Masechet Ketubot 48a-54b

hero image
18 Oct 2007

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.

This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris, The Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan

Ketubot 48a-b

While a wife’s obligations to her husband are largely of rabbinic origin, the Torah commands a man to clothe and support his wife. The pasuk commands she’erah, kesutah ve-onatah lo yigra (Shemot 21:9-10) – a husband may not withhold basic family needs from his wife.

The precise definitions of these terms are discussed in our Gemara. Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov, for example, is quoted as interpreting she’erah kesutah as a single term that means that appropriate clothing must be made available to her, so that new, warm clothing should not be given in the summer, nor cool, well-worn clothing in the winter.  Similarly, a young woman should not be given clothing appropriate for an old woman, nor should an elderly woman receive a young woman’s clothing.

Although there is some disagreement about which of the terms teaches that engaging in normal sexual relations is obligatory for the husband (Rabbi Elazar points to the passage in Vayikra 18:6 to suggest that it is the word she’erah, while Rava identifies it as onatah based on the passage in Bereshit 31:50), it is clear that a regular sexual relationship is a Biblical requirement. In this context, Rav Yosef taught a baraita that appears to understand the word she’erah as requiring a “closeness of the flesh” during relations, thus forbidding the “Persian tradition” of engaging in sexual relations while dressed. Rav Huna, in fact, rules that a husband who insists that sex take place while wearing clothing can be compelled to offer his wife a divorce and pay her the ketubah.

Some point to a Gemara in Masechet Brachot (8a), where a number of positive Persian customs are mentioned.  Among those customs is that they are tzanu’a – modest – while engaged in sexual relations, which seems to view such behavior as praiseworthy. The Magen Avraham (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 240:8) grapples with this question and concludes that if both husband and wife agree to have sex while dressed, then it is considered a higher level of modesty.  However, as the Ritva argues, if only the husband perceives this as modesty, it can be grounds for his wife to demand a divorce.

Ketubot 49a-b

Must a father support his children?

Strange as this may sound, the Sages of the Mishnah seem to be in agreement that there is no obligation for a father to support his children, although it is certainly a mitzvah for him to do so. This agreement notwithstanding, our Gemara quotes Rabbi Ila’a who quotes Reish Lakish in the name of Rabbi Yehuda bar Chanina as teaching that a Rabbinic ordinance was established in Usha that obligates a father to support his children while they are minors. The Gemara goes on to relate a number of stories of Sages who employed various methods of public embarrassment to force reluctant parents to support their children.

When Rav Chisda was faced with such a situation, he forced the father to stand up publicly and announce “even a raven desires children and supports them, but I do not.” When Rav Yehuda had to deal with a case like this that was brought before him, he turned to the father and said “yarod fathered the child and now expects the community to support it!?”

The yarod invoked by Rav Yehuda is the subject of some disagreement among the commentaries. The Aramaic translation of tanin (sea monster) is yarod but it is not clear that the tanin always refers to the same animal. In fact, Rashi offers different translations in different contexts, sometimes saying it is a bird, other times that it is an animal. In our case, some say it is a bird that does not care for its children; others posit that it is an animal that is ferocious and threatening towards other animals but is caring to its own offspring. The Ritva points out that, according to this approach, Rav Yehuda is arguing that this parent is even worse than a yarod, who is at least sensitive to its own children.

Ketubot 50a-b

When should a child begin formal studies in school?

Our Gemara offers several approaches to this question:

Rav Yitzhak relates that in Usha a rabbinic ordinance was established that a parent should be lenient with his son regarding his studies until he is 12 years old, at which point he should force him to attend school.

This stands in contrast with the statement that Rav made to Rav Shmuel bar Shilat (who was a prominent elementary school teacher at that time) that he should not accept students younger than six, but he should begin teaching children from age six onward and “stuff them like an ox.”

One resolution that the Gemara offers is the statement of Abayye, who quotes his mother as teaching that a child should begin the study of Torah at age six and of Mishnah when he is ten.

