Sunday, 29 March 2015

Ketubot 56: Betrothal & Sums, Receipts, Devaluing of the Ketubah

The rabbis discuss what happens when a man divorces or dies after writing in his betrothed's ketubah both the main amount of money and any additional sums.  Is she rewarded both? Or only the main amount of the ketubah, generally 200 zuz for a virgin or 100 zuz for a widow or divorcee?  The rabbis have a fierce argument about this halacha.  Even though Rav Nachman cursed his judge colleagues, saying that they would meet with misfortune if they ruled against his opinion, the halacha accorded with Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya: women only receive the main payment in such cases.

But what if the betrothed couple had entered the chupa, the wedding canopy, but they had not had sexual intercourse?  When is the moment at which a woman's legal claims change? The rabbis argue about this circumstance as well.  If a woman is menstruating and the couple does not have intercourse after the first nights together, and then the husband dies, is she still considered to be a betrothed woman, entitled to the 200 zuz only, or is she considered to be a married woman, entitled to both sums?  The rabbis use this opportunity to speak about timing of sexual intercourse.  They note that intercourse must occur in the dark*, and that means that intercourse usually takes place at night.  

Regarding the question of the status of this particular betrothed/married woman, the rabbis leave the question unresolved.  However, a note teaches us about later interpretations.  Rambam claims that such a woman is entitled to only the main amount of money as a betrothed woman, but she is considered to be a married woman in all other ways.  The worst of both worlds - she gets less money, less status (she is now widowed and 'worth' less, even though she is a virgin).

The rabbis discuss receipts for ketubot.  Should a woman write a receipt when she receives the ketubah?  Or is the receipt written into the ketubah document itself?  The rabbis consider verbal documentation, which does not usually stand in monetary matters.  But what about the case of a man who attempts to create a ketubah that agrees to marriage without the responsibility for his wife's clothing, food or conjugal rights?  If she verbally agrees to that illegal contract, does it stand?  

Part of the rabbi's debate regards what is rabbinic law, what is Torah law, and what is within their rights to oppose or encourage.  Rabbi Yehuda teaches that marriage contracts fall under the category of rabbinic law.  That means that a wife's words are not binding unless they are written.  But this is challenged based on the laws regarding a wife's property.  However, Abaye points out that while all married people have a ketubah, not all men are married to women who have land and its produce.

Rabbi Meir introduces a useful direction.  Anyone who lessens a non-virgin or a widow's ketubah from 200 to 100 zuz (or dinars) is then engaging in licentious sexual intercourse.  This is a protection for women:  the rabbis interpreted his words to mean that one cannot leave women with less than the full amount of money that they are entitled to in their ketubot.   The rabbis wonder if this could refer to a woman who believed that she did not have a ketubah or believed she was not entitled to the full sum.  Our Sages wished to ensure that the value of the ketubah is maintained and not devalued.

*Sexual intercourse is permitted during the day, but in a dark home only.  Our notes teach that a man should not look at his wife during intercourse in case he finds something unattractive about her.  

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