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Laws of Religion

Laws of Judaism Concerning Women and Men

 

8.  Inheritance

 

from the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

and the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

 

Inheritance

From the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

 

If a man loves one of his wives and hates his other wife, and his firstborn son is the child of the wife he hates, he must nevertheless stipulate that the firstborn son will inherit a double portion, as firstborn sons do.[1]

 

When an Israelite man named Zelophehad died with no sons, his daughters complained to Moses and the other leaders that they did not want their father’s name to die because he had no sons. Moses asked the Lord what to do and the Lord said that daughters shall inherit if there are no sons. If there are no sons or daughters, then the man’s brothers inherit. If he had no brothers, then his father’s brothers inherit.[2] But the tribal leaders protested that if daughters inherit and then marry men of a different tribe, the land belonging to their father will then become transferred to the husband’s tribe. So the Lord decreed that daughters who inherit property must marry within their own tribe. As a result, the daughters of Zelophehad married their first cousins on their father’s side.[3]

 

 

Inheritance

Jewish Law (Halakha) from the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

When a man dies without a will, his sons inherit the property in his estate. [4] The firstborn son inherits a double portion, i.e., twice as much as each of the other sons.[5] If a man dies and has no sons, then his daughters inherit the property in his estate, equally divided among them.[6] Males and females never share in an inheritance.[7] A child resulting from illicit sexual intercourse inherits from the father as long as the man acknowledges that he is the father; this applies even if the mother was married to someone else at the time.[8] If the man who died has no children, his father inherits his estate, but never his mother.[9]

 

When a man dies, his daughters are to be fed, clothed and housed from his estate until they are married or reach the age of majority (12-1/2 years old). When a daughter is being fed from her father's estate, the products of her work and anything she finds belong to her.[10] If a dying man decrees that his daughters shall not be fed from his estate, his decree is ignored and they are fed.[11]

 

When a man dies, part of his estate must be directed to be used as dowry for his unmarried daughter. The amount is to be determined by the court based on what they think he would have given. One-tenth of his property considered the standard amount for this if the court cannot decide.[12] If there is more than one unmarried daughter, the first gets one-tenth of the father's property, the second gets one-tenth of what is left after the first daughter receives hers, etc.[13] If, at the time of his death, a man says his property should not be used for dowries for his daughters, then they get no dowry.[14]

 

If a man dies and leaves both sons and daughters, the sons inherit his property but they must feed their sisters until they reach the age of majority (12-1/2 years old) or are married. In addition to this maintenance, the daughters receive a portion of the estate for their dowries, so men will want to marry them. If there is not enough in the father's estate to feed both the sons and the daughters, then the court allocates enough to the daughters for them to eat and the sons get the remainder, even if that means that the sons must become beggars.[15]

 

A man on his deathbed who has many sons, or who has no sons and many daughters, may direct that only one of the sons, or daughters, is to inherit his whole estate. Or he could designate that half of his estate is for one son, or daughter, and the other half to be divided among those remaining. He may not, however, designate a person who is not a lawful heir to inherit any portion of his estate.[16]

 

If, however, a man on his deathbed specifies that the distribution of his property is as a gift rather than an inheritance, then he may give his property to anyone at all,[17] though it is displeasing to the Sages for a person to take property from his heirs by giving it to others.[18] Such a gift by a critically ill person is not transferred to the designated recipient until the ill person dies.[19] If the gifts of the critically ill person amount to all of his property and he recovers from his illness, the gifts are retracted[20] unless the ill person specifies that the gifts are to be transferred immediately, while he is still alive. In that latter, case, the gifts are not retracted since they are no different from gifts made by a healthy person.[21] If a man on his deathbed gifts all of his property to others, money for the amount of the ketubah to go to his wife and also money for the maintenance of his daughters is taken for these purposes before the gift is distributed to the designated recipients.[22]

 

A woman's husband has priority over all others in inheriting his wife's estate when she dies,[23] but a wife never inherits her husband's estate.[24]

 

If a woman dies before her husband, then upon her husband's death their sons are to inherit the amount specified in her ketubah in addition to the dowry that she brought to the marriage that she would have received if she were alive at the time of her husband's death.  Thus if the man had sons by different wives, each son receives the amount of the ketubah and dowry of his own mother.[25] Once the amounts of the ketubahs and dowries are distributed to the appropriate sons, the estate of the father is then divided among his sons.[26]

________________

 

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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

Gen: The Biblical book of Genesis.

Exod: The Biblical book of Exodus.

Lev: The Biblical book of Leviticus.

Num: The Biblical Book of Numbers.

Deut: The Biblical Book of Deuteronomy.

