We have seen (Kiddushin 12) that betrothal can be enacted with a small amount of money, even a peruta (a coin worth less than a loaf of bread). Today’s mishnah discusses the possibility of contracting a betrothal with dates:
One who says to a woman: “Be betrothed to me with this date,” (and then adds:) “Be betrothed to me with that one,” — then if one of the dates is worth one peruta she is betrothed, but if not, she is not betrothed.
But if he said: “Be betrothed to me with this one, and with this one, and with this one,” — then if all of them together are worth one peruta she is betrothed, but if not, she is not betrothed.
If he gave her dates with the intention of betrothing her with them, and she was eating them one by one as she received them, she is not betrothed unless one of them is worth a peruta.
The assumption underlying this mishnah is that a peruta is the minimal amount needed to effect a betrothal. The first clause of the mishnah explains that if a man said two separate statements, “be betrothed to me with this date” and then again “be betrothed to me with this date,” the betrothal is only successful if one of the dates is worth a peruta.
We can’t assume that the man meant for the value of the dates to be combined if the language of each statement related to only one date. However, if his statement intentionally combines the dates — “Become engaged to me with this one and this one and this one” — then we do assume the intent was the sum total of all the dates, and the engagement is enacted (so long as the bundle of them are worth a full peruta).
If you weren’t already chuckling, the last clause of the mishnah might do it. In this case, the woman who is being proposed to is eating the dates as fast as her would-be husband tosses them to her. If he intended for the value of the dates to be added together to reach the minimal sum of a peruta, says the mishnah, her swallowing them in succession foils his plan, since at no time is she in possession of a full peruta’s worth of dates. (Are you laughing or crying now?)
We might think of this mishnah as a series of contrived scenarios designed to make a larger point — about what minimal value is required to betroth a woman and to underscore the importance of precise speech in the process. But especially in the last case, one can’t help notice that the woman’s actions speak “louder” than the man’s words: Eating the dates might be a sign that the woman doesn’t want to be married to a man who only has a handful of measly dates to offer her, or eating the fruit of her betrothal might indicate that she doesn’t understand the stakes of the question being asked.
Either way, what’s clear is that the minimal money (or fruit) of kiddushin is not a bride price, even if it might have originated in this way. Rather, the words and actions of the groom and the actions of the bride demonstrate that agreement is what counts and creates the legal (and hopefully loving) bond between the two — not the money.