Thursday, 30 April 2015

Ketubot 88: Torah/Rabbinical Oaths; Other Comparisons

Different rabbis suggest that they can convince their wives to take Biblical oaths.  Steinsaltz explains some of the dispute regarding Biblical and rabbinic oaths.  Certainly Torah oaths require a Torah scroll and a promise.  Rabbinical oaths may or may not include that step; they involve invoking the name of G-d.  They may or may not hold equal value, and they may or may not be used interchangeably, depending on the rabbi asked.

In comparison with women who are claiming their ketubot, the rabbis discuss law surrounding orphans who must take oaths.  Orphans must take oaths before collecting a debt.  However, do they have to take oaths when their father was the borrower?  And, more generally, what difference might it make if the borrower or the lender took the oath?

Our daf ends with a conversation regarding whether or not the borrower and lender must both be present when the oath is taken.

It is so foreign to envision the requirement of oaths in legal proceedings, no matter how small.  How can we trust that a person isn't going to lie?  We can't.  Even today, when our promises are made haphazardly, we often swear when we wish to emphasize our trustworthiness.  But the fear of excommunication or dying due to a broken oath does not exist for most of us today.  Were we better off when we knew that we could be horribly punished for lying?  Were people more truthful in the past?  It is tough to imagine.

Another interesting point is the running theme throughout this Perek: in a discussion about ketubot,  continual comparisons are made among orphans and others who are ordered to take oaths.  The rabbis better understand the question at hand by comparing it with other, similar conversations.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Ketubot 87: On Oaths

Amud (a) focuses on what should be done when a husband has specified that his wife need not take an oath but following his death, she is forced to do just that.  This would happen if she were to ask his heirs for money, for anyone requesting money from orphans is required to take an oath.  The rabbis wonder exactly which words are used when the husband creates this stipulation.  How specific is he?  From which oaths specifically is she exempted?  

Shaul ben Imma Miriam introduces a solution that is accepted by the rabbis.  He states that it should not matter exactly which words are used by the husband; if his intention is to prevent his wife from having to take an oath, then she does not have to take an oath. That holds, even in the case where the widow is asking her deceased husband's heirs for funds.

Another point of note is the name of this Sage: Shaul ben Imma Miraim.  Although our notes explain that we do not know much of this Sage, he clearly has been named for his mother or another prominent female figure.  Steinsaltz teaches that a number of rabbis were named for women in these traditions.  It makes me wonder who those women were; what were their accomplishments and characteristics that were so outstanding as to name men in their honour.

A new Mishna teaches us that in a number of specific situations, women can collect their ketubot by taking oaths.  For example, if the oath has been partially paid to her, she can collect the remainder only through taking an oath.  Liened property is supposed to be exempt from oaths, but they apply in cases of ketubot.  Whenever there is a conflict regarding the amount of the ketubot or the timing of payment, etc., she can collect her ketuba after taking an oath.

The Gemara walks us through some of the specifics around taking oaths, particularly in these cases.  The rabbis describe other cases where oaths are required; still others where they are not required.  Some of the examples are relatively complex.  The rabbis use the Torah's directions around oaths to better understand exactly when we must take oaths and when we should not do so. 

One of my favourite examples is when women reduce the amounts of their ketubot. If the ketuba is 1000 dinars and the husband says that he paid it partially or that he paid it fully, the wife can claim her ketuba if she says that the ketuba was only 100 dinars.  Basically, as long as the wife puts herself at a disadvantage, she is permitted to take the ketuba without an oath.

The meaning of an oath must be very different today than it was in ancient times.  Today, we make oaths and break oaths without considering the consequences beyond our own inconvenience.  In antiquity, an oath was a promise between oneself and G-d.  To break that promise was to court death at the hand of G-d as decreed on Yom Kippur.  People went to great lengths to ensure that their oaths were kept or, at least, forgiven by G-d.  But we don't seem to have much respect for our relationship with G-d today - at least not regarding commitments, trust, and honouring our word.  I think that if we can't keep our promises to G-d - or to ourselves - how can we keep any other promises?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Ketubot 86: Oaths, Ketubot and Gets; Justification for Leaving an Abusive Relationship

We begin with a conversation regarding the promissory notes that were spoken of in our last Mishna.  The piece of this debate that relates directly to Masechet Ketubot is the argument that we are actually discussing oaths made by women when they receive their gets, divorce contracts.  

What if a husband dies or divorces his wife leaving both his wife and a creditor owed money?  The rabbis teach us that creditors get money and women get land in these circumstances for women don't care about whether they get money or land; they want to stay married.  What if there isn't enough to pay both the creditor and the wife?  The creditor gets the money or land in this case.  

One particularly interesting point is that the repayment of a creditor is considered to be fulfilling a positive mitzva.  So if a person has enough money or land to repay a creditor but refuses to do so, he can be compelled by the court.  What does "compelled" mean?  In this case, it could include striking him without limitation, even until "his soul departs from his body".  Refusing to perform a positive mitzva is a serious offence.

The Gemara goes on to discuss oaths between husbands and wives.  What if a husband gives his wife a get will be enacted in thirty days and she leaves it in a wall within the public sphere?  As long as she does not place the parchment fully within the public sphere but in the wall, the get is valid from the time it is accepted by the woman (by 'pulling' it from her husband's hand).  

Can husbands insist that their wives take oaths?  A new Mishna suggests that if a wife is a storekeeper or a steward of his business, he is permitted to require that she take an oath.  But is he allowed to have her take oaths regarding her other household duties?  The rabbis debate this last point, as the rabbis wish to protect men's property but they also recognize that one cannot live in a basket with a snake.  This refers to living with someone who could strike or intimidate at any time.  In fact, such circumstances justify a wife's claim for divorce.  She can say, "Since you are so exacting with me, I cannot live with you".  

Another new Mishna tells us that husbands can enact contracts where they refuse to require that their wives make oaths.  However, the rules are tricky.  Husbands must be very careful that when they offer such contracts, they stipulate whether or not others can impose oaths upon their wives.  Heirs of the husband, heirs of the wife, and those who have authority to speak on the wife's behalf all might be permitted to insist that she make oaths.  Husbands must be very deliberate with their words when they create such contracts.

Today's daf offers inspiration to women who are feeling guilty about leaving abusive relationships.  Women might feel as though the dissolution of such a relationship is their fault; that they somehow were deserving of abusive treatment.  Today we learn that when a partner continually monitors the other's behaviour, it is grounds for divorce.  "Since you are so exacting with me, I cannot live with you".  The rabbis have compassion for women who are caught in relationships that do not allow for their freedom of movement and expression of thought.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Ketubot 85: Creativity and Contracts

We learn about contracts today: what to do when there is a dispute regarding a previous, papered agreement.  The daf begins with a case that helps to explain whether property can be seized after someone has died.  

The Gemara wonders when one witness might be sufficient to affect the outcome of a case.  The first example is not only a single witness, but that witness is a woman.  Rav Chisda's daughter, Rava's wife - and Rava was the judge listening to her opinion.  When questioned about valuing her words as an individual witness, Rava said that he knew her well and she would not lie; he did not know another Rabbi as well and he could not comfortably trust that single witness in a case.  Other examples of single witnesses are shared in the text.

When a person dies without leaving specific instructions, the rabbis debate about who should inherit specific, unclaimed items.  We learn that Torah scholars are preferred possibilities, as are neighbours - business partners who are close to the deceased - and then other relatives.  However, the rabbis stress the importance of using reasonable judgement in such cases.  Figure out who was important to the deceased person!  

Our daf ends with guidance regarding dealings with loans that might be forgiven.  We are told that rabbis do not allow women to forgive loans on their own.  Instead, men must be present both as witnesses and because as husbands they share equally in any one of their wives' loans.

