Kiddushin 12


Inflation. It was a pressing problem in the 1970s, and it’s still a problem today. Inflation makes money less valuable and buying goods more expensive. It can lead to higher interest rates, a slowing economy, general stress about the cost of food, and even an economic depression. “Inflation is in the nation and it’s about to put us all away,” Earnest Jackson sang in his 1975 song called, what else, “Inflation.”  

But inflation is hardly a problem that first developed in the 20th century. As we learn on today’s daf, the rabbis were very aware of the changing value of money and were particularly worried about one specific consequence: the shifting cost of marriage. The minimum amount which can effect a betrothal is one perutah. But how much is a perutah worth? 

When Rav Dimi came he said: Rabbi Simai estimated in his generation: How much is one perutah? One-eighth of the Italian issar. And when Ravin came he said that Rabbi Dostai and Rabbi Yannai and Rabbi Oshaya estimated: How much is one perutah? One-sixth of the Italian issar.

Which rabbi is correct? If Rav Dimi is right that a perutah is worth 1/8th of an issar, then the worst thing that could happen if a man pays with a coin worth 1/6th of an issar is that he has overpaid for his betrothal. But if Ravin is correct that a perutah is worth 1/6th of an issar and a man betrothes a woman with a coin worth only 1/8th of an issar, then the woman is not actually betrothed — with all kinds of consequences for her legal status. 

Here’s where currency fluctuation and inflation come into play. Rav Dimi explains: 

This when the issar increased in value, and this when the issar decreased in value. When the issar increased in value, twenty-four issar stood at one dinar; when they decreased in value, thirty-two issar stood at one dinar. 

Rav Dimi explains that both he and Ravin are correct, because the value of an issar has changed over time. And as this monetary standard becomes less valuable, you need more of it to get married. 

On the one hand, this discussion is fairly simple, a reflection of money conversion rates and inflationary cycles. On the other hand, it takes a discussion of money and turns it into a discussion of space and time. Both Rav Dimi and Ravin are said to have “come” — meaning to have traveled from Israel to Babylonia with these traditions in hand. And both their opinions (at least according to Rav Dimi) are rooted in very specific economic moments. Though not the point of the Gemara’s discussion, it’s an important reminder that marriages, like inflation, are part of broader systems and communal experiences, with important implications for their beginnings.

More practically, when assessing the value of an item for betrothal, we need to ask not only how much? But also where? And when?

Read all of Kiddushin 12 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 25th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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