ה׳ בתמוז ה׳תשע״ז (June 29, 2017)

Bava Batra 158a-b: Competing Claims

Our Mishna discusses a case where a husband and wife were killed in a sudden accident. Those who would inherit the husband’s estate claim that the wife died first, and since the husband inherits his wife, they would receive her property, as well; those who would inherit the wife claim that the husband died first so she would retain possession of her property and would be owed her ketuba from her husband’s estate, as well.

Beit Shammai rules that the money is divided between her husband’s relatives and her father’s relatives, since Beit Shammai believes that whenever we cannot ascertain what happened, we will divide the money.

Beit Hillel rules that given the questionable situation, we leave the status quo. Thus, the ketuba remains with the husband’s family, and the property that she retains control over – the nikhsei melug – remains with the wife’s family.

When a couple gets married, a ketuba – the agreement that is signed by witnesses delineating the obligations that the husband has towards his wife – is written. When the Mishna on our daf refers to the ketuba, it means specifically the monetary responsibilities that the husband has accepted in this relationship, and, in particular, the amount of money that he guaranteed to her in the event of divorce or death.

It was traditional for the wife to also bring financial assets into the marriage, which were divided into two:

  • Nikhsei melug, which are possessions that remain the property of the woman. While the couple is married, the husband can derive benefit from this property. When the marriage ends, they remain hers, in whatever condition they may be.
  • Nikhsei tzon barzel, which are possessions that become the property of the husband. Their value is written into the ketuba, and in the event that their marriage comes to an end – if the husband dies or if they become divorced – the wife will be reimbursed for the full amount, either from the estate if he died or from him if they divorced.

According to Beit Hillel, in theory the nikhsei tzon barzel should also remain in their status quo situation. Whether they are seen as belonging to the husband or the wife is not clear, and is subject to a disagreement in the Gemara.

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