I continue to find it fascinating that the rabbis are able to forgive some breaches of halacha when it suits their purposes.  I did not find a Torah verse proving that women were able to act as individual witnesses in particular cases.  However, the rabbis find ways to argue that this should be permitted.

This creativity regarding stringencies in Jewish law is critical to understand when liberal Jews are looking toward making changes to traditions.  If each new interpretation is questioned and thoughtfully considered, why can we not make changes to the traditional halacha as well?

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Ketubot 84: Does one's first family inherit? Do rabbis correct each others' errors?

When a married woman dies, Torah law states that her husband inherits the property.  But what about her first family; other heirs?  What about those who are owed debts?  The rabbis debate these questions in today's daf.

What is rabbinic law and what is Torah law?  The rabbis argue whether or not a woman's heirs are entitled to her property and belongings.  They also ask about the produce of her land.  Who is entitled to inherit the produce of the land after she has died?  Perhaps these questions can be resolved by assuming Shemita, the Jubilee year where all loans are forgiven and all ownership is relinquished every fifty years, is when a deceased, married woman's belongings are inherited by her first family.  Or perhaps this only refers to the rare instances where a husband must pay his deceased wife's family for her burial spot to avoid taking others' spots in a graveyard. 

A new Mishna speaks of a deceased husband who has left creditors, his wife, and heirs behind when he dies.  How do we determine who is given his property and belongings?  Rabbi Tarfon suggests that it should be given to the weakest of them.  How might we interpret the word "weakest"?  The wife, who may be the physically weakest or poorest?  Those who do not require oaths, so that their claims are the strongest and thus they are in greatest need?  Rabbi Akiva respond: One is not merciful in judgement.  This same discussion is applied to the remains of fallen produce.  To whom will it belong now that the husband has died?

The Gemara discusses whether or not heirs should be responsible for their parents' debts.  It seems that it is a mitzvah for heirs to pay their parents' debts.  However, they are not forced to do so.  Produce would have to piled up in the public domain for it to be acquired by any one of these groups of people.  A similar case is mentioned, and in that circumstance the ruling was overturned by another rabbi.

The rabbis take this opportunity to speak about what is done when a Mishna or commentary is stated in error.  Is it overturned?  How is it corrected?  The rabbis go on to describe a number of short, interesting cases where a belonging (from an animal to a maidservant) is seized by those who believe that they have the right to that belonging. The decision is made by one judge in favour of that action.  The complainants then turn to another judge who overturns the first judges' rulings.  When brought back to the first judge, he upholds his colleagues' decisions.

Today's daf shares information that it interesting in a number of ways.  We learn about 

  • the actual laws regarding how belongings are distributed after a person's death
  • the bond between husband and wife compared with other familial relationships 
  • the respect that rabbis have for each other
  • the struggle for our rabbis between what was morally right in our eyes and how we might be Torah-bound to behave differently
... and more, of course.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Ketubot 81: Deciding to Opt Out

We begin a new Perek and a new Mishna.  At the start of Perek IX, our Mishna teaches that men can opt out of the rules regarding access to their wives' properties in three different ways.

First, a man can write that he will have no legal dealings or involvement with her property.  He will still have access to the produce of her property.  If she dies before him, he will inherit her property.  The rabbis wonder why this should be a possibility at all.  

Second, he can write that he will have no legal dealings or involvement with her property or her produce.  In this case, he can still benefit from her usufruct property if it is sold to buy land and that land produces edible or otherwise useful yield. That is called the produce of her produce.  If she dies before him, he will inherit her property after she dies and he will then access her produce as well as the produce of her produce.  It is suggested that he add the word "forever" to his stipulation to ensure that he does not access her produce after her death.

Third, he can contract that he will have no legal dealings or involvement with her property or her produce or the produce of her produce in her lifetime or after her death.  This is a more defiant move on the husband's part, for he is giving up any access to his wife's land or its produce at any time.  The rabbis challenge this choice, for Torah law states that a man is to inherit his wife's property after she dies.  One cannot make a stipulation that goes against Torah law; it is considered to be meaningless. 

The rabbis wonder why a man would want to give up the right to his wife's property.  They wonder if this is similar to the woman's right to tell her husband that she will not work.  The rabbis also ask questions about the timing of these statements and how timing might validate or invalidate the stipulations.  Does it matter if these words are written after the betrothal?  After the wedding?  Must they be enacted immediately?  They note that men have more control than women over women's property after marriage. This is compared with couples who have married through yibum, where the wife's claims on her land are stronger than those of her husband.

The rabbis then wonder why a husband would not stipulate differently.  Why not say that he has relinquished his rights to her produce?  Why not say that he has given up his rights to her inheritance?  They note that the word "forever" might indicate the ongoing nature of his promise.  Otherwise, when he relinquished his rights, it might be assumed that he meant to give up those rights only over the first year of their marriage.

I know men who have rewritten their wills upon remarrying stipulating that their wives will get much of their inheritance.  Those men have made an active decision to demonstrate their confidence in their relationships and to reassure their new wives of their sincere wishes to provide for her even after their deaths.  Is today's learning an ancient version of the same notion?  Rather than describing a prenuptial agreement, when a man vows to keep his money from his new wife, we learn about an ancient act of generosity?  

Why would men do this?  To demonstrate to their betrothed that they are to be trusted?  To prove their love for these women to their betrotheds' families?  To stick it to their own birth-families?  

Friday, 24 April 2015

Ketubot 80: How husbands can use the land that their wives bring into the marriage

Our learning focuses more deeply on the details of land brought into the marriage by the kalah.  While the chatan is permitted to use the produce of her land, there are limitations on what he can do.  The rabbis are concerned, for example, that a man might take care of the land carelessly because he assumes that he will be divorced.  This could happen easily in the case of a man having married a minor girl. She has the right to refuse the marriage before she reaches maturity.  In that case, she will not even need a divorce to erase the existence of the marriage.  Her husband might care for the land in the short term but ignore long term issues, resulting in her leaving the marriage with land that is worth less than it was worth when she entered the marriage.

To ensure that this does not happen, the rabbis discuss the concept of hired sharecroppers.  If the husband hires sharecroppers to care for the land, he must ensure that they use the land properly.  And he might call himself a sharecropper, where he is paid a fee for his work but he works the land as one would work the land as a job.  The rabbis also protect against husbands who would try to sell their wives' properties.

Our daf ends with a new Mishna that is quite long.  It discusses how a woman's property might be inherited if that property belongs to a yevama who dies while waiting for her yavam.  Does his family inherit the property?  Do her heirs, i.e.. her father and his heirs inherit the property?  Should it be split?  The rabbis are clearly protective of a woman's property to some degree according to today's debate.

Ketubot 81: Accessing a yevama's property: how to find proof for what we believe

Rabbi Amram rules that a yevama's family - her father - is obligated to pay for her burial should she die while waiting for her yavam.  Abaye agrees, but Rava disagrees.  He notes that Beit Shammai holds that a signed contract is thought to be collected even if it has not actually been collected yet.  I am guessing that this principle as stated by Beit Shammai is related to the principle that one's state or status carries on unless it is actively changed.

The rabbis question whether a yavam has the right to sell property belonging to his yevama before they are married through the process of yibum.  Different rabbis present different opinions based on different proofs.  Cases are suggested to strengthen their claims.  At the end of the daf, there is a question regarding whether a baraita used is in fact erroneous.  

Again, we are faced with an interesting logical puzzle.  Baraitot are legal writings that preceded the Talmudic discussions; they informed many Mishnayot.  When the rabbis believe that a baraita is backing up their opinions, that baraita is considered to be authoritative.  When the baraita is in conflict with their rulings or their thinking, however, that baraita is questioned and even discredited.  In the big picture, our Sages believe that every one of their arguments must line up logically with every other argument.  So how can they simply write off some of their sources?

