2) Shtar Chatzi Zochor
In order to facilitate a daughter receiving a portion of the inheritance together with the sons, a method known as a Shtar Chatzi Zochor was devised. A man would give to his daughter a Shtar (promissory note) declaring that he already owes his daughter a huge sum of money, with two conditions attached. Firstly, the debt cannot be claimed until a moment before the father’s demise. This condition was attached to ensure that the daughter would not be able to claim this debt whilst her father was still alive. Secondly, if the man’s sons agree to give their sister a portion of their father’s inheritance – equivalent to half of their share – the daughter agrees to forgo the debt and cancel it.
After the father’s demise, the sons would be forced to give their sister a half-portion of the inheritance, or else pay up the entire debt, which would normally be more than the entire inheritance.
As such the father is not actually giving away a portion of his inheritance; he is merely stipulating that his debt will be cancelled if a portion of his inheritance is given away to his daughter. In this way, he can ensure that even property that will come into his possession from the date of this arrangement until the day of his death will be included in the portion given to his daughter. By defining this portion as a condition that enables cancellation of the debt, rather than attempting to give the actual portion as a present, he avoids the problem of not being able to give away things that he does not yet own. Furthermore, by defining this portion as a percentage of the final inheritance, he avoids defining precisely the possessions to be divided, and thus can include everything that will be in his possession at the time of his demise, without even knowing at the time of writing the shtar what his inheritance will consist of. Also, by stipulating that the condition applies only to whatever is in his possession at the time of his demise, he allows himself to continue doing with his possessions as he sees fit, for the entire duration of his lifetime.
The Shtar Chatzi Zochor is mentioned by the Remo”h in several places in Shulchan Aruch, and the reasoning behind it is discussed in the Remo”h’s glosses to the Tur, “Darkei Moshe.”
As will become evident from our discussion, the Shtar Chatzi Zochor was very common in Europe from at least the fourteenth century, and was discussed many times by the great Halachic authorities. It appears that the Shtar Chatzi Zochor was commonly given to daughters on the occasion of their marriage, as part of the dowry, although the shtar was usually made out to the daughter rather than the son-in-law, for reasons that will be explained later.