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Ketubot 64

The rebellious wife.

Most of today’s daf is concerned with rebellious spouses. It began with a mishnah on yesterday’s page:

A woman who rebels against her husband: her ketubah is reduced by seven dinars each week. Rabbi Yehuda says: Seven half-dinars (terapa’ikin). 

Until when does he reduce (her ketubah)? Until the reductions are equivalent to her marriage contract. Rabbi Yosei says: He can continue to deduct so that if she will receive an inheritance from another source, he can collect the extra amount from her.

If a woman rebels against her husband, he can punish that rebellion by reducing the amount he owes her in the ketubah by a set amount each week (the exact amount is debated) until he no longer owes her anything. At this point, he can divorce her without owing her a cent. Rabbi Yosei allows him to continue imposing the fine even after he officially owes her nothing in the ketubah and garnish her inheritance from another source.

Lest you thought this rule applied only to women, the mishnah concludes:

And similarly, if a man rebels against his wife, three dinars a week are added to her marriage contract. Rabbi Yehuda says: Three terapa’ikin.

If a woman rebels against her husband, money is deducted from her ketubah. If a man rebels against his wife, money is added to her ketubah. In both cases, the financial arrangement is altered to punish the rebel.

What, you might ask, actually constitutes rebellion against a spouse? The mishnah doesn’t say, so the Gemara jumps in. Rabbi Huna thinks it is one who refuses to have sexual intercourse. Rabbi Yosei thinks it is one who refuses to engage in other marital responsibilities: household tasks in the case of the woman, and the obligation of financial support in the case of the man. Which is correct? The rabbis aren’t in complete agreement, but generally lean toward the former interpretation: withholding sex.

The rabbis of the Gemara also consider different procedures for dealing with rebellion. The mishnah prescribed a fine for the rebel. But in the Gemara, the rabbis consider other options including making public announcements that will shame a spouse into behaving properly, or simply talking privately with the rebellious spouse and attempting to reason with them.

All of it can lead one to wonder: Why would someone rebel against a partner? What if the spouse just doesn’t want to be married any longer? In the case of a woman, she may feel trapped in a bad marriage. (A man can initiate divorce proceedings if he is unhappy, but she does not have that option.)

It turns out that the rabbis considered this possibility too, and refined their definition of a rebellious wife:

What are the circumstances of a rebellious woman? Ameimar said: When she says: “I want to be married to him, but I want to cause him anguish.” However, if she said: “I am disgusted with him,” we do not compel her to remain with him. 

A rebellious wife, according to the Ameimar, is one who is purposely mistreating her partner but not seeking a divorce. For whatever reason, she prefers to stay in the marriage and torment her husband. It is this wife, and not the woman who simply wishes to leave, against whom we take corrective action. For the spouse who genuinely wishes to leave the marriage, says Ameimar, we let her go. 

The Gemara considers another possibility for the woman who wishes to leave:

Mar Zutra said: We do compel her (to stay with him).

Who would compel a spouse who is this unhappy to stay with her husband? Is Mar Zutra an unfeeling, punitive personality? Or is he a sunny optimist who believes reconciliation is possible in most circumstances? The Gemara doesn’t say.

Read all of Ketubot 64 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 8th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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