The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.
As we learned in the first Mishnah (2a), a wife is “acquired” by her husband by means of one of three methods – kesef (money), shetar (a document) and bi’ah (sexual intercourse). The Gemara on our daf (=page) examines the rules and regulations surrounding marriage done by use of a shetar. Unlike kesef, which must have some minimal value, the importance of the shetar lies in the words that appear on the document. Thus, the focus of discussion is on what the document must say.
Reish Lakish presents one dilemma – must the document be written with a particular man and woman in mind, or can the scribe produce generic shetarot that can be used by anyone? The discussion in the Gemara revolves around the question of comparison. Should a shetar kiddushin be seen as parallel to kesef kiddushin, and just as money can be used for marriage without any special requirements, so a document can simply say “with this document I wed thee” or should it be seen as being similar to a get – a divorce document – which must be written with a specific husband and wife in mind? The Gemara states that Reish Lakish eventually answered his own question by noting the passage in Devarim (24:2) that juxtaposes marriage and divorce. From this he concludes that the shetar must be written lishmah – with the specific man and woman in mind.
Even with this conclusion, the rishonim discuss whether the names of the couple getting married must be written into the shetar. The Ramban compares the shetar kiddushin to the get, arguing that we must follow the rules of gittin. Since he concludes that a get requires the names of the two parties, a shetar kiddushin will, as well. The Ritva points out that there is no mention of any such requirement in our Gemara, and the Me’iri quotes the Talmud Yerushalmi that offers a standard form for a shetar kiddushin that does not appear to require the names of the husband and wife.
Anyone who pays attention to a contemporary Jewish marriage ceremony will notice that there are two distinct parts to it:
- kiddushin (betrothal), where the husband offers a wedding band to his wife, asking her to marry him, and
- nisu’in (marriage), when the husband and wife become a family by entering their home, symbolized by the chuppah (wedding canopy) under which they stand.
These two parts of the ceremony are usually symbolically separated from one another by a speech and/or the reading of the ketubah.
The discussion that we have seen in Masechet Kiddushin up to this point deals only with the first part of marriage. During Talmudic times, it was common practice to separate these two elements of marriage by several months, during which time both the bride and the groom would have time to prepare for the wedding and the marriage. During that time they are considered by halacha to be a married couple, even as they continue to live separately from each other. Are they considered married to the extent that she can begin to eat terumah (tithes that are permitted only to kohanim and members of their families)?
The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that the ruling of the Mishnah in Ketubot permitting a woman to being to eat terumah when the time for the wedding has arrived is a mishna emtza’it – a “middle mishna.” This means that over time the ruling with regard to a betrothed woman eating terumah changed a number of times. The original ruling (mishna rishona) allowed a woman who receives kiddushin from a kohen to begin to eat terumah immediately, since they are considered by the halacha to be a fully married couple at that time. The ruling of the second historical stage, allowed her to eat terumah only after it became the husband’s responsibility to feed her, i.e. a year after the original kiddushin. The final conclusion (mishna achrona) allows her to eat terumah only after the nisu’in.
Two reasons are suggested by the Gemara for changes in this ruling. Ulla suggests that it is due to our concern that while she is living in her parents’ home we fear that she may share the terumah with her siblings who are not allowed to eat it. According to Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yehuda it is because of simpon – fear of a broken agreement. The specific concern is that an issue may arise that will lead the marriage agreement to be annulled, and we will discover that the bride was eating forbidden terumah since there was no marriage.
According to the Mishnah, when a man marries a woman by means of money, the minimum amount is, according to Bet Hillel, a prutah and according to Bet Shammai, a dinar. While Bet Hillel‘s position is fairly easy to understand – a prutah is the smallest standard denomination coin, Bet Shammai‘s position demands some explanation, and it is discussed on our daf (=page).
Rabbi Zeira suggests that Bet Shammai is simply looking out for the honor of Jewish women, who demand more than a small denomination coin. Rav Yosef suggests that the need for a dinar is based on the teaching of Rav Yehuda quoting Rav Assi, who rules that money required by the Torah is kesef tzuri while money required by the rabbinic sages is kesef medina.
Generally speaking, during the time of the Talmud there were two types of coins. Matbe’ah tzuri was a silver-based coin that was viewed as being biblical money. Kesef medina were coins that had the same names as the more valuable matbe’ah tzuri, but were made of cheaper metals and were worth one-eighth the value of kesef tzuri. Different values for coins with identical names were not uncommon in the ancient world and this phenomenon still exists in some places today, where paper money may have the same name as a gold coin, for example, but is worth significantly less. It is therefore essential to determine which coin is being discussed.
According to Bet Shammai, since we are dealing with a biblical law, we look for the smallest coin that was used in kesef tzuri, which was the equivalent of a dinar.
The dinar – whose source is the Latin denarius, which originally meant “ten,” representing the fact that a dinar was worth ten isarim – discussed in the Mishnah was a silver coin, popular in the Roman Empire. It weighed about 3.9 grams, although in later times the pure silver was mixed with copper and it became devalued. Popular figures on a Roman dinar were Nero and Vespasian.
As we have learned, according to Jewish law there are three methods for creating kiddushin – a marriage – kesef (payment of money), shetar (a formal marriage document) or bi’ah (sexual relations performed with the intention of effecting marriage). The Gemara on our daf (=page) describes a man who handed a woman a hadas – a myrtle branch – in the marketplace and asked her to marry him. Rav Yosef ruled that we must treat it like a marriage based on Shmuel‘s ruling (that even something of little value may create a marriage, since it might be worth a prutah in another place), and we will give the man lashes, based on Rav‘s ruling.
