Converts and inheritance
This text presents two cases where the law does not require the return of a loan, yet the sages approved if the debt were paid. The first case (A) takes place during the sabbatical year (the seventh year of the sabbatical cycle). According to Deuteronomy 15:1-2, all debts are rescinded at the onset of that year: “Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed” (NRSV). However, the sages commended those who paid their debts despite not being legally bound to do so.
The second case (B) speaks of a father who converted together with his sons (for more on converts and conversion, see the commentary on Mishnah Bikkurim 1:4-5). This father had lent money (or other assets) to another Jew; however, he died before the borrower had repaid him. According to this mishnah, and other rabbinic texts (see, for example, Tosefta Bava Qamma 4:6; Sifre Numbers 4; Jerusalem Talmud Yevamot 4:1, 5c), converts relinquished the ability to bequeath assets to sons and other relatives from their families of origin. This case extends from that principle, acknowledging that this borrower is not required to return this loan to the sons who survived his lender since they were born before his conversion and, therefore, are not considered his heirs. However, these sons also converted to Judaism. In such circumstances, the sages encouraged Jews to pay their debts even though this action is not required by halakhah. Roman law prohibited Roman citizens from bequeathing property to non-citizens; yet here, the father and his sons are all Jewish, analogous to being “citizens.” According to Moshe Lavee, “It is possible that the concept we find in Palestinian sources, and maybe also the original motivation for this legislation is close in nature to Greco-Roman legal perception of citizenship and kinship” (“No Boundaries,” p. 100). Indeed, elsewhere, I have shown the striking parallels between these rabbinic laws and the Roman legislation which also associates a father’s loss of paternal authority upon gaining citizenship with his children’s loss of status as heirs (including Gaius, Institutes, 1.93-94; 3.19-20). It therefore seems that tannaitic halakhah reflects an internalization of particular features of the status of new Roman citizens that were then applied to converts (Wilfand, “A Proselyte”).
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