Sunday, 31 May 2015

Nedarim 8:Two Oaths at Once; Agents in Nullification; Sun as Healer

If a man takes an oath to arise early and learn Torah, is that oath valid?  We have already promised (whether at Sinai or otherwise) to learn Torah daily.  A second oath cannot be prioritized until the first oath is completed.  So is it possible to make an oath in this way?  And would saying the morning Shema meet the requirements of both oaths?  The rabbis remind us that we are to learn more than just the basics, and thus saying the Shema does not meet either promise.

What if a person has a dream that he is ostracized?  Rav Yosef believes that he must find ten scholars of Torah to dissolve the ostracism.  Other rabbis argue that one might not have many Torah scholars in a given town, and they suggest that people who read Torah, or those who have learned Mishna, or ten people on the street, or even just three people will serve the same purpose.  They recognize that every dream is a mixture of truth and idle matter, but just in case the ostracism was real, that ostracism must be dissolved.

We learn about Ravina's wife.  She made a vow that she wanted her husband to nullify, but he did not do so that same day.  She asked if he would act as her agent with the court to nullify her vow.  Ravina took this question to Rav Ashi.  We learn three halachot through this narrative: 

  • a husband can act as his wife's agent when she regrets an action
  • a Sage cannot dissolve a vow in the same location as his teacher, and
  • a court of three people can dissolve a vow, but only if they were sitting already for a different purpose
Finally, the rabbis share that an expert Sage can reverse an excommunication on his own - no court of three is required.

We end today's daf with a discussion about the sun.  Many, many rabbis are part of this argument about the healing power of the sun.  Perhaps it is the dust that shines in the rays of the sun; perhaps it is that righteous people are healed by the sun's light; perhaps all of us can benefit from the sun's healing power.  And some rabbis believe that the wicked will be punished by the sun's heat.  Proof texts are used to demonstrate G-d's intentions regarding our relationship with the sun.

Hopefully tomorrow's daf will continue to 'shine light' on this conversation.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Nedarim 7: Ostracism, Excommunication, Distancing, and the Power or Words

Our daf begins with a demonstration of the rabbis’ use of prooftexts.  Deuteronomy 23:22 says “When you shall take a vow to the Lord your G-d, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your G-d shall surely require it of you.”  Apparently, a baraita explains that “of you” refers to three things: gleanings, fallen sheaves, and pe’a.  The very careful and specific use of words is meant to be analyzed and deeply understood. 

Next question: since the halachot of tzedaka are written next to the laws of vows, do the laws of vows apply to tzedaka?  Would the halacha that one should “not delay” be transferable?  Or should the juxtapositioning teach us that all halachot are to be applied?  The rabbis note that tzedaka is very different from vows, and the halachot need not be applied.

Another example is raised: when a home is being built, the area meant to be the bathroom one day is designated off limits to anyone who should want to pray, etc.  If the designation of a particular place is enough to change our behaviour, should that not be similar to times when one intimates a vow?

The rabbis again focus on the specificity of wording.  Saying "I am excommunicated from you" has vastly different consequences from  saying "I am distanced from you" or "I am ostracized from you".  

We are obligated to ostracize someone if we hear them use the Lord's name in vain.  If we do not do so, we will be punished with ostracism ourselves.  The rabbis note that death, seemingly an ultimate form of ostracism, is seen as equal to poverty.  They also note that is one ostracizes another in public, it must be retracted  (if it is retracted ) in public ask well.  The rabbis debate about whether that secondary ostracism happens immediately or whether it 'should' take place immediately.  

A Torah scholar is permitted to ostracize himself and to nullify that ostracization.  This is in comparison with a prisoner who cannot release himself from jail.  We learn that Mar Zutra Chasida would ostracize himself before ostracizing a Torah student.  Assuming that he had not behaved in a way worthy of ostracism, the rabbis discuss this act: was he punishing himself before punishing the student because of his role in the student's transgression?  Was this another sort of strategy?   Mar Zutra Chasida would excommunicate himself, first.  He would be liable to all halachot of excommunication, including standing more than 4 cubits from any people.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Nedarim 5: Assumptions and Vows

The rabbis discuss the importance of specificity when it comes to the language of vows.  They use the example of the phrase "I am avowed from you" in contrast with the phrase "I am avowed to you".  At first it seems relatively clear: "I am avowed from you" indicates that neither person can benefit from the other.  "I am avowed to you" regards a specific way that each is forbidden to the other.  However, after defining what those terms mean, other possible definitions are suggested as well.  We learn some other possible meanings.  

Shmuel suggests that "I am avowed from you" means that I am not speaking with you, "I am separated from you" means that I will not do business with you, and "I am distanced from you" means that I will not stand within four cubits of you.  The rabbis use these interpretations to determine that Shmuel concurs with Rabbi Yehuda: ambiguous intimations are not intimations.  The Gemara connects this statement with other questions about intimations.  Rabbi Yehuda stated  that a get, a bill of divorce, must state that the husband is in fact divorcing his wife.    The specific words used in the get are significant, just like the specific words used by a nazirite are significant.  Bottom line: we cannot just assume that a vow is a vow, regardless of the words used.

Our daf ends with the rabbis beginning to question other contracts that require specific intimations.

Words are so very important.  We cannot assume that we know what people mean unless we hear them say what they mean. Such a wonderful lesson for today.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Nedarim 4: On Vows and Nazirite Vows

If a person takes a nazirite vow while in a cemetery, when does nazirut begin?  Immediately after leaving the cemetery?  After becoming ritually pure?  One must not delay, as we learned in yesterday's daf.  What about shaving after completing one's time as a nazir?  Must that be done immediately?  Is that delay a transgression worthy of punishment?  Or is shaving following being a nazir of less consequence?

The rabbis want to understand why the nazirite vows are juxtaposed with other vows.  Perhaps it is the offerings, suggests the Gemara.  A nazir must bring a burnt offering, a sin offering and a peace offering at the conclusion of her/his vow.  How might a delay in bringing those offerings compare with a delay in bringing the sin-offering of forbidden fat (usually used to atone for consuming forbidden fat)?   