But I suppose that is exactly how I am reading the Talmud now.  When I see proofs that make sense to me, I enjoy them.  I delight in their logical perfection.  When I read proofs that I find offensive, or somehow out of place, I say to myself, "Aha! The rabbis used this proof based on their own assumptions and agendas!"  We all want to prove that our beliefs are the truth, even if we know that there is more than one truth.  

Perhaps one of the principles of Talmud study is the recognition of logical arguments that are creations of our own desires.  I want to see a feminist reading and I look for any possible woman-positive threads.  I want to find a misogynist reading and I interpret many ideas and comments as based on hatred and fear.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Ketubot 79: Principal and Produce of Usufruct Property

The Gemara continues its discussion of the case where a woman bequeathed land to her daughter only to keep that land from her own husband.  The rabbis discuss ways that women might retain their property; written letters, stated intentions and clauses might help. However, they are clear that the husband is within his rights to access the produce that is attached to his wife's land.  

A new Mishna explains this further.  Any produce that falls from the plants of a woman's land belongs to her.  That produce should be gathered and sold, with the proceeds going toward buying more land where the husband can benefit from the produce of that land, as well.  Any movable property - money included - given to a woman (inherited) during her marriage belongs to her.  However, she is to use the value of that gift to purchase land from which her husband can use the produce.

The rabbis discuss how couples should decide on which properties to purchase.  Property should be purchased before houses, houses before trees, palm trees before other trees, etc.  The principle is that what is bought should be long-lasting.  If there is a choice, the land should produce as much produce for as little cost as possible.  They should pay attention both to the quality of the principal investment and to the quality/quantity of its produce.

The Gemara then moves into a very uncomfortable area.  The rabbis consider what should be done with the offspring of a woman's usufruct animals.  Do they belong to the husband or to the wife?  Are they considered to be part of the 'principal' or part of the 'produce'?  And then the rabbis consider the same question but this time with regard to offspring of the woman's maidservant.  Is that child the property of the wife, or property of the husband as it is 'produce' of the 'principal'?

A woman is entitled to buy back the offspring of her animals or her slaves after she and her husband have divorced.  This is if she makes a formal claim stating that that usufruct property belonged to her paternal family.  Husbands are permitted to continue consuming the produce of a woman's usufruct property as long as the principal remains.  So he can milk a goat until it has no more milk because its hide is still of value to his wife.

A further Mishna teaches us that elderly slaves are not to be sold by husbands.  That is considered to be shameful behaviour.  But the reason given for this ruling is that these slaves are considered to be assets of her paternal family.  The reason is not that one should not humiliate or put at risk an elderly person who has given his/her life for you in service.

Our final Mishna teaches us of a man who makes improvements to his wife's land and eats any produce of hi before they divorce.  After the divorce, he cannot ask her to repay him for that work. As long as he has eaten at least one fig's worth of food.

To read about people being valued less than animals - our hides are not as useful - is disconcerting.  However, as these words of Talmud continue to feel so alive even today, it is difficult to remember that these writings and values are not based on modern understandings of social class.  In our own histories, people were slaves. Their feelings and experiences did not count.  

Monday, 20 April 2015

Ketubot 78: Bringing Property into Marriage

A new Perek begins with today's daf.  It begins with a Mishna about women's property brought into marriage.  If that property was bequeathed to the kalah before she was betrothed, both Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai agree that it is hers to give away or sell without interference from her chatan.  However, if the property was given to her after the betrothal, Beit Hillel are more stringent.  They believe that she does not have the right to sell that property.  However, both houses believe that the transaction is valid ab initio if she does sell the property.  Other rabbis comment on this interpretation, questioning whether or not the chatan has acquired his kalah's property when he acquires her. 

The Gemara wonders who has rights to this property.  Exactly when is she given the property?  Perhaps the timing of her acquisition will determine the status of his acquisition.  If they are betrothed, should he be allowed to access her property?  Should that wait until after marriage?  When do a chatan's rights take effect in other matters - like the nullification of vows?  Should this be our point of reference, or is the acquisition of property a different legal matter?

Through their discussion, the rabbis seem to overturn both Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai's rulings.  They agree that whether a kalah is bequeathed property before or after betrothal, her husband has rights to the produce of that property.  He may have married her specifically with the intention of using that produce, which is within his rights.  However, if she has hidden the property from him because the property is overseas and he did not plan to have access to its produce, then she is permitted to use that land as she wishes.  

The rabbis also discuss movable property, which is defined as object other that land which belong to the kalah when she enters into marriage.  These items can be hidden or concealed, and so the chatan would not necessarily know about these items in advance of the marriage.  Movable property continues to belong to the kalah.

The daf ends with the beginning of a story regarding a woman who conceals property.  When marrying for the second time, she wished to keep property from her husband, and so she contracted it as a gift to her daughter when her daughter married.  However, her daughter then divorced and refused to return the property to her mother, who requested it back.  Upon visiting a judge, the document was seen as a document of evasion - it was not truly intended as a gift to the daughter but as a evasive tactic.  The judge tore up this document.

What we learn from today's daf - likely not the entire conversation, however - is that women were entitled to very little wealth of their own.  What little they were allowed to bring into the marriage was not protected by the rabbis.  In fact, the rabbis went to some effort to ensure that women were not able to control the property that they brought into their marriages.  Because the chatan had rights to the produce of her property, the kalah could not easily sell it once they were married.  Finally, we learn that even though women were officially allowed to conceal property to ensure that they maintained some wealth in their own names, they could be punished for that same act of evasion.  Hopefully this perk will bring more appealing news about the rights of women in the ancient Jewish world.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Ketubot 77: Social Pressure to Divorce, Male Blemishes, Diseases & Remedies

What about the men?  When are men forced to divorce their wives?  Men who have boils, men who have polyps (those with unusually bad odour emitting from their nose or mouth), men who have lost both feet or both hands - major blemishes.  The rabbis consider whether the blemishes can be repaired or not.  They consider whether or not their wives find the blemishes acceptable; whether the blemishes are life-threatening or otherwise blocking men from fulfilling mitzvot.

One of the many interesting details of today's daf is a discussion of how to force a man to divorce his wife.  Are community members to use words to convince him?  Or rods?  If they use rods, when does that happen?  In all cases, even those where women are willing to remain married with supervision in the home to ensure that they are not secluded?  Or only in those cases where a Torah-forbidden relationship is ongoing?

The rabbis describe both boils and ra'atan, another disease that may weaken or eventually kill a person who has sexual intercourse.  They speak of the symptoms of ra'atan in a child: eyes, nose and mouth running.  It is thought that ra'atan refers to a a parasite in the brain.  The cure is a mixture of a number of plants, described in detail.  The child is taken to a sealed, marble room - or, if that is not available, a sealed room with walls seven bricks plus one small brick deep.  The mixture is poured over the child's head until the skin is soft and then - believe it or not - the skull is torn and the insect's feet are lifted from the child's brain.  If the insect is not burned, it will return.

The flies that land on this child, the rabbis say, carry the disease to others.  Different rabbis describe the precautions that they take to avoid catching ra'atan.  However, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi explains that he sits with afflicted people and learns Torah, for "The Torah is a loving hand and a graceful doe" (Proverbs 5:19).   The Gemara then shares a story about Rabbi Yehoshua when he faced death.  He tricked the Angel of Death into leading him to the world-to-come.  He tried to keep the Angel of Death's knife, but a Divine Voice said that the knife was needed to remove people from the earth.  Even Eliahu HaNavi announced Rabbi Yehoshua's presence.  

