Today’s daf continues a discussion we started yesterday about what kind of betrothal can be effected with a minor girl.
Let’s remember that the rabbis thought it was perfectly halakhically acceptable for a girl’s family (really her father) to betroth her to a man or boy before she reached the age of maturity. And we can imagine that in a world where many people died relatively young, families would want to ensure that their daughters (who would not inherit as much as their sons) would be financially and physically protected in the case of the death of the father. But a betrothal with a minor girl was not a fait accompli. At the age of maturity, the girl was then required to either affirm or reject the betrothal of her own volition.
Yesterday’s daf quoted an earlier tradition which stated: One who betroths a minor girl, her betrothal is in suspension.
Basically, this tradition states that a betrothal with a minor girl is in stasis, snapping into effect only when she reaches her maturity. But if the girl is then automatically betrothed at that time, what about her right to reject the betrothal? Ravin offers the following caveat:
If he has sexual intercourse with her (after she reaches maturity), yes. If he does not engage in intercourse, no. For she says to herself: He has an advantage over me, and I have an advantage over him.
According to Ravin, when the girl reaches her maturity, the betrothal (and subsequent marriage) snaps into place only if she has agreed to physical intimacy with her ostensible betrothed. Her advantage over him, as he puts it, is that she can reject the betrothal when when she comes of age. His advantage over her is that he can divorce her at any time, including calling off the betrothal (which is something like a divorce).
Very often reading these texts, we encounter a world where it appears that women do not have a lot of agency. But here Ravin insists that the girl’s consent is what makes her actually betrothed. Assuming that she lives in a society where she can freely consent to or reject her betrothal (and that’s an assumption which certainly doesn’t hold true in all times and places), here Ravin imagines that both parties have power over each other, to mutually decide (through divorce and rejection) to end the betrothal.
Today’s daf offers a challenge to this principle:
Wasn’t there an incident in the city of Neresh where a woman was betrothed when she was a minor, and she reached maturity, and the husband seated her in a bridal chair, and another man came and seized her from him?!
And Rav Bruna and Rav Hananel, the students of Rav, were there and they did not require her to receive a bill of divorce from the latter.
In this case, the girl had grown up, and was literally at her wedding when she was kidnapped and forcibly married to someone else. The woman did not want to be married to her kidnapper, and good news: the students of Rav said that she wasn’t actually married to him at all.
But why? After all, as we just learned on yesterday’s daf, it requires physical intimacy on the part of the betrothed couple to enact the betrothal after a minor girl reaches her maturity. So if she isn’t actually married to her fiance, why is the kidnapper’s marriage ineffective? The Gemara offers two possibilities:
Rav Papa suggests that in Neresh, the custom was for a betrothed couple to be physically intimate before the official wedding celebration. So in this case, the girl was already married to her betrothed when she was kidnapped, rendering the kidnapper’s actions legally meaningless: You can’t marry a woman who is already married.
This is a regionally specific explanation, but it’s not one that takes into account the woman’s ability to accept or refuse a marriage. And so Rav Ashi then offers another explanation for why this woman in Neresh did not need a divorce from her kidnapper:
This bride snatcher acted improperly. Consequently, they treated him improperly, and the sages abrogated his betrothal.
Even if this bride snatcher followed all the steps required to enact a halakhic marriage (and stay tuned for Tractate Kiddushin, where we’ll soon learn what all those are), those steps don’t erase the fact that he literally kidnapped a woman and married her against her will. And for the rabbis on today’s daf, no amount of halakhic ritual can override the importance of a woman’s consent to her marriage once she reaches her maturity.
Read all of Yevamot 110 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on June 25th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.