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Our sugya treats the definitions and halachos of a bar metzra, an adjacent neighbor whose field borders yours. If you offer land for sale, you must prefer selling it to a bar metzra if he wants it. If two or more adjacent neighbors simultaneously compete for the premises, you must sell a same-sized portion to each (see bottom of 108b). If an owner ignores a bar metzra and sells his property to one who is not an adjacent neighbor, the bar metzra may even evict the new owner, compensating him for the price at which he bought the property, and assume its possession. The following case, judged by the Chasam Sofer, allows us to understand the basic source of this halachah.
Son-in-law vs. Neighbor for Liquidated Apartment
A rich man became bankrupt and the beis din ordered him to relinquish his home to the creditors. Fortunately, one creditor was his beloved son-in-law and the house was transferred to his possession. The latter allowed his father-in-law to continue living there for free, but just as the older man started to feel more at ease, his adjacent neighbor complained to the beis din that he had been mistreated. After all, he was a bar metzra, and the beis din, as receivers of the property, should have offered to sell it to him first. However, the Chasam Sofer (Responsa, C.M. 11) refuted his claim, stressing that Chazal learnt the halachah of adjacent neighbors from the commandment in Devarim 6:18: do what is upright and good. The owner of a field next to one offered for sale profits from buying it by enlarging his property and should be preferred but not if he thus harms the seller. If, in this case, the beis din sells the home to the neighbor, he would evict the owner, who would become homeless. The house should remain the son-in-laws’s for the previous owner’s sake, who is being allowed to live there, as the neighbor is also commanded to “do what is upright and good”! (See Chasam Sofer, ibid, who cites more reasons as to why the principle of adjacent neighbors does not apply to such cases).
Buying Seats in a Shul
Buying a seat in a synagogue can become an ordeal to make people swallow their pride. The poskim mention several interesting cases and a long-discussed difference of opinions as to whether the concept of adjacent neighbors pertains to such seats. Should a person occupying a seat next to one being sold be preferred to buy it? Some Rishonim (see Beis Yosef C.M. 175:85) say the rule of bar metzra applies.
Raavad writes that the idea is inconceivable regarding synagogue seats as the original principle applies if, by buying adjacent property, a neighbor expands his use to the added area. An apartment owner, for example, may expand his premises to include a newly bought apartment next-door. A congregant, though, doesn’t need and even cannot sit on two places and therefore does not have to be preferred (see Beis Yosef, ibid, who uses this explanation and Sema’, ibid, S.K. 99). However, all agree that if a bench is too short for a certain number of congregants, they may buy a place next to them to expand their use and ensure their comfort.
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