A sin offering of forbidden fat comes for atonement, but a nazirite has nothing to atone for.  The Gemara notes that a woman who has given birth does not atone, either, but she brings a sin offering, too.  And her offerings - either a lamb under one year (sin) and a pigeon or turtledove (burnt) or, if she is poor, two turtledoves or two young pigeons - must not be delayed or she is subject to a consequence.  If she is married to a kohen, this allows her to partake of consecrated food.

A note in the Steinsaltz translation teaches us about ritual purity and offerings for women who have given birth.  If she has a girl, the mother is considered ritually impure for 14 days. Then she immerses in the mikvah.  She is ritually pure for the next sixty-six days, but she cannot enter the Temple or partake of consecrated food until a total of 80 days have passed.  At that time she brings the offerings listed above, resulting in her ritual purity.  From the mikvah on, she is ritually pure for all other purposes, even if she experiences uterine bleeding.  That blood is thought of as different from menstrual blood.  If a woman has a boy, she is ritually impure only 7 days, followed by mikvah immersion.  After thirty-three more days, totalling forty days, she brings offerings to the Temple and is more fully ritually pure.

The Gemara then looks at another possible reason for the juxtapositioning of vows and nazirite vows: nullification of vows.  But Torah law regarding nullification of women's vows by their fathers or husbands should cover nazirite vows as well.  Why would the juxtapositioning be necessary?  Perhaps the time limit is important here - nazirite vows are limited to thirty days, where other vows have no time limit.

Our daf ends with a conversation regarding substitute vows.  The rabbis discuss the necessity of specific wording.  Should a person be held to their vow always, even if the wording is unusual, or should that wording have to include something specific, like "I am avowed from you with regard to that which I eat"?  This specificity might result in a vow that is not as intended.  Perhaps one wished to distance oneself from that person; to reject any benefit that might come from that person regardless of whether it was related to food.  

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Nedarim 3: Entering Nazirut

Some of our Mishnayot begin with words that describe the subject and then move on to stating examples.  Others begin with the examples themselves.  Our rabbis begin today's daf with a conversation about the structure of the first Mishna.

How telling that we think ourselves cutting edge because our media is post-modern, post-post-modern, and now 'meta'.  In fact, thousands of years ago, our rabbis were critiquing and analyzing text within the text itself.  It was called learning.

In the Torah, we are specifically told about nazirite vows.  In Numbers 6:2, we learn that "(One) shall clearly utter a vow, the vow oaf a nazirite, to consecrate oneself to the Lord".  Nazirite vows are named 'lehazir nazir', to consecrate oneself as one who is consecrated.  The rabbis take note of this language and compare it to the language of other vows and promises.  They discuss the 'doubled term', suggesting substitutions and intimations for lehazir nazir.  

Transgressing a vow or a nazirite vow results in serious repercussions, for these transgressions break Torah law.  For example, ignoring the directives "One shall not profane" (Numbers 30:3) and "One shall not delay" (Deuteronomy 23:22) can result in flogging.  As well, "a father may nullify the vows of his daughter" and "a husband may nullify the vows of his wife" (Numbers 30) allow the vows - and nazirite vows - of girls and women to be blocked by men.  Our notes remind us that only vows regarding self-affliction and the daughter-father/wife-husband relationship can be nullified.  Nullification must happen on the same day that the man in question learns about the vow.

The Gemara is concerned with differences between the doubled term of a nazirite vow, lehazir nazir, and the juxtapositioned uttered vow, lindor neder, that seems to suggest that the Torah was using the language of man [sic].  The placement of statements beside each other represents connection between them, the rabbis argue.  Using this argument, it is suggested that one who states "I am a nazirite" twice in a row must be a nazir twice in a row, too.  Another interpretation suggests that one who states the above twice is flogged twice should s/he drink wine or transgress the vow of nazirut in another way.

When a person declares that s/he is a nazirite, the restrictions begin immediately.  One cannot vow to be a nazirite before they die, for this person might die before completing this vow, thus transgressing a Torah law.  It may be possible to state that one will be a nazirite when one wishes - this does not create a delay of any kind - but if that person were to die, it is unclear whether or not s/he would be dying without having met his/her obligations.

So far, the Gemara has mentioned that the vow of nazirut includes leaving one's hair to grow and avoiding all grapes/wine products.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Nedarim 2: Intention Matters: A Substitue Vow is Still a Vow

As a woman who chants Kol Nidre every erev Yom Kippur, it is wonderful to delve into the language of Nedarim.  Years ago I translated and wrote down the meaning of each type of promise so that I could conjure up those meanings as I chant.  However, 'consecrations made for the Temple' held little emotional resonance for me.  Instead, I have created an image or idea to accompany each word in the Kol Nidre contract.  When I think of 'consecrations made for the Temple', for example, I might think about the good intentions I carried with me to shul, but upon arriving, I forgot those intentions and instead focused on less charitable thoughts.  Nedarim is already helping me to clarify my understandings of Kol Nidre.

In modern times, we might make a vow or an oath or another declaration.  We make a promise, and we don't think too much about the consequences.  We don't truly make promises to G-d most of the time.  We just promise.  And then, if we don't follow through, well, we don't follow through.  This new Masechet, Nedarim, is devoted to better understanding the particularities of the promises that we make to G-d.  It begins with a Mishna teaching us about the functional differences between making vows or oaths or other promises to G-d.

We learn that if one intends to make a vow but uses slightly inappropriate wording, it is referred to as a "substitute".  S/he will be held to that vow.  Substitute dedications are like dedications, substitute oaths are like oaths, and substitute nazirite vows are like nazirite vows.  Likewise, when a person states that they will not eat the food of another person; that they are distanced or separated or avowed from that person, their words hold.  When a person says that they are ostracized from another person, Rabbi Akiva is more stringent and wishes to consider those words as a vow, too.

How do we know when a vow has been enacted? Each category or promise is denoted through different language and intention.  Some gleanings from our first daf:

  • Vows - Nedarim: Promises to forbid something from personal use - an object or an activity; similar to consecration but something that is truly consecrated is determined by Torah law and not decided by individuals.  Vows can override mitzvot.
  • Oaths - Shevuot: Promises to forbid something from personal use; oaths do not override obligations to perform mitzvot.
  • Dedications - Charamim: Items that are consecrated for use in the Temple or by priests; can also be the same as other vows
  • Nazirite vows - Nazirut: The moment that one declares oneself a nazir, the vows of nazirut take effect.

