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Ketubot 71

What's love got to do with it?

The 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It tells the story of the meteoric rise of Anna Mae Bullock, better known as the R&B legend Tina Turner. The central plot follows her marriage to and eventual divorce from Ike Turner, a marriage punctuated by Ike’s physical and verbal abuse of his wife and co-star. Many abusive relationships are indeed characterized by physical violence, but domestic violence comes in many forms, including one explored on today’s daf: social isolation. 

Today’s daf is discussing which kinds of vows are grounds for a rabbinic court to compel a man to divorce his wife and give her her entire ketubah payment – clear signs that the man has done something wrong within the marriage. 

As part of this discussion, the mishnah on today’s daf states:  

One who vows his wife will not to go to her father’s house when her father is with her in the city: One month, he may stay married to her. Two, he must divorce her and give her the marriage contract.

In a case where her father lives nearby, a vow of separation for one month might be a reasonable temporary break from extended family. After all, the in-law relationship can be challenging. But forcing a break of more than a month, according to the mishnah, is a form of social isolation that is inappropriate and grounds for compelled divorce. (To be clear, the Gemara is going to clarify that all of this assumes that the woman likes her family – if she doesn’t, then the husband is actually permitted to make such a vow for the period of two of the three pilgrimage festivals.)

The mishnah then lists other forms of social isolation that are grounds for divorce:

One who vows his wife will not go to a house of mourning, or to a house of feasting, must divorce her and give her the marriage contract because he is locking a door in front of her. And if he claimed he did so due to something else, he is permitted.

Going to comfort mourners and rejoicing with those celebrating are key ways of being in community. They are mitzvot that also create and perpetuate communal ties and obligations. Being present with people at major moments in the human lifecycle is a way of showing that we care, and affirming the shared experience of being human. 

Modern readers will likely bristle to hear the mishnah permit a husband to ban his wife from a particular funeral or wedding because of a specific concern, but one can imagine legitimate concerns in some cases (the outbreak of a plague, for instance). The mishnah does insist that broader social isolation from the events of our communities is unacceptable. The mishnah’s expression — he is locking a door in front her — paints a physical picture of her isolation. 

As many of us know intuitively and psychological research confirms, being excluded from family visits and communal events has real personal and social stakes. One who is isolated is less likely to seek help. And indeed, the Gemara is going to note on tomorrow’s daf that forbidding one’s wife to do these things severs not only her obligation to the community but the community’s obligation to her:

In the future she will die, and no person will eulogize her. And some say: No person will value her.

Social isolation is a form of violence that breaks the social contract, undermining what a healthy marriage should be. Domestic violence comes in many forms, all of which are unacceptable. And so the rabbis can compel the abusive partner to divorce his wife, while leaving her with the necessary financial support to rebuild her life. What’s love got to do with it? According to the rabbis, absolutely nothing. 

For resources and support related to domestic violence in the United States, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1800-799-SAFE or www.thehotline.org

Read all of Ketubot 71 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 15th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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