Masechet Kiddushin 16a-29b

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Wedding Rings
30 Oct 2008

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.

Kiddushin 16a-b

As we have seen, 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. While a male Jewish slave is freed from his status as an eved Ivri after completing six years of work, or when the yovel (the Jubilee year) arrives or by paying back the value of his remaining years, an amah Ivriyah – a Jewish servant-girl – will also be released upon reaching physical maturity.

When discussing physical maturity, the Gemara uses the expression simanim – has the young woman shown “signs,” that is to say, signs of physical maturity. Generally speaking, this refers to the appearance of pubic hairs (in the terminology of the Gemara, shetay sa’arot – at least two hairs). Obviously, every child differs in his or her physical development and there is no precise time when these simanim will appear. The age that they appear depends on many factors, including their family genetic history, issues of climate and nutrition. Nevertheless, there are average times that we anticipate the appearance of simanim, and, as the Gemara points out, if they appear years earlier they will not be seen as a true indicator of physical maturity.

The reason an amah Ivriyah leaves her master’s house with the appearance of simanim is because the true purpose of such an arrangement is for the “master” to have his son (or himself) marry the girl. If the betrothal has not taken place by the time she is old enough to be married – in a society where marriages were expected to take place at a young age, the Torah concludes that ve-yatzah hinam, ein kasef – that she goes free without any payment being made (see Shemot 21:7).

Kiddushin 17a-b

The Torah has extensive laws that deal with inheritance (see Bamidbar 27:5-11). Our Gemara discusses whether a man who owns an eved Ivri – a Jewish slave – will pass him to his son or daughter as an inheritance in the event that he dies. This discussion leads to a more general survey of the laws of inheritance, including the perspective that Jewish law has towards non-Jews, what they own, and how they bequeath it.

Rava teaches that Jewish law recognizes – on a Torah level – a non-Jew’s ownership of property and his ability to pass it to his son as an inheritance. The fact that a convert to Judaism will also receive an inheritance from his father is presented by Rava as a law of rabbinic origin. This is based on the fact that Jewish law views a convert as a newborn, who has severed all ties with his biological family. Nevertheless, the Mishnah (Demai 6:10) teaches that we allow him to receive his father’s inheritance, lest he feel that it is to his advantage to return to his non-Jewish life, and choose to leave Judaism.

The idea that Jewish law views a convert as a newborn, who has severed all ties with his biological family is emphasized by the ruling presented in a Mishnah (Shevi’it 10:9) that a person who borrows money from a convert, should not return it to the convert’s children (in the event that he dies). Since, according to the halacha they are not truly related to their biological father, who has died. Even if the borrower wanted to do it on his own accord, returning the money to the children is discouraged by the sages.

Although Rashi understands this ruling to indicate a lack of interest by the sages in this case, and that it is left to the discretion of the borrower, other rishonim believe that the sages actively discouraged paying back the children of a convert. They explain it as a rabbinic enactment whose purpose is to make it clear to people that the laws regarding converts are not identical with those of Jews from birth with regard to certain halakhot.  

Kiddushin 18a-b

As we have learned, the true purpose for which the Torah allows a father to “sell” his daughter as an amah Ivriyah is for the “master” to have his son (or himself) marry the girl. In this case the marriage is called yi’ud (see Shemot 21:9). Rabbah bar Avuhah raises the following question about yi’ud – is it nisu’in (a complete marriage) or is it erusin (betrothal, i.e. the first stage of marriage, which will need to be completed with nisu’in)? The Gemara points out that the practical differences between these two possibilities will be whether he has the ability to be mefer her nedarim (can he annul vows that she made – see Nedarim daf 67), Furthermore, in the event that she dies, will the husband inherit her property, or, if he is a kohen, will he be obligated to participate in her burial.

Several explanations are offered to explain why yi’ud may effectively complete the marriage. The Me’iri quotes the Ra’avad as comparing the case of amah ivriyah to a case of maser ha-av le-sheluchei ha-ba’al – when, in a regular case of a marriage arranged by the father, the father transfers his daughter into the hands of the husband’s messengers. That messirah – “handing over” – effectively moves the bride into her husband’s domain, completing the marriage. Similarly in our case, the amah Ivriyah has been moved into her husband’s domain, and the nisu’in is complete. The P’nei Yehoshua suggests that since the amah Ivriyah is living in the same house as her betrothed, who can consummate the marriage at any time, we could conceivably view her as having had nisu’in.

The Rambam (Hilkhot Avadim 4:9) rules that yi’ud only accomplishes erusin, so the marriage will only be completed with appropriate nisu’in – the symbolic chuppah (wedding canopy) that will bring her into his home as his wife.

