Talmud

Ketubot 56

Next-level intimacy.

The rabbis have been exploring the idea that a husband might grant his bride a larger-than-standard ketubah payment. The majority of sages side with Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya who says, in a mishnah, that this extension of the marriage contract is allowed, but only once the couple is married. If they are simply betrothed when he dies or divorces her, then she receives the standard payment. Those who agree with Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya presume that it was the husband’s intention to pay only the minimum prior to the huppah.

If the ketubah has already been signed, though, what actually allows for the husband to increase the standard amount of the ketubah? What changes on the wedding night? The rabbis’ answer is that his affection for her has increased. They imagine the husband would only agree to give his bride more money than her marriage contract stipulated once there was a deeper sense of intimacy between them. They attempt to pinpoint the moment at which this will happen.

Ravin asks: What is the halakhah with regard to a woman who entered the huppah and is then widowed or divorced without having had sexual intercourse? Does the affection manifest in the huppah effect (the marriage)? Or, is it the affection manifest in intercourse that effects (the marriage)?

Essentially, Ravin is asking if the intimacy that effects the marriage and entitles her to the extra large ketubah payout is generated under the huppah — or under the sheets. The Gemara brings a beraita that might help us figure out the answer.

Come and hear that Rav Yosef taught: He wrote the additional sum in the marriage contract for her only on account of the affection characteristic of the first night of the marriage.

This beraita doesn’t say that either the huppahor the sex effects the marriage — it simply says “the first night.” So what does that mean? The Gemara offer a plausible interpretation:

Granted, if you say that the affection manifest in the huppah effects (the marriage), this is why it says the affection characteristic of the first night. But if you say that the affection manifest in the intercourse effects the marriage, is there intercourse only on the first night and then from this point forward there is none?

What is special about the first night, argues the Gemara, is not the sex. Presumably, the couple will engage in sexual intimacy on many nights throughout their marriage. But they will only stand under the huppah once, and so this is the once-in-a-lifetime moment that forges a new level of intimacy between them.

The Gemara immediately pokes a hole in this argument. After all, in the beraita Rav Yosef said “night” — and surely a huppah can take place during the day? Therefore, it must be intercourse — largely a nighttime activity — that effects the marriage. 

There were, it turns out, exceptions to the sex at night rule:

Rava says that if it was in a dark house it is permitted. 

Most homes had only one room and many people living within, so privacy was difficult to come by — especially during the day. This is why the rabbis considered sex a nighttime activity. Rava says daytime sex can happen, but only if the house is dark. The upshot here is that sex (unlike the huppah) is generally a nighttime activity and must be what Rav Yosef was talking about in the beraita.

Enter Rav Ashi, who poses another question that pinpoints a problem with this logic:

Rav Ashi asks: If the bride entered the huppah and began menstruating, what is the halakhah? If you say that the affection manifest in the wedding effects the marriage, does this refer specifically to a wedding in which the couple is fit to engage in intercourse, which involves greater affection, and a wedding in which the couple is not fit to engage in intercourse does not effect the marriage? Or, perhaps it is not different.

What if an unexpected visit from Aunt Flo keeps the newlywed couple from engaging in sex during the first night of their marriage? Are they not really married? Is she not entitled to the extra large ketubah payout if her new husband suddenly dies? The Gemara responds:

Teyku —  it remains unresolved.

In this sugya, the rabbis seem to have landed on the idea that sex, more than the huppah, is what truly draws the couple closer to one another. But they are unwilling to say that a couple who weds and must delay sex are not truly married. Perhaps, then, there is more than one path to this kind of togetherness. (And perhaps, I might venture to add, the notion of legislating the moment of intimacy is a touch unreasonable.) Whether the wedding night enchantment comes from the glow of a huppah surrounded by family and friends, or the excitement of the first time being intimate together, all of this enchantment might lead a husband to proclaim that the sum he promised his wife in her marriage contract should be increased. And either way, by morning, her payment should be secure. Apparently, an enchanting wedding night can be worth a lot!

Read all of Ketubot 56 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 31st, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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