Ketubot 95

Don't lien on me.

As we head towards the conclusion of this chapter of Tractate Ketubot, we find the Gemara in the midst of a discussion about a wife’s rights to property her husband has sold. More specifically, today’s daf addresses when a wife’s surrender of those rights is considered legitimate and binding.

The mishnah on today’s daf describes a case in which a man married to two wives sells his field. Recall that a ketubah gives a wife a vested interest — a lien, in effect — in her husband’s property to ensure that he’s able to compensate her in the event of a divorce or his death. In the mishnah’s case, the first wife renounces any claim over the purchaser’s right to the field, effectively ratifying the transaction, but the second wife doesn’t. This leads to a curious result. If the husband were to die, the second wife could claim the field as part of her rights under her ketubah, since she never renounced those rights. The first wife, whose ketubah was signed earlier and therefore has priority over the second wife, could then claim the field from the second wife, since she renounced her rights only with respect to the purchaser. And finally, the purchaser could claim the field from the first wife, who gave up any claim over him. This delightful game continues until, as the mishnah says, “they agree on a compromise between them.” 

This is where the Gemara picks up, questioning whether the first wife is even able to cede the field (so to speak) to the purchaser:

And if (the first wife) wrote to him, what of it? Isn’t it taught: One who says to another, “I have no legal dealings or involvement with regard to this field,” or “I have no connection to it,” or “I have withdrawn from it,” has said nothing, as such declarations have no legal validity. With what are we dealing here? A case where he acquired it from her possession.

The Gemara begins by citing a beraita stating that one cannot merely renounce one’s rights to a property. Normally, such words would have no binding effect — it is as if nothing has been said. But in this case, the Gemara presumes that the wife took action beyond mere words to validate her renunciation of rights to the field.

The Gemara continues:

And if they acquired it from her, what of it? Let (the woman say): I did it to please my husband. Didn’t we learn: If one purchased from a man, (even if he) went back and purchased from the wife, the transaction is nullified? Apparently, (the wife) can say: I did it only to please my husband but did not mean it, and that claim is accepted.

The Gemara now questions the completeness of a purchase of a field to which a wife has renounced her rights, citing a teaching that picks up on possible power dynamics between the couple and allows the wife to assert she was merely acquiescing to her husband in permitting the sale to go forward, effectively undoing her relinquishment of the field.

The rabbis then get into a bit of a tussle over what circumstances would allow the wife’s cession to be binding. Rabbi Meir says that if a husband sold two fields, and the wife renounces her rights to only one of them, that renunciation is binding, while Rav Pappa says that a renunciation after a husband’s death is binding since there’s no reason to try to satisfy him at that point.

Ultimately, the rabbis wrap up the sugya as follows:

Rav Ashi said: It is all (in accordance with) Rabbi Meir, and Rabbi Meir states there only with regard to two purchasers, as they say to her: If it is (true) that you acted to please, you should have done so with regard to the first. However, where there is only one purchaser, even Rabbi Meir concedes. And the mishnah is where (the husband wrote) a (bill of sale) to another.

Rabbi Meir carries the day in one regard: If the husband sold two fields to two different purchasers, and the wife gave up her claim to just one of them, the renunciation stands and she has no rights over the purchaser. As a result, the rabbis conclude that the mishnah, which found the first wife’s renunciation binding, entailed the first wife giving up her claim to one field but not to another. 

While this situation is unlikely to come to pass today, it shows that the rabbis were highly attuned to how power might function between a husband and wife. This has significant persuasive value in rabbinic discourse, to the point that it could effectively invalidate an otherwise legitimate transaction.

Read all of Ketubot 95 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on October 9th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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