The Gemara wonders why the the Mishna is ordered as it is.  Why not discuss principles before giving examples?  The remainder of daf is a list of different Mishnayot that refer to examples before referring to a principle.  

It seems that the rabbis are referring to the specific language that should be used to enact each different category of commitment.  And thus the intention to vow, even if the words are closer to those of an oath, determines that one's promise is in fact a vow and not an oath.  

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Ketubot 109: Admon's Rulings

We learn three Mishnayot today.  Each of them is said to be one of the seven rulings of Admon.

First: When one apportions a dowry of money for his son-in-law and then cannot pay, his daughter must sit, betrothed but unwed, in her father's house until her hair turns white.  Admon says that she is believed when she says that this was her father's doing and not her own; she should be married or divorced and released. Rabbi Gamliel agrees.  

The Gemara clarifies that an adult woman should know whether or not her father is capable of paying the promised dowry.  However, a minor girl must be married or released, for she can not be held responsible for her father's actions.  The Gemara goes on to determine when rulings are in accordance with Admon.

Second: When a witness signs his name regarding ownership of a field, he is allowed to contest ownership later because the first owner might have been so intimidating that he felt compelled to sign without contest.  The rabbis disagree with this.  They note that once a person has used the field as a marker with relation to the fields around it, he has lost the right to contest ownership of the property.

The Gemara looks at signing documents: witnesses read documents before signing. Judges, however, do not - they are simply checking documents for signatures.  Word will get around when someone buys land, and so claimants will come forward quickly.  And if just a part of a field is used as a marker, the person can still make a claim regarding ownership.  At the end of this Gemara, we learn about a steward who notes that the father of the orphans he represents would want them to have the row of palm trees on his land.  HE is spoken of very highly as he advocated properly for the orphan children under his stewardship.

Third: If a person goes overseas and the path to his land has grown over during his absence, Admon believes that he can reestablish the shortest distance through others' land to his own as his path.  The rabbis say that instead he should buy back that portion of land, even if it is 100 dinars (one maneh) - or else he should fly to his land.  After more discussion, we learn that the rabbis acquiesce.  The landowner may say to the claimant that they will allow him to use the shortest route to his land as long as he stays silent about this favour.  If he speaks of it, the land will be sold to its previous owners who will create a new path at a cost.  

The Gemara ends with the story of a man who left a palm tree for his daughter. After the land was divided, she did not have access to the tree.  Another case involves a man who left two half-palm trees to his daughter; his business partner owned the two other half-trees.  The rabbis consider when two half-trees might be interpreted as being one whole tree.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Ketubot 108: Jugs, Pitchers, Oil: Returning What We've Borrowed

Yesterday's daf ended with a new Mishna.  The Mishna discussed what should be done if someone sustains a woman while her husband is overseas.  Should that person be repaid?  The Gemara begins today with a discussion about similar circumstances.  When a person is unable to pay their half-shekel to the Temple, another is permitted to pay on his/her behalf.  And when a person returns a lost object, they do not need to be paid, for it is a mitzva to return a lost item.  The unspoken connection here seems to be that when someone sustains a woman - does something generous without the expectation of reward - it should be permitted.  However, repayment is not necessary.

Another short Mishna is introduced at the beginning of amud (b).  It states that in large estates, sons inherit the land and daughters are provided with sustenance from the produce of that land.  In small estates, where there is not enough land/produce to support all children, the daughters receive sustenance from the produce of the land and the sons must beg door to door if they have not enough land to sustain themselves, as well.  Admon is astonished: because we are men (and fit to study Torah; and given this inheritance by Torah law), why should we not benefit from our inheritance?

Another Mishna describes the opinions of Admon as differing from those of the rabbis.  They all discuss what should be done if one accuses another of owing him a number of jugs of oil and the borrower admits to owing the jugs or pictures but not the oil.  Is that partial admission accepted?  The rabbis elaborate on this example to try to understand when the pitchers or jugs are counted separately from their contents.  

The amazing breadth of argument in Masechet Ketubot is stunning.  Marriage contracts cover so many different areas of law; each of those is mentioned in some depth over the course of the 108 dapim so far.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Ketubot 107: Who sustains the wife who stays home while her husband is overseas?

If a husband goes oversees, the rabbis seem to assume that he has provided for his wife while he is gone.  At the very least, there should be enough in the home to provide for her sustenance for at least three months.  Interestingly, a grown woman is thought to need more than her own earnings to sustain herself, while a minor girl might be supported by her own earnings.  Is this because the court or the family might step in to assist a minor wife?  Or because a minor wife has fewer needs?  

The rabbis return to the question of whether a woman is to take one or two oaths regarding her sustenance while her husband has been away overseas.  They consider the words of the husband and the words of the wife.  They consider whether or not there were witnesses to the couple's agreement before the husband left on his trip.  They speak of the timing of the wife's claims - and whether or not she makes a formal claim through the court system.  Their approach seems to be fair and balanced; they are looking for the truth.

The rabbis are concerned with related details.  Each variation on the case at hand helps us understand some of the dynamics of relationships in ancient Jewish settings.  What if the couple goes overseas together and the woman claims that her husband died?  What if that husband in fact gave his wife a bundle of money to sustain herself before he left?  What if the wife was a minor and could not be expected to accept a bundle of money?  What if a woman has already relinquished her right to sustenance because she said to her new husband, "I will not be sustained by you and I will not work" [give you my earnings]?

Rav Zevid then introduces a number of statements concerning the status of vessels that are glazed differently; some are said to absorb liquids and others are not.  There is no commentary provided on why this observation is placed at this point in the Gemara.

A new Mishna ends our daf: if a man goes overseas and someone else takes it upon himself to sustain the man's wife, Chanan says that that money is not reimbursed.   The High Priests disagree: he swears  how much he is owed and that money is repaid to him.  Two other rabbis join in this discussion, one agreeing with the High Priests and one agreeing with Chanan.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Ketubot 106: What Pays for What?

The Gemara completes the story of Rav Anan's attempt to prioritize the relative of a Torah scholar and then losing the support of Elijah.  Next, the Gemara looks at other circumstances where there was great anger - thought to be great hunger - and Elijah remained with the Sages as long as a group of those Sages stayed back.  