Once in Paradise, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, sitting on thirteen golden stools, asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi if he had seen a rainbow during his lifetime.  When the answer was yes, Rabbi Shimon was disappointed.  If Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi was truly a righteous man, there would be no visible rainbow during his lifetime.  This is because rainbows show us that the world deserves to be destroyed by a flood.  What Rabbi Shimon did not know was that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi had lied -- he had never seen a rainbow, but he did not wish to announce that he was a righteous man.

A similar tale is told of the death of Rabbi Chanina bar Pappa, who ended up dying beside a pillar of flame.  He was friends with the Angel of Death, and he delayed his own death through negotiation.  However, the Angel of Death reminded Rabbi Chanina bar Pappa that he had not learned Torah with those afflicted with ra'atan, and thus he was not righteous enough to enter the world-to-come alive.

Finally, we learn that people of Babylonia were not afflicted with ra'atan.  Why not?  Because they ate beets and drank beer, say the rabbis.  And the people of Babylonia were not afflicted with leprosy.  Why not?  Because they ate beets, drank beer, and bathed in the Euphrates river.

There is incredible information in today's daf regarding ancient attitudes toward affliction, blemishes, positive and negative social pressure, contagion, remedies, and preventative medicine.  

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Ketubot 76: Return Policies: Of Cows and Wives

A woman has a blemish when she is married.  Did she develop this blemish after the betrothal, or was it already on her body?  Did her father inform the groom about the blemish and he accepted it, or was he not told?  The rabbis discuss courses of action when a husband discovers this blemish.  One example is a husband who finds that his wife has an extra toe.  Should he not have examined her for such a blemish before engaging in intercourse with her?  And how could she have 'grown' an extra toe after the betrothal?  Does her father have proof that the groom accepted the extra toe? Or was this part of the body hidden and not known or at least not discussed?

The rabbis reveal the true nature of marriage as an acquisition with their story about a cow and a donkey.  If two people are trading these animals and each pulls the other's animal to demonstrate acquisition, there can be a debate about ownership if the cow is pulled but then the donkey dies.  Was the donkey definitely alive while the cow was being pulled?  Does its owner have proof of that fact?  If not, the acquisition of the cow is rescinded.  This is compared with the acquisition of a bride.

We delve into this comparison further - the comparison of the acquisition of a cow and a bride.  What if a butcher finds a needle perforating the thick lining of the second stomach of a cow?  The rabbis walk through the halacha of kashrut - a needle must be going through the entire stomach wall, it must have markings of blood on it (new or a scab), etc., to mark the cow as treifa.  Once it is determined that the cow is treifa - or blemished - who should be held responsible for that acquisition?  Who should swallow the costs?  In this case, the cow is presumed to have eaten the needle along with its food.  The butcher has grounds to return the cow and have his money returned.  And yet the uncertainty was formed while the cow was in the butcher's possession.  Where does the burden of proof lie?

A critical factor is whether or not money has already exchanged hands.  The rabbis explain that any money given along with a betrothal is considered to be a gift and it will not be returned if the marriage is cancelled.  However, in a case of erroneous betrothal - if the groom proves that the father withheld information regarding his daughter's blemish, for example - the betrothal can be cancelled along with a full return of all gifts. 

Quite amazing how differently marriage is used today; families may not be involved at all in the choice of groom/bride, any gifts, any information about sexual intimacy, and requirements regarding sustenance.  Truly the ancient act of marriage was one of acquisition; a business transaction, more than it was an expression of partnership.

Ketubot 75: When Women's Breasts are a Disadvantage

Because yesterday was Shabbat, I did not blog about Ketubot daf 75.  But I can't leave yesterday's daf without a bit of commentary.  The rabbis are discussing blemishes: if a woman discloses that she has a blemish and the man accepts that blemish before the betrothal and/or before the marriage, he cannot claim later that the blemish is cause for divorce.  But what is a blemish?  The rabbis discuss blemishes of women's bodies: moles on the face, moles with hairs, and low speaking voices. They find proof texts, too, of course, for example, the Song of Songs states in 2:14, "For your voice was sweet and your appearance is pleasant".  This means that a low voice in a woman is a blemish.  

In addition, women's breasts can be blemishes. The rabbis mention both size - breasts should be no larger than a handbreadth more than the norm - and placement.  Yes, placement.  A woman's breast should not be more than a handbreadth apart on her chest.  Some rabbis argue that the mention of  this 'placement' of breasts could mean that widely set breasts are perfection.  No, the rabbis decide, women's breasts should be three fingerwidths apart.  

There is no mention of a prooftext for that particular 'blemish'.  We can assume that the rabbis were discussing their personal preferences regarding women's body types within the context of Talmudic debate.  This is both infuriating and vindicating.  Infuriating because these great minds were using their power to create traditions of valuing women according to sexual attributes; leading generations upon generations of men to feel righteous in critiquing women's bodies.  Validating because this is clear proof that our rabbis were not simply concerned with clarifying Torah and understanding G-d's intentions.  Instead they used their privileged positions to put certain women at a disadvantage based on the bodies given to them by G-d.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Ketubot 74: Broken Vows; Consequences

A yevama is a woman whose husband died before they had any children; she is bound to marry one of his brothers unless she performs the ritual of chalitza.  If a yevama has not performed chalitza, she continues to be bound to her yavam.  But what if the yevama was a minor girl?  The rabbis argue that if a husband knows that "betrothal of a minor girl is nothing," then intercourse with her when she is an adult is done as betrothal.  However, if a man does not know that "betrothal of a minor girl is nothing," then when he has intercourse with her as an adult it is on the basis of the validity of the initial betrothal.  In that case, yibum is not possible.

Similarly, the rabbis discuss whether misunderstandings regarding performing chalitza or other rituals allow the rituals to take effect.  For example, if an ignorant yavam believes that performing chalitza allows him to marry his yevama, the ritual is still valid and thus the couple cannot marry through yibum.  Rabbi Yochanan disagrees: it is the intention of both parties that determines whether or not the chalitza is valid.  

The rabbis discuss what should be done when conditions are waived; when conditions are broken.  And what are the details of the conditions, anyhow?  Are they valid?   Do the contracts - in this case, the contract of either marriage or breaking the bond between a yavam and a yevama - hold up in such cases?  

We are reminded that contracts with conditions are discussed with reference to the tribes of Dan and Gad, to whom Moses promised land if they would do the fighting.  One is not permitted to transfer responsibility of fulfilling such contracts to a third party; an agent.

Sexual intercourse cannot be transferred to a third party or an agent, the rabbis remind us.  They determine that a condition can be stipulated through sexual intercourse, but only by the two parties involved. The rabbis are careful about sexual intercourse used as betrothal.  In some cases, even though a condition might not have been met and the couple had intercourse regardless, she might require a divorce.  In other cases, the marriage might be valid.

The rabbis consider the differences and similarities between blemishes that are removed by doctors after betrothal and vows that are absolved by halachic authorities.  Vows that are absolved are as if they never existed.  Blemishes now removed were in fact present at the time of betrothal.  If men stipulated that they wished for no vows or no blemishes upon their wives, later absolution/healing might not validate their prior betrothals.  Interestingly, a note points out that a woman who knowingly hides a vow or blemish in such a case might be demonstrating an unwillingness to marry, and thus the betrothal is invalidated.

Our daf ends with a description of actions and their consequences: when a man divorces his wife and cannot remarry her.  The rabbis consider seriously the possibility that husbands will use the halachot around vows to unfairly mistreat their wives.  They try to protect women from such behaviour.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Ketubot 73: Stipulations and Conditions: When is a Betrothal Not a Betrothal?

