The mishnah on yesterday’s daf taught us that:
If a woman sold all or part of her marriage contract, or if she mortgaged all or part of her marriage contract, or if she gave all or part of her marriage contract to another, then she sells the remainder only in court.
And the rabbis say: She sells even four or five times.
The anonymous position in the mishnah is that a woman cannot sell off her ketubah piece by piece. Once she has sold or mortgaged one part, the rest can only be sold with the assistance of a judge, who will make sure that she isn’t doing anything dishonest, like claiming more than she is owed. The rabbis disagree, stating that she can divide her ketubah into even four or five pieces and sell them individually, without judicial oversight.
The Gemara then suggests that the anonymous mishnaic opinion is actually that of Rabbi Shimon, who (it is proposed) held that a part of the ketubah is “like the whole” when it comes to financial transactions. Once she’s touched any of it, it’s as though she’s used the whole thing, and so using it again requires oversight. But the Gemara then challenges this suggestion with a beraita (early teaching) which suggests that Rabbi Shimon actually thought the opposite: that the part is not equivalent to the whole.
The beraita discusses Leviticus 21:13, about the laws specific to the high priest:
“And he shall take a wife in her virginity,” (Leviticus 21:13) to exclude a grown woman whose virginity has diminished — this is the statement of Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon declare as fit even a grown woman.
The high priest must marry a virgin. But who qualifies as such? The regular activities of life can weaken, diminish or shred one’s “virginity” — meaning that, according to this text, a fully grown woman is not expected to have perfect “virginity”, even if she has never had penetrative intercourse. (Brief aside – You may notice that I’m putting virginity in quotation marks.That’s because Rebecca Kamholz has argued convincingly that, like many ancient thinkers, the rabbis don’t know about the hymen, and have a much more complicated understanding of what virginity means.) Rabbi Meir therefore disqualifies this woman from marriage to the high priest, but Rabbi Shimon insists that a woman with a partial “virginity” (due to normal life activities) is considered a virgin. For Rabbi Shimon, losing part of your “virginity” is not equivalent to losing the whole thing. The part is in fact not equivalent to the whole. And so Rabbi Shimon’s position here seems to directly contradict his position on the ketubah in our mishnah!
Underlying the Talmud’s juxtaposition of these two traditions attributed to Rabbi Shimon is the assumption that part of a ketubah can in fact be compared to a part of a woman’s virginity. In many ways, for the rabbis they are deeply connected: A woman’s status as a virgin has direct bearing on how large a ketubah the rabbis mandate for her, and therefore the amount of value that her husband and his family, and her own family too, put on her as a potential marriage partner. And yet, a sum of money is in fact very different from a woman’s sexual and social status. Someone choosing to sell, mortgage or give away some of that money is very different from someone experiencing the normal physical wear and tear that comes from being a person with a body that moves through the world.
So is Rabbi Shimon really contradicting himself? Or are these two completely different situations that actually can’t be compared? The Gemara concludes:
They disagree about the verses.
The parallel doesn’t work, not because the two situations are different, but because one is a dispute over legal reasoning and the other is a localized dispute over the meaning of a biblical verse. Context matters.
The potential contradiction dismissed, the Gemara returns to the original case in which Rabbi Shimon seems to think that if a woman uses part of her ketubah, she has ceded the right to use the rest of it independently, because the part is equivalent to the whole. But lest you worry about the financial future of a woman who lost the right to use the rest of her ketubah as she sees fit, today we learn that, in practice, Rava ruled:
None are concerned about the ruling of Rabbi Shimon.
A woman who uses part of her ketubah retains the sole right to the rest.
Read all of Ketubot 98 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on October 12th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.