The Division of Inheritance According to Torah Law

Israeli law is based mostly, but not entirely, on Hebrew law. Therefore, for example, the laws concerning the division of inheritance differ according to Torah law and according to ordinary law.

There are significant differences between inheritance according to Torah law and inheritance according to ordinary law due to the identity and sex of the heirs. While under ordinary law, the inheritance belonging to all the descendants of the testator is divided equally, no matter whether they are male or female, the division of inheritance according to Torah law is divided among male heirs only, and even this division is not equal among all male heirs. That is, women do not inherit from their husbands, and daughters do not inherit from their fathers. This matter is discussed in this article.

The Order of Inheritance According to Torah Law

In Jewish law, the woman occupies a special social status. Although she is exempt from most of the commandments, she is also not entitled or allowed to own property on her own. In the vast majority of cases, the woman fell under the auspices of her father or husband, and this norm also permeated the laws of succession and inheritance according to Torah law.

There are a number of sources that have been compiled together from which one can understand the laws concerning inheritance according to Torah law, including: the story of the daughters of Tzelfhad (Book of Numbers, Chapter 27, verse 2), Maimonides (Halachot Nahalot, Chapter A, sections A-C) and the Code of Jewish Law (in Hebrew: Shulhan Arukh, page 276, section A).

The Torah, in the Book of Numbers, mentions “a man who dies and has no son and you transferred his inheritance to his daughter.” Similarly, in Leviticus, it mentions “and you inherited them to your sons after you.” From this it can be learned that according to Torah law, the inheritance of the estate was first passed down to the son, and that sons precede daughters in the division and acceptance of inheritance.

The specific order of inheritance is quoted in the Mishnah in Tractate Bava Batra: “The order of precedence with regard to inheritances is this: The verse states: “If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance to his daughter –a son precedes a daughter. All descendants of a son precede a daughter. A daughter precedes the brothers of the deceased. Additionally, the descendants of a daughter precede the brothers of the deceased. Brothers of the deceased precede the uncles of the deceased. Additionally, the descendants of the brothers precede the uncles. This is the law: Concerning anyone who precedes another with regard to inheritance, his descendants precede the other as well, and a father who inherits precedes all of his descendants.

That is, according to Torah law, in the death of the testator, only his sons will inherit. The testator’s daughters do not inherit unless the testator has no son. This means that only in the case where the testator has no male sons at all will his daughters receive an inheritance.

If, upon the death of the testator, his sons and daughters are not alive themselves, but they have descendants i.e. the testator’s grandchildren, the testator’s descendants’ will be first in line to receive the inheritance. If the testator has no descendants at all, neither sons, nor daughters, the inheritance will pass to the testator’s father. If the testator’s father is not alive at the time of the testator’s death, the inheritance will pass to his descendants i.e. the male testator’s brothers, and if there are none, then the inheritance will pass to the testator’s sisters, and if the testator’s brother is not alive, the inheritance will pass to the descendants of the testator’s brother, i.e. the testator’s nephews will step into the shoes of their father and grandfather and inherit the inheritance if the testator has no descendants. In the case where the testator is an only son and an orphan with no descendants, i.e. no children, no parents, and no siblings, the inheritance will pass to the testator’s father father i.e. the testator’s grandfather, and their descendants i.e. the testator’s uncles, and then to the testator’s cousins.

That is, women do not inherit from their husbands or fathers. Only in special cases where the testator has not a single male son will his inheritance be inherited by his daughters. This is because of the history of the Jewish people, which was divided into tribes and estates, and as a result, there was a fear that daughters would inherit their father’s estate and marry a man from another tribe, thus meaning that the estate would pass to another tribe. Therefore, a woman does not benefit from the inheritance of her father, as it passes in full to the sons, to her brothers, but she does benefit from an inheritance her husband inherits from his father, which is not shared with his sisters, but only among the sons.

Women’s Rights in Torah Law

Despite the strict restriction on the inheritance of the testator by his daughters, the halakhah ensured the rights of women to welfare and economy through the establishment of a number of mechanisms. The job of these mechanisms is to make sure that the daughters and widows receive their share of the assets, by way of Torah law, by ensuring the welfare of the widowed woman though the woman’s marriage contract, the woman’s alimony, the woman’s housing. As for the testator’s daughters, the halakhah provided a number of additional mechanisms through which the daughters could secure their property if the testator’s daughters had not yet been married, including child support for the daughters, the Binyan Dakhrin support stipulated in the ketubah, and a dowry that is an enrichment of the assets. All of these constitute a kind of insurance for the women under the auspices of Halakha at the time of the death of the testator. At the same time, the testator may guarantee through a number of ways the granting of the dowry or “part of an inheritance” through a written gift to his daughters or wife.

Regarding his daughters, the testator can secure their property in a number of ways:

Enrichment of assets: Described and explained in the Gemara in Tractate Ketubot, a daughter who has not yet married during the life of the father will receive a certain part of the inheritance that will be used later as a marriage dowry. Maimonides says: “[There exists] a wise commandment that a man must give of his possessions a little to his daughter so that she may marry him and this is called livelihood…The father who died and left his daughter an estimate of how much he had in his heart to give her for her livelihood and give it to her… And if the court does not give him an opinion, give her a fortune to support her livelihood.”

Regulation of child support for a daughter: In addition to the enrichment of assets, a regulation was amended that the sons must provide child support for the daughter.

At the time of the testator’s death, the sons inherited the testator’s inheritance, but were forced to support their daughters’ sisters until they reached adulthood and could marry. The halakhah adds that while the value of the inheritance is poor and does not provide enough even to provide the daughters alimony, the girls will receive alimony from the inheritance, and the sons will support themselves. The exception to the regulation is if the inheritance included only movable property, the inheritance is divided equally between the boys and girls.

“Half-male” bill: While he was alive, the testator (the bride’s father) would give a “half-male” bill to the daughter at the time of her marriage. This means that the father, in the bill, commits to the daughter and determines the amount of money that she will receive in case her brothers, i.e. the sons, do not agree and give her her share of the inheritance. Thus, the father ensures in his lifetime that his daughter will inherit her share, so that if her brother does not agree to give her her share, the daughter can demand from her brother the repayment of the debt that the testator undertook when he was still alive.

As for his wife, the testator can ensure her property and welfare in a number of ways:

Alimony for the widow: The law also provided for the widow. It was determined that as long as the widow did not claim her ketubah, the widow would continue to live in the house where she lived in her life together with the testator. If the widow and the testator have lived together in a rented apartment, the heirs must give the widow a monthly rent for an apartment. If this was not enough, the heirs had to give the widow alimony, clothing and all the tools she used to use.

In addition to that, the halakhah established the well-known halakhah “a woman ascends with him and does not descend with him.” That is, even if the testator was accustomed to living at a higher standard of living than the widow, the heirs must provide her with alimony, accommodation, clothing and utensils according to the husband’s standard of living. The practical significance is, however, when the widow withdraws her ketubah money, there is no longer an obligation for the heirs to support her.

The country is governed by the ordinary law set forth in the Inheritance Law, 1965, and not by Torah law, however the procedure for applying for an inheritance order or a will execution order may be complex, especially if it comes before the court.

At Decker, Pex & Co., you will meet lawyers who specialize in inheritance, will and foreign law with decades of experience in the field who will be happy to advise you and answer any questions you may have.

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