Our society loves thinking about weddings. Just think about how many reality shows are currently on television about wedding planning, wedding events and wedding disasters. They tend to show wedding planning as a long, extended process. But how far ahead should you actually plan for your wedding? On today’s daf, Rabbi Meir suggests that you can actually start planning even earlier than one might think:
One who says to a woman: “You are hereby betrothed to me after I convert,” or: “After you convert,” or: “After I am emancipated,” or: “After you are emancipated,” or: “After your husband dies,” or: “After your sister dies,” or: “After your yavam performs halitzah for you,” — she is not betrothed.
Rabbi Meir says: She is betrothed.
Ordinarily we would expect a rabbinic betrothal to take effect only if both parties were free, Jewish and able to marry each other. And indeed, the first opinion in this teaching has exactly this expectation. But Rabbi Meir turns this assumption on its head and insists that you can actually plan your betrothal while not free, not Jewish, and/or still married to someone else! In other words, a conditional betrothal can take place even before you are eligible to become betrothed to each other.
On its face, this statement is quite strange. To be fair, Rabbi Meir is consistent in arguing that “a person can transfer an entity that has not yet come into the world” — the idea that one can acquire something or someone before it exists or is eligible for acquisition. And when that principle is put in conversation with the kind of acquisition which rabbinically affects betrothal, you get this answer.
But even if it is grounded in solid legal thinking, it’s still strange to contemplate a married woman conditionally betrothed to someone not her husband. Indeed, it seems so strange to the authors of this tradition that we get a second rabbi chiming in to disagree.
Rabbi Yohanan HaSandlar says: She is not betrothed.
Rabbi Yohanan HaSandlar is basically just agreeing with the first anonymous opinion. But in the repetition, we see a resistance to the possibility that Rabbi Meir will get the last word. And so he really, really doesn’t get the last word, we ultimately get yet another response:
Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi says she is betrothed. And for what reason did they say she is not betrothed? Due to enmity.
Sure, says Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, according to legal logic, we might argue that a conditional betrothal could take effect before both parties were eligible to be betrothed to each other. And maybe, in theory, that’s true. But imagine the kinds of conflict that would engender. Picture a man conditionally betrothed to a married woman whose current husband is still alive. Or imagine a woman is waiting in the wings for her sister to die so she can marry her brother-in-law. This set-up is less ripe for a reality show and more for a fairly-easily-solved murder mystery. Just because something is grounded in legal logic doesn’t mean it is workable in real life.