Masechet Ketubot 55a-61b

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25 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 55a-b

A matnat shechiv mera is a present given by an individual who is on his death bed. Unlike other examples of property transfer where the most basic requirement demands that a formal kinyan – an act of transfer – take place, in the case of matnat shechiv mera the Sages ruled that no such kinyan is necessary. This rule was established in order to ease the concerns that rest on a dying person who wants to be sure that his will is carried out prior to his death. Nevertheless, there are restrictions to this unique rule of matnat shechiv mera, specifically that it only works if the dying man bequeaths all of his possessions while on his death bed. This clarifies to us that he is only distributing his wealth because he assumes that he has no more need for physical possessions, which leads to one final rule that applies to a case of matnat shechiv mera – in the event that the dying man recovers, all of these presents must be returned, since they were given under a mistaken impression.

Our Gemara discusses a case where in addition to his request that his money be given to others, the shechiv mera arranged for a formal contract to be written that spelled out what was to be given away. In such a case, Rav argues that the present is certainly a good one since it works on two different levels – both as a normal present (even if he recovers the present is permanent and will not revert back to him) and as a matnat shechiv mera (and he can even transfer loans that are owed to him, which ordinarily cannot be accomplished without a formal legal act). Shmuel argues, saying that he does not know how to rule in such a case, since the appearance of the contract seems to indicate that he does not want to invoke the matnat shechiv mera rule, yet ein shtar le-ahar mitah – a contract cannot take effect after death.

Ketubot 56a-b

In the Mishnah (54b) we learned that Rabbi Yehuda offers an option of reducing the value of the ketubah if the woman agrees to accept less than the standard 100 or 200 maneh. She does this by writing a receipt that indicates that she has already received part of the ketubah payment. Rabbi Meir disagrees, insisting that anything less than the standard 100 or 200 maneh is not a true marriage.

Our Gemara approaches Rabbi Yehuda’s ruling from a very practical perspective. Does he truly believe that a person who has made partial payment of a loan will need to accept a receipt? In fact, we find that Rabbi Yehuda’s opinion is that when a loan is paid back in part, an entirely new contract must be written. According to Rashi this is necessary to protect the interests of the borrower who otherwise will need to constantly be concerned that the receipt may be lost.

Two answers are offered by the Gemara. Abayye points out that Rabbi Yehuda is concerned for the borrower who paid part of the money that he owed, but – if the receipt is lost – may be faced with a contract that appears to indicate that nothing had been paid. In our case, however, no payment was made, so if the husband ends up paying the entire amount he will not incur any loss. Rabbi Yirmiyah suggests that the receipt be written on the ketubah itself, which will solve the problem that the receipt might become lost.

The commentaries point out that Rabbi Yirmiyah’s suggestion does not fully solve the problem. Even when the receipt is written on the ketubah, the wife, who is the one who holds the ketubah, may try to erase those words or cut them off of the ketubah!

Some understand from Rashi that the woman’s agreement to consider part of the ketubah as having been paid is written into the body of the ketubah itself, above the signatures of the witnesses, so no changes can be made in it. If this is the case, it is clear that this can be done only in the case of ketubah, and not in cases of standard loan contracts.

Ketubot 57a-b

Anyone who pays attention to a contemporary Jewish marriage ceremony will notice that there are two distinct parts to it:

  1. kiddushin (betrothal), where the husband offers a wedding band to his wife, asking her to marry him, and
  2. nisu’in (marriage), when the husband and wife become a family by entering their home, symbolized by the huppa (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.

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. The Mishnah on our daf (=page) teaches that from the time they agreed to marry, a woman who was never married is given 12 months to prepare, while a widow is given 30 days. Should that time period pass and the wedding has not yet taken place, the husband is now responsible to feed her, 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 our Mishnah 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 second stage is described in our Gemara, where she is allowed to eat terumah only after it becomes the husband’s responsibility to feed her. The final conclusion (mishna achrona) allows her to eat terumah only after the nisu’im.

Two reasons are suggested by the Gemara for changes in this ruling. Ula suggests that it is due to our concern that while she is living in her parent’s 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.

Ketubot 58a-b

When a farmer harvests his field, the terumah (one of the tithes that must be separated) that is offered to a kohen can only be consumed by kohanim or members of their household. Thus, a woman who marries a kohen may eat terumah. Similarly, a non-Jewish slave that is considered owned by the kohen can partake of the terumah, as well.

On yesterday’s daf (=page) we learned that the occurrence of simpon – fear of a broken agreement – may lead to the annulment of a marriage, which is why a woman who is betrothed to a kohen may not be permitted to eat terumah until after the marriage is consummated. Given this information the Gemara asks why a slave is permitted to eat terumah – perhaps simpon will occur, canceling the sale, and the slave will be returned to his former master who cannot feed him terumah!? The Gemara responds en simpon ba-avadim – we do not anticipate that information will come up that would cancel such a sale.

To support this idea, the Gemara considers – and rejects – different possible claims that the purchaser may make in claiming that the slave was damaged goods.

If the slave has an obvious disability, he should have noticed it at the time of purchase.

If it was a hidden disfigurement, it should be of no concern to a master who had bought him for work.

If he was a thief or a kubiyustus, the sale still stands.

If he was found to be an armed robber or mukhtav la-malkhut – wanted by the authorities – he would have heard about it, since these are unusual.

