Talmudic pages

Ketubot 42

Seeking female empowerment in dark corners.

The mishnah on the bottom of daf 41b and top of 42a begins a new chapter, though the topic — payments due after a rape or seduction — continues from previous pages. The Gemara even wonders if our mishnah is redundant:

What is the mishnah teaching us? We already learned this in a previous mishnah (Ketubot 39a): “The seducer pays three types of indemnity and the rapist pays four. The seducer pays compensation for his victim’s humiliation and degradation and for the fine the Torah imposes on a seducer. A rapist adds an additional payment, as he pays compensation for the pain she suffered.” It is necessary for the mishnah to teach that the money is given to her father.

Our mishnah, and our daf, emphasizes the fact that when the woman in question was raped or seduced as young maiden (na’arah) her father receives the payment. If the virginity of a daughter living in his household is damaged, it is the father who stands to lose money, either in the form of the reduced value of the bride price or more generally in his struggle to attract suitors (meaning she will continue to eat at his table longer). 

Today’s mishnah does more than that: It presents a more intricate web of relationships between the monetary rights of the daughter, her father and the father’s inheritors (i.e. her brothers) — and these rights change as the family ages. Here’s a piece of it:

However, if she did not manage to stand in judgment before her father died (and she was subsequently awarded the money) the compensation belongs to her. If she stood trial before she reached majority, the payments belong to her father, and if the father died, they belong to her brothers (who inherit the estate). If she did not manage to stand in judgment before she reached majority, the money belongs to her. 

According to the anonymous opinion in the mishnah, the father receives the money if the court decision takes place before the girl reaches the age of majority. But if the woman was a legal adult (twelve and a half), she is awarded the damages payment. 

The rabbinic creation of a category of independent mature women (bogeret), who own their own property and collect their own damages, is actually quite an innovation within the patriarchal system inherited from the Bible, which assumes that the woman moves directly from her father’s domain to husband’s with no independent standing. 

In the mishnah, Rabbi Shimon disagrees with his colleagues and adds yet another case in which the woman holds onto her own damages payment: 

Rabbi Shimon says: Even if she stood trial in her father’s lifetime but did not manage to collect the payments before the father died, it belongs to her (and not her brothers).

Rabbi Shimon says the status of the girl on the date of collection, not the court date, decides whether it is the father or the daughter who is paid the money.

On our daf this discussion leads to a much larger question: Why is the father due the money in the first place? Maybe the father receives the fine because he is entitled to all of his daughters “earnings” when she is minor. Or perhaps he is entitled to the money because he essentially owned her virginity and so he was the victim of the crime. 

According to the mishnah’s anonymous opinion that the court date determines the recipient of the payment, it seems that as soon as the court rules, the money belongs to the father (and his inheritors) because the crime was committed against him and the fine belongs to him. The opinion of Rabbi Shimon, that the money transfers to the father only when the actual collection occurs, contains a hidden statement of female empowerment: The woman was the victim, and she was awarded the fine according to the court ruling, even if she was a minor. If she is still a minor when the tangible money is paid, then her father has rights to the money, only because he has rights to all her earnings, not because he was the prime victim of the loss of virginity.  

Read all of Ketubot 42 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 17th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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