The conversation turns toward those with different responsibilities.  How were people reimbursed for sacred tasks, from judging to removing a handful of fine flour to weaving the curtains to those from the house of Garmu who prepared the shewbread to those who raised their children for the red heifer?  Were their wages taken from the collection of the chamber, or were they taken from the funds that were consecrated for Temple maintenance?  Were they provided for by wealthier community members?  Were they not paid for their sacred duties but instead paid for the time lost at their other jobs?

The Gemara goes on to question other grey areas.  How are sacred vessels paid for, for example?  Are main funds used or is the remainder designated for such items?  Even maintaining the walls and floors of the Holy of Holies must be paid for somehow.  The rabbis suggest different funds for different items and services.  They also note that the sale of produce might result in a leftover remainder.  Rabbi Akiva reminds us that one cannot profit by selling consecrated property nor from funds set aside for the poor.  This ensures that even in a place of wealth, there will always be money available should one encounter a person who needs those funds.  

Today's daf offers a great example of the rabbis truly struggling to understand what happened in the times of the Temple.  They can't be sure which pot of money paid for what items and services.  They can guess, based on all of the information that they have gathered.  Those opinions then guide us, dozens and dozens of generations later, on how to organize our money regarding sacred and secular items.  

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Ketubot 105: Judges, Bribes, Errors of Judgement

If a woman claims that her husband's family owes her sustenance because he has died while overseas,  must she make an oath regarding the truth of her claim only when she confirms he has died? Or must she have made an oath at the beginning of his journey, as well?

In debating this Mishna, the rabbis examine how judges do their jobs.  The Mishna states that there were only two judges in Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple who were able to make sweeping decrees.  Our notes suggest that there was at least a third judge, and that there were in fact hundreds of judges at that time.  It is not clear how to understand the status of these particular judges.  

Regardless of how many judges were given great importance, however, all judges were strictly bound to ethical dealings.  Judges should never take bribes - but one judge did ask both parties to pay him before he heard their case.  How could this be?  Perhaps the judgement was sound only if both parties paid the judge?  Or perhaps the judge was not being paid to judge but he was being paid to compensate the time he could be working elsewhere (in this case, as an expert sommelier).

There are a number of restrictions placed on judges - should their judgments be valid:

  • they cannot borrow from anyone whom they will judge
  • they cannot lend to anyone whom they will judge
  • they cannot judge those whom they love
  • they cannot judge those whom they hate
The Gemara lists several instances where people perform simple kindnesses for judges. When the judges learn that a case is to be heard including each person who has done a favour, the judges refuse the favour and then they refuse honour of residing over their cases.  

One of those cases involves a man who brings a basket of fish to Rav Anan.  Upon learning that the man is requesting him to reside over a court case, Rav Anan refuses the basket and says that he is disqualified from residing over the man's case.  However, the man begs Rav Anan to accept the fish, for otherwise he is prevented from presenting a priest with the gift of bikurim, first fruits.  We learn that a gift to a Torah scholar is like that of first fruits.

Rav Anan says that he does not wish to accept the fish but will do so to enable the performance of a mitzvah.  He then sends the man to Rav Nachman with a note asking him to judge the man's case, for Rav Anan is disqualified.  Rav Nachman assumes that they are relatives.  He is residing over a case with orphans at that time, and he chooses to put that case on hold - although it is a positive mitzvah to prioritize a case with orphans - to elevate the positive mitzvah of trying a case regarding the honour of Torah.  The case is lost; the litigant became tongue-tied when he saw the importance given to his case.  It is said that Eliahu departed from Rav Anan following this unintentional gaff and Eliahu only returns in a frightening form. 

The rabbis take their responsibilities as judges very seriously.  Their calling is to uphold G-d's intentions as they understand those intentions through rabbinical interpretation.  Sometimes, as in today's daf, their efforts to comply with rabbinical law leaves them, unwittingly, at odds with Torah law.  

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Ketubot 104: Protecting Widows

Before beginning a new Mishna. we learn about the death of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi.  It seems that no-one was permitted to say that he was to die lest he be stabbed with a sword, though HaNasi was suffering terribly, putting on and taking off his tefillin multiple times while going back and forth from the bed to the bathroom and back.  The rabbis refused to stop begging G-d for Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi's recovery.  

His maidservant, however, known to be a wise, pious and witty, went to the roof and prayed for G-d to help the upper world impose its will on the lower will.  She then broke a jug.  The crash startled the rabbis into silence for a moment, at which time the Rabbi died.  Bar Kappara checked on Rabbi HaNasi in the bathroom and found him dead.  He tore his clothing and then wore them backward, explaining his discovery through a metaphor about the angels capturing the sacred ark.  The rabbis said, he died?  And Bar Kappara replied, You have said it and I did not say it.

In discussing what happens when a righteous person dies, Rabbi Eleazar explains that three groups of angels greet him.  They say: enter in peace he that walks in his uprightness he enters in peace; they rest in their beds.  When a wicked person dies, angels of destruction greet him and say, There is no peace says the Lord concerning the wicked (Isaiah 48:22), You shall lie down in sorrow (Isaiah 50:11), and Go down, and be laid with the uncircumcised (Ezekiel 32:19).  I imagine that lying with the uncircumcised means that one is apart from his community.

A new Mishna teaches that when a widow lives in her father's house, she may always collect her ketuba.  Rabbi Meir in the name of Rabban Shimon be Gamliel states that when she is living in her husband's house, she may collect her ketuba for twenty-five years.  This is because over twenty-five years she will have spent the money of the orphans to the point of depleting what would have been her ketuba payment (by doing favours and giving to others, etc.).  The rabbis say the opposite.  In her husband's house she may collect her ketuba at any time for she might be embarrassed to sue those who are paying for her sustenance.  When she is living in her father's house she can collect her ketuba for twenty-five years. And if she dies, her heirs mention her ketuba up until twenty-five years later.

The Gemara puts forward a number of arguments regarding the competing assertions in our Mishna.  The first points out challenges that face women who are poor and those who are rich, like Marta bat Baitos.  One will spend according to their means and run out of money after twenty-five years, whether she is poor and spends with economy or she is rich and spends freely.  The Gemara notes that twenty-five years should be a clear deadline, just like 40 se'a is a set amount of water that is required for a mikva to be kosher.  

