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Do non-Jews have laws of inheritance in halacha? If so, what are they?

Okay... that's not my real question, though I think it's a good part of my real question; in the interests of avoiding the so-called X-Y problem, I'll state my real question in full.

Someone I know obtained a utensil that required t'vila (immersion in a mikve) and was unable to immerse it before he needed to use it, so instead gave it to a non-Jew and borrowed it for long-term use (on an indefinite loan, that is one with no term).

The non-Jew has now died.

Who owns the utensil?

  • If the Jew owns it now (e.g., perhaps, if there is no halachic law of inheritance for non-Jews, their stuff becomes hefker, and whoever has possession acquires it), does he have to immerse it?
  • If someone other than the Jew owns it now, then does the Jew need to return the loan? (Does he need to notify the owner, or can he just hold on to the item until such time as the owner claims it, even if that's never going to happen?)

Sources or arguments, please.

And yes, I know: I won't rely on answers what I read on this site for practical halacha.

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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/15769 – msh210 Apr 18 '12 at 18:34
Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/15756 – msh210 Mar 11 '13 at 22:46
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The Gemara (Kiddushin 18a and Nazir 61a) states that "a non-Jew inherits from his father according to Torah law," and this is cited as halachah in Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 283:1. So the utensil would presumably belong to the non-Jewish heir, and therefore still not require tevilah until it's returned.

That said, though, Rema there cites Mordechai that it needn't be returned if the heirs don't know about the loan. (If they do, then as the commentaries point out, it must be returned in order to sanctify Hashem's name.) So in such a case, presumably the Jew would have to immerse the utensil at that point - it wouldn't be any different than any other situation in which a utensil passes from non-Jewish to Jewish ownership.

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+1. This particular non-Jew was a woman. (A non-Jewess, I suppose, though I'm a non-Jewess too, as I'm a male Jew.) Do all the Jewish rules of inheritance apply to non-Jews? Would a child inherit his mother? Any idea? (I'm not seeing it in the nos'e kelim on the page of the SA there.) – msh210 Sep 19 '11 at 4:14
@msh210: Rambam (Hil. Nachalos 6:9) says אבל שאר ירושותיהן מניחין אותן לפי מנהגם - with regard to other inheritances, we allow them to follow their own customs. Since in American law a child indeed inherits from his mother, then yes, it would seem to be the same thing as if the utensil had been given to a non-Jewish man. – Alex Sep 19 '11 at 14:44
"it needn't be returned if the heirs don't know about the loan": I see the nos'e kelim say it's due to hafkaas halvaa, which sounds to me in name like an ownership transfer rather than merely a non-requirement to return, but do you know that that's what it is? (Sounds like something one of the Rabbis Soloveitchik might have discussed....) – msh210 Oct 9 '11 at 19:22

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