Ketubot 107

Placing money on the horns of a deer.

Back in the ancient world, if a person went away on a trip, their family members were not able to reach them except by messenger. If they were out at sea, they were completely cut off.

What if a man went on a trip that took longer than expected, and his wife at home ran out of money? The mishnah explains what might happen:

In the case of a husband who went overseas, and someone arose and sustained his wife (in his absence), Hanan says: He has lost his money. 

Can someone who steps in to sustain the husband’s wife demand repayment when her husband returns? Hanan says no. Presumably, since the husband didn’t agree to this debt, he is not obligated to pay. In a world with cell phones and email, this can be sorted properly in the moment. But in the ancient world, the sustainer had to make a decision to support the wife without any input form her husband.

The mishnah now presents the other side:

The sons of high priests disagreed and said: The man swears to how much he spent, and he takes (that sum from the husband). Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas said that the halakhah is in accordance with their statement. 

It stands to reason that since the sustainer laid out money for this other man’s wife, he should be repaid for his monetary loss. After all, sustaining the woman was her husband’s responsibility.

This is the second mishnah in a row that has given us this pattern of actors. Back on Ketubot 104, Hanan asserted something in the mishnah, the sons of the high priests took exception, and Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas came to their defense. In the end, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai came to support Hanan. That mishnah was actually discussed in the context of this series when it showed up on Ketubot 88, where it was quoted in full. There we discovered that the Gemara, surprisingly, sided with the sons of the high priests.

In today’s mishnah, once again Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai sides with Hanan and not the sons of the high priests: 

Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai said: Hanan spoke well, as this man is like one who placed his money on the horn of a deer. 

I love the image that the sustainer’s money might as well have been placed on the horn of a deer who likely did what deer do and immediately bolted. A sustainer who heroically rises to support the wife of an absentee husband should not do so in the expectation that he will be repaid.

Is that a sound defeat for the sons of the high priests? Will the Gemara come to their aid once again? That’s to be discovered on the top of tomorrow’s daf. But it’s not looking good for the sons of the high priest — or the man who volunteers to sustain a lonely wife and then expects her husband to pay back every cent.

Read all of Ketubot 107 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on October 22nd, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

Gittin 81

Rumor has it.

Gittin 88

Forced divorce.

Kiddushin 5

Can you skip betrothal and still get married?