Ketubot 73

Ambiguously married.

Today’s daf continues a discussion of a mishnah that we encountered yesterday:

If he married her without specification and it was discovered that vows were incumbent upon her, she may be divorced without payment of her marriage contract. 

This case involves a husband who has placed a condition on his betrothal — in this case, that the woman has not taken a vow that restricts her behavior in a particular way — but he does not bring this up when the couple gets married. If, after the wedding, it is discovered that the woman is indeed under a vow, the marriage is dissolved and the husband is not required to pay out the marriage contract. 

On today’s daf, the Gemara, reading the text of the mishnah closely, suggests that:

She does not require her marriage contract, but she does require a bill of divorce. 

Since the mishnah specifically exempts the husband from paying the ketubah, but does not do the same for the writing of get, the Gemara infers that a document of divorce is still required. This leads to the following question: Since the husband is not required to pay the ketubah, one can infer that without a legally valid betrothal, the ensuing marriage isn’t valid either. But if there was no marriage, why would the husband still be required to issue a bill of divorce?

When facing a challenge of this nature, the Gemara typically finds a way to reinterpret the mishnah so the question goes away. And some of the conversation on today’s daf seeks to do just that. But Rava offers a different response, one that we do not see very often: 

Rava explains: The tanna is uncertain.

Rava here is suggesting that in our case, when a betrothal is nullified after the couple has married, the tanna (early rabbinic authority) whose opinion is reflected in the mishnah is unsure how this impacts the status of the marriage itself. So why obligate the husband to issue a get but free him from the obligation to pay the ketubah? Because:

Concerning monetary matters, one should be lenient. But concerning prohibitions one must be stringent.

Given that the tanna is not sure if the couple is actually married, he opts for leniency regarding the financial arrangement — leniency, at least, for the husband upon whom the financial obligation falls. But with regard to the divorce document, the tanna is stricter. How so?

Marriage creates an exclusive relationship between husband and wife. And if this couple were actually married, the woman would not be permitted to marry other men. If she were then to remarry without a get, her second marriage would be adulterous. And given the severity of adultery, the tanna requires the husband to issue a get, even though he is uncertain if it is actually necessary.

The mishnah is full of cases where the rabbis disagree. But even when multiple views are offered, each individual opinion typically has a clear position about the particulars of the situation that the Gemara is often tasked with teasing out. But as Rava sees it, in this case the tanna isn’t actually sure and so, at least superficially, appears to be making a ruling that is logically inconsistent. It is only after Rava explains this that the tanna’s solution makes sense. 

Read all of Ketubot 73 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 17th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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