The Gemara closes with the teaching of Rav Ketina, who says that a person who enrolls his son in school before he is six “chases after him but will never catch him,” i.e. that he will always need to keep after his child’s health because the studies will weaken him. Another approach is that this is a positive statement – he will be so advanced in his studies that his peers will never be able to catch up. The Gemara also considers the possibility that this decision should depend on the health of the child.

Contemporary psychologists offer different opinions on the question of the proper age to begin intensive schooling for children. In any event, it appears clear that this decision should be based on the physical abilities of the child, and even more on the child’s emotional and spiritual preparedness for such study. Thus there is no “correct” answer to our question, as it depends on the development of each individual child. Nevertheless, the age range mentioned by the Sages in the Gemara is largely what is practiced even today, as those are the ages when most children are ready for formal schooling.

Ketubot 51a-b

We have already learned that, according to the halacha, a married woman who commits adultery becomes forbidden to her husband; on the other hand, a woman who was raped remains permitted to her husband.

Rav Yehuda teaches that women who were kidnapped are permitted to return to their husbands after they are released, even if they engaged in sexual relations with their captors, since we assume that they were forced into such a situation against their will. Rav Yehuda defended this ruling against arguments that the women brought food to their captors (which might indicate a willingness to be there), and even if the women participated in their battles by handing them arrows during combat (which, as the Shita Mekubetzet points out, would seem to run counter to their own best interests), arguing that they did so only out of fear.

One case that does not fit into this category, according to the Gemara, was when a woman was being held by “Ben Netzer.” In such a case, a woman who slept with her captors was considered to have done so willingly and would be forbidden to her husband.

“Ben Netzer” was the family name of the man who became known as Odenathus, who ruled the city of Tadmur (Palmyra) in the third century of the Common Era. He took advantage of the long and difficult war being waged between the Romans and the Persians to enhance his own position and influence well beyond the boundaries of the oasis that he called his capital city. After allying himself with the Romans and assisting them in the war against Shapur I, the Persian king, the Romans appointed him to be their governor over the neighboring lands. Nevertheless, he attempted to establish a broad independent empire and was killed in the year 267. After his death, his widow, Zenobia, succeeded in gaining influence up to the Egyptian border, until she was killed by the Romans. The Sages took a negative view towards this government and its leaders, at least partially due to their position towards the Jewish community, which came to the fore in the capture and destruction of the city of Neharda’a (see daf 23). Our Gemara describes the government as a mixture of monarchy and anarchy.

The Ramban explains that the “Ben Netzer” government was known to refrain from forcible rape, so any woman who slept with an official of that government was viewed as having done so willingly.

Ketubot 52a-b

When a person is being held for ransom, what obligation does the community – or her husband, in the case of a married woman – have to redeem them?

One of the basic obligations written into the ketubah is that a husband accepts upon himself the responsibility to redeem his wife in the event that she is taken captive. The Mishnah (51a) makes clear that he cannot announce “I am divorcing her and am willing to pay ketubah;” the bet din will insist that he work to arrange for her release.

In a baraita quoted in our Gemara, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel teaches that although a husband is obligated to redeem his wife from captivity – even if the amount she is being held for is greater than the value of her ketubah – nevertheless ein podin et ha-shevuyin yeter al keday dimehem: captives are not redeemed for more than their actual value. He explains that this is because of tikkun ha-olam – in order to make the world a better place.

The source for this halacha is in Masechet Gittin (45a), where the Gemara discusses what exactly the term tikkun ha-olam means in this context. One explanation is that it should not be done because of the burden that it will impose on the community, which cannot afford to pay such a large amount of money. Another approach that is suggested argues that paying ridiculously large sums of money will simply encourage evildoers to kidnap more Jewish people in order to exact such payments.

The Gemara in Gittin does not come to a clear conclusion on this question. The Ramban and Rashba, among others, suggest that the fact that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s reasoning is brought in our Gemara, where the case is an individual husband who is to pay, makes it clear that the issue is one of future concerns, rather than the difficulty of the community to pay. The Ritva quotes Rabbeinu Tam as arguing that we cannot bring a proof from our Gemara, since here we are discussing an out-of-the-ordinary case, where a husband would be willing to pay more than was ordinarily necessary in order to save his wife – much as a person who pays extra to save himself.

