ג׳ בסיון ה׳תשע״ה (May 21, 2015)

Ketubot 108a-b: He Stretched His Leg Towards Him

The last Mishna on our discusses a case in which a man promised a dowry to his son-in-law, but then cannot pay. In such a case we find that the Tanna Kamma and Admon disagree. According to the Tanna Kamma, the wife will remain in limbo forever, while according to Admon – whose opinion is accepted as the – the wife may argue that she is not responsible for her father’s financial issues and demand that her husband either accept her or divorce her.

The term that the Mishna uses to describe the father’s financial plight is pashat lo et ha-regel. This expression, which is the common modern Hebrew term for someone who is bankrupt, literally means “he stretched his leg toward him.” There is some discussion among the commentaries in an attempt to explain the etymology of this phrase.

Rashi offers two suggestions. One approach is that this indicates disparagement, and that it is as though he is offering him the bottom of his shoe and saying, “take the mud off the sole of my foot, as I will not give you anymore.” The other suggestion is that it means “even if you hang me from a tree by my foot I cannot give you anything [because I have nothing to give].”

Other possibilities include that it is a statement that, because he has no money, all the man has to offer is one of his limbs. The explanation that many rishonim raise – and that the Ritva presents as the best explanation – is that it means that the father upped and left and is no longer around to make good on his debts. The Meiri offers a variation on this theme by suggesting that it means that the father passed away and therefore cannot pay.

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