Talmud pages

Ketubot 74

What condition his condition is in.

Delegating tasks can be a bit tricky. You have to have a good deal of confidence in the person you’re delegating the task to, since holding them accountable can sometimes require more effort than if you just did the task yourself. Complicating things further is when those obligations you’ve delegated to someone are conditional, like if you’ve tasked your roommate to pick up some rye bread at the supermarket, but only if it’s less than $5.00.  

Today’s daf takes these two things — delegation and conditionality — and weaves them together.

The Gemara takes as its starting point a story related in Chapter 32 of Numbers. Just before the Israelites cross into the promised land, the tribes of Reuben and Gad ask if they can stay behind and settle in Gilead. Concerned that they’re shirking their duty to assist the rest of the tribes in conquering the land, Moses conditions his approval on the Reubenites and Gadites agreeing to serve as the vanguard for the upcoming conquest. Conscious of the fact that he won’t enter the land himself, Moses delegates his responsibilities under this deal to his deputies, Elazar and Joshua.

From this story, the Gemara derives several laws about how contractual conditions can be imposed. 

A condition that can be fulfilled by means of an agent as there (in the story of Moses), such a condition is a valid condition. (A condition) that cannot be fulfilled by means of an agent as was done there is not a valid condition. 

In other words, if you want to put a condition in your agreement, that condition is valid only if it could be delegated to someone else to act as your agent. If you can’t delegate it, it’s not legitimate, and the contract comes into force without it. 

Here’s where the Gemara’s discussion returns to the issue the rabbis have been examining for several pages now — namely, conditions attached to betrothal and marriage. The Gemara teaches:

But sexual intercourse cannot be fulfilled by means of an agent as there (in the story of Moses), and yet it is (a valid) condition.

The rabbis have been discussing what happens when the conditions attached to betrothal or marriage are later found to have not been met. The underlying assumption has been that it’s legitimate to attach such conditions to a marital agreement. But now we find a teaching that suggests this shouldn’t be allowed because at least part of the man’s responsibilities under marital contracts — i.e., sex — cannot be delegated to another person.

The Gemara answers: There (in the case of betrothal, there is a special reason for this law) because the ways of becoming betrothed are juxtaposed to each other. 

The Gemara notes that there are three methods of betrothal: through an object that has value (including money), through a written instrument (like a ketubah), or through sexual intercourse.  Because the first two can be delegated, the legitimacy of attaching conditions holds for all of them — including sexual intercourse, even if delegation of that act would not be permitted.

All of this is definitely more consequential than grocery shopping, but the same principles apply and allow us to navigate how we set conditions and how we delegate.

Read all of Ketubot 74 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 18th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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