 

MT:  The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Code of Maimonides). The names of the specific books and treatises within each book are given according to the Yale University Press translation and also the Moznaim/Touger Hebrew transliterations to facilitate locating the texts posted here.

F:  indicates page numbers in the Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., translation of Book 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Book of Knowledge.

M:  indicates page numbers in the relevant volume of the Moznaim Publishing Corporation’s Touger translation. (Some of the books of Mishneh Torah are published in several volumes by Moznaim, so the Moznaim volume numbers do not correspond to the Book numbers of Maimonides’ work.)

Y:  indicates page numbers in the translation of the Yale University Press Judaica Series.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.

 

 



[1] Deut 21:15-17

[2] Num 27:1-11

[3] Num 36:1-12

[4] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 19, sec 22 (pages 258M 127Y); MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws (Judgements), Sefer Mishpatim, Treatise 5 on Inheritance, Nachalot, Chapter 1, sec 1 (pages 646M 260Y)

[5] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws (Judgements), Sefer Mishpatim, Treatise 5 on Inheritance, Nachalot, Chapter 2, sec 1 (pages 654M 264Y)

[6] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 19, sec 22 (pages 258M 127Y); MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws (Judgements), Sefer Mishpatim, Treatise 5 on Inheritance, Nachalot, Chapter 1, sec 1 (pages 646M 260Y)

[7] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws (Judgements), Sefer Mishpatim, Treatise 5 on Inheritance, Nachalot, Chapter 1, sec 2 (pages 646M 260Y)

[8] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 3 on Levirate Marriage and Halitzah, Yibbum v'Chalitzah; Chapter 3, sec 4 (pages 44-46M 278Y).  MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws, Sefer Mishpatim; Treatise 5 on Inheritance, Nachalot; Chapter 4, sec 1 (pages 670M 270Y)

[9] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws (Judgements), Sefer Mishpatim, Treatise 5 on Inheritance, Nachalot, Chapter 1, sec 2 (pages 646M 260Y)

[10] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 19, secs 10-11 (pages 250-252M 123-124Y)

[11] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 19, sec 13 (pages 252M 124-125Y)

[12] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 20, sec 3 (pages 260M 127-128Y)

[13] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 20, sec 4 (pages 260M 128Y)

[14] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 20, sec 10 (pages 262M 129Y)

[15] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 19, sec 17 (pages 256M 125-126Y); MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws (Judgements), Sefer Mishpatim, Treatise 5 on Inheritance, Nachalot, Chapter 5, sec 2 (pages 678M 273-274Y)

[16] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws (Judgements), Sefer Mishpatim, Treatise 5 on Inheritance, Nachalot, Chapter 6, secs 1-4 (pages 686-688M 277-278Y); MT Book 12, The Book of Acqusition, Sefer Kinyan, Treatise 2 on Original Acquisition and Gifts, Zechiyah uMattanah, Chapter 12, sec 1 (pages 410M 154Y)

[17] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws (Judgements), Sefer Mishpatim, Treatise 5 on Inheritance, Nachalot, Chapter 6, secs 5-7 (pages 690M 277-278Y)

[18] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws (Judgements), Sefer Mishpatim, Treatise 5 on Inheritance, Nachalot, Chapter 6, secs 11 (pages 692M 279Y)

[19] MT Book 12, The Book of Acqusition, Sefer Kinyan, Treatise 2 on Original Acquisition and Gifts, Zechiyah uMattanah, Chapter 8, sec 8 (pages 368M 138Y)

[20] MT Book 12, The Book of Acqusition, Sefer Kinyan, Treatise 2 on Original Acquisition and Gifts, Zechiyah uMattanah, Chapter 8, sec 14 (pages 370M 139Y)

[21] MT Book 12, The Book of Acqusition, Sefer Kinyan, Treatise 2 on Original Acquisition and Gifts, Zechiyah uMattanah, Chapter 8, sec 18 (pages 372M 139-140Y)

[22] MT Book 12, The Book of Acqusition, Sefer Kinyan, Treatise 2 on Original Acquisition and Gifts, Zechiyah uMattanah, Chapter 8, sec 9 (pages 368M 138Y)

[23] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 22, sec 1 (pages 276M 135Y); MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws (Judgements), Sefer Mishpatim, Treatise 5 on Inheritance, Nachalot, Chapter 1, sec 8 (pages 650M 262Y)

[24] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws (Judgements), Sefer Mishpatim, Treatise 5 on Inheritance, Nachalot, Chapter 1, sec 8 (pages 650M 262Y)

[25] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 19, secs 1-2 (pages 246M 121-122Y)

[26] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 19, sec 1 (pages 246M 121Y)