We have learned that someone working or living on land for three years has a ḥazaka (presumptive ownership) – he can claim to have purchased the land without having to produce proof – since if he had not obtained the land legally, the true owner should have objected during those three years.
Rabbi Yosei b’Rabbi Hanina met two of Rabbi Yohanan’s students and asked them whether Rabbi Yohanan had taught how this protest – or meḥa’a – had to be done.
Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba quoted Rabbi Yohanan as saying that the meḥa’a had to be done in front of two people.
Rabbi Abbahu quoted Rabbi Yohanan as saying that the meḥa’a had to be done in front of three people.
The Talmud Yerushalmi quotes these opinions and explains that the difference of opinion is based on the question of whether you need to make the protest in front of beit din which is made up of three people, or if simply saying it in front of witnesses will suffice. Our Gemara offers a number of different approaches to this argument, the first of which suggests that the question is whether Rabba bar Rav Huna’s rule about lashon ha-ra – libelous statements – is accepted. According to Rabba bar Rav Huna, once a statement is made in front of three people it is assumed to be known and widespread, so a statement that is made in front of three people can be repeated without concern for the laws prohibiting lashon ha-ra. If this position is accepted, we need three people in order to be sure that the protest will reach the ears of the squatter; if this position is rejected then even two people will suffice to carry the message via social networking.
Rabbeinu Yona offers several possible explanations for Rabba bar Rav Huna’s rule about lashon ha-ra. One possibility is that this is talking about something that a person is allowed to say – he may be complaining, for example about someone who wronged him, and he is turning to these people to assist him in his efforts to receive justice. Another suggestion is that this is a person who will not accept the rebuke of this individual, so he turns to others to assist him in getting the person to return to a proper path. If he complained in front of two people, it would appear as though he was trying to hide his statement from the person he was talking about; since he said it in front of three, it is clear that he wants his statement publicized.