Talmud pages

Ketubot 41

Making the seducer pay.

Two days ago, we learned that one who seduces a virgin pays not only for her devaluation as a bride (kanas), but also for humiliation (boshet) and degradation (pagam). One who forces himself on a virgin pays an additional fourth penalty for her pain. We saw the rabbis focus on the penalty that applies only to rape as they attempted to understand the physical pain involved in both consensual sex and sexual assault.

Today, the rabbis have changed their focus to the case of seduction — meaning the woman was a willing partner in the encounter. And while the mishnah on Ketubot 39 taught that a seducer pays the kanas, the fine, it turns out that in some circumstances he may not be required to do so. Today’s mishnah:

One who says: “I seduced the daughter of so-and-so,” pays for humiliation (boshet) and degradation (pagam) based on his own admission, but does not pay the fine (kanas). 

One who says: “I stole,” pays the value of the stolen goods, based on his own admission, but does not pay the double payment … 

This is the principle: Anyone who pays more than what he damaged, the payments are fines and therefore he does not pay based on his own admission.

The rabbinic system is more lenient toward those who confess their crimes. When a person admits to having stolen something, they need only replace what they stole and do not have to pay double (as biblical law prescribes, e.g. Exodus 22:7). Only when they are proven a thief by others do the punitive payments apply. Likewise, a man who seduces a woman does not have to pay the kanas if he admits what he did.

According to this mishnah, though, he is still required to pay compensation for humiliation and degradation. This is curious since, in this case, we can truly say that two decided to tango. Why is he held liable, then, for her humiliation and degradation?

The answer seems to be that even though the sex was consensual, she is already paying — in the way people speak of her and in her change in status. And perhaps, too, the rabbis understand something that is once again part of our cultural conversation: Even in cases of implied or explicit consent, there is often a power imbalance that leaves women vulnerable. Even in our day, she, much more than he, is apt to be marked and defined by her sexual history. Understanding this, even in the case of consensual sex, the rabbis prescribed that she be compensated for the fact that what happened will change her reputation and her future.

The requirement of paying a kanas is mandated by the Torah itself (Exodus 22:15–16). The requirement to pay for humiliation  and degradation is rabbinic. By stepping in to add this protection for the woman, the rabbis made it more difficult for a man to take advantage with no financial consequence. Neither successfully seducing her, nor admitting what he did, can absolve him of the obligation to make it up to her in this way. 

While I find these texts and topics challenging, I find it heartening that the rabbis saw a disparity and gross disadvantage to women in the scenario depicted here — and that they held men accountable and financially responsible. Sometimes it is easy to be frustrated with what can seem like extraneous rabbinic laws that restrict our everyday life. In this case, I’ll admit, I could not be more grateful for their interference. 

Read all of Ketubot 41 on Sefaria.

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

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