Ketubot 57

Broken telephone.

Today’s daf kind of feels like it has a cast of thousands. It’s so convoluted and has so many people involved that the rabbis themselves can’t even quite agree on what they’re arguing about. Rashi says it’s a continuation of a debate between Rabbi Yosei and Rabbi Yehudah from the previous page about a wife’s verbal waiver of her payment rights, while the Rashba claims the argument is over the legitimacy of written receipts for funds not actually paid as a way to offset a husband’s obligations as laid out in the mishnah on Ketubot 54.

In short, we know the issue has to do with whether and how a woman can agree to reduce the amount she receives from her marriage contract and the deadline for making that change. Beyond that, it’s a bit of a mess.

As if this weren’t sufficiently complicated, on today’s daf we find two versions of a teaching ultimately ascribed to bar Kappara. Here’s the first: 

When Rav Dimi came (from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia), he said that Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi said that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said in the name of bar Kappara: This dispute (refers only) to the beginning of the process. But with the end, all agree that she cannot waive (her rights by verbal confirmation alone). And Rabbi Yohanan said: Both in this case and in that case there is a dispute.

Let’s first acknowledge that the chain of reception here is stretched a bit thin: Rav Dimi is relating a holding he heard thirdhand. Regardless, in Rav Dimi’s version of the teaching, bar Kappara agrees with Rashi that the dispute between Rabbi Yosei and Rabbi Yehudah concerns whether a woman can make a verbal stipulation to reduce the amount she’s owed. According to Rav Dimi, they disagree only about whether a verbal declaration is valid at “the beginning of the process.” (More on what this means in a minute.) But at the end, everyone agrees a verbal waiver is illegitimate. 

In the second version, we find a different tradition about what bar Kappara said:

When Ravin came (from Eretz Yisrael), he reported: Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi said that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said in the name of bar Kappara: This dispute (is referring only to) the end of the process. But to the beginning, all agree that she can waive. And Rabbi Yohanan said: Both in this case and in that case there is a dispute. 

In Ravin’s version, we find just the opposite from what Rav Dimi related — namely, that according to bar Kappara, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yosei are arguing about whether a verbal waiver suffices at the end of the process. At the beginning, all agree that a verbal waiver is fine. In both cases, the Gemara cites Rabbi Yohanan asserting that there is a dispute at the beginning and the ending. And if that’s not enough, the rabbis also disagree on what the beginning and the ending is referring to. Is it the wedding ceremony or intercourse?

Confused yet? Completely understandable.

Ultimately, Rav Pappa steps in to help us disentangle some of these threads:

What is the end, which Ravin said? End of the wedding. And what is the beginning, which Rav Dimi said? It is (the beginning of the time designated for) intercourse. 

In other words, Rav Dimi and Ravin aren’t in disagreement with each other, they’re just saying it differently. The end of the wedding ceremony and the beginning of the time that a couple are permitted to have sex are the same thing. And let’s give credit where credit is due: Rav Pappa is doing his best to harmonize two potentially discordant opinions. 

Today’s daf has more players and as much confusion as a game of Whisper Down the Lane (or Broken Telephone, depending on where you’re from). But Rav Pappa shows us not only that it’s possible to bring different stances into alignment with each other, but that it’s often a better approach than trying to suss out who said what to whom about what across generations.

Read all of Ketubot 57 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 1st, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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