Most commentaries (Rashi, the Rivan and the Rambam among others) define kubiyustus as a kidnapper, although Rabbeinu Chananel says that it is simple a dice player – a mesachek be-kubiyah. Both Rashi and the Rambam explain that the deal cannot be cancelled in such a case because those traits are not unexpected to find among slaves and without a specific condition excluding them, the purchaser is understood to accept them.

Rashi and the Rivan interpret mukhtav la-malchut to mean that he has been sentenced to death by the authorities. The Rambam understands that this slave has been registered as belonging to the king, and will eventually be taken by the authorities and delivered to the king for his work.

Ketubot 59a-b

The Mishnah on our daf (=page) lists seven activities that a woman is obligated to perform on behalf of her husband:

  1. grinding flour
  2. baking
  3. washing clothing
  4. cooking
  5. nursing her child
  6. making the beds
  7. spinning wool

Rav Shlomo Adani in his Melechet Shlomo points to the Talmud Yerushalmi that interprets these activities as similar to avot melacha on Shabbat. That is to say, each of these activities represents a category that she is obligated to do. For example, baking would include all the preparations involved in kneading the dough, etc.

The Gemara opens with a question about the first category – grinding flour – inquiring whether a woman is truly obligated to do so. Rashi understands this to be a practical question. Since grinding flour was often performed by a water-driven mill, it is the water that does the grinding – not the woman! Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah offer a different definition. Since grinding flour was often done with a large grindstone that was driven by a large animal, could the Mishnah possibly be suggesting that a woman was obligated to turn such a stone?!

Two answers are offered by the Gemara. According to the first, the Mishnah simply means that a wife is obligated to oversee the grinding and ensure that there is a supply of flour in the house. The second answer suggests that the Mishnah is referring to a small hand mill that was used in homes.

Hand mills were made with a hole in the top where the grain could be inserted and another on one side where a stick could be placed, allowing the grindstone to be turned. These were often used at home and turned by women who were responsible for running the kitchen. When there was a need for a large amount of flour, or when flour was produced commercially, larger mills were used, whose stones were turned by water power or by animals. Such mills could, in emergencies, be turned by people as well (see, for example, Shoftim 16:21). Nevertheless, it would be most unlikely for such difficult, manual labor to be the responsibility of the woman of the home.

Ketubot 60a-b

The Mishnah (59b) teaches that one of the obligations that a wife has to her husband is to nurse his newborn child. This is a responsibility that exists even after her husband dies. According to the baraita brought by our Gemara, should her husband pass away while she is nursing, the widow cannot marry for a year and a half (Rabbi Yehudah) or two years (Rabbi Meir) lest she become pregnant and lose her ability to produce milk.

During pregnancy, a woman’s body secretes a variety of hormones. While prolactin stimulates the production of milk, other hormones, like progesterone and estrogen reduce its production. (Until recently these hormones were given to women who chose not to breastfeed their babies.) Oftentimes – although not in every case – the presence of these hormones in a pregnant woman minimizes and eventually brings to an end the production of milk. It should also be noted that as the embryo develops, it begins to monopolize whatever the mother’s body produces, so that if her nutrition is not rich enough to support both nursing and pregnancy, her supply of milk will stop.

Recognizing the limits of a woman’s body to support more than a single nursing child, the Gemara quotes a baraita that forbids a woman from nursing another child – even her own – if she was hired to nurse another child. Furthermore, if the amount of food agreed upon was not enough to sustain a nursing woman, she must eat more. The Meiri and the Rivan understand this to mean that if her agreement with the baby’s mother does not include enough food, she must supplement on her own. Others understand this to refer to the food that she is receiving based on her agreement with her husband. If it is not enough to support a nursing woman, she must add more to the agreed-upon amount.

Ketubot 61a-b

In the course of a series of statements made by Rav Huna that are quoted by Rav Yitzhak bar Chananiah, we learn that a waiter is expected to serve food without eating, except in the case of wine and meat, whose enticing aroma would make it difficult for him to do his job if he does not get to eat.

A person who is in a situation where he sees food – and certainly if he smells enticing food – but cannot partake from it, may be affected psychologically or even physiologically. This can be seen when the person begins salivating, secretes digestive acids in his stomach, etc. This sensation can make a person uncomfortable, and, on occasion (for example, when someone suffers from a stomach ulcer) lead to potentially dangerous situations. It would not be uncommon for a person who has an ulcer to suffer serious stomach pains that will be apparent on his face, and may lead to him fainting.

This is shown to be true by the Gemara that tells of Ameimar, Mar Zutra and Rav Ashi who were sitting together in front of the home of King Yzdkrt. As food for the king was brought past them, Rav Ashi notice Mar Zutra turning pale. He quickly stuck his finger into the bowl of food, and placed it in Mar Zutra’s mouth to satisfy his craving. In response to the waiter’s complaint that he had ruined the king’s meal, Rav Ashi insisted that there was something wrong with the food, and that his actions had saved the king from eating tainted food. Eventually they discovered that Rav Ashi was correct, saving him from punishment, even as he had saved Mar Zutra from a difficult situation.

King Yzdkrt was the king of Persia from 399 – 420. This king was known as a man of peace, and during his reign there was peace between the Roman and Persian empires. Similarly, his attitude towards different religions was one of tolerance – a position that brought about great opposition from the Persian priests. The positive situation of the Jewish community under his rule was likely one of the things that encouraged the beginning of the editing of the Babylonian Talmud.

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.