In explanation of this idea, the Gemara brings the ruling of Rav who would punish people who agreed to have kiddushin by means of a sexual encounter, even though this is one of the three methods of which the Mishnah approves. Similarly, Rav punished people who agreed to kiddushin in the marketplace or without a properly arranged shiddukh.
The reason behind all of Rav’s punishments is that, notwithstanding the letter of the law which permits a sexual act to solidify a marriage agreement, such behavior shows a lack of respect for privacy and modesty, which are the very foundations of marriage. Furthermore, agreeing to marry when standing in the marketplace or without proper preparations indicates that this is seen as happenstance and is reminiscent of a “one-night stand” rather than a true marriage.
The idea of shidduch that appears in the Gemara is originally an Aramaic word whose meaning appears to be “to calm” or “to quiet.” In its borrowed form, it has come to mean to appease or to placate; to persuade. In our context, it indicates an agreement between the man and woman or between their families prior to marriage.
The most common method of kiddushin – marriage – is the use of kesef kiddushin, where an object of value is given by a man to a woman with an agreement made between them that she accepts it for the purposes of marriage. What if the money that he had was money that he stole? Can stolen money be used for kiddushin?
The Gemara on our daf (=page) tells of a woman who was selling varshkhei. A man came and snatched some of the varshkhei. When she demanded that he return them he said “if I return them will you marry me?” She took them back from him without saying anything. Rav Nachman ruled that there was no marriage in this case, since the woman can claim that she was taking something that in any case belonged to her. In response to Rav Nachman’s ruling Rava points to a baraita that clearly rules that a man can marry a woman with money that he stole, and even if he snatched a coin from her hand and then returned it to her, the kiddushin takes effect! Rav Nachman explains that the ruling of the baraita would be true only if they had discussed – and agreed – to marriage beforehand. In our case, where no such discussion took place, the attempt at kiddushin will not work.
Several explanations are offered for the case in the baraita. The Rashba, for example, argues that the kiddushin does not work because of the value of the coin that he gives her, since it is her coin. Rather, she agrees to marry him based on the satisfaction that she receives in having her object returned to her (that satisfaction is considered as having a monetary value).
Regarding the varshkhei that are at the center of the discussion in our Gemara, Rashi defines them as being ribbons of some sort. Rabbeinu Gershom suggests that they are scarves, while Rabbeinu Chananel translates the word to mean pearls.
The Mishnah that opens Masechet Kiddushin (2a) discusses not only a normal situation of marriage, but also the case of yibum – levirate marriage. On a biblical level, yibum can only be done with bi’ah – sexual relations between the widow and her brother-in-law.
The passage in the Torah that is the source for the mitzvah of yibum is found in SeferDevarim (25:5), which describes how, in the event that a man dies with no children, his widow should not marry an outsider, but rather yevamah yavo aleha, u-lekachah lo le-isha, ve-yibmah – the surviving brother should come upon her, and take her as a wife, fulfilling the mitzvah of yibum with her.
Our Gemara brings a number of derashot – derivations of halakhah – from this passage, learning that the yevamah is different than an ordinary woman, in that only bi’ah will create the marriage.
Examples of laws that are derived from this passage include:
- that the performance of yibum is the fulfillment of a mitzvah
- that the sexual act will accomplish yibum, whether or not it was done with intent
- that any sexual act, whether “natural” or “unnatural,” will complete the yibum.
Based on the first principle mentioned above, several poskim rule that the yavam (the surviving brother) should make a blessing before performing yibum, since the performance of every mitzvah requires a bracha beforehand (see Shulchan Aruch, Even ha-Ezer 166).
In answer to the question of why we need a specific teaching for the idea that any sexual act whether “natural” or “unnatural” will complete the yibum, given the general principle that halacha always treats any act of sexual intercourse as having halakhic significance, the Ramban suggests that we may have thought that yibum should be an exception to that rule. Given that yibum focuses on continuing the name of the brother who had passed away, we may have thought that only a sexual act that potentially could have led to pregnancy would have been significant. Thus we need to be taught that even in the case of yibum any sexual act will suffice to fulfill the mitzvah.
The second Mishnah in Masechet Kiddushin (14b) leaves the realm of marriage and focuses on the status of an eved Ivri – a Jewish slave – and specifically on how such slaves are acquired and how they are granted their freedom. Ordinarily, a male Jewish slave is acquired by means of kesef (money) or shetar (a contract), and leaves slavery after six years of work, or when the yovel (the Jubilee year) arrives or by paying back the value of his remaining years.
Although the common perception today is that slavery is inhumane, the situation of an eved Ivri is more similar to a long-term contract, in that the slave must be treated with great respect. The Gemara understands from the passage ki tov lo imakh – that some slaves choose to remain beyond their assigned years because they find their situation to be a good one (see Shemot 21:5) – that the master is obligated to ensure that the slave join him in eating and his drinking. At the same time, the eved ivri is a slave who is obligated to work at his assigned tasks. The baraita even requires him to work day and night, and Rabbi Yitzchak explains that his work at night would be to sleep with a non-Jewish female slave and that the offspring that would be produced from this relationship would belong to the master.
The Meiri explains Rabbi Yitzchak’s teaching as follows. Since it is impossible to accept the fact that a Jewish slave should really be obligated to work a 24 hour day, we must find a service that he can perform for his master at night that does not involve labor or toil. Thus we conclude that he must perform this service, which he will be obligated to do in his position as an eved.
In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit www.steinsaltz.org or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.