Talmud pages

Ketubot 101

The marriage that wasn't.

A mishnah at the bottom of yesterday’s page lists cases in which a woman leaves a marriage without her ketubah payment. Among them are a girl whose father has died (an orphan, by rabbinic standards),  who was married off, either by her mother or brother, and has since reached the age of refusal. When she opts out of the marriage arranged for her as a child (a marriage which, properly, has not yet been consummated), the mishnah declares, she leaves without her ketubah payment. But it doesn’t say why.

In the Gemara, Rav says that an orphan who has grown up and refused her match must be divorced with get, but Shmuel disagrees because he believes any woman who receives a get is entitled to the payment of her ketubah. So why, according to Shmuel, isn’t this child bride, now grown, entitled to her ketubah? He explains:

One who refuses is not disqualified from the brothers (of her husband). And she is not disqualified from marrying a member of the priesthood.

When this young woman grows up and refuses her marriage, she still has the option, says Shmuel, of marrying one of his brothers. Ordinarily, the marriage to the brother of a former husband is forbidden. Likewise, a divorced woman cannot marry a priest. What Shmuel is saying is that once she refuses this match, she doesn’t have the status of a divorced woman. Rather, it’s as if the marriage never happened. This is why she doesn’t receive a ketubah payment. 

All of this, today’s page hastens to point out, is a familiar discussion — we learned about it back on Yevamot 108. Now the Gemara mentions that this Amoraic (late rabbinic) debate is parallel to one found among Tannaitic (early rabbinic) rabbis, Eliezer and Yehoshua.

Rabbi Eliezer says: The act of marriage by a minor girl is nothing, and her husband is not entitled to any lost article that she finds, and not to her earnings, and he is not able to annul her vows, and he does not inherit from her, nor does he become impure for her if he is a priest. 

According to Rabbi Eliezer, a girl with no father who has been married off by her mother or brother has not, in fact, been married at all. But Rabbi Yehoshua disagrees: 

The principle is that her legal status is that of his wife in every sense, except for the fact that she leaves this union through refusal.

For Rabbi Yehoshua, it is a real marriage, even if she can dissolve it herself by refusing her husband when she comes of age. 

It’s tempting to group these rabbis into two camps: the “it was a real marriage” camp and the “it wasn’t a real marriage” camp. But the Gemara rejects this logic, stating explicitly that everyone agrees it wasn’t a full legal marriage. Where they disagree is about what legal obligations remain between the two partners. All, however, are in agreement that he does not owe her any money, and she gets to move on as if she had never been married. I can imagine that for a woman in this situation, that sounded like a good deal.

Read all of Ketubot 101 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on October 16th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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Laws of marriage contracts and a whole lot more.

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