The rabbis have been discussing what should be done if a woman has made vows before she is married.  If, for example, the husband marries her with stipulations regarding preexisting vows, the couple can be divorced.  Of course it is understood that a man would not engage in licentious sexual intercourse knowingly. In other words, he would not engage in intercourse with his wife if he knew that she had made a vow that forbade their intimacy.  

The Gemara seeks to understand the cases that involve minor girls who have been married off by their mothers or brothers because their fathers have died.  These married women are in unique circumstances because they can refuse their husbands before the age of twelve then take on the status of one who has never married.  Might a man be engaging in licentious intercourse with a minor girl who was previously married but then refused her husband without a divorce?  What if she did not officially refuse, but simply left her first husband, marrying for a second time?  When is intercourse permitted and when is it forbidden?

Amud (b) focuses on the rabbis' understandings of stipulations on betrothal and marriage.  Exactly what must be stipulated at what points in time to invalidate a betrothal or a marriage?  One of the main points that we learn through arguments and clarifications of arguments regards betrothal.  If it is determined that a betrothal was not based on contractual or other agreements, the betrothal is retroactively invalid.  This means that other actions based on the betrothal - sexual intercourse, marriage, for example - are not valid for the betrothal itself was not valid.

The Gemara examines conditions placed upon betrothals.  Complex examples are offered to further ensure that those who learn this text are completely baffled and confused.  Well, those examples also serve to clarify the complicated halachot.  

A very legalistic process is described in today's daf.  How can we be sure that we get what we 'paid for'?  When is a contract valid and when is it ineffectual?  How do we weigh the competing parties' rights when considering contracts regarding betrothal and marriage? 

And of course, further questions - such as how might we learn from ancient contractual law about how we might treat each other, understand each other?  And what of this ancient law is not useful to us?  Why not?

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Ketubot 72: Vows, Blemishes and Competing Rights

A husband is required to divorce his wife and give her what has been contracted in her ketubah if he makes certain vows:

  • she must repeat things that were said during times of sexual intimacy
  • she must fill herself up and pour herself out - referring to turning over after intercourse to avoid pregnancy
  • she must fill jugs of water and then dump them into the garbage
  • she must not lend or borrow utensils, ovens, mills, etc. to/from neighbours
The rabbis share the reasons behind these harsh measures.  First and foremost, her image in the community might be tarnished when she behaves in these ways under his guidance.

A new Mishna teaches that other vows require divorce without payment of the ketubah.  These include vows that cross the precepts of Moses and vows that cross the precepts of Jewish women.  The precepts of Moses, the rabbis tell us, refer to all that is written in the Torah.  The precepts of Jewish women refer to customs.  One must imagine that these customs were seen as powerful tools to hold communities together.

The precepts of Moses that are grounds for divorce without payment if crossed include:
  • feeding her husband food which has not been tithed
  • having intercourse with her husband while considered a menstruating woman
  • not separating challah for the priests when baking bread
The precepts of Jewish women that are grounds for divorce without payment if crossed include:
  • going out in public with her head uncovered
  • spinning wool in the marketplace
  • speaking with every man she meets
  • speaking disrespectfully of her inlaws in the presence of her husband (Abba Shaul)
  • speaking loudly enough that neighbours can hear her from inside the home (Rabbi Tarfon)
The Gemara walks us through the reasoning that our Sages attribute to each of these events.  The rabbis argue that the first precept of Jewish women is not minhag, custom, but Torah law.  In numbers 5:18, we are told that a man accusing his wife of infidelity "shall uncover the head of the woman".  Rabbi Yishmael uses this to explain that Jewish women who are married do not go out with their heads uncovered.  The rabbis discuss what covering is required - is a basket that is worn on the head (to carry) enough?  Can hair show through the woven fabric or reeds?  In a note, we learn that women must fully cover their heads in public, partially cover their heads in courtyards and alleyways, and not cover at all in one's home.  But, of course, pious women cover their hair completely, in all places.

Women who spin wool in public might show their arms.  They might hold red wool close to their faces, or their "lower faces", drawing attention to their beauty, as this is licentious behaviour.  Women who speak with every man in fact are flirting with young men.  Women who curse their inlaws should not even do so in front of her children, for grandchildren can hold the same status as children (Genesis 48:5).   And loud women - well, they might be loud during intercourse, they might be loud as they demand intercourse, they might be loud as they fight about intercourse, and they might be in pain during intercourse.  If a woman is in that much pain with intercourse, she is considered to have an illness.  This illness is now classified as a 'blemish', which is grounds for divorce.

A new Mishna ends today's daf.  It teaches that if one is betrothed on the condition that his wife has no outstanding vows and vows exist, they were never betrothed.  If one is betrothed on the condition that his wife has no blemishes but blemishes exist, they were never betrothed.  However, if there were no stipulations about vows or blemishes but vows or blemishes are evident following marriage, they are divorced without payment of the ketubah.  What is a blemish?  Anything that disqualifies a priest from his duties.

Masechet Kiddushin is mentioned here, as the same halachot are discussed in that masechet.  The rabbis clarify which vows are considered so heinous: afflicting herself so that she does not eat meat, or drink wine, or adorn herself with bright colours.  Once a man has had intercourse with his wife, however, she requires a divorce - this is no longer a betrothal that can simply disappear. The rabbis seem to be balancing the rights of women to make vows and have blemishes, men to marry women according to the contracts that were agreed to, and the community to set standards regarding normalcy when it comes to vows and blemishes.

Today's daf demonstrates that the rabbis saw marriage as more than a simple transaction of acquisition.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Ketubot 71: On Vows and Mitzvot; Women's Agency

The very notion of a 'vow' is befuddling.  We promise G-d that we will do something - or that we will not do something.  The vow is between ourselves and G-d, and thus it is of great importance - and yet it is of little significance to others unless we include them in our vows.  We are permitted to vow anything we would like to vow.  But how can we keep a promise that is dependent on the behaviour of another person? Today's daf delves into that question through the examination of husbands and wives and their vows.

Yesterday we learned about a husband's vows about his wife and the limitations that the rabbis imposed on those vows.  Today we learn more.  Husbands should not annul their wives' vows, though they have the right to do so. However, if a woman should make a vow that would cause her own suffering or that would affect relations between her and her husband, he is permitted to annul that vow.  

But what is affliction?  One person's pain is another's pleasure.  Women might vow to abstain from sexual pleasure - but is that truly affliction?  Or is it simply a break from obligation?   The rabbis consider a woman who vows not to bathe, not to adorn herself, or not to engage in sexual relations with her husband.  He is permitted to annul these vows: mitzvot override vows; a husband is helping his wife when he annuls a vow that would interrupt their intimate relationship.  Further, vows that cause his wife affliction can be annulled.  

Of course, there is no consideration given to the possibility that a woman is purposely using a vow as a tool to remove herself from the obligation of sexual intercourse.  The rabbis even suggest that wives engage in intercourse without experiencing pleasure if they have vowed to avoid sexual pleasure. 

A new Mishna looks at husbands who vow unreasonably, according to the rabbis.  If husbands vow that their wives cannot visit their families or that they cannot visit houses of mourning, they must divorce their wives within specific time frames.  Likewise, if they have their wives perform chores that are then ridiculed (filling a bucket of water and then throwing it into the garbage), they are to divorce.  

It is fascinating to learn which annulments should warrant divorce and which annulments are reasonable.  Women have agency - they are permitted to have their own relationships with G-d, independent of their husbands.  And if husbands lead their wives to "closed doors" by impinging on their freedom to perform required mitzvot (honouring parents, tending to the dead), they do not deserve to remain married.  Even more impressive, wasting a wife's efforts and embarrassing her are seen as highly offensive behaviours, deserving of divorce.  

