Sharona Margolin Halickman

Avoiding fraud when buying and selling property

Photo Courtesy Sharona Halickman

The Talmud in Bava Metzia 56a teaches that the sale of land is not subject to price fraud.

This is derived from Parsha Behar, Vayikra 25:14:

If you sell anything to your neighbor, or purchase something from the hand of your neighbor, do not cheat one another.

The Talmud explains that the expression “from the hand” indicates that the verse speaks of a thing that is passed from hand to hand (movable objects) but land is excluded because it is not movable.

We conclude from here that the prohibition against ona’ah, one may not wrong their fellow, applies only to movable objects and not land.

This conclusion does not fit in with the next verse which is talking about land (Vayikra 25:15):

According to the number of years after the Yovel you shall purchase land from your neighbor; According to the number of produce years he shall sell it to you.

Rashi comments that this verse comes to prevent cheating. When you sell or buy land you must know how many years there are until the Yovel (50th year)…If there are only a few years remaining, and this one sells it for a high price, the result is that the buyer has been cheated; but if there are many years remaining and he consumes many crops from it, behold, the seller is cheated. Therefore, the buyer must buy it according to the time remaining before the Yovel…according to the number of years of crops which is going to remain in the possession of the buyer.

Ramban agrees with Rashi and points out that even though the Talmud states that the sale of land is not subject to price fraud, the plain meaning of the verse makes it clear that it is forbidden to cheat the buyer when selling land. The Pitchei Tshuva and Maharshal agree with the Ramban.

The Chatam Sofer asks why Avraham first said (Breisheet 23:4) “Grant me the possession of a grave site” and then (verse 9) “let him give me Maarat HaMachpela” -which sounds like he was looking for a gift, yet he was happy to pay full price!

The answer is that Avraham was worried that Ephron would find out that Adam and Eve were buried in the cave and then he would renege and say that he was cheated, as the land would have a higher value if the first two people who were created directly from God were buried there. Therefore in order to ensure that nobody would dispute Avraham’s ownership of Maarat HaMachpela, first he asked for the land as a gift and then he paid Ephron, even though Ephron said that the payment was not necessary.

May we all be above board in buying and selling property and avoid fraud at all costs.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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