1) AGE RESTRICTIONS ON BUYING AND SELLING LAND
QUESTIONS: The Gemara records a Machlokes regarding the age at which a person is qualified to sell land that he inherited. Rava says in the name of Rav Nachman that he must be 18 years old, and Rav Huna bar Chinena says in the name of Rav Nachman that he must be 20 years old.
(a) Is a person below this age restricted from selling only land that he inherited, or even land that he purchased or received as a gift?
(b) Is a person below this age restricted only from selling land, or is he also restricted from buying land?
(a) There are two approaches in the Rishonim regarding this question.
1. The RIF, RASHBAM (156a, DH v'Hilchesa), and other Rishonim explain that the Gemara here refers only to inherited land, and not to land that a young person personally acquires or receives as a gift. A person is permitted to sell land which he receives as a gift or land which he purchases himself, even before he reaches the age of 20. The Rif reasons that if a person can obtain land for himself, then he should be permitted to sell it as well.
The Rishonim explain that a young person is not permitted to sell land that he inherited either because he will not be careful to receive a fair price for the land (since he acquired it for free), or because the Chachamim are concerned for the honor of his family and do not want them to lose their family land.
2. RABEINU TAM (cited by Tosfos DH Mocher) argues and maintains that the Gemara means that a person under the age of 20 may not sell any land, whether he inherited it or acquired it on his own. He quotes the Gemara later which states that young adults (under the age of 20, and certainly children who have not yet reached the age of 12 for girls or 13 for boys) always want to acquire cash, and he reasons that they are likely to sell their property (in order to obtain cash) for a price that is too low. Therefore, the Chachamim do not allow them to sell land until they are older.
(According to Rabeinu Tam, the Chachamim restricted young people from selling only land and not Metaltelin, because the value of land is difficult to evaluate and the Chachamim feared that a young person might be persuaded to undersell it in exchange for cash. The value of Metaltelin, on the other hand, is easy to evaluate, and it would be difficult to convince a young person to sell it simply in to receive cash. Hence, if he does sell Metaltelin, the sale is valid because it is safe to assume that he had full intent to sell it.)
HALACHAH: The SHULCHAN ARUCH (CM 235:9) follows the opinion of the Rashbam and Rif. He adds, however, that a young person is restricted from selling not only land inherited from his father, but also land inherited from any other benefactor. Even though the Gemara mentions only land inherited from a father, the BA'AL HA'ITUR and MAGID MISHNEH explain that this law applies to all inherited land. This is the way the Shulchan Aruch rules. Moreover, he includes in this law land that was received as a gift from a Shechiv Mera, because such a gift works through the mechanism of inheritance as well.
(b) There are two approaches in the Rishonim regarding the second question as well.
1. The ROSH maintains that the Gemara restricts a young person only from selling land, but not from buying it (see also Tosfos to 155b, DH Mekchah). As the Gemara later explains, the Chachamim are concerned that since a young person has a desire for cash, he indiscriminately undersells his land, the value of which is difficult to assess accurately. In contrast, when a young person wants to buy land, he shows that he is not interested in amassing cash because he is willing to give his cash away in exchange for land (a long-term investment). There is, therefore, no reason to prevent a young person from buying land. Since a young person is permitted to purchase land because the Chachamim have no concern that he may be cheated, he is also permitted to sell the land that he purchased.
2. The RASHBA quotes the RI MI'GASH who says that just as a person under the age of 20 may not sell land, he also may not buy land (unless it is determined that he is knowledgeable about business transactions). The SHITAH MEKUBETZES explains the reason for the Ri mi'Gash's opinion: since the Chachamim decreed that a young person's sale of land is not valid (because he desires cash and might undersell the land), they also decreed that he may not buy land lest people see him buying land and mistakenly think that he is able to sell land as well. (Y. MONTROSE)
3) THE TESTIMONY OF A WITNESS UNDER THE AGE OF TWENTY IN A CASE INVOLVING LAND
QUESTION: Rav Huna brei d'Rav Yehoshua rules that as long as a male has reached the age of Halachic adulthood (13 years old) he is a valid witness, even though he cannot sell land until he reaches the age of 20. Mar Zutra explains that Rav Huna's ruling applies only to testimony about matters involving movable objects; a young man may not testify in cases involving land until he reaches the age at which he is permitted to sell land. Since a man is not permitted to sell land until he reaches the age of 20, he is not permitted to testify in cases involving land.
