ו׳ בשבט ה׳תשע״ו (January 16, 2016)

Gittin 35a-b: A Widow’s Oath

As we have learned, the impetus for many of the laws that appear in this perek is the idea of tikkun ha-olam, that the rule was established in order to encourage the proper workings of society. In our Mishna we learn that a widow who comes to collect the money guaranteed to her by her late husband in the ketuba, can only do so if she takes a shevu’a – an oath that she had not received any payment up until that point. As the Gemara points out, this is the normal rule for anyone who wants to collect money from the orphans. The Mishna teaches that at some point the courts refused to allow widows to takes oaths, and replaced them with a neder that the widow would accept upon herself not to partake of something that was important to her if she had already been paid the ketuba.

Why did the courts change their policy and refrain from allowing widows to take oaths? In answer to this question the Gemara tells a story about a widow who accepted the responsibility of watching a dinar – a coin – during a year of famine. She placed the dinar in her flour for safekeeping but accidentally baked it into a loaf of bread that she gave to a poor person. When the owner of the dinar came to collect it, she said, “My child should die of poison if I derived any benefit from the coin.” A short time later, one of her children died, leading to conclude that such oaths must be taken very seriously.

It appears that our Gemara works with assumption that the decision was made to abolish oath-taking by widows because of the severity of the punishment that was attached to it. The Talmud Yerushalmi offers a different approach, suggesting that these women did not take the oath seriously enough and that the Sages felt that it could not be relied upon. According to the Yerushalmi, women were more concerned with nedarim than with shavu’ot, so they switched to a more reliable method of verification.

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