The rabbis consider whether or not the orphans are actually in possession of the ketuba.  Is this situation similar to that of a creditor and debtor?  Is the circumstance of a widow similar to that of a divorcee?  Is the widow owed the produce of the land if that land is ordered to be in her possession as the price of her ketuba?  Does it matter there is a scribal error in the contract?   Finally, will the widow's working of the land change if she believes that the land belongs to her, to her heirs, or to the orphans who sustain her?

The rabbis' care for widows is apparent in every part of this conversation.  Not only do they wish to ensure that widows are provided for, they recognize that women might not advocate for themselves and thus the laws should reflect the need for their protection.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Ketubot 102: Verbal Contracts; the Power of Blood Libel Lies

Are there any contracts that require no act of acquisition?  Where a verbal agreement obligates the parities to complete their transaction?  The rabbis give us the example of a couple negotiating marriage.  Each person (or their parents) will ask how much money the other will be bringing into the marriage.  Once that agreement has been made, there is no need for acquisition of this money; the couple is betrothed and a divorce is required to break that bond.

Another example is that of a person securing a priest for the pidyon ha ben, the redemption of the first born son.  One can promise to pay for the service without having paid and the obligation is binding. The rabbis argue that perhaps even payment does not ensure that the son will be redeemed; payment might be in the form of a document and Torah law requires monetary payment.

The rabbis discuss guarantors and unsold property/liened property.  A rabbi named Shimon ben Nannas (no joke, his name is BenNanas) teaches that guarantors have no legal standing in contract law.  An example of one who stops a marketplace strangling by offering to pay the debt in dispute.  There is nothing obligating that person to make the payment promised; the debt preexisted his intervention.

In amud (b), the rabbis discuss whether such verbal agreements are even allowed to be written down. And in other circumstances, do we read the word "write" to mean "say"?  The example of a young woman verses a grown woman is used to better understand this concept.  Would a father write down the monetary agreement that is arranged?  What if his daughter is grown (ie. 6 months following puberty) and he is not officially responsible for her actions any longer?  Would he continue to write down these negotiated sums if he is not required to part of the process any longer?

We are reminded that a woman and man must both consent to a betrothal for that betrothal to be valid.  The reasoning is based on a comparison to divorce.  In a divorce, the husband does not requires his wife's consent.  In betrothal, it is the woman who must give consent for herself to be given to the husband.  An interesting interpretation.

A final thought that tells us about child rearing and about dangers in ancient society: a minor son whose father dies is permitted to live with his mother if she and the father's heirs want the boy to live with them.  This is because the son could be in danger if he lives with the heirs, who would benefit from this death.  A story is told without much detail of a minor boy who was killed by the heirs he lived with on the eve of Pesach.    Our notes teach that another version of the story occurs on erev Rosh HaShana.  In both cases, the story demonstrates the heirs' lack of concern for their impurity and sin even before Pesach which requires purity and Rosh Hashana which will involve judgement.  The story was likely moved to Rosh Hashana to avoid the effect of the anti-semitic blood libel lies.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Ketubot 101: Restrictions on Ketubot Retrieval; Child Support of Step-Daughters

A husband must provide certain things for his wife.  For example, he provides her with clothing.  But a wife comes to the marriage with clothing of her own.  If the couple is divorced, who keeps that worn out clothing?  An related example is a cloak that a woman brings into the marriage.  Can her usufruct property be used by her husband?  The rabbis argue this point. Ultimately, it is decided that her husband is not permitted to use the cloak until it wears out. 

Some women are not permitted to collect their ketubot.  Women who have married within forbidden relationships; women who have divorced because of their own transgressions are not entitled to their ketubot.  Neither are aylonit if they married under the assumption that they were not aylonit.  Neither are minor girls (married off by their mothers or brothers) who refuse their husbands.  

The rabbis seem to recognize the tension between enforcing halacha and providing for women who are not protected by marriage.  

Our daf ends in Perek XI where a new Mishna describes ancient child support.  If a woman remarries, her new husband should agree to support the woman's previously conceived/grown daughter for five years.  This does not cancel out the support provided by a previous husband; the ex-husband provides monetary support and the current husband provides sustenance (food, etc.).  The husbands do not team up to provide less to the daughter.  If the daughter is married, she is sustained by her new husband but her father and step-father provide monetary support.  If the step-father dies, this daughter is supported through the sale of property.  If a man does not wish to provide this support, he must write a contract before marrying that says that he will provide sustenance for his wife's daughter for five years only as long as the wife and husband remain married.  

The daf ends with a comparison between this contract and another contract where a man states that he owes 100 dinars to another man.  Is that contract binding?  Does the presence of witnesses make a difference?  We will learn more about the considerations of our rabbis tomorrow.

In the meantime, we can enjoy our ancestors' relatively progressive child support laws.  While five years is not a long time according today's standards, the notion that men are halachically required to provide for children - even those children who are not their own offspring - is inspiring.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Ketubot 100: Widows and Agents; Rights to One's Ketuba

Today's daf includes long arguments about the validity of a sale of property.  In some cases, an error in a sale will invalidate that sale.  In other circumstances, the error is ignored.  The rabbis' conversation is complex and challenging to wade through.  Some of their arguments are not intuitive; Torah law can be broken and yet sales can continue to be valid.  I do not have enough of a grasp on this text to paraphrase with any accuracy.

When a person dies, his property might be sold off by his widow or by the court.  There are rules in various communities that that clarify these differences.  In addition, some communities insist that an announcement is made before the sale of property or movable property (which would include the sale of slaves).  There are a number of reasons cited for ignoring the call for announcements.  When announcements disadvantage the selling process, they can be foregone.  This is particularly disturbing when we learn that people might not announce the sale of slaves, for the slave might try to escape upon hearing about his/her own sale.  Reading about slavery as a matter of fact is always jarring and upsetting.

We do hear interesting stories about the sale of movable property.  In one we learn that beer might be sold at a higher price at a busy market even if it is not a quality product.  We also learn about Ravina who wished to bring his wine to sell at the Market.  He was asked to bring along his nephew, little Ravina's wine as little Ravina's agent.  Though this went against convention, little Ravina's profits would likely be better if Ravina were to act as his agent with his best interests in mind.

