ח׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ו (November 20, 2015)

Sota 25a-b: A Woman who Violates Jewish Custom

Our Gemara discusses the case of overet al dat – a woman who violates the precepts of Jewish custom, asking whether she needs to be warned by her husband if he plans to divorce her without paying her ketuba. Can he simply divorce her, given her behavior, or must he warn her in order to give her the opportunity to rectify her behavior? After some discussion of the matter, the Gemara concludes that she needs to be warned.

The case of overet al dat is discussed at length in Massekhet Ketubot (72b) where two different types of overet al dat are presented:

  1. Overet al dat Moshe
  2. Overet al dat yehudit

The case of overet al dat Moshe is one in which the woman transgresses a biblical law, and specifically, as explained by the rishonim, when her actions bring her husband to transgress as well. Examples include feeding him non-kosher food or engaging in relations with him when she is a and forbidden to him.

The case of overet al dat yehudit is where the woman engages in behaviors that are considered inappropriate for a Jewish married woman – for example, going out in public without a covering on her head.

The Gemara continues this discussion by asking whether a husband can choose to remain married to his wife even if she is overet al dat. Is the “Jewish code of ethics” objective, or does an individual husband have the ability to declare that these things do not disturb him? The conclusion of the Gemara is that overet al dat may be grounds for divorce, but a husband is not obligated to divorce his wife for these behaviors and can choose to remain married to her.

Although Rashi is viewed as limiting this discussion to the case of overet al dat yehudit (in his opinion, were she to have been overet al dat Moshe and causing her husband to transgress biblical laws, there would be no need to warn her that she needs to change her behaviors), it appears that most of the rishonim understand the Gemara as applying to the case of overet al dat Moshe, as well.

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