SALT - Monday, 9 Elul 5776 - September 12, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Among the laws presented in Parashat Ki-Teitzei is that of the ben sorer u-moreh, the teenage “wayward son,” whose parents are authorized to bring him to Beit Din, and under very specific circumstances, he would be put to death.

            In discussing this law in Hilkhot Mamrim (7:14), the Rambam writes that in the case of a ben sorer u-moreh who is executed, his father inherits anything he owned, in accordance with the standard rule that a father inherits his deceased child’s possessions.  The Rambam adds that “even though his father caused him” to be executed, the father nevertheless inherits his estate.  It appears that in the Rambam’s view, one might have assumed that the father in this case does not inherit the deceased son’s possessions, as he caused his death by bringing the boy to the Beit Din.  The Radbaz explains that since Halakha does not require parents of a ben sorer u-moreh to bring him to Beit Din, and they have the option of forgiving him for his offenses, we might have assumed that Chazal would deny the father his inheritance rights.  Therefore, the Rambam found it necessary to clarify that despite this argument, the father of a ben sorer u-moreh indeed inherits his property.  The reason, presumably, is that since the Torah authorizes the father to bring the child to Beit Din, he should not be penalized by being denied the inheritance.

            The Radbaz’s comments seem to indicate that if one wrongfully causes the death of somebody whose estate he is in line to inherit, and certainly if he kills him, he is not entitled to the inheritance, and the case of the ben sorer u-moreh marks an exception to this rule.

            The Mabit, however, in his Kiryat Sefer commentary to the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, seemingly suggests otherwise.  Commenting on this passage in Hilkhot Melakhim, the Mabit draws our attention the Gemara’s discussion in Masekhet Sanhedrin (48b) concerning the story told in Sefer Melakhim I (21) of Achav and Navot.  The story involves Navot’s vineyard which neighbored King Achav’s palace in the Jezreel Valley, and Achav’s queen, Izevel, schemed to have Navot falsely accused of treason and executed, so that Achav could then take the vineyard, which he desired.  The Gemara comments that Achav felt entitled to the property because he was a relative of Navot and an heir to his estate.  The Mabit shows from this story that one who brings about his relative’s death does not forfeit his rights as inheritor, and this incident thus sets a precedent for the Rambam’s ruling that a ben sorer u-moreh’s father inherits his property.  According to the Mabit, it appears, the laws of inheritance apply even when an heir is responsible for the deceased’s passing.

            Rav Asher Weiss, however, suggests that in truth, there is no debate on this issue.  After all, Achav’s seizure of Navot’s vineyard was condemned in the harshest of terms by Eliyahu, whom God sent to censure Achav for what happened and to warn of the calamity that will befall his family as a result of this grievous crime.  Eliyahu famously exclaimed, “Ha-ratzachta ve-gam yarashta” – “Have you murdered and also inherited?!” – clearly indicating that, as our intuitive sense of morality would dictate, there is no possible justification for granting a murder victim’s estate to the murderer.  Rav Weiss therefore explains that according to both the Radbaz and the Mabit, although the Torah’s inheritance laws do not, technically, change in the case where the prospective heir killed the deceased, nevertheless, it is clear that the Beit Din should not allow this to happen.  God’s stern reaction to Achav’s appropriating Navot’s estate demonstrates that even if the technical laws of inheritance apply to an inheritor who caused the deceased’s death, such an inheritor should not be given the estate, and Beit Din should use its authority to deny the killer inheritance rights.  Rav Weiss cites in this context the Shulchan Arukh’s ruling (C.M. 283:2) that Beit Din should utilize its authority, when it deems necessary, to deny an evil person rights to inherit his family member’s estate.  In a similar vein, it is expected that Beit Din would not allow a killer to inherit his victim’s estate, if he is first in line to receive it. 

(Rav Weiss presented this analysis in a responsum written to an Israeli judge who presided over the tragic case of a husband who was convicted of killing his wife, and demanded inheritance rights to his wife’s estate.)