Our daf introduces a new Mishna on who may not claim her ketuba.  We learn that a minor married off by her mother or siblings who then refuses her husband is not entitled to her ketuba.  As well, a woman in a secondary forbidden relationship and an aylonit are both not entitled to their ketubot.  However, the Mishna goes on to state that women in a number of different categories are indeed entitled to their ketubot.  The Gemara also points out that foreknowledge of a woman's status makes a difference.  One cannot keep a woman from her ketuba if knew of her status when they married.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Ketubot 99: Buyers & Sellers; Responsibilities & Ramifications

We have learned that an agent is held only partially responsible for an erroneous sale.  The seller is also partially responsible.  Today's daf begins with an elaboration of that principle.  Is the agent always responsible?  What about grey areas, like when an agent is asked to buy a robe with a certain amount of money but he buys the wrong robe; he spends too much or too little?  Is this the same as when an agent is told to buy an etrog but he buys an etrog and a pomegranate?  What if the money  was consecrated?  The Gemara discusses one who buys legumes in bulk instead of in small quantities.  And if an agent sells to one person instead of two, or vice versa. How might each of these circumstances cause problems? Who is held responsible?

A new Mishna tells us that a sale of property is void if it is one sixth more or less than the adjudicated value of the property.  The Gemara begins to understand the implications of this statement.  Do women benefit from such rulings?  Or are they intended for other business purposes that do not generally directly involve women as primary actors?

Contract law relies on knowledge of other contract law.  We cannot understand the ketuba - its structure, its applications, its limitations - without understanding related contracts of the same era.  Still, the arguments relating to ketubot often verge on what seems petty.  If a person spends one dinar more there is a legal consequence; a buyer and a seller take on very specifically stated roles and responsibilities.  The ramifications of these little details are of great interest to me.  What this tells us about how people were able to gain respect, for example, or access the legal system.  But the details themselves are quite tedious for me, even when they involve "buying robes", which teaches us about the garments that people wore in the times of the Talmud.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Ketubot 98: VIrginity; Part/Whole; Women Selling Property: Assessing Value of the Land

The rabbis determine that High Priests are permitted to marry only full virgins; young women who have not had any sort of intercourse.  This arguments helps the rabbis understand that women are entitled to sustenance from her deceased husband's orphans even if she has seized a cup from her deceased husband's belongings (toward her ketuba).

The rabbis then discuss oaths.  We know that women are required to take oaths attesting that they have not seized anything from their deceased husbands, so what is the issue here?  Is this about the timing of these oaths/?  or perhaps the public announcements of upcoming sales of property?  or could this question of oaths be founded on whether or not someone has independently assessed the value of this property?

A new Mishna teaches that the sale of property by a widow is considered void if that sale is founded on an inaccurate assessment. Even one dinar difference is is too much of a difference to allow the sale to be considered valid.  If a woman sells the property in pieces, those sales can hold as long as she does not err in assessment of property value.  If one of those transactions is off, only that particular sale is voided.

This Mishna also explains that a half-kav field is the smallest field required for gardening, and that a quarter-kav field is the smallest field required for sowing.  Our notes explain that a half-kav is equivalent to approximately 50-60 square metres.  The Gemara looks at issues including fixed prices - where the money is split. 

If agents are involved in sharing discussions or collecting money, they are considered to be partially responsible along with the owner of the land for any errors.  For example, difficulties will arise when consecrated property is allocated or used improperly.  Both the seller and the agent (and those who partake of the consecrated items, if they also take an amount other than what was offered to them) are fully responsible for this transgression.

Ketubot 97: Selling Property, Sustenance, Courts, Desireability

How does a widow help her deceased husband's heirs to sustain her?  Should she sell her property each year?  She would ask for her payment to be distributed equally every thirty days for the twelve months.  Or why not sell her property every six months?  This would help the widow who wishes to receive her ketuba, in which case she would not be able to receive the monthly payments/sustenance any longer.  The rabbis argue back and forth about how this should be done.  In the end, they decide in accordance with Rabbi Yeduda that she should sell her property every six months.

If she should sell property that belonged to her late husband, her heirs would act as her guarantors.  The rabbis wonder how this might affect all parties if the property were seized.  They speak of other cases where sales are reversed.  For example, one who sells and ox and then realizes that he does not need the ox.  In this case, the buyer was Rav Pappa and her reversed the sale, going beyond the letter of the law.  

Another case involved many mansions sold in Nehard'a following a drought where wheat became scarce. When the wheat arrived shortly after the sale of properties, the rabbis decided to reverse the sales.  Are these sales "errors" simply because the sellers did not know that wheat was on its way?  Is this situation - a drought - an unusual enough circumstance for such a reversal?  The effects of such rulings could be far reaching: people might not buy property at all for fear of reversals.  But the Gemara states the final ruling: if one sold property (for a specific purpose) and then did not need the money from the land, the sale can be reversed.

A new Mishna teaches that a widow from betrothal or from marriage should not sell her property through the court for it will make her less desirable to do so.  Rabbi Shimon states that a widow from betrothal must sell her property in court, for she is not receiving sustenance.  Those who do not receive sustenance should only sell property in court.  Another Mishna tells us that a divorcee must sell her property in court.

The rabbis speak of a divorcee - a woman who is not, apparently, as desirable as a widow, especially a widow from betrothal - because the divorcee is usually not a virgin.  Thus is it necessary for her to be seen as desirable?  One could argue that she is at a greater disadvantage and thus needs 'desirability' more than a widow. 

So what is 'desirability', anyhow?  The rabbis speak of the shame of being seen in court.  It seems that  a woman should not be in this public setting; a place that hears and settles conflict.  This can be seen as protective of women's sensibilities, or their reputations, or their gentle natures, from one perspective.  Or it can be understood as a paternalistic, patriarchal method to keep women from the one legal tool that might secure them greater freedoms and power in a very rigid society.

The rabbis also speak of virginity at some length.  It is not questioned that a virgin is more valuable - monetarily - than a non-virgin.  But some rabbis recognize that even grown women who are virgins might not demonstrate signs of virginity for their hymens might deteriorate over time even without intercourse.  The rabbis go so far as to argue whether or not a woman should be called a virgin if she has had anal intercourse but not vaginal intercourse.  