Unfortunately, in today’s world these questions are not merely academic; discussions of how to negotiate the fate of Israeli prisoners of war revolve around these age-old questions.

Ketubot 53a-b

Our Gemara discusses the impact of a woman’s decision to sell her ketubah (mokheret) or to forgive her ketubah (mechilah). Although we may not view a ketubah as a commodity, nevertheless, it has potential value and an investor may be interested in purchasing it at a discount in the hope that the marriage will end in divorce or as a result of the husband’s death before his wife’s demise, so that he will be able to collect the ketubah payment. The Gemara relates that only a woman who is in difficult financial straits would agree to sell her ketubah. Forgiving the ketubah occurs when a woman wants to improve and show her faith in the marriage by stating that she is willing to forgo the ketubah payment.

The idea of forgiving the ketubah is a difficult one, as the halakhah requires a married couple to always have a ketubah. When presented with this question, the Ri”f explained that we cannot be talking about a case in which the wife gives up all of the rights that appear in the ketubah; rather she merely relinquishes the payments that are due to her from the orphans after her husband’s death. Alternatively, she gives up the right to tosefet ketubah – the money offered by the husband over-and-above the basic requirement of 100 or 200 maneh.  Another approach is suggested by the Sefer ha-Itur, who explains that she may have forgiven the basic payment that is due to her, but only in the event of death. The payment made in the event of divorce cannot be forgiven, since the underlying principle of the ketubah is to ensure she-lo te-he kalah be-einav le-hotziah – that he should not feel that he can divorce her very easily.

The conclusion of the Gemara is that a woman who forgives her ketubah will not receive mezonot (food). Most commentaries argue that this does not free her husband of his obligation to feed his wife, as that is a Biblical requirement (see daf 48); rather, it refers to the obligation of the orphans to feed her in the event that her husband dies. Nevertheless, the Rambam rules that in the case of mehilah, the husband is actually free of this obligation, as well.

Ketubot 54a-b

Today’s Daf Yomi is dedicated in honor of the yahrzeit of Irving Bernstein (13 Cheshvan).

The Mishnah (52b) records that there were different traditions in different parts of Israel with regard to ketubah. Specifically, in Jerusalem and the Galilee the widow was permitted to continue living in her husband’s home, supported by the orphans, while in Yehuda and the southern part of Israel the ketubah allowed the orphans to pay her what was owed to her and force her out of her home. The Talmud Yerushalmi summed up the argument by saying that the people of Yehuda worried more about their money than their honor, while the people of the Galilee worried more about their honor than their money.

Our Gemara relates that this difference of opinion existed in Babylon as well, where Rav accepted the tradition of the community in Yehuda and Shmuel accepted the tradition of the people of the Galilee and Jerusalem. Based on this, the community of Bavel generally followed Rav, while the community of Neharda followed Shmuel.

A young woman from Mechoza who was married to a man from Neharda came before Rav Nachman to discuss this very situation. Hearing her accent, Rav Nachman suggested that she must fall into the category of people who follow Rav and the tradition of the people of Yehuda. When it was clarified, however, that her husband hailed from Nehard, he changed his ruling, explaining that the community of Neharda followed the position of Shmuel, and that this extended to all areas where kaba d’Neharda was accepted.

The kaba d’ Neharda was the Neharda measure. For many years – and in some countries, to this day – within a given country one could find a variety of local weights and measures. Sometimes one would find different standards of measures even in two cities that were in close proximity to one another. Oftentimes, these local measures pointed to ancient independent areas, like cities or districts. The Jewish community in Babylon was broken into a number of different districts, which, during the times of the geonim had clear geographic and legal boundaries. These distinct districts were obvious, for example, from different word usage and accents, and they followed different traditions – like accepting the rulings of one Sage over another.

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 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.