Land Theft I
By Rabbi Daniel Travis
And there was a quarrel between the herdsmen of Avram and the herdsmen
of Lot. (Bereshith 13:7)
Lotís unscrupulous herdsmen grazed their cattle in fields that belonged to
Avraham. They claimed that since Avraham had no heir, his nephew Lot would
inherit the land, and therefore their appropriation of his pastures did
not constitute robbery.(1) If relationships among all the herdsmen had
been peaceful until now, what initiated this quarreling between the
herdsman of Avraham and those of Lot?
Before this time there had been a war in the area and in times of war the
fields are considered ownerless. Thus, these same actions of Lotís
herdsmen had not previously been considered theft. Now that peace reigned
in the region, however, they had no right to allow their animals to graze
on land that was not theirs, so Avrahamís herdsmen protested.(2)
Based on the claim made by Lotís herdsmen that the land actually belonged
to Lot, it appears that their intention was to take possession not only of
the produce of the land, but also of the land itself. Yet property is not
an object that can be picked up and carted away, so how is it possible to
steal it? Our Sages tell us that if one uses land for oneís own purposes,
although one has not actually acquired the property, it is considered an
act of theft.(3) It is accepted as halachah(4), for example, that moving
oneís fence even a hairsbreadth into another personís property is an act
of theft. One who does this in the land of Israel has violated an
additional prohibition of hasagath gvul (border manipulation).(5)
1. Rashi on Bereshith 13:7.
2. Maharil Diskin on Bereshith 13:7.
3. Responsa Choshen HaEphod 2.
4. Rambam, Laws of Theft 7:11; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 376.
5. Devarim 19:14.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org