The context for this discussion is the notion of the part and the whole.  If a woman has sold only part of her property, is she still entitled to sustenance?  Or is selling that part of her property equivalent to selling all of her property?  Amazing that the rabbis use this opportunity to discuss vaginal and anal sex.  I wonder if another set of examples might be available as well?  Perhaps the rabbis believed that since they were speaking of women, they should find another discussion about women to inform their conversation.  But just because they are discussing women, must they discuss intercourse?  Likely this is another reason that the Talmud has been forbidden to women (and others) for so long.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Ketubot 95: Land, Ketubot, and Women's Rights

Amud (a) teaches a new Mishna.  It states that if a man marries two women and he sold his field, the first wife relinquishes her rights to that property as part of her ketuba by writing to the purchaser, "I do not have any legal dealings or involvement with you".  The second wife is able to appropriate the property from the purchaser to pay her ketuba.  After this, the first wife is able to appropriate the property from the second wife to pay her ketuba for she married first. The purchaser can then appropriate the field from the first wife because of her initial document.  This cycle should be curtailed with a compromise - and the same applies to another creditor whether male or female.

The Gemara dives into the question of women's agency.  When is a woman's contract valid?  Even when men are creating such agreements, verbal contracts have stringent rules keeping them in check. The rabbis describe the many circumstances when the contracts of women can be nullified by their husbands or the courts.  In fact, women are subject to the principle of "she only did it to please her husband".  Judges seem to take that consideration very seriously.  Those words can put a woman in a very bad place - her decisions can be nullified without her consent.  At the same time, they can benefit her, for she is protected from potential legal battles through this principle.

As the rabbis share their thoughts about this Mishna, they also share interesting information about relationships between married couples.  It seems that the divorced woman is seen as stronger-willed than her 'virgin' counterpart.  Divorced women would not change their behaviour to "please their husbands", the rabbis tell us.  First-time brides, however, are wanting to earn their husbands' love and affection.  They are so eager to please their husbands that they might sign away their rights; that they might make inappropriate or even illegal decisions.

From one perspective, this is a great kindness to women.  If new brides aWre so oriented to the pleasure of their husbands that they might damage their own financial futures, certainly they should be protected!  From another perspective, we are encouraging new brides to be completely reliant on their husbands; to have far fewer rights than their husbands; to maintain a facade whereby women are not expected to think clearly as they are so blinded by the need to care for others.

The rabbis share other examples of purchases of land that affect wives.

Amud (b) introduces the concept of damaged goods.  If a property becomes blighted over the course of the purchase/loan, how should others assess and deal with this potential conflict?  The rabbis place a great deal of responsibility on purchasers.  They seem to espouse a "buyer beware" philosophy.  

Great detail is shared regarding all of these interactions.  I find much of that text very difficult to digest.  It is often complex and it draws on ideas that are unfamiliar to me.  However, I'll continue to plug away...

Our daf ends as we begin Perek X with another new Mishna.  We learn that a widow is sustained by the property of orphans.  They own any earnings that she receives, and they are not responsible for her burial.  Her heirs inherit her ketuba and they look after the cost of her burial.

The Gemara begins with a question about wording.  If the Mishna says "a woman who is sustained", there is not a difficulty, for this accounts for the fact that widows in the Galil are permitted to live in their late husbands' residences; heirs must also give them sustenance.  This is compared with women of Judea who are sustained by heirs in their late husbands' residences until they receive their kutubot, which can happen at any time.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Ketubot 94: Oaths, Judge's Discretion, Repossession

The Gemara for our last Mishna begins today's daf.  The Mishna speaks of a husband who marries four wives and then dies, leaving only 100 dinars to split among them according to past rules.  However, each wife, from the first to the fourth, must take an oath to the next wife that she has not taken anything from the estate inappropriately.  The fourth wife need not take an oath.  

The Gemara begins with a discussion of that fourth wife.  If a creditor returns and takes the land of the third wife, the fourth wife should relinquish some of her land in its place.  Is the fourth wife going to care for her land well knowing that it might be taken from her?  Shouldn't she take an oath regarding this?  Ben Nanas disagrees, saying that she will take good care of the land.  Abaye the Elder, noting that people to take oaths regarding transactions with orphans, wins this debate: the fourth wife must also take an oath.

Perhaps wives are acting as agent for other wives when they take these oaths.  After all, the second wife does not take an oath to the fourth wife, but they may be bound by each other's inheritance. After considering this, the rabbis wonder about the differences between contracts that are effected simultaneously and contracts that are enacted sequentially.  If two people have been given a contract to acquire the same lot of land, only the first person to receive that contract is the land's owner.  Do judges have discretion when they decide about such cases?  Should they?

A case involving Rami bar Chama and Mar Ukva bar Chama elucidates the rabbis' concerns.  Their mother gave Rami bar Chama a deed to her property in the morning.  She then gave the same deed to Mar Ukva bar Chama in the evening.  Each went to a different rabbi who did verify that indeed, each of them was entitled to the land.

Rav Sheshet says that he awarded Rami bar Chama the deed because he was given the deed first, and because he has a judge's discretion.  Rav Nachman argued that outside of Jerusalem, documents need not include the hour of their transaction, and thus both contracts were given at the same time/ on the same day.  Further, he used his discretion as a judge. And, in fact, Rav Sheshet is not truly a judge.

Another case was set before Rav Yosef.  Two men held deeds for the same plot of land.  One deed was dated the fifth of Nissan, and the other was simply dated "Nissan".  Rav Yosef awarded the property to the person who's deed specified a particular date.  The other claimant refuted this, saying "Should I lose?"  His deed could have been written earlier in Nissan.  Rav Yosef agreed, "You are at a disadvantage; one could say that your deed was written on the 29th of Nissan (and you would have no proof otherwise)".   

The claimant countered Rav Yosef, saying that he should be given authorization to repossess the property from the first month of Iyyar .  This would allow him to own the property from the first of Nissan.  The Gemara notes the remedy: both claimants should write documents of authorization to each other.  This will allow lined property to be repossessed.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Ketubot 93: Dividing Inheritance

We learn two Mishnayot today.  The first teaches what should be done when a husband dies leaving three wives with ketubot of 100, 200 and 300 dinars, respectively.  If only 100 dinars are available to pay these wives, those 100 dinars are split equally among the wives.  If 200 dinars are available, we are to pay off the first wife and to pay the second and third wives according to the equivalent shares of their ketubot.  This Mishna compares this situation to that of those who invest in a shared purse; those who invest different sums to a business venture.  They are to receive money back equal to the percentage contributed.