What is the connection between the restriction on his selling land and his ability to testify in a case involving land? The Gemara explains that the reason a man may not sell land until he reaches the age of 20 is that youngsters tend to have a desire for cash (since they seek immediate gratification for their desires, and they do not have the cognitive wherewithal to delay that gratification) and they therefore might undersell their land in order to obtain cash quickly. This logic does not apply to testimony. When a person testifies, he receives no money, and he gives up no land, so why should a young man not be a valid witness to testify about someone else's transaction?
(a) TOSFOS explains that when Mar Zutra says that until the age of 20 a person may not testify in matters involving land, he is not referring to all cases that involve land. A young man certainly may testify that he witnessed the sale of a piece of land. Mar Zutra means only that a young man may not testify in cases of land evaluation, wherein he must testify about the value of a piece of land. Tosfos explains that since a person under the age of 20 is infatuated with money, he will estimate the value of a property at more than its actual value. In contrast, a young man will not mistakenly assess the value of movable objects, since he is infatuated with the movable objects themselves as much as he is with money, and thus he will ascribe to any movable object its actual value. Furthermore, a person knows that movable objects deteriorate more easily than land, and he will not evaluate them at a value greater than their actual worth.
This explanation of Tosfos is difficult to understand. Why would a young man's obsession with money cause him to ascribe a higher value to a piece of land? On the contrary, it would seem that a person who loves money would assess a property at less than its actual value. Indeed, a marginal note in our edition of the Gemara suggests an emendation in the text of Tosfos; it changes the phrase, "He will assess it to be worth more than its value," to, "He will assess it to be worth less than its value." How, though, is the explanation of Tosfos to be understood according to our Girsa?
The BACH (#4) explains the meaning of the words of Tosfos as they appear in our text. The Bach explains that Tosfos' primary intention is that a young man, because of his obsession with money, will assess the value of land inaccurately, either at less than its actual value or at more than its actual value. Tosfos writes that he will assess it at more than its actual value because a person knows that land does not deteriorate as movable objects do, and thus a young man would think that land must be worth a lot of money.
The MAHARSHA also writes that in all of the old editions of Tosfos the Girsa is as it appears in the text ("He will assess it to be worth more than its value"). The Maharsha explains that when Tosfos says that Mar Zutra refers to testimony about the value of land, Tosfos means a case in which two heirs inherit an estate that includes a sum of cash and a field, and the heirs must split the inheritance in such a way that one heir receives the cash and the other heir receives a portion of the land equal to the value of the cash. If the field is worth more than the cash, then the additional land (above the value of the cash) must be divided between the two heirs. In Mar Zutra's case, Beis Din must ask a person who is familiar with the field to testify about its value. If a young person under the age of 20 is asked to testify, then Mar Zutra fears that he will testify that the field is worth the same amount as the cash is worth when, in reality, it is worth more than the cash. Due to his infatuation with money, a young witness might carelessly underestimate the field's value, causing one heir to get more than his rightful share of the land.
(According to the Maharsha, when Tosfos says that the young man "will assess it to be worth more than its value," Tosfos means that the young man will assess the land in such a way that one heir will receive more land than he is supposed to receive, because the young man will assess the land at less than its actual value.)
(b) The BEIS YOSEF and BACH (CM 35) infer from the words of the RAMBAM that he does not agree with Tosfos' explanation. Rather, the Rambam understands that the Gemara invalidates a young man's testimony in all land-related cases. Even though he does not receive any money as a result of his testimony, a young man is not permitted to testify because -- due to his infatuation with money -- he will not be careful to assess the real value of property. This is also the opinion of the Beis Yosef as recorded in the SHULCHAN ARUCH.
The SHACH, however, differs with this inference from the words of the Rambam and argues that the Rambam indeed agrees with the explanation of Tosfos. He rules, therefore, that only in cases in which Beis Din must evaluate the value of land is a young man, under the age of 20, ineligible to testify. (Y. MONTROSE)