Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ketubot 85 – Seizing the law into one's own hands

We mentioned that when a man dies, his creditors, who normally have little claim against the man's heirs, can somewhat take the law into the own hands and seize the property of the deceased. Here is a story.

A man died, and his creditor, by the name of Yeimar, sent an agent to seize the man's boat. The agent did so, and as he was towing the boat, he was met by Rav Pappa and Rav Huna. They told the agent, “You are just an agent, not a creditor, so you have no right to seize anything, since you deprive other creditors!” Then they seized the boat themselves, because they, too, loaned money to the deceased.

So now Rav Pappa rowed the boat, while Rav Huna pulled it with the rope, each claiming that he thus acquired the boat. In this way, they came to Rava, to (in the language of the Bard) “try whose right, of thine or mine, is most in this boat.”

Rava told them, “White geese, you strip clothes off people!” That was a compliment: white because they were old and gray, and geese, because it is a sign of wisdom in a dream. Rava continued, “The law is like Rabbi Akiva, who only allows you to seize the property while the debtor is alive, not after his death!”

Monday, April 27, 2015

Ketubot 84 – The wife, the creditor and the children

When someone dies, his wife wants the Ketubah, his creditors – monies owed to them, and his children want the full inheritance, without paying his debts to anyone.

However, his wife can only take the land, since this is what she relied on when getting married, and so too his creditors. The children automatically get all movables and all precious objects.

What happens to his things that are deposited with somebody, such as at a bank in a safe deposit box? Since the children have not yet taken possession of them, the court should give them to the underdog, that is, the wife or the creditor – this is the opinion of Rabbi Tarfon. Rabbi Akiva argues: you cannot base judgment on the feeling of mercy, the objects are given to the children or other inheritors, to whom they rightfully belong. Even if the wife or creditor seizes the valuables, the court takes them away from her.

Today, when people don't own the land as commonly as they used to, the question is moot, since the wife gets her Ketubah paid from all valuables that the husband has left. Also, everybody agrees that there is a moral obligation on the children to pay their father's debts, it's just that they cannot be forced to do so.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ketubot 62 – Man's obligations to his wife

A husband has to provide his wife with food, clothing and intimacy. If he quarrels with her, and in his rage vows to never have relations with her, this vow does not take effect, because he cannot take away her right. However, if he phrases his vow as “the pleasure of relations with you is prohibited to me,” then he has created a prohibition for himself. Since now he is not a good husband, he should divorce her immediately and – because it is his fault – pay her the complete amount of her Ketubah.

If, however, he limits his abstinence vow for a week or two, then we need to estimate when this situation becomes unbearable, and he has to give a divorce after that. How long is that? Beit Shammai say that it is two weeks. What is there logic? – In the Torah there is a situation where they have to be apart for two weeks, after the birth of a daughter, but more than this is too much. Beit Shammai compare the situation caused by the husband (vow) to the birth, also caused by the husband. However, Beit Hillel argue that “too long” is one week. They compare this to niddah, which lasts for one week, and make an analogy between common occurrences – niddah and vows.

Practically, however, people with means and without worries should be intimate with their wives every day, laborers working in town – twice a week, donkey drivers who travel – once a week, and sailors, who are often absent for a long voyage – once every six months.

Art: Awaiting the Sailors Return by David Woodlock

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ketubot 61 – On the danger of some foods

We mentioned that if the wife brings enough maidservants or wealth as her dowry, she does not have to do any work, but can “sit in an easy chair.” However, it is still advisable for her to prepare his wine, spread his bed, and assist with his washing of his hands, feet and face, because these are the signs of endearment – this was the advice of Rav Yitchak bar Chananiya.

He also added that these exact three things the wife should not do when she is a niddah – in order not to endear him too much. However, she can do them with a change or when not in front of him.