My take on this is based on my reading of the Talmud daily for the past two and a half years.  The importance of protecting women's agency is not couched in today's understandings of freedom or human rights.  Instead it is enacted because of the higher calling: adherence to G-d's mitzvot.  When a husband and wife encourage each other to do G-d's will (as that is interpreted and defined by our Sages), all is good.  Even if that means that a wife is being raped by her husband.  But when a husband and wife hinder each other from observing their respective mitzvot, there is no reason to stay married.

*one additional note, added later - I can't believe that I neglected to comment on the fox knowing its foxhole.  Apparently, our notes explain, the rabbis interpret one of the vows (offered by women) as neglecting to removes one's pubic hair.  Not to worry, say the rabbis, a husband knows his way around.  Sexual intercourse will not be hindered by pubic hair that might misdirect a less experienced young man.  There are other comments on women and hair removal in the Talmud - I will be watching for this window into women's lives.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Ketubot 70: Vows and Wives

Although we follow the instructions of those who have died or who are on their deathbeds, there are situations that call for 'overruling' that dying wish.  The rabbis note that children's needs should be addressed, even if their fathers have said that their children should be given "only one shekel" each week.

The rabbis then discuss halacha regarding children and financial decisions.  We learn that under the age of six, children are considered incompetent to understand the ramifications of their financial decisions and thus none can be made.  Between the ages of six and ten, children's financial knowledge should be assessed.  If they are deemed competent, they can participate in decision-making.  Over the age of ten they are considered financially competent, and at age thirteen they are legally responsible for their own financial decisions.  When we refer to children, these are of course boys.  We have learned that "any action of a minor girl is nothing" regarding legal decisions (Rabbi Meir).

We begin Perek VII and a new Mishna.  The rabbis set parameters around vows that husbands might take regarding their wives.  If a husband vows that his wife will not benefit from him, or that she will not eat a certain type of produce, for example, the rabbis put a time limit on these vows.  After that time has passed, the rabbis force the couple to divorce.  Further, the husband is to ensure that his wife's needs are met; if she cannot support herself using only her earnings during the duration of his vow, he must assign someone else to care for her.

The Gemara explores how a husband is able to vow that his wife will not benefit from him when it is agreed in their ketubah that she will benefit from him.  It wonders how vows might be treated differently if they were made while the couple was betrothed, or if the vow took effect once the couple was married.  They consider small (more luxurious items) and large (basic requirements) needs that a woman might have.  

Making a vow that involves the actions of another person is a bizarre concept.  The only way that this can work was in an ancient marriage, where the husband in fact owns the members of his immediate family.  The rabbis bump up against this challenge throughout today's daf.  At the end of the daf, they look to different situations with vows - neighbours, communities.  The rabbis are aware that vows might be used inappropriately.  One note teaches us that the rabbis were not encouraging of people taking vows at all.  

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Ketubot 69: Women & Money: Dowry, Support, Sustenance, and Inheritance

Both yesterday's daf (Ketubot 68) and today's daf are focused on women's financial rights.  The guidelines are quite complex and layered in a number of "if...then"s.  The tension between sisters, between sisters and brothers, and between fathers and their children are front and centre.

The rabbis want to understand when women are entitled to which forms of sustenance and support.  Just because one form of acquisition is expected does not necessarily mean that a woman will receive those funds.  One of the basic understandings is that women receive one tenth of their father's estate through inheritance. The oldest daughter receives one tenth of the full estate, the younger daughter one tenth of the remaining estate, and so on. However, daughters might choose to equalize their inheritance later in time.  Of course this could lead to great conflict.

Brothers might attempt to hold onto their sisters' funds.  They could use legal loopholes to do so, for sustenance and support are different categories of payment, and these men could limit her access to certain types of funds.  There are different guidelines to address support and sustenance regarding funds from real estate, movable property and dowry. 

We learn more Ilfa, Rabbi Yochanan's colleague to left Torah study to pursue trade.  A new Mishna asks about the different rights afforded to a minor girl compare with those of an adult woman when it comes to the sale through a third party of fields transferred to her by her father.

Ilfa was insulted with Rabbi Yochanan was appointed to rosh yeshiva.  He tied himself to the mast of a ship and said that he would be able to resolve any dispute between Rabbi Chiyya and Rabbi Oshaya.  If he failed, he said, he would fall from the mast and drown.  An older man taught him of a father who, on his deathbed, give a shekel to my sons each week.  The rabbis assessed what this might mean.  They said that if the father said "only" a shekel, then only a shekel should be given. If he spoke of inheritors should the sons, die, then they should be given only a shekel each week as well.  Rabbi Ilfa announced that this was the baraita of Rabbi Meir, teaching us that we must follow the instructions of those who are [almost] dead.  This helps us to better understand laws of inheritance.  It also kept Ilfa on the mast and out of the water.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Ketubot 67: How to Give

Dowries and ketubot seem to be connected; a woman might be able to access her dowry if she is later divorces.  We continue to discuss what goes into a dowry.  Gold is like money; its value does not diminish over time and it can be used immediately.  Thus in a dowry, gold is valued at 50% higher than its value at the time.  The rabbis debate about whether or not gold items should be appraised and whether or not gold items are similar to other categories of things, like utensils. Customs are important, too. What if gold is not useful to a particular community?  What if gold is not traded and thus will not rise in value? The rabbis lean toward following the custom of the place.

A new Mishna teaches us about the minimal provisions of a dowry.  50 dinars and clothing from her husband if he has promised to clothe his wife.  An orphan girl is provided for before an orphan boy for girls tend to have tougher times getting sympathy in the streets.  Those dinars are a bare minimum; even guardians of orphanages are to give more than that if they can to protect the dignity of their children.  

The Gemara tells us that those 50 dinars must be provincial dinars, worth one eighth the value of a standard dinar.   Charity funds provide for those who enter marriage with nothing.  We learn that a n orphan boy and girl who wish to marry first provide the needs of the girl.  After that, they rent a house for him, arrange for a bed and utensils and then marry him.  The proof text for this practice is found in Deuteronomy 15:8, "But you shall surely open your hand to him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his deficiency in that which is deficient for him".  In this case his house is his deficiency.

And this takes us solidly into debates about charitable giving.  How much is enough and how much is too much?  The rabbis clearly believe that hardship is defined by the individual.  Thus a person accustomed to wealth should be supported to ease their hardship just as a poor person does not need as much charitable funds to raise his or her standard of living.  

We are told a number of stories about this concept.  Hillel is said to have provided a horse and a servant (to run three mil in front of him) to a poor person of noble descent.  When the servant was unavailable, Hillel himself ran in front of this man.

Similarly, the people of the Upper Galilee are said to have given a poor person of noble descent fresh meat every day when this was exorbitant for most people.  It is clear that noble descent is enough to merit one special treatment in the times of our Sages.  Today's understanding of who is deserving is based on behaviour and intention rather than yichus.  An interesting difference.

Another story tells of a man who asked Rabbi Nechemya for charity.  He was used to dining on a fatty meat and aged wine. This man ate lentils with Rabbi Nechemya, as lentils were the rabbi's usual food, and this killed the man.  The rabbis interpret Rabbi Nechemya's comments to meant that the man killed himself; his excess caused him to be incapable of digesting simple foods.    

Our next story is similar, for Rava is asked for charity by a person who is used to a fattened hen and aged wine for dining.  He argued that the Merciful One would provide for him through the community.  Psalms 145:15, the eyes of all wait for You, and You give them their food in its time", proves that all people get exactly the food that they should get, when they should receive it.  While they were speaking, Rava's sister appeared after a thirteen year absence bringing a hen and wine as a gift. 

