As the eighth chapter of Ketubot comes to a close, the Gemara is discussing a line from a mishnah that we encountered on Ketubot 80b, which bars a man from saying the following to his wife:
“Your marriage contract is placed on the table. Rather, all his property is mortgaged for her marriage contract.“
This line has been understood to mean that a husband can’t designate a particular piece of property as the one that will be used to pay his wife’s ketubah. Instead, the entirety of his estate serves as collateral and can be sold, if needed, to pay the wife in case of death or divorce. If this were not the case, the woman might lose out on the full value of her ketubah if a particular piece of property loses value.
The phrase “your marriage contract is placed on the table” is an interesting one. In order to literally be placed on the table, the funds would have to be in a portable form. But the Talmud generally understands that ketubah funds are guaranteed with property that could be sold if needed to pay the woman what she is owed. Land, of course, can’t be placed on a table. So how did this particular phrasing come about?
On today’s daf, we encounter a teaching explaining that initially there was no collateral for a ketubah — and therefore no question about how it could be placed on a table. Husbands were simply expected to have the value of the ketubah available in cash if required. But that created a problem: Without a guarantee that the husband would have enough money to pay, women refused to get married. As a result:
(Men) would grow old and would not marry women.
In response, a change was made and the funds to guarantee a ketubah payment were held by the woman’s father. This freed the woman from any concern that she would be left without support if they were widowed or divorced. But this created its own problem:
When he was angry (at his wife, he would) say to her: Go to your marriage contract.
With the wife’s father holding her cash, a husband in a moment of anger could divorce his wife, sending her back to her father’s home to collect the money, which was readily available. While her money was safeguarded, her marriage was subject to the whims of her husband.
Again, the rabbis stepped in and instituted a change. Now, the money would be held for safekeeping in the husband’s house. But this change was no better than the first, as husbands could still send away their wives, ketubah in hand, on a moment’s notice. And so, yet another change was made:
Shimon ben Shatah came and instituted that he should write to her: All my property is a guarantee for your marriage contract.
Shimon ben Shatah’s solution goes further than the previous ones to provide financial protection for a woman’s ketubah — apparently enough for women to agree to marry. And it lives on in the standard ketubah text today which specifically stipulates that a husband’s financial responsibilities can be paid from any piece of his property that he currently owns or will come to own in the future. Kudos to the women of his day, who seem to have applied social pressure to advocate for themselves. And kudos to Simon ben Shetach for responding to them in a way that provided additional protection to them and the institution of marriage as a whole.
Read all of Ketubot 82 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 26th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.