Batei Arei Choma

Erchin (9:4) | Yisrael Bankier | 15 years ago

In the ninth perek we learnt about the sale of batei arei choma – houses of walled city (that were walled in the times of Yehoshua). The Torah writes (Vayikra 25:29-30):

If a man sells his house in a walled city, its redemption can occur up to a year from the sale. If he does not redeem until a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong to the purchaser for generations and will not return in the yovel year.

One may ask, why is the time frame for redemption so short compared to other periods that we have learnt about? The Sefer HaChinnuch explains that a house in a walled city in should be very dear to its owner. If the owner does not make every effort to buy it back then he is penalised such that it now completely belongs to the new owner.

The Mishnah (9:4) teaches that due to this time limit, purchasers of such houses made a habit making themselves unavailable on the last day for redemption thereby ensuring that they achieved full and permanent ownership of the house. To avoid this problem, Hillel instituted that the original owner deposit the money at the Beit Ha’Mikdash, “break down the door” and take possession of his house.

A question that arises from this Mishnah is what if there was some other circumstance out of the owner’s control (ones) that prevented the original owner from redeeming his house on the final day. Is it his “bad luck”? Does he lose his house? Answering this question will reveal a deeper understand of batei arei choma.

The Minchat Chinnuch writes that it initially seems that since Hillel had to institute the decree for a case that appears to be ones, it would imply that in any other case of ones the original owner would lose his house.

The Minchat Chinnuch mentions those opinions that reject this proof, since this is an instance of ones on the final day alone. Since the person had plenty of time during the rest of the year to redeem the house, the law might be stricter than normal. According to these opinions if the ones extended for the entire period then the original owner would still be able to redeem his house.

The Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim, 108:11) however argues that no proof can be brought from this case and in general (except for Gittin) ones even on the final day would be considered. Here however, the sale of the house is not considered a formal sale. Instead it is viewed as a loan (the price paid by the purchaser) with the house as a guarantee and if the “borrower” does not pay back the loan in the “allotted time” (the year) the house belongs to the “lender”.17 In the laws of loans, if the loan is not paid in the allotted time then the guarantee changes hands even if the face of ones. This is an exception to the general rule of ones rachmana patrei (the Torah exempts a person due to ones).

The Ktzot HaChoshen (Choshen Mishpat 55:1) has a different understanding of the mechanism by which the laws of batei arei choma operates. Consequently he writes that in this case even if the seller endured an ones for the entire period he would lose his ability to redeem the house. He explains that the house actually belongs to the purchaser at the time sale. The Torah however made the sale on the condition that if the owner wishes to redeem it he may do so. If it does not, even due to ones, the right of redemption is lost.18

The Minchat Chinnuch writes that the difference between these two understandings is the requirement placed on the original owner when he wishes to redeem his property. According to the first understanding, since the initial transaction was only a loan, then only the money needs to be returned. However if we understand that initially a formal sale was made with the option of redemption made available, then the original owner would be required to enact a form acquisition (kinyan).

The Sold “House”

If a man sells his house of dwelling in a walled city, its redemption can occur up to a year from the sale.

In line with his interpretation of the previous verses, the Ohr Ha’Chaim explains that this verse, on a deeper level, explains how it could be possible that Hashem destroyed the Beit Ha’Mikdash. The “man” in the pasuk refers to Hashem as the pasuk states “Hashem ish milchama”. The “house of dwelling” (beit moshavo) is to be understood as referring to the Beit Ha’Mikdash, while the “walled city” as referring to Yerushalaim.

The Ohr Ha’Chaim explains that the “walls” is the very reason why “redemption can occur”. Citing the Midrash (Tehillim 79:1) he explains that Hashem took his “anger” out on the bricks and mortar as opposed to the inhabitance. Had it not been so, chas v’shalom, then there would be no one left, no future redemption and no rebuilding of his “house”.

17: The Netivot brings a proof to support this understanding from the fact that Gemara deals with the issue of ribit (interest) attached to the laws of Batei Arei Chomah. (See the Gemara and Netivot for more detail.)

18: The Netivot disagrees arguing that that explanation is the same as any sale made with a time-bound condition where ones would certainly be considered. (See inside for his proofs.)


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