What should be done if a person does not wish to be supported? The rabbis agree that this person should be given the food as a gift.  And if not a gift, then a loan, but no-one should attempt to collect the debt. Deuteronomy 15:8 teaches ha'avet ta'avitenu, You shall open your hand to him.  The rabbis use these words to understand both what should be done with a person who will not take charity. They also use these words to help them understand what should be done when someone is not in need but insists upon taking charitable funds.  The rabbis teach that the money should be a gift, but it will be collected from his estate after he has died.

We learn about Mar Ukva, who gave money in many ways.  One of his recipients wanted to know who was leaving money by his door each day, and so he waited and watched.  That day, Mar Ukva's wife accompanied him and gave the tzadaka.  As the recipient hear the door move, he jumped out to see who was there, but Mar Ukva and his wife ran into a furnace room where his legs were burned but hers were not.  He realized that she was more worthy and became upset.  She calmed him down by explaining that I usually give tzedaka from the home - food and useful items - and you give money, which is less immediately useful.  That is why my tzedaka is greater.  The rabbis teach that It is better to put oneself in a firey furnace than to whiten the face of a friend [to embarrass a friend].   Tamar taught us this when she stepped up to be burnt and she named her father-in-law without saying his actual name and embarrassing him.  

Mar Ukva gave a pauper 400 dinars each Yom Kippur.  One year he asked his son to bring the gift, and his son returned.  This was not a pauper - people were spilling old wine on the ground for him just to give his home a pleasant smell!  Mar Ukva said that this person was used to luxury and must need even more, and he doubled the donation.

On his deathbed, Mar Ukva counted up his charitable gifts and realized he had not given enough.  He gave away half of his estate.  The rabbis agree that this is allowed, but only when a man is on his deathbed.  in other cases, he might not actually die and then become destitute when he could have funded his own care. 

Rabbi Abba is said to have wrapped coins in his scarf and toss the money behind him to remain anonymous and to avoid embarrassing the recipients.  He would keep his eyes open just enough to ward off those who would take this money dishonestly.

We continue to compete about who gives more.  But humility is not part of philanthropy these days.  The more we give, the more gratitude and physical monuments we get in our honour.  

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Ketubot 66: Valuing the Dowry; Nakdimon ben Guryon's Daugther

Daf 65 ended with a new Mishna that teaches us about husbands' monetary control over their wives: they own their wives earnings, found items, and profits from property.  If she is injured in the hands or face, her husband receives 2/3 of the payment for humiliation and degradation.  If she is injured in a covered part of her body, she retains 2/3 of that payment.

Daf 66 continues to discuss the Gemara.  Rabbi Akiva holds strongly that any excess production belongs to the wife herself and not her husband.  Similarly, he believes that lost items that are found should belong to her.  The rabbis examine who exactly is humiliated and who is degraded when a woman suffers pain or an insult.  Should the husband receive the fine for humiliation, for degradation, for both, or for neither?  Is a wife the property of her husband, or is she in fact a part of him; he suffers as she suffers?

Another new Mishna teaches us about writing values into the ketubah.  If cash is offered to their new son-in-law, it need not be honoured until the couple is married.  If he dies while they are betrothed and she is offered as a yevama, her father need not honour that commitment.  Money that is offered as part of the dowry is recorded at 1.5 times its worth.  Movable property (clothing, jewellery, utensils, etc.) are recorded as worth 1/5 of their value.  This is due either to the over-exaggeration of its worth, or due to the wear and tear that it will go through before the ketubah is paid out.  Property values seem to be assessed independently.

And another new Mishna.  If the wife brings money to her dowry, that is recorded at one and one half its given amount because the cash will benefit the husband.  Additionally the husband must donate another ten dinars for every one hundred dinars that is given as a dowry.  Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel adds that everything accords with the regional custom.

The Gemara teaches us that the rabbis do not even determine how this extra contribution is made to the dowry - is this done once only, at the time of the marriage, or every day, or every month, or each year?  Could it be that this money is rationed across the year?  Or is it related to the me'a that he must provide each week?  This remains unresolved.  And the minhag, custom, of each place is what actually dictates the amount of the dowry.  The rabbis suggest that it is only in places with no previous custom that the people are to use these guidelines.

A story is told of the daughter of Nakdimon ben Guryon, who was from a family so wealthy that her dowry included one million gold dinars.  Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai found her naked, covered b only by her hair, standing at the side of the road picking undigested barley from the dung of cows for food.  Where did the money go? He asked.  She said that "salt for money is lacking"*.  It is difficult to preserve money even with the best intentions.  There are a number of reports that Nakdimon was both extremely rich and extremely generous, but he still lost his fortune completely. Could this have been avoided with greater acts of tzedaka?  Was this G-d's will for some reason?  Or do the rabbis find other ways of explaining this tragedy?

*people add to this phrase, we learn, by saying that "salt for money is kindness," chesed.  Thus salt does not preserve money, but kindness is like salt and acts of kindness do preserve money.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Ketubot 65: Providing for Wives; Providing for Very Young Children

Are women given wine when they are provided with sustenance?  Enough for cooking?  Enough for drinking?  How much wine is alright for a woman to drink, anyhow?  Through their conversations and their examination of the story of Hannah, we learn that the rabbis believe that women become drunk after two cups of wine; at three cups we will ask for intercourse publicly. After four cups, though, we will solicit sex even with a donkey, for we are indiscriminate at that point of intoxication.  Thus as long as a woman's husband is with her, any amount of alcohol is permitted.  And to that end, intercourse is permitted in the home of someone else as long as there is privacy and the host's bed is not used (because of the risk of soiling the sheets).

We learn about Choma, who was widowed by three husbands.  After her third husband, Abaye, died, Choma went to Rava to request sustenance, including wine.  She insisted that Abaye gave her wine, and while demonstrating the size of the cup, her beautiful arm could be seen by the court.  It was as if a light shone in the courtroom.   Rava left the court and requested intercourse from his wife.  This led to his wife, the daughter of Rav Chisda, becoming jealous - so jealous that she chased Choma from the town, accusing her of trying to steal her husband (and possibly kill him).

The rabbis share a number of examples of women, wine and the unleashing of women's insatiable sexual desire.

Women are entitled to a bed, a hard mat, and a soft mat.  The rabbis explain that the bed might be made of ropes and thus uncomfortable without a mat atop the basic structure.  We also learn that the rabbis argue about whether or not a poor woman should be given a pillow and a cushion.  If she is not accustomed to such comforts, why should they be mandated?  The rabbis argue that a woman of any means might require a pillow and cushion in some circumstances.  Much of what men are required to provide depends upon a woman's social status.  It would seem that social status is maintained; however, we have learned earlier that women can raise a man's social status through marriage but a woman cannot 'lose' her social stays through marriage.

Regarding the requirement that a husband or his heirs provide a wife with shoes three times each year, a cap, and 50 dinars annually, Rav Pappa makes a telling comment.  He says that the tanna has created a bizarre situation where a woman is standing naked in new shoes.  In my mind, this seems like an excuse to picture a woman standing naked in new shoes.

The rabbis remind us that fifty dinars would be exorbitant for poor husbands and next to nothing for the wealthy.  Perhaps these dinars were simple dinars; perhaps they were referring to silver coins.  The rabbis agree that each case should be considered individually to determine how much money a husband should provide to his wife for her annual substance.

If a woman has leftover, worn out clothing, they belong to her.  However, if she is widowed, that clothing belongs to her husband's heirs.  She is not to wear her worn clothing in her husband's presence, however.  Worn clothing is reserved for use while she is menstruating, and her husband might find her repulsive if he notices her wearing that worn clothing.  This would suggest that "niddah" does not translate only as 'forbidden', but as dirty, undesirable, and 'less-than'.