The second Mishna considers a man who dies leaving four wives, each of whom has a ketuba worth 100 dinars more than the last wife. The Mishna looks to equalize these payments as much as possible.

The rabbis use a number of different mathematical formula to propose other possible solutions to these situations.  They raise related issues, like whether or not the ketubot were written at almost the same hour, and how much inheritance is left in the estate.

Again, our rabbis clearly value equity among these Jewish women.  They are concerned about what is fair and what is just along with what is halachically permissible.  The notion of comparing these particular situations to those of business partners who invest and lose or collect funds together is telling.  Ketubot are closer to business contracts than to anything else.  They are legal documents that can be used to better women's lives or to destroy those lives.

Thankfully our rabbis seem sensitive to the needs of widows in this regard.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Ketubot 92: Real Estate Transactions

Real estate is the focus of today's daf.  In particular, we learn about how real estate can be used both as ways to hold one's money and as ways to negotiate with one's creditors.  Amud (a) looks at the ins and outs of how real estate can be used differently if it has a guarantee or not.  I will assume that selling land with a guarantee (that it will not be repossessed by creditors) costs more money; otherwise why wouldn't everyone guarantee their land when selling it?  With a guarantee, the land should not be repossessed.  However, the rabbis are fair to creditors as well.  Through relatively complicated transactions, the rabbis create fair arrangements for managing debt.

An interesting inclusion is a tricky way of paying one's creditors without losing much of anything.  The rabbis suggest that it is "clever" to use the laws regarding orphans to one's advantage when dealing with creditors.  Nothing about this transaction goes against halacha (or other standards of conduct).  However, the encouragement to use laws to one's advantage reminds me of current tax law,  where parties play games attempting to maximize their own capital by winding around the law.

Other factors weigh in to the determinations of credit and debt as well.  The rabbis speak of land that is of superior, intermediate, or inferior quality.  The type of land in question can allow parties to change the terms of their transactions.  Always the rabbis seem to be searching for strategies that will minimize damage to relationships while each party is treated as fairly as possible.

For some reason, these conversations that are based on contract law alone are difficult for me to follow, both because the arguments are complex (they involve other areas of halacha that I do not know well) and because the subject does not spark my interest.  Truly, these more challenging dapim are exactly what masechet ketubot is all about: contracts.  Yes, marriage contracts are in fact titled ketubot and thus they are the subject of much of this masechet.  At the same time, ketubot are simply legal contracts.  I should not be surprised when our Sages clarify all types of legal contracts!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Ketubot 91: Equalizing Inheritance?

Today's daf is concerned with fairness.  If a man has two wives and each has sons, who inherits the man's accumulated wealth after he dies?  What if he does not have wealth enough to pay off both of his wives' ketubot?  What should be done if his wives predeceased him and the contents of their dowries still exist?

The rabbis walk us through their thinking about these matters.  They note that even one dinar (the smallest exact coin larger than a peruta) more wealth than what the man owes, for example, his wives' ketubot (to be inherited by all of his sons) is reason enough to split the total sum of the ketubot equally among the sons.  A new Mishna shares the rabbis' thoughts about this subject.

Clearly the rabbis are concerned with minimizing family conflict regarding inheritance.  We learn again that unless something specific is stipulated in their contracts, people must abide by the conditions of those contracts.  The rabbis consider situations where land that is liened either appreciates or depreciates in value.  They consider what to do when two wives have differently valued ketubot and their husband dies without any surplus funds - should they receive their ketubot as valued at the time of his death?  or should they equally split the funds?

Our daf ends with two cases meant to elucidate the decisions of our Sages.  Unfortunately for me, the Gemara proves to be continually confounding.  The first of the two cases concerns orphans who pay off their fathers' debt of fifty dinars.  However, they did not fully remove they lien of the property and so they have no right to claim it as their own - that is, unless they said to the creditor that they were specifically giving him that money as payment for the land and their father's debt.  Because paying off one's parents' debts is a mitzvah, the orphans might be simply fulfilling the mitzvah and not acquiring the land with their payment.

The second case tells of a son who agreed to sell the rights to his mother's ketuba if she should die after her husband dies - and if she does not object to the sale.  She did not object to the sale, and after she died, the son changed his mind.  He brought the buyer to court, arguing that he was standing as his mother's proxy.  The story begins in today's daf, but it does not end in today's daf.  We can look forward to its conclusion tomorrow.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Ketubot 90: Inheritance when one husband are two wives

A new Mishna teaches us that previous ketubot continue to be valid after two situations: when a minor marries - with her own handwriting on the ketuba - at her father's wishes and then comes of age, the ketubah is still valid.  Also, when a married couple converts having had a gentile wedding before the conversion there is no need to repeat the marriage and the sheva brachot, etc..  The rabbis discuss more detailed explanations of this Mishna, particularly regarding the minor girl.

We begin Perek X with another new Mishna.  It states that if a husband marries two wives and then dies, the first wife collects her inheritance before the second wife.  If the wives both die before the husband, and both have sons, the second wife's sons inherit before the first wives' sons.

The Gemara discusses differences between collecting the amount of the ketubah and collecting other inheritance.  It also speaks about the gendered inequality of the time: daughters receive nothing as long as sons are alive.  The rabbis then focus on the more general rules surrounding creditors.  Which dates are to be honoured first when there are a number of debtors?

The Gemara's discussion becomes quite complex.  Liened property cannot be forfeited when a son is attempting to repossess land toward his mother's ketubah.  Does a one ketubah ever become surplus to another?  And what about cases where one wife died before the husband and one after?  The sons could suggest that the second wife was in fact a creditor who is only due her ketubah.  The rabbis argue which sons have clearer rights to claim both their mothers' ketubot and their own inheritance.

Sons might argue with each other - with reason - regardless of how hard the rabbis work to minimize those arguments through carefully thought out halacha.  One has to wonder how often the rabbis dealt with these types of "family court" issues.  It continues to amaze me how many families are torn apart due to inheritance issues.  However, in today's daf, we are thinking about a man who has married two wives.  The complications that seem likely to result might be enough to suggest a lesson regarding the wisdom of having more than one wife...