplest things to do would have been to ask the man how he meant to divide up the silk. Since the Gemara does not suggest this, we must assume that he was no longer available.