The rabbis argue about the silver me'a that is given to a woman each week.  A woman is to eat with her husband.  Is this referring to food or to sexual relations?  The rabbis find proof texts for their different opinions.  

Using Ulla the Great's words as a proof text, the rabbis determine that children up to the age of six are considered to be "very young ones" who must also be sustained.  As well, the rabbis note that children until the age of six can be covered by their mother's eiruv.  Notable is that their mother's eiruv and not their father's eiruv is mentioned; this is because children are subservient to their mothers.

Regarding nursing mothers who are provided with more sustenance, the rabbis wonder about the reason. IS this because women are feeding two people when they nurse?  Or is this because women are considered to be 'ill' when they are nursing and must be provided for according to the rules of caring for the ill?  If the latter option were the case, fathers would not be considered to be providing for the needs of their very young children - they would be caring for the mother herself while she nurses. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi teaches us that wine is provided to nursing women because wine is good for milk.  This would suggest that the father is in fact providing for the sustenance of his child with his extra payment.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Ketubot 64: Sustenance For Wives

Women were property; however, women were not bought and forgotten about like an inanimate object.  The rabbis wished to ensure that women were provided for by their husbands (who were also their owners).

Women were considered 'rebellious' if they refused conjugal relations with their husbands.  They were also considered 'rebellious' if they refused to perform their obliged tasks.  Women who were disgusted by their husbands were not considered 'rebellious'.  Their husbands were permitted but not forced to divorce them immediately in cases of disgust.  The husbands of the 'rebellious' women were not permitted to divorce their wives for a year.  During that time rebellious wives would receive no sustenance from their husbands.

Special circumstances, like a betrothed woman or a yevama, create questions for our rabbis.  Are they treated similarly to each other?  To other women?  The rabbis note that cases of yibum, levirate marriage (where a childless husband dies and his widow is bound to his brother) force everyone to consider further complexities.  Is the bond of levirate marriage stronger than other bonds or mitzvot, including that of chalitza (the process that releases a couple from that bond)?  Certainly the requirements regarding refusal, divorce, social pressure, etc. were different regarding these very special cases.  Steinsaltz's notes are quick to remind us that this practice was rare; chalitza was - and is - performed much more regularly than is yibum.

In looking at how much money is subtracted from the ketubah of a rebellious woman, the rabbis discuss different relative amounts.  They note that Shabbat wages are not accounted for, as no-one should be working - or should be encouraged to be working - on Shabbat.

In one short but particularly interesting conversation, the rabbis wonder how the consequences of 'rebellion' are different for men and for women. They note that men's desire for conjugal relations is stronger than that of women, and thus that consequence is more severe for men.  However, that opinion is countered.  Men experience both shame and pain when their sexual desire is declined, for their arousal can be seen on the outside.  But women's arousal is on the inside, and so she may be suffering but she need not experience added shame as no-one knows how much she suffers.

A new Mishna lists what a husband must provide for his wife through a third party if he is not living with her.  Theses items include the following:

  • two kav of wheat or four kav of barley
  • half a kav of legumes
  • half a log of oil
  • one kav of figs or one maneh of fig cakes (or the equivalent)
  • one bed
  • one soft mat
  • one hard mat
  • a belt for the waist
  • a cap (covering the hair, adorned with scarves)
  • shoes at each Festival
  • fifty dinars for clothing each rainy seasons (the clothing will become worn and can be used in the hot summer as well)
  • one silver ma'a coin each week (if he cannot do this, she keeps her own earnings)
  • the promise that husband and wife will eat their meals together on Shabbat
A woman is obliged to give her husband her weekly earnings, which are described as the wages for weaving and sewing.  If she is nursing, the woman is require to reduce the amount that she gives to her husband.  He is to increase the amount that he gives to her by an equal proportion of money.

Finally, this Mishna teaches that these amounts are relevant only to the poorest people.  Those men with more means are required to give more to their wives according to their wealth.

Our text notes different measures and their equivalents.  They wonder what should be the size of each meal.  If a woman is provided with enough sustenance for a week, does that mean that she is given enough to support two meals a day plus three or four meals on Shabbat?  Or should she have more available for visitors and 'wayfarers'?  And how much is enough for a meal?  One rabbi argues that the surplus paid to the grocer is not taken into account when allotting money to one's wife, which seems to be a cruel interpretation.

Our Sages are making a concerted effort to protect the needs of women.  However, the taste of a relationship that is financially based is running beneath each consideration.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Ketubot 63: Rebellious Women, Those Disgusted With Their Husbands

Because the past two dapim, Ketubot 61 and Ketubot 62 fell on the first two days of Pesach (2015), I have not blogged since daf 60.  Dapim 61 and 62 are filled with fascinating ideas about conjugal relations: men with different professions are required to have intercourse with their wives a certain number of times each week or month.  Physical labourers are required to do less than Torah scholars and much less than men of leisure.  Friday evening is the preferred time for conjugal relations, as night is preferable to daytime for intercourse and Shabbat is preferable to any other day for such acts of holiness.  Men are required to return to their wives after one or two months of working away; women are not to be denied their right of conjugal relations.

This view of sex is incredibly different from that of mainstream, modern, North American views.  Conjugal relations are a woman's right.  Not for women's pleasure, but for producing children. Thus children are a woman's right in marriage.  Men are to provide women with the opportunity to have children.    

Today's daf, Ketubot 63, begins with examples of Torah scholars who leave their wives and families for extended periods of time, always with their wives' acquiescence (at least, we are told that these women are pious and thrilled to have their husbands leave them for twelve years to learn and teach Torah).  

A new Mishna teaches us that each time that women rebels against their husbands, seven dinars are deducted from each ketubah.  It can also be deducted from one's inheritance.  Similarly, men who rebel against their wives are fined.  Three dinars are added to their wives' ketubot each week.

The Gemara first considers rebellion as a refusal to participate in conjugal relations.  For men who refuse their wives, that woman is permitted to divorce him, for he has not met the requirements of their marriage contract.  When a woman refuses intercourse, she may lose her ketubah.  The rabbis discuss the significance of conjugal relations compared with the ability to perform tasks.  A woman might be ill or menstruating.  When is she deemed a rebellious woman?  

Some of our rabbis want to to mitigate these consequences.  We are told that women who rebel against their husbands are publicly shamed: their names are announced in synagogue over the course of four Shabbatot.  However, some rabbis argue that women should be consulted with, twice, to ensure that she wishes to endure the consequences of her choices.  Further, the rabbis have different opinions about how accommodating they should be to women who are deemed rebellious.  Should they lose rights to some of their clothing, for example?  

Beyond being called a rebellious woman, the rabbis recognize that there are a number of reasons that a woman might wish to divorce her husband.  She might be upset with him, and though she does not truly wish to divorce him, she wishes to hurt him.  denying him conjugal rights would hurt him.  In these cases, the Rabbis do not compel them to divorce. 

Women must have claimed that they found their husbands "disgusting", for there is a fair degree of attention given to that particular complaint.  All of the rabbis agree that women who say "I am disgusted by my husband" are not compelled to live with those husbands.  However, the rabbis have different opinions on whether or not husband should be compelled to divorce those wives.   While Rambam and Rashi hold that opinion, many others disagree with them.  They claim that such a husband is not compelled to divorce his disgusted wife.  She is not considered to be a rebellious woman, though, and she does not lose the rights that are lost by a rebellious woman.

Often the rabbis make decisions that radically affect women's lives without having truly examined the considerations of women.  It is wonderful to appreciate today's daf that demonstrates many rabbis advocating for women and their experiences.  Even when the halacha does not rule in their favour, these rabbis seem to understand that women's lives might not be bearable in certain circumstances.