Talmudic pages

Ketubot 72

Who is defined as a loud woman?

For a few days, we have been discussing cases in which a man can be compelled to divorce his wife and pay her full ketubah. Today we turn to cases in which a woman’s misbehavior leads to the forfeiture of this payment. What kinds of misbehavior are we talking about? The mishnah on today’s daf states:

These may be divorced without (their ketubah): One who violates dat moshe or dat yehudit

Dat moshe, or the law of Moses, is an expression referring to biblical law, and the mishnah gives a number of examples of how a wife might trick her husband into violating it, for example: 

She feeds him food that has not been tithed

But then what is dat yehudit, a term that only appears in early rabbinic literature in this one mishnah and the Gemara’s discussion of it? The Hebrew words themselves are ambiguous. The word dat is a feminine noun, and can refer to custom or law. The word yehudit can mean three different things: Jewish (feminine here because it’s modifying dat), Jewish woman or Judith, the heroine of the Hanukkah story.

Given that Judith makes little sense in the context of this discussion (after all, beheading an oppressive Greek general isn’t listed as grounds for free divorce), yehudit likely has something to do with being Jewish or, more specifically, a Jewish woman. To understand the meaning of this phrase, let’s turn to the examples that the mishnah offers of a woman who violates dat yehudit:

She goes out of her house, and her head is uncovered; or she spins wool in the marketplace; or she speaks with every man.

Abba Shaul says: Also a woman who curses his parents in his presence. 

Rabbi Tarfon says: Also a loud woman. And who is defined as a loud woman? When she speaks inside her house and her neighbors hear her voice.

Examining this list, Dr. Miriam Peskowitz argues that “these acts of feminine transgression are more specifically, social.” (Spinning Fantasies, page 141) She notes that they largely involve married women being what the rabbis consider inappropriately conspicuous, either with their hair, their bodies or their voices. (Or, in the case of Abba Shaul, cursing her husband’s parents in his presence —  a ruling that seems to leave space for privately cursing one’s in-laws.)

Discussing this list, the Gemara will note that these prohibitions are not actually rooted in biblical law, nor are they obviously the product of rabbinic biblical interpretation. In the case of a woman covering her hair, the Gemara will raise the idea that it is rooted in the laws of the sotah in Numbers 5, but then reject that idea. 

So what is dat yehudit? Based on these examples, all we can say is that for the rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud, it refers to extra-biblical customs that controlled married women’s actions and speech. And, for the rabbis, violating these customs was as serious as secretly feeding one’s husband untithed food. 

Interestingly, in early modern halakhic literature, the term dat yehudit takes on a wider meaning, referring to the broad spectrum of modesty laws and customs that were meant to govern Jewish women, both married and single. (Rabbinic modesty laws also govern Jewish men, but in halakhic discussions of men’s modesty, the phrase dat yehudit is not used.) Over the course of time, “the customs of married Jewish women” have become the “law of the Jewish woman.”

Read all of Ketubot 72 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 16th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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