Rabbi Yitchak ben Chananiya also said that a waiter who is serving food must be allowed to try some of it, and this refers to meat that gives off a good odor and to pungent wine – or else the waiter will suffer from craving. Others say that this refers to all savory foods. There was a righteous man who would give the waiter from every course – and Elijah the Project would speak to him, while another righteous man only gave from one, and from the rest- after the meal, and with him Elijah would not talk.

There was once a Roman who wanted to marry a certain woman, but she refused. He started eating pomegranates in front of her, and as she was swallowing the saliva produced by her desire of it, she finally became all bloated. He made her promise that if he cures her, she will marry him. Then he brought more pomegranates and started eating these, saying “All saliva that causes you discomfort, spit it out, spit it out!” She did so, until something like a green palm leaf shot out of her, and she became healed.

Art: Pomegranates by John Singer Sargent

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ketubot 60 – Nursing a child

Abaye's sharecropper wanted to make engagement with a woman whose husband recently died, and who was still nursing a child for the previous fifteen months. He came to Abaye to ask whether this is allowed. Abaye gave him many reasons why it was permitted.

Firstly, Rabbi Meir requires to wait for twenty four months of nursing, but Rabbi Yehudah only needs fifteen months, and the law is always like Rabbi Yehudah against Rabbi Meir. Secondly, many other Sages also allow this. There were other reasons as well.

However, Rav Yosef, Abaye's teacher, corrected him: Abaye forgot another rule – when Rabbi Meir suggests a protective decree, the law always follows him. Abaye ran after his sharecropper for three miles, and some say – for one mile in the sand, but could not overtake him.

Abaye then said: “This mistake happened to me, because I should not have decided the law, even if it seemed obvious to me, in the vicinity of my teacher, for this is disrespectful.”

And what is the reason of those who prohibit such marriage? – If the woman then becomes pregnant, the milk may become unfit for nursing, thus endangering the baby.

Art: Woman Nursing an Infant by Pieter De Hooch

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ketubot 59 – Things that a wife must do for her husband

Here is a list of wife's obligations: grind grain into flour, bake the bread, do laundry, cook, nurse her child and work with wool. However, the more maidservants she brings into marriage, the less she has to work, and with four maidservants she just sits in an easy chair.

Rabbi Eliezer says that she always needs to work, at least with wool, for idleness leads to unchastity, while Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says that idleness brings to insanity.

Rabbi Chiya disagrees and says that a wife is only for beauty, and she should not do any work that diminishes her beauty. He also taught in another place that a wife is only for adornments, and she should accept them from her husband, while it is his duty to give them to her.

Rabbi Chiya fulfilled his maxim in life: his wife gave him hard time, and he would nevertheless buy any nice thing he could find, and bring it wrapped up as a present. His theory was that it is enough for a wife to save the husband from sin by appearing beautiful and thus preventing him from looking at other women.

Art: Kitchen Still Life of Vegetables and Preparations for Baking a cake by E. K. Lautter

Monday, April 6, 2015

Ketubot 58 – What does the bride eat?

A Jewish girl who is married to a Kohen has the right to eat the Priest's portion of grain (terumah), which is otherwise forbidden to all non-Kohanim. What is her status while she is engaged? – Since the Kohen has acquired her as a bride, most likely by giving her a ring, she is considered “acquired by money” and is in the category of people who can eat the priestly portion.

However, since she may inadvertently give her cup of wine (for example) to her brothers and sisters – and they should not be allowed to drink it – the Sages decided that the bride does not eat the priestly portion (terumah). Others say that the reason is different: should the husband find some hidden defect, the marriage could be considered a “mistaken buy” and be annulled – and it will turn out that she ate terumah for no reason. Why is the reason important, if anyway she should not eat terumah? – In the case were she has a special eating place, the first reason does not apply, but the second still does.

Normally, the husband supports his wife, and in return she gives him over her earnings. However, this is one of the decrees established for her benefit, and she can opt-out of it. She can say, “I don't want your support, and will keep my earnings.” The Talmud then discusses the status of her earnings should the husband decide to consecrate them to the Temple.

Art: Wine glasses by John Singer Sargent