Ketubot 89

From a time of danger onward.

On today’s daf, we find a mishnah describing a case in which a woman seeking assistance in collecting her marriage contract has her divorce document but not her original marriage document. In such a situation, her husband must pay her. Rashi explains that this is because marriage is considered to be an act of the court, and an act of the court does not require documentation to be enforced. So a woman can collect even if she does not have it.

And what if the situation is reversed and she has her marriage contract but not her divorce document? In that situation, the mishnah teaches, she cannot collect. That’s because if we accept her claim that she has lost her get, we must also accept a claim from her ex-husband saying that he lost the receipt proving that he already paid her. 

The mishnah then quotes Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, who teaches us that this was once how things worked, but not anymore:

From the time of danger and onward, a woman collects payment of her marriage contract without a bill of divorce.

When the rabbis of the mishnah speak of a time of danger, they are referring to times when they lived under foreign laws that restricted or forbade the practice of Judaism. Under the threat of punishment or death, it was dangerous for Jews to retain possession of signed documents, whether ritual or financial. And so, during these times Jewish practice and Jewish law changed.

This is not the first time that we have learned about changes that the rabbis made to Jewish law in times of danger. For example, on Shabbat 21b, we learned that while Hanukkah candles are meant to be placed outside near our doorway, or near a window if we live on an upper floor, during a time of danger, it is sufficient to place them on a table inside the home. And on Sukkot 14b, we learn that at a time of danger Rabbi Yehuda built a sukkah roofed with boards that were impermissibly wide so the structure would not appear to be a sukkah. 

But while these cases speak about how to act during a time of danger, in our case, the text says the change was made “from the time of danger and onward,” suggesting that it was meant to be permanent. In other words, when the danger is over, the old rules again for sukkah roofs and Hanukkah candles apply. But not so for the woman without a get, who, according to Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, can still collect her ketubah.

Rabban Shimon’s ruling is a unique example of a change made due to dangerous circumstances that outlived the conditions that influenced its implementation. The text is silent about his motivations, but the implications are clear: A divorced woman now has some additional protection under the law. Although the circumstances that led to this change are no longer applicable, it’s nice to see that greater protection for divorced women remained.

Read all of Ketubot 89 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on October 3rd, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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