Ketubot 36

Insult to injury.

On today’s daf, the Gemara concludes its discussion of a beraita (early teaching) that lists categories of women who are not entitled to monetary compensation if they are raped or seduced. The final category listed is this one:

And one who leaves (her husband) due to a bad reputation has neither a fine nor for seduction. 

Given that only virgins are eligible to receive monetary compensation after being raped or seduced, it would appear that the beraita is referring to a woman whose “bad reputation” — i.e. she engaged in adulterous relations — came during the period while she was engaged. The beraita here is teaching that if she were subsequently raped, she would not be entitled to financial compensation. The beraita can’t be referring to a married woman, since a married woman would presumably not be a virgin and the issue of fines would be moot.

The Gemara challenges this reading:

One who leaves (her husband) due to a bad reputation is subject to stoning.

An engaged woman who engages in an adulterous relationship is subject to death by stoning. Needless to say, an adulteress would not be eligible to receive financial compensation if she were subsequently raped or seduced, so there is not reason for the beraita to teach us that. So this initial reading must be in error.

Rav Sheshet proposes an alternative:

One about whom a bad reputation emerged in her youth has neither a fine (for rape) nor for seduction.

In the initial reading, the verb “leaves” was understood to mean that she left her marriage. In this reading, the verb applies to her bad reputation going out into the community. Now we understand the beraita to be speaking about a woman with a reputation for promiscuity who is ineligible to compensation if she is raped or seduced because it is assumed she has been sexually active.

Based upon Rav Sheshet’s interpretation of the beraita, Rav Pappa draws the following inference:

Conclude from it with regard to this tainted document we do not collect with it.

Just as a woman with a questionable reputation cannot claim the fines due to her if she were raped or seduced, Rav Pappa infers that a document of questionable authenticity cannot be used to collect a debt.

At first glance, Rav Pappa is doing something the rabbis do all the time. He is making a legal analogy, taking something from one area of rabbinic law and applying it to another. That in and of itself is not problematic.

What is challenging is the analogy itself, in which Rav Pappa compares an allegedly promiscuous woman who then becomes a victim of sexual assault to a financial document whose authenticity is unclear. The former is a human being who has suffered socially and has been abused sexually; the latter an inanimate object. 

It has been difficult to read talmudic passages more concerned with how a woman’s ketubah price is diminished if she has been the victim of sexual assault than how the assault affects her. And it is difficult to read that, in the rabbinic system, women who have been sexually active are no longer eligible for financial compensation if they are sexually assaulted. And it is more difficult still to read that even being rumored to have been sexually active is, as Rav Sheshet’s reading suggests, enough to make a woman ineligible to collect. 

Rav Pappa’s statement only adds insult to injury.

Read all of Ketubot 36 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 11th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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