Talmud pages

Ketubot 58

“I will not be sustained and I will not work.”

Today, married couples have many different financial arrangements. Some sign prenuptial agreements that detail what is to happen to their shared property should they divorce, and some do not. Some combine property upon marriage, and some do not. Some maintain separate bank accounts and credit cards and tax filings, while others do these things jointly. In some marriages, one partner earns income, and in others both partners do. 

We might suppose that this is a modern phenomenon: Now that women have achieved some measure of equality with men, the one-size-fits-all financial model for marriage has been thrown out the window in exchange for a smorgasbord of possible arrangements.

But it turns out that marriages have had a variety of financial arrangements for a long time, as today’s daf demonstrates.

Rav Huna said that Rav said: A woman may say to her husband, “I will not be sustained and I will not work.

As we have seen, the rabbis understood that when a husband acquired a wife he was then obligated to support her. This was non-negotiable. In fact, yesterday’s daf explained that if a couple became engaged and the marriage was subsequently delayed by the groom, he was nonetheless responsible for feeding his bride from the time they should have gotten married onward. In exchange for this support, a woman’s earnings belonged to her husband.

In this teaching of Rav Huna, we learn that a wife can alter this standard arrangement: She can relieve her husband of the obligation to support her and, in turn, decide to keep her earnings for herself. The Gemara now explains the underlying logic of his view:

He holds that when the sages instituted (the various obligations in marriage) sustenance was the primary one, and her earnings belong to him in return, due to animosity. 

Two things are worth noting here. First, the quid pro quo arrangement of the husband providing sustenance in exchange for the wife’s earnings was meant to promote peace in the relationship. The husband would not resent his wife for being a financial burden, she would not resent him for taking her earnings. Second, according to the rabbis, the obligation of sustaining the wife is primary — more significant than her obligation to hand over earnings. This is why she can change the arrangement by refusing to hand over her earnings and waiving her right to sustenance, but he cannot.

The Gemara now raises an objection from a beraita that does not seem to match what Rav Huna taught: 

They instituted sustenance in exchange for her earnings.

This beraita suggests that the woman’s obligation to hand over her earnings is primary, and the husband’s obligation to sustain her is secondary. Since the woman is the husband’s acquisition, so is any money she makes. His obligation to feed her follows from that, but it is not the primary financial arrangement. This would imply that she cannot refuse to hand over her earnings.

Normally, a beraita, which is a tannaitic teaching, would be given more weight in the Gemara than a later amoraic teaching like the statement from Rav Huna. However, today the Gemara does not use this beraita to overrule Rav Huna. Instead, it does something surprising:

Say instead: They instituted her earnings in exchange for the husband’s responsibility for her sustenance.

Rather than reshaping Rav Huna’s later opinion to conform to the earlier (and generally more authoritative) opinion of the beraita, the Gemara  recasts the language of the beraita so that the husband’s obligation to feed his wife is primary, and her obligation to share earnings is secondary. This brings the beraita in line with the statement of Rav Huna.

The discussion does not end here and continues down today’s daf. Only on Ketubot 107b — about 50 pages from now — will we see an aside in the Gemara that rules in favor of Rav Huna’s position. There it is finally settled: A man should sustain his wife and she must hand over her earnings — unless she decides otherwise.

Read all of Ketubot 58 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 2, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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