ט״ז בשבט ה׳תשע״ה (February 5, 2015)

Ketubot 3a-b: Cancelling a Wedding Due to Danger

We have learned that of the Mishna established Wednesday as the appropriate day of the week for the wedding of a virgin to take place. The Gemara on our daf brings a baraita that teaches that already in Mishnaic times, this practice ended. According to the baraita, from the time of sakana – danger – people began to make weddings on Tuesdays, with the tacit approval of the Sages.

What danger existed that changed the traditional day of marriage?

The Gemara rejects the possibility that there was a threat of death for those who married on Wednesdays, and explains that there was a governmental decree that stated: “Betula ha-niset be-yom ha-revi’i, tiba’el la-hegmon tehilah – any virgin marrying on Wednesdays will first be deflowered by the prefect.”

Edicts like this one, whose purpose is to emphasize the total control that the local ruler has over his subjects, were commonplace in the ancient world. Even during medieval times, among the rights that the feudal lord had over his serfs was jus primae noctis, “right of the first night.” Several sources – whose reliability is subject to question – indicate that these types of edicts existed in the period prior to the Hasmonean revolution.

In answer to the Gemara’s question that such a situation should have brought the Sages to rescind the original rule of Wednesday weddings, the Gemara retorts, “Gezeira avidah de-batlah, ve-takanta de-rabbanan mi-kamei gezeira lo akrinan – the edict will likely be rescinded, and we do not want to abolish a Rabbinic ordinance because of such an edict.” Interestingly, the word gezeira – an edict – was inserted by the censor, replacing the term shemada. In Rabbinic sources, the word shemad refers generally to edicts or punishments whose purpose is to force Jews to renounce their religion. The ge’onim explain its etymology as stemming from the Aramaic “to wash” or “to immerse” and a meshumad – an apostate – is a Jew who was baptized. This term was viewed as being derogatory (the term also refers to a chamber pot), and was therefore replaced by the censors.

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