Kiddushin 7

Half married.

Back in Tractate Gittin, we encountered a case in which a slave is jointly owned by two people, one of whom emancipates their share, resulting in a situation where someone is half-enslaved. Today, we address another case of someone with half-status. 

Rava says: (If a man says to a woman): “Be betrothed to half of me,” — she is betrothed. “Half of you is betrothed to me,” — she is not betrothed. 

According to Rava, a man can be half-betrothed to a woman, but a woman cannot be half-betrothed to a man. The Gemara offers two challenges to Rava’s opinion, one textual and one practical. Here’s the first: 

Abaye said to Rava: What is different that (if he says): “Half of you is betrothed to me,” she is not betrothed? The Merciful One states: “When a man takes a woman, and marries her” (Deuteronomy 24:1) — “a woman,” and not half a woman. So too, the Merciful One states: “A man,” and not half a man.

Abaye notes that the Torah verses that form the basis of the rabbinic laws of marriage refer to a man and a woman, which he takes to mean that both men and women need to enter into marriage fully, meaning with their whole bodies. But Rava dismisses this challenge.

There, a woman is not eligible for twoBut isn’t a man eligible to twoAnd this is what he is saying to her: If I wish to marry anotherI will marry.

According to Rava, the fact that men can marry more than one woman means that a man might choose to reserve half of himself for a second wife later on. But since one woman cannot marry more than one man at a time in the rabbinic system, a man cannot leave half of a woman for some other man. That is impossible and so the betrothal never takes effect. 

The Gemara is going to assume that Rava is correct that a man can betroth half of himself. Abaye’s statement, while trying to apply the same interpretive principle to both parts of a verse, just doesn’t match the lived experience of rabbinic marriage. 

So the Gemara’s next challenge is a practical one: In a world in which women cannot marry more than one man, what would it look like to betroth half a woman? How could that even work, practically? After all – which half is it? 

Mar Zutra, son of Rav Mari, said to Ravina: But let the betrothal spread through all of her. Isn’t it taught that if one says: The leg of this (animal) is a burnt-offering, all of it is a burnt-offering?

Perhaps a woman is like an animal designated for sacrifice, and designating a part of her as betrothed is really a means of designating the whole? The Gemara rejects the parallel between human women and other non-human animals: 

Is it comparable? There, an animal. Here, another mind.

Rabbinic law treats women as legal actors whose capacity to agree or disagree has legal force. But when it comes to non-human animals, the rabbis don’t take issues of capacity and consent into account. So presumably (and unlike with animal sacrifice), if a woman agrees to be half-betrothed, then the betrothal wouldn’t “spread” to her entire body if that isn’t what she had been intending all along. 

Ultimately, the Gemara concludes that Rava is correct: A man can be half-betrothed, but a woman cannot. But hey, at least she’s human?

Read all of Kiddushin 7 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 20th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

Kiddushin 19

Consent at any age.

Kiddushin 41

Betrothal in absentia.