Kiddushin 19a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the point of allowing a father to “sell” his daughter as an amah ivriyah is to promote the possibility of an arranged marriage between the girl and the “master” or his son through a process known as yi’ud. Our daf discusses a number of laws connected with yi’ud. According to our Gemara , yi’ud takes place when the “master” says to the amah Ivriyah “harei at mekudeshet li” or “harei at me’oreset li” (normal expressions of marriage) before two witnesses, and begins to treat her like a wife rather than like a servant girl. The Shitah Mekubetzet points out that the Torah has already obligated the new husband to treat the amah Ivriyah as he would a regular wife once they are married. Nevertheless there are some immediate changes that take place that distinguish the newly married woman from her previous position as an amah Ivriyah. One example is that as an amah Ivriyah the girl was obligated to accept any work, and perform to the best of her ability. The husband-wife relationship requires only certain specific jobs to be done by the wife.

Given the fact that yi’ud is the ultimate goal of “selling” a girl as an amah Ivriyah, would a father be permitted to include a condition in the “sale” that yi’ud should not take place? In a baraita quoted on our daf, Rabbi Meir allows such a condition to be attached to the sale, while the Chachamim rule that such a condition carries no weight, and that the master can choose to do yi’ud anyway. The position of the Chachamim is based on the fact that they see yi’ud as being essential to the whole concept of an amah ivriyah, and by making this condition the father is matneh al mah she-katuv ba-Torah, ve-khol ha-matneh al mah shekatuv baTorah tena’o batel (he is making a condition that negates a Torah law, and such a condition has no effect).

The Talmud Yerushalmi points out that Rabbi Meir agrees to the idea that ha-matneh al mah shekatuv baTorah tena’o batel, but only in cases where the condition would negate a Torah obligation. Yi’ud, while recommended, may not take place, since it is left to the discretion of the master.

Kiddushin 20a-b

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 imach – that some slaves choose to remain beyond their assigned years because they find their situation to be a good one (see Shemot 21:16) – that the master is obligated to ensure that the slave join him in eating and drinking. According to the baraita on our daf, the master cannot eat fine bread and feed his eved Ivri poor bread; he cannot drink aged wine and have his eved Ivri drink poorer quality wine; he cannot sleep on cushions and have his eved Ivri sleeping on straw. The baraita concludes with the expression kol ha-koneh eved, koneh adon le-atzmo – anyone who purchases a slave has bought a master for himself.

The Me’iri writes that these obligations on the master should be seen as recommendations – as good deeds. They are not monetary obligations that the master owes to his eved Ivri, so the eved Ivri could not, for example, take his master to court and sue him demanding a higher standard of living. Furthermore, the Me’iri argues that even today, when we no longer have the concept of slavery, this attitude should inform contemporary relationships with workers, who should be housed, clothed and fed in a manner similar to that of the master. This is certainly true according to the opinion of Tosafot (15a) who bring a prooftext to this rule from the passage ke-sachir ketoshav ya’avod imakh (Vayikra 25:40) – that an eved Ivri should be treated like a hired servant. The Talmud Yerushalmi writes that Rabbi Yochanan treated all who worked for him this way – even his non-Jewish slaves.

Kiddushin 21a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, far from being a life of pain and submission, a Jewish slave was reputed to be a “master” to his owner, and was well-treated. Recognizing that this situation may encourage an eved Ivri to choose to remain with his master, the Torah allowed for such a possibility (Shemot 21:5). According to the Torah, such an eved can choose to have his ear pierced with an awl (Shemot 21:6), at which time he will serve his master “forever.”

Our Gemara focuses on the eved Ivri who chooses to remain with his master. Will he remain with the master’s son after the master’s death? How long is “forever”? How must the technical application of the law that requires the eved Ivri to have his ear pierced be applied? Must it be done with an awl?

Based on a close reading of the pesukim, the Gemara concludes that the eved nirtzah – the slave who has had his ear pierced – is only obligated to work for the master, and not his son. The term “forever” means until the yovel – the Jubilee year. With regard to the ear piercing itself, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi rules that it can be done with any metal implement, while Rabbi Yossi b’Rabbi Yehuda allows it to be done with other sharp objects, including a sole (a sharpened piece of wood), a sirah (a thorn), a machat (needle), and anything that is held in one’s hand.

The biblical sirah is identified with the contemporary Sarcopoterium spinosum, a member of the Rosaceae family. This thorny plant is a low growing shrub that is very common in Israel, particularly in the hilly areas north of Be’er Sheva where it covers large areas near cultivated fields. Its branches are wooden, ending in branched thorns. The leaves are compound and pinnate; winter leaves are relatively large compared to the smaller summer leaves. Flowering season is from March to April. Its fruit is round with a brown-red color. Due to its thorns and intertwined leaves, objects can enter the shrub easily, but it is very difficult to remove them.

Kiddushin 22a-b

As we have seen on the previous dapim, the life of an eved Ivri, a Jewish slave, was regulated by the Torah and the sages so that it was not true slavery, to the extent that kol ha-koneh eved, koneh adon le-atzmo – anyone who purchases a slave has bought a master for himself.

Our Gemara focuses on the intent of the Torah when it instructs the master to set the eved Ivri free at the end of his term of service together with his wife and children (see Shemot 21:2-3 and Vayikra 25:41). Although we have learned that the master must treat his eved Ivri with great consideration, must he also support the slave’s wife and children? Why are they living in the master’s house, as well? The baraita concludes that the Torah, in fact, requires the master to support the eved Ivri‘s family, as well.

The general approach to this law – which does not appear at first glance to have a source in the Torah, since even a husband and father may only be obligated to support his family on a Rabbinic level – is that it is the natural consequence of taking on the responsibilities of the person who was purchased. Since it is expected that the head of the household will support his family, that responsibility now falls on the master.

We find that there is a disagreement among the rishonim about the responsibility that the eved Ivri’s wife and children have towards the master. According to the Ramban (in his commentary to the Torah) and the Ritva, since they are being supported by the master, any income that they make belongs to him. The Rambam – basing himself on the Mekhilta – rules that they remain the charges of their husband and father, and that any income that they acquire would belong to the eved ivri.

Kiddushin 23a-b

The Mishnah (22b) discusses how non-Jewish slaves can be purchased or be freed. Such slaves can be bought with money, a document of purchase (shetar) or an act that symbolizes ownership (chazaka). There is a difference of opinion regarding methods that can be used allowing them to take possession of themselves (i.e., be freed from slavery). According to Rabbi Meir, someone else can purchase them, although they cannot purchase themselves; the Chachamim allow a slave to purchase his own freedom, as long as the money that he uses belongs to someone else.

Various suggestions are raised in the Gemara to explain these positions. The underlying issue is how the non-Jewish slave can own money with which to free himself, given the rule that anything he owns automatically belongs to his master. For example, Rabbah quotes Rav Sheshet as explaining that the case is when someone else gives him money, saying that it is given on the condition that his master does not have rights to it. Rabbi Meir believes that the condition does not take effect and the money that was meant for the slave is taken by the master, while the Chachamim rule that the condition works, and the money can be used to purchase the slave’s freedom.

Why does Rabbi Meir reject the condition?

The Ramban and Rashba argue that the person who makes such a condition is matneh al meh she-katuv baTorah – that his condition negates a biblical law, since as soon as the slave takes possession of anything, it immediately belongs to the master. The Ritva offers a different approach, arguing that this case is not a normal condition. Ordinarily a person may attach certain conditions to the recipient of a gift. In this case the condition is an attempt to limit the gift itself; to offer only limited ownership of the money that is being given. Such an attempt to retain rights to money that is being given as a gift has no legal basis.

Kiddushin 24a-b

As we saw on yesterday’s daf, our Gemara is dealing with the legal status of a non-Jewish slave. Aside from purchasing himself to gain his freedom, a non-Jewish slave goes free if his master knocks out a tooth or an eye (see Shemot 21:26-27) – or, as the Gemara teaches, if the master does other permanent damage to his other limbs.

Our Gemara discusses this rule, and distinguishes between a case where the master physically injured his slave, causing him to become blind or deaf – in which case the slave would go free – and cases where he did not actually hit his eye or his ear, but the trauma of a near-miss causes the slave to lose his sight or his hearing, in which case he would not go free. The Gemara explains that even though we find that damage caused by indirect force is significant (e.g., the owner of a crowing rooster who succeeds in breaking a glass vessel with sound waves would be responsible for the damage), that would not apply to a person, since the damage is not caused by a physical blow, rather because he became frightened – a process that he is responsible for, and his master is not.

The Gemara appears to be describing a hysterical reaction to an event, something that we know can bring about blindness or hearing loss. In such cases, even though there is no physical damage whatsoever, the psychological/emotional trauma does not allow the individual to make use of those senses, and he is effectively blind or deaf. As serious as those situations may be, they still do not meet the requirements of shen v’ayin (the loss of a tooth or an eye) which would allow the slave to go free.

Kiddushin 25a-b

Aside from straightforward discussions of halacha we also find that the Gemara includes true-to-life experiences of how certain questions of Jewish law are decided both inside and outside of the study hall. In the course of discussing the laws about freeing a non-Jewish slave whose master injures him, the Gemara relates the following story:

The elders of the city of Nezonya (according to Rabbeinu Chananel, a small city in Bavel, near Sura and near Chisda’s hometown) did not attend Rav Chisda’s lecture. Rav Chisda instructed Rav Hamnuna to excommunicate them for their failure to attend. When Rav Hