Ketubot 43

Financial independence.

While the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 might not be the best known piece of legislation in American history, its importance can’t be overstated. Prior to its passage, married women had limited financial independence from their husbands, and access to credit cards, loans, and the like was nearly impossible to secure for women acting on their own. 

The financial dependence of women on men was also true in talmudic times, and we find yet another example of that on today’s daf. The discussion centers on a mishnah on yesterday’s daf which states that the wages a woman has earned but not yet received prior to her father’s death belong to her brothers. The logic here is that these earnings were her father’s property and are now part of his estate, which passes to his sons — i.e., her brothers.

Rabbi Avina then asks Rav Sheshet what happens if her parents’ marriage contract requires the brothers to ongoingly sustain the orphaned daughter from their father’s estate. What happens to her wages? Do they go to her or to her brothers?

Rav Sheshet said to him: You already learned the answer to this dilemma from a mishnah (Ketubot 81a): A widow is sustained from the property of the orphans, and her earnings are theirs. 

Citing a mishnah we’ll encounter later in this tractate which teaches that the wages of a widow sustained by her dead husband’s estate belong to her (male) children, Rav Sheshet argues that likewise a woman sustained by her brothers must also cede her wages to them. But Rav Sheshet is challenged by Rav, among others:

Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: A daughter who is sustained by the brothers, her earnings belong to her. Rav Kahana said: What is the reason ? As it is written: “And you may make them an inheritance for your sons after you” (Leviticus 25:46).

It is inferred: them to your sons, and not your daughters to your sons. This verse teaches that a man does not bequeath a right over his daughter to his son. 

In other words, a father’s rights vis-à-vis his daughter don’t pass to his sons. If they’re obliged to sustain her because of the marriage contract, that’s one thing. But it’s separate and severable from her rights to her own wages. Ultimately, Rav’s view carries the day.

It’s difficult to draw a direct line between Rav and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Rav is not making a sweeping assertion here of a woman’s right to financial independence. At the same time, there are some obvious similarities between them — even if they’re separated by about 1,700 years.

Read all of Ketubot 43 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 18th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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