Talmud

Ketubot 96

Widow of opportunity.

After the death of her husband, a woman is entitled to one of two payments: She can continue to receive sustenance from her husband’s heirs or she can collect her ketubah payment. Today’s daf considers what happens if a widow waits before seeking sustenance from her husband’s heirs. 

Rabbi Yohanan said in the name of Rabbi Yosei ben Zimra: A widow who waited two or three years and did not demand sustenance has forfeited sustenance.

According to Rabbi Yosei, a widow has only a few years from the time of her husband’s death to claim what she is due. If she waits longer, she loses the right to be sustained by his estate. The Gemara then inquires:

Now (that it was stated) two she forfeited, is it necessary three?

The Gemara picks up here on the vagueness of Rabbi Yosei’s timeline. If the woman loses her rights after two years, why does he also mention three? It’s possible that Rabbi Yosei was using everyday language to indicate that the right to claim sustenance does not last forever. But the Gemara, as is its predilection, suggests two ways to understand him more literally:

Here, to a poor woman. There, to a rich woman.

Or, here to an unabashed woman, there to a modest woman.

In other words, when Rabbi Yosei says two or three years, he means it — some women get two and others three. The first explanation assumes that a poor woman needs financial support and will claim it rather quickly, so we only give her two years to claim it, while a rich woman who can support herself can take longer. The second explanation assumes that a woman who is known to put herself out there will come forward more quickly than one who is modest or shy. So the former gets a smaller time window, the latter a longer one.

While these explanations account for the language of Rabbi Yosei’s statement, neither is particularly helpful to a judge who might have to adjudicate the case of a woman who asks for support after two and a half years. By what standards would we determine if a woman is modest enough to earn the extra year? How poor must she be in order to be limited to two years? 

The Gemara does not address how these interpretations might be put into practice, but it does bring a teaching that explains Rabbi Yosei’s statement in a way that significantly changes what it means:

Rava said: We said only retroactively. However, from (here) onward, she has (the right).

Rava applies Rabbi Yosei’s statement not to the widow’s right to claim sustenance, but to her right to back payments that she did not collect. If she comes forward in the first few years, she has the right to collect payments from the time of her husband’s death. But if she waits too long, she receives support moving forward but forfeits what she did not yet collect.

Rava’s teaching does little to address the Gemara’s initial questions about Rabbi Yosei’s statement. But it goes a long way to ensuring that a widow is protected against losing the financial support guaranteed in her ketubah if she waits to ask for it.

Read all of Ketubot 96 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on October 10th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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