Ketubot 110

Immigration or divorce.

Although travel was far more dangerous and the available modes of transportation were far less sophisticated, family relocation was part of the rabbinic world. And, while as head of household, a husband had decision making power to determine where his family would live, the rabbis of the Mishnah placed some limitations on him. 

For example, a mishnah on today’s daf divides the land of Israel into three geographic regions — the Galilee (in the north), Judea (in the south), and Transjordan (east of the Jordan river) — and stipulates that:

If a man marries a woman in one of these regions he may not remove her from one town to another town, or from one city to another city, in another of these regions. However, in the same region one may remove her from one town to another town or from one city to another city.

By preventing her husband from moving her to a different region, the rabbis offered a wife some security that she won’t be forced to move far from where she and her husband lived right after marrying. If she married in proximity to her father’s household, this ensures that she will have access to her childhood home and the ability to visit her family.

In addition, the mishnah requires a husband to maintain his family’s “style of living” should he relocate them within their region. If they are city folk, he can relocate them to a city; if they are country folk he cannot — and vice versa. This protects a woman and her children from the discomfort that can accompany moving to a strange place.

These rules are similar to others we have seen in Tractate Ketubot. They establish the husband as prime decider and place limits on him in order to provide protection and security for his wife.

A second mishnah on our daf continues the discussion of relocation, but presents a case in which the power dynamic shifts in a dramatic way:

All may force their family to ascend to the land of Israel, but none can remove others. Likewise, all may force their family to ascend to Jerusalem, and none can remove them. This applies to both men and women.

In perhaps some of the most egalitarian legislation we have seen to date, this mishnah gives both the husband and the wife the power to decide that their household is moving to Israel or, if they already live in Israel, to Jerusalem. This is because such a move is a spiritual ascent, as the verb used then (as now) — aliyah — implies. A corollary is that no one has the power to compel their family to move in the other direction.

This mishnah suggests that living in Israel was, for the rabbis, a value that outweighed even marriage. A beraita that follows demonstrates how serious the rabbis were about this:

If the husband says that he wishes to immigrate to the land of Israel, and his wife says that she does not wish to ascend, one forces her to ascend. And if she will not do so, as she resists all attempts to force her to make the move, she is divorced without receiving her ketubah.

If she says that she wishes to ascend to the land of Israel and he says that he does not wish to ascend, one forces him to ascend. And if he does not wish to immigrate, he must divorce her and give her the marriage contract.

If a husband wishes to move to Israel and his wife refuses, not only can he divorce her, but he is exempt from paying her the value of her ketubah. And, if she wishes to make aliyah and he refuses, he is compelled to divorce her and pay her the full value of her ketubah. The second half of this beraita applies the same pressures on a family in reverse: If a husband wants to leave Israel and his wife does not, he is forced to divorce her and pay the ketubah, whereas if she wants to leave she can do so, but as a divorcee who has no right to her ketubah payment.

Throughout Tractate Ketubot we have seen, in law and narrative, how the rabbis held marriage agreements as sacred and inviolate. They governed the social structure and the financial relationship between husband and wife. Today we learn that although marriage is important to the rabbis, it is not as important as the obligation to live in Israel — so much so that women are granted the power to overrule their husbands and move their families to Israel. The rabbis are so committed to this that they use the economic leverage of the ketubah to support their right to do so.

Read all of Ketubot 110 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on October 24th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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