Daughters and Distinctions: Part II

This is the second post in our series on the three invidious distinctions between males and females in the halachah of inheritance. The previous post discussed the rule that a son has precedence over a daughter in inheriting their parents; this one discusses the rule that a father inherits his children but a mother does not.

This halachah has aroused the least controversy of the three in question, although it is the subject of a brief but remarkably halachically inaccurate comment of Ibn Ezra. The context is the very obscure legal framework within which Naomi, Ruth, Boaz, and the anonymous “redeemer” were operating at the conclusion of Megillas Rus:

וּבֹעַז עָלָה הַשַּׁעַר וַיֵּשֶׁב שָׁם וְהִנֵּה הַגֹּאֵל עֹבֵר אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר בֹּעַז וַיֹּאמֶר סוּרָה שְׁבָה פֹּה פְּלֹנִי אַלְמֹנִי וַיָּסַר וַיֵּשֵׁב.

וַיִּקַּח עֲשָׂרָה אֲנָשִׁים מִזִּקְנֵי הָעִיר וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁבוּ פֹה וַיֵּשֵׁבוּ.

וַיֹּאמֶר לַגֹּאֵל חֶלְקַת הַשָּׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר לְאָחִינוּ לֶאֱלִימֶלֶךְ מָכְרָה נָעֳמִי הַשָּׁבָה מִשְּׂדֵה מוֹאָב.

וַאֲנִי אָמַרְתִּי אֶגְלֶה אָזְנְךָ לֵאמֹר קְנֵה נֶגֶד הַיֹּשְׁבִים וְנֶגֶד זִקְנֵי עַמִּי אִם תִּגְאַל גְּאָל וְאִם לֹא יִגְאַל הַגִּידָה לִּי ואדע [וְאֵדְעָה] כִּי אֵין זוּלָתְךָ לִגְאוֹל וְאָנֹכִי אַחֲרֶיךָ וַיֹּאמֶר אָנֹכִי אֶגְאָל.

וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז בְּיוֹם קְנוֹתְךָ הַשָּׂדֶה מִיַּד נָעֳמִי וּמֵאֵת רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה אֵשֶׁת הַמֵּת קניתי [קָנִיתָה] לְהָקִים שֵׁם הַמֵּת עַל נַחֲלָתוֹ.

וַיֹּאמֶר הַגֹּאֵל לֹא אוּכַל לגאול [לִגְאָל] לִי פֶּן אַשְׁחִית אֶת נַחֲלָתִי גְּאַל לְךָ אַתָּה אֶת גְּאֻלָּתִי כִּי לֹא אוּכַל לִגְאֹל.

וְזֹאת לְפָנִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל עַל הַגְּאוּלָּה וְעַל הַתְּמוּרָה לְקַיֵּם כָּל דָּבָר שָׁלַף אִישׁ נַעֲלוֹ וְנָתַן לְרֵעֵהוּ וְזֹאת הַתְּעוּדָה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל.

וַיֹּאמֶר הַגֹּאֵל לְבֹעַז קְנֵה לָךְ וַיִּשְׁלֹף נַעֲלוֹ.

וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז לַזְּקֵנִים וְכָל הָעָם עֵדִים אַתֶּם הַיּוֹם כִּי קָנִיתִי אֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר לֶאֱלִימֶלֶךְ וְאֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר לְכִלְיוֹן וּמַחְלוֹן מִיַּד נָעֳמִי.

וְגַם אֶת רוּת הַמֹּאֲבִיָּה אֵשֶׁת מַחְלוֹן קָנִיתִי לִי לְאִשָּׁה לְהָקִים שֵׁם הַמֵּת עַל נַחֲלָתוֹ וְלֹא יִכָּרֵת שֵׁם הַמֵּת מֵעִם אֶחָיו וּמִשַּׁעַר מְקוֹמוֹ עֵדִים אַתֶּם הַיּוֹם.1

Then went Boaz up to the gate, and sat him down there: and, behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spake came by; unto whom he said, Ho, such a one! turn aside, sit down here. And he turned aside, and sat down.

And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit ye down here. And they sat down.

And he said unto the kinsman, Naomi, that is come again out of the country of Moab, selleth a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s:

And I thought to advertise thee, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it: but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee. And he said, I will redeem it.

Then said Boaz, What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.

And the kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance: redeem thou my right to thyself; for I cannot redeem it.

Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel.

Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee. So he drew off his shoe.

And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi.

Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day.2

Insofar as the field in question had belonged to Elimelech, why was it being purchased from Naomi and Ruth? What rights did they have in Elimelech’s property? Most commentators assume that they had either kesubah or spousal maintenance rights in his property, or that Naomi had inherited a portion of the field from her father, who had inherited it in turn from his father Nahshon jointly with his brothers Elimelech, Salmon (father of Boaz), and the redeemer.3 Ibn Ezra mentions the possibility of kesubah – but also another possibility:

כי האשה יש לה כתובה, גם האם יורשת הנשאר.4

As we noted a dozen years ago:

[R. Menachem Kasher] attempts to demonstrate that it was specifically Ibn Ezra, “the chief of the Pashtanim”, as opposed to various other exegetes, “the pillars of the Halachah”, who adressed the crucial question of the tension between Peshat and Derash, and he concludes that while the latter maintain that we are permitted to explain even the Halachic passages of the Torah in ways that contradict the Talmudic tradition (although, of course, the actual Halachah is still as Hazal teach), Ibn Ezra insists that these verses be explained only in accordance with the tradition …

But while Rav Kasher may be correct that Ibn Ezra does not usually diverge from Hazal in the area of Halachah, even he is forced to concede that at least occasionally, he does …

Another case where Ibn Ezra seems to ignore a Halachah that even תינוקות של בית רבן know is his explanation of the womens’ right to the field in the narrative of the גאולה in מגילת רות …

While I have no idea how Ibn Ezra’s comment can possibly be reconciled with the Halachah, perhaps we can at least suggest [that] Ibn Ezra was less particular about fidelity to Halachah in his exegesis of passages that are primarily narrative, as opposed to those that are primarily legislative.

  1. רות ד:א-י.‏ []
  2. King James Version. []
  3. עיין שורש ישי (תרנ”א) עמודים סח:-ע: ואגרת שמואל (תע”ב) עמודים מט.-נא. באורך.‏ []
  4. אבן עזרא שם.‏ []

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