Tuesday, July 01, 2008

hefker (II)

Yesterday’s post raised Tosfos’ question (Bava Metziya 12): how can Rashi compare a case where someone is mafkir a ball and tosses it through a chatzeir to a case where the ball is thrown with da’as makneh, intent for it to be caught by a specific individual? The key to understanding Rashi involves unraveling the Rambam’s (Nedarim 2:14) definition of hefker. Rambam writes:

ההפקר אף על פי שאינו נדר הרי הוא כמו נדר שאסור לו לחזור בו. ומה הוא ההפקר הוא שיאמר אדם נכסים אלו הפקר לכל. בין במטלטלין בין בקרקעות. וכיצד דין ההפקר כל הקודם וזכה בו קנהו לעצמו ונעשה שלו. ואפילו זה שהפקיר דינו בו כדין כל אדם אם קדם וזכה בו קנהו

The simple reading of the Rambam implies that hefker is a form of neder through which the owner of property surrenders the right of ownership. The Bac”h goes so far as to suggest that retracting hefker violates the same issurim (bal yacheil, etc.) as violating a neder.

Using the Rambam’s model, there is no contradiction between declaring something hefker and having da’as makneh. Hefker simply removes the rights of the current owner; it does not say anything about who the new owner might be or who the original owner might want it to be.

Coming back to Rashi and Tosfos, their dispute might be explained as follows: According to Tosfos, hefker is itself a form of kinyan which transfers an item out of the owner’s possession. There can be no da’as makneh once hefker has taken effect. According to Rashi and the Rambam, hefker is a pledge by the owner not to use an object, but it does not transfer it out of the owner’s possession. It is still possible to have da'as makneh of the original owner.

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