ט׳ בשבט ה׳תשע״ה (January 29, 2015)

Yevamot 117a-b: The Word Of The Wife

We have learned that a woman whose husband has disappeared can be trusted to say that he has died, and will allow her to marry – both because of a desire to ease the suffering of the widow and because they rely on her to ascertain that her husband is truly dead before she marries again. This applies to issues of marriage. But does it also apply to monetary issues connected with the husband’s death? Specifically, will she receive her ketuba, which guarantees her support in the event that her husband dies?

The Mishna teaches that Beit Hillel believe that the wife’s testimony is trustworthy only for issues of marriage, but not for monetary matters, while Beit Shammai accept her word for money matters, which they perceive as being less weighty than the possibility of adultery. In the ensuing give-and-take, the Mishna quotes Beit Shammai as arguing that their position can be deduced from a close reading of the ketuba – midrash ketuba – which says that in the event that she remarries, she will collect the ketuba. Convinced by this argument, Beit Hillel accepted Beit Shammai’s position.

The concept of midrash ketuba is not, by any means, a simple or obvious one. Can one really reach conclusions about issues of Jewish law from the language of a legal document?

Tosafot grapple with the question of whether Beit Hillel truly accepts the idea of midrash ketuba. In Massekhet Ketubot (53a), Tosafot suggest that Beit Hillel may only accept midrash ketuba when it is in favor of the husband, which can be supported by the argument that, because the husband is the one obligated to write the document, we assume his intention is to minimize his potential financial liability. The Talmud Yerushalmi brings a lengthy list of Sages, all of whom accept the idea of midrash ketuba, because it appears that the conclusion of our Mishna is that midrash ketuba is accepted by all, likely because of the realization that the text of the ketuba is largely established by the Sages themselves. Therefore it is logical to say that the language of the ketuba can be treated as though it were the language of the Mishna itself.

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