Sometimes we can learn a story in the Gemara that has so many holes in it that it requires us to do some detective work; and while it may not be possible to answer all of our questions or reach conclusive outcomes, the evidence can certainly point us in a particular direction to help us better understand the Gemara.
We begin with our daf (Ketubot 94b) where we read how, one morning, the mother of Rami and Mar Ukva bar Chama wrote away all her property to Rami. However, that very afternoon, she wrote away the same property to Mar Ukva. Rami went to Rav Sheshet and requested a ruling on the matter – who ruled that the property was now Rami’s. Soon after, Mar Ukva went to Rav Nachman because he too wanted a ruling on the matter, and Rav Nachman ruled that the property was now Mar Ukva’s.
Significantly, when most people read this Gemara, they focus on the ensuing conversation between Rav Sheshet and Rav Nachman. However, I would like to understand how this event took place in the first place.
Before proceeding further, it is important to note that Gemara Bava Batra 151a relates almost the same exact story where the mother of Rami and Mar Ukva bar Chama did this same thing – leading some to claim that this event is merely repeated in both places. However, as Tosfot (Ketubot 94b) – as further explained in the Tosfot HaRosh – explains, these are actually two separate incidents. In terms of the story in Bava Batra, it occurred when Rami and Mar Ukva’s mother was on her deathbed (which has halachic implications in terms of deciding who should be awarded the property). However, the story as told in our daf does not include this detail – thus leaving Rav Sheshet and Rav Nachman to debate which of them was more correct in their ruling.
So what we have so far is a woman who seems to be pulled in different directions in terms of deciding which of her sons should receive her property. But why is she pulled in different directions? Why can’t she just divide the property? And why does she do this twice?
Before proceeding further, it should be noted that we have evidence that Rami – who was the younger of the two brothers – died young aged 27, leaving behind a wife and daughter (who was later to marry Rav Ashi). Beyond this, it is also worthwhile mentioning how Rami and Mar Ukva married two sisters – the daughters of Rav Chisda. So what we have here is a story of a mother whose husband is not in the picture (we can presume that he has died), with two sons – with Rami being no older than his mid-20’s and Mar Ukva likely being in his late 20’s or early 30’s – who are also brother’s-in-law.
But now we need to dig deeper. For example, instead of them both studying from the same teacher, each brother has their own Rabbi: Rami is close to Rav Sheshet, while Mar Ukva is close to Rav Nachman. Moreover, when they sought to reach a ruling on this matter, Rami and Mar Ukva did not come together to a single decisor or Beit Din to argue their case – which is how monetary rulings should be decided.
To both strengthen this question, and possibly offer a solution, we must take a look at Gemara Bava Batra 29b where we read how these two brothers jointly bought a maidservant and, to prevent either one having the ‘chazakah’ of her being their sole maidservant, they had an arrangement where ‘one Sage had her work during the first, third, and fifth years, while the other had her work during the second, fourth, and sixth years’. However, the previous owner of this maidservant took Rami and Mar Ukva to Beit Din and claimed that no such sale had occurred. Rava, who oversaw this case, told the two brothers that because neither has a ‘chazakah’ that she was their maidservant, she should return to work for her original boss. However, he then added that, “this is the ruling if no contract was written. But if a contract was written, then a chazakah is established”.
What we see from this story is that there was a time when these brothers were in good dialogue – to the point that they amicably worked out a way to share a maidservant, and when challenged, they went – together – to Rava for a ruling.
But then it seems that soon after this incident the brothers grew apart. Of course, we cannot certainly know what led them to become more distant to one another, but I’d like to suggest that each blamed the other for not writing a contract – which is why they lost this maidservant. And from then on, it seems that this topic was a perpetual source of tension between them – to such an extent that they chose to study with different Rabbis and they avoided being around each other.
Admittedly, this is all conjecture. However, what it does do is answer the ultimate question: why did their mother, not just once but twice, write away all her property to one and then to the other? I think it was a way to try and force her sons to deal with the tension that existed between them which was rooted in a prior event where they each blamed the other for not writing a contract.
In terms of the story as told in our daf, unfortunately her idea didn’t work. Rami and Mar Ukva were so frustrated with each other that they went – separately – to their own teacher to seek a solution. Of course, we would have thought that this event could have changed them. But unfortunately it didn’t. And how do we know this? Because, as we read in Bava Batra 151a, when she was on her deathbed, their mother again wrote her property away to each – perhaps hoping that this would bring the brothers together after her death. But, tragically, even after she died, each went – once again – to their own respective teacher. And we can assume that, not long after this point, Rami then died.
If there is truth in how I have told this story, I wonder how Mar Ukva felt once his mother and brother died. Of course, perhaps he was right to be annoyed with his brother. Still, despite her repeated efforts, his mother died without seeing her sons reunite. Perhaps Mar Ukva hoped to have more time to patch things up with his brother – but this was not to be. What we learn from this is that while there can be justifiable reasons for people to disagree, we should never leave things too long because sometimes we only realise that we should have done more once it is too late.