Talmud pages

Kiddushin 8

How to test a man.

Today’s daf considers numerous cases of doubtful betrothal. For instance, if a man promises a woman 100 dinars in exchange for betrothal and then hands her only one, with the intention to pay the balance later, does the betrothal take effect from the moment she receives the first dinar or the last? What if one of the dinars he gives her is defective? What if she thought he was paying silver dinars but he actually paid copper? What if he gave her an IOU instead of actual money? What if he gave the money to her father or her friend instead of directly to her?

It’s enough to make one realize the wisdom of the later Jewish practice, now the most common, of betrothing with a simple gold ring placed directly on the finger — eliminating any confusion. 

And then we have this case:

The sages taught in a beraita (Tosefta 2:9): If a man said to a woman: “Be betrothed to me with 100 dinars,” and she took it from his hand and threw it into the sea, or into the fire, or into anything that destroys — she is not betrothed. 

He offers her money for betrothal and she takes it from him — which would argue for the betrothal succeeding — but then she dramatically destroys it. That certainly seems like a clear rejection, perhaps the equivalent of hurling an engagement ring at his feet or, better yet, over the side of a boat. Wasteful, perhaps, but unambiguous. The rabbis declare that if she does this, he has not betrothed her at all. However, she must be careful to truly destroy the coins because, as the beraita concludes:

If she threw the coins before him, that is a betrothal. 

Hurling the coins in anger is not enough — she must take care, even in her presumably agitated state, to actually destroy them. Otherwise, she might find herself a (regretfully) betrothed woman.

High emotion at the moment of betrothal makes sense. Marriage is exciting but, for the woman especially, also dangerous. If she accepts his betrothal, even accidentally, the only way out is through a get (divorce document) which, as we learned in the previous tractate, is provided at his behest. In this moment, the wrong words or actions can irreversibly change her life.

But we know from the beginning of the tractate that a betrothal does not take effect unless the woman both understands what is happening and agrees. Surely hurling his money back at him isn’t assent. In fact, this seems even less like assent then later destroying them. The Gemara is also troubled by this and suggests the beraita actually means the opposite of what it appears to say:

It is needless to say that if she throws the money before him that it is not a betrothal.

According to this revised reading, the beraita actually makes betrothal less dangerous for the woman. If she suddenly regrets becoming betrothed, she can throw the coins at his feet or, later, schlep her coins to the Dead Sea and chuck them in. It seems obvious that if the woman throws away the betrothal money — either at the feet of her suitor or into a fire — it’s not a fortuitous start to the marriage. So it makes sense to rule this a failed betrothal. Such a ruling hands a modicum of power back to the woman, allowing her to reconsider what might have initially been a “yes.” 

But why would a woman even destroy the money he gives her? Why not just decline it? Is she emotional and irrational? The sages suggest instead that there’s a method to her apparent madness:

As for the reason why she did this, she thought: I will test this man to see if he is an individual of an angry temperament or not. 

In the Gemara’s reading, this woman is not regretful or terrified but shrewd. Before she puts her fate into the hands of this man, she tests his character. Perhaps if he passes the test, she will retrieve the coins from his feet, or even allow him to betroth her with a single perutah.

The scenarios of doubtful betrothal  keep coming on the daf. That’s all we have time for today, but go look for yourself if you want to find out what happens if a woman is being chased by a dog while a man is trying to betroth her with a loaf of bread.

Read all of Kiddushin 8 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 21st, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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