Ketubot 49

Feeding daughters.

On today’s daf, we learn in a mishnah that:

A father is not obligated to provide his daughter’s sustenance.

As we’ve seen throughout this tractate, women were financially dependent on men, which is why Ketubot deals at length with the financial obligations of a man toward his wife. So this statement that a father is not obligated to provide for his daughter is, at the very least, a curious one. Which perhaps explains why the Gemara goes in search of the rabbi whose opinion the mishnah is expressing. Along the way, we encounter a beraita (early rabbinic opinion) featuring two opinions suggesting that a father does in fact have an obligation of care toward his daughter. 

The first comes from Rabbi Meir:

It is a mitzvah to sustain daughters, and by an a fortiori inference to sons, who are engaged in Torah.

Rabbi Meir posits that it is in fact a mitzvah to sustain one’s daughters. And not only that, if a father must sustain his daughters, who in talmudic times did not study Torah, it must also be a mitzvah to sustain sons who do study Torah. 

The second comes from Rabbi Yehuda:

It is a mitzvah to sustain sons, and by an a fortiori inference with regard to daughters, due to dishonor. 

Rabbi Yehuda’s opinion follows a similar logic but begins with the opposite assumption. The mitzvah is to feed one’s sons, and if that’s the case, all the more so is one obligated to feed one’s daughter. The rationale there is that if a son must be fed even though he presumably would not suffer dishonor if he had to beg for food, then surely one must feed a daughter who would be dishonored by having to do so.

Though they start from different positions, both Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda conclude that fathers are obliged to feed their children. And both appear to contradict the mishnah.

Or perhaps not. The Gemara suggests that there is no obligation for a father to feed his children, but it is a mitzvahto do so anyway. This is a strange statement for the Gemara to make. After all, a mitzvah is, by definition, a religious obligation. The very word itself means commandment. So why would the Gemara make such a statement? 

Perhaps it is uncomfortable with the notion that Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda contradict the mishnah. Or maybe the Gemara’s discomfort is with the mishnah itself. In the latter case, is there anything later sages can do about it? Turns out, there is. 

Rabbi Ile’a said that Reish Lakish said in the name of Rabbi Yehuda bar Hanina: In Usha the sages instituted that a man should sustain his sons and daughters when they are minors.

While the mishnah may not require a father to sustain his daughters, the rabbinic court in Usha enacted a law requiring him to do so anyway. And what if a father refuses? The Gemara reports a story in which a complaint was raised before Rav Hisda about a man who did precisely that. 

He would say to them: Turn over a mortar for him in public and let him stand up and say: The raven wants (to care) for its children, and yet this man does not want (to support) his children?

Rav Hisda took to the bully pulpit to pressure a father to support his children, forcing the man to stand up in public and make a proclamation to the effect that if even wild animals provide for their children, humans should do so as well. 

It’s interesting that the Gemara here does not mention a mishnah we will encounter in three days, which references a standard phrase that was included in a marriage contract:

Any female children that you will have from me will sit in my house and will be sustained by my property until they are married.

Not only that, but that mishnah goes on to explain that if this phrase is left out of the contract, it is still considered to be a part of the marriage agreement because it is considered to be a stipulation of the court. So while the mishnah on today’s daf may not think that there a father is obliged to feed his daughters, the rabbis made sure that he did.

Read all of Ketubot 49 on Sefaria.

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

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