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Yevamot 66

Who gets the goods?

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The seventh chapter of Yevamot begins with a mishnah that explores whether slaves brought into a priest’s household by a woman who weds a priest are allowed to eat terumah, food that has been designated for consumption by priests and their households. Ordinarily this would not be an issue: Slaves who are part of a priest’s household can eat terumah. But the question arises in this case because the marriage is a forbidden one.

The mishnah tells us that the answer depends on the type of slave. 

Slaves of usufruct [melog] property do not partake of terumah but the slaves of guaranteed investment [tzon barzel] do partake of terumah.

The mishnah then defines these terms:

Slaves of usufruct [are those about whom the couple stipulated that] if the slaves die, their death is her loss, and if they increase in value, their increase is her gain. Although the husband is obligated in their sustenance, they do not partake of terumah. 

Slaves of guaranteed investment [are those with regard to whom the couple stipulated that] if they die, their death is his loss, and if they increase in value, their increase is his gain. 

In other words, if the wife suffers the financial loss (or enjoys the financial gain) of any change in the slave’s value, then the slave is hers. The forbidden status of the marriage thus makes it so that they, like her, cannot eat terumah. But when the husband holds the financial risk, the slaves are considered to be his property and they can consume terumah, despite the fact that the marriage is not permitted.

The categories melog and tzon barzel apply not only to slaves, but to all property brought into a marriage by a woman. Just like most rules we encounter in the Talmud, these are subject to circumstance and exception. Today’s daf gives us a number of examples. Here’s one:

A woman who brings appraised, guaranteed property into her marital contract with her husband, he is obligated to return it at the conclusion of the marriage. If she says: I am taking my belongings, and he says: I am willing to give you only their monetary value, the halakhah favors whom? 

The Gemara is considering a case where a woman brings property into a marriage whose value the husband guarantees. If the marriage ends and the woman wishes to take the belongings with her, can the husband return only their original monetary value? Based on what we learned in our mishnah, the ruling would seem clear: Like the slaves of guaranteed investment, any rise or fall in the value of the objects would be borne by him alone — though presumably we are dealing here with a case where the objects have grown in value, otherwise it’s unlikely the husband would object to returning them. In such a case, it would seem that the husband would be justified in giving back only what the items were originally worth. 

This is in fact how Rabbi Ami rules: The man is allowed to give his wife the original monetary value instead of the items themselves. Rav Yehuda takes the opposite view and supports the woman’s claim to the items. 

How does Rav Yehuda justify his position? The Gemara explains that since these items come from her paternal family, failure to recover them might be a blow to the family’s prestige, from which they will not recover. So he allows her to claim the objects themselves if she wants them. But if the items have appreciated in value, Rav Yehuda holds she must pay her soon-to-be ex-husband the difference if she wishes to take the items with her.

The Gemara is silent about who we follow in this case. But in the months to come, we will learn quite a bit more about a woman’s property rights when she enters and leaves a marriage. So stay tuned. 

Read all of Yevamot 66 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 12th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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