Ketubot 67

Just can't get enough.

In 1981, British new wave band Depeche Mode hit it big with their song “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Lead singer David Gahan noted 51 times in the song that he “just can’t get enough” of his unnamed sweetheart, suggesting that he’s insatiable when it comes to this relationship. But this begs the question: In general, what constitutes enough? And who decides?

We get some guidance on this topic on today’s daf, where a mishnah teaches that a female orphan is entitled to a dowry of at least 50 dinars. If there is more in the charity fund, then she gets more “according to her dignity.” While this phrase goes largely unexplored, the Gemara does discuss how to appropriately support a male orphan getting ready for marriage:

An orphan who has come to marry: Rent a house for him, arrange for him a bed and all his utensils, and thereafter marry him to a wife, as it is stated: “But you shall surely open your hand to him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his deficiency in that which is deficient for him” (Deuteronomy 15:8). 

Sufficient for his deficiency” — this is the house. “Which is deficient” — this is a bed and table. “For him” — this is a wife. 

From the language of the verse in Deuteronomy, the rabbis determine that an orphaned bridegroom must be provided with a house, a bed, a table and a wife — which is a whole lot for a community to supply. At the same time, ensuring that an indigent person has the ability to marry is a collective responsibility. Moreover, as Rabbi Jill Jacobs notes, for someone to start their own household, they have to have a house, elevating shelter to a top priority. This gives us a starting point to figure out what exactly is enough.

The daf goes on to lay out some broader principles for how we care for those experiencing poverty:

The sages taught: “Sufficient for his deficiency” — this teaches that you are commanded to support him, but you are not commanded to make him wealthy. However, the verse also states: “Which is deficient for him” — this includes even a horse upon which to ride and a servant to run in front of him. 

While we are not generally required to elevate the poor to the comfort of the wealthy, the Gemara does stipulate that for someone accustomed to a certain level of luxury, “deficient” can mean lacking a horse and a servant. In other words, it is the person in poverty who gets to decide what enough is. And if that requires providing them a fancy ride, that’s what they get. 

These directions are pretty clear. But the Talmud then shares an anecdote that muddies the waters a bit:

A certain person came before Rabbi Nehemya who said to him: “On what do you dine?”

He said to him: “On fatty meat and aged wine.” 

Rabbi Nehemya asked him: “Is it your wish to belittle yourself and partake of lentils with me?”

He partook with him of lentils, and he died.

Rabbi Nehemya said: “Woe to this one who was killed by Nehemya.” 

In this story, a poor man who had preivously been accustomed to dining on meat and wine comes to Rabbi Nehemya for charity. Despite his formerly wealthy status, Rabbi Nehemya offers him his own modest lentils and the man dies, for which Nehemya seems to hold himself accountable. 

But the Gemara goes on to ask: Was Rabbi Nehemya responsible for the death by failing to provide what his guest lacked, in keeping with the requirements outlined earlier on the daf? Or maybe it was the poor man who is at fault because he had previously indulged in a decadent diet that made him incapable of sustaining himself on more basic foods? While it seems extreme that someone might die if they can’t secure fancy food, it’s also awful to blame a poor person for the consequences of their own poverty. This seems to be where the Gemara lands too, since it follows this story with an even longer one that again emphasizes the right of those in poverty to determine what is sufficient. 

So what is enough? In short, it’s whatever the person in need says it is. And while even that might not be enough for David Gahan, it makes sense for the circumstances presented on our daf.

Read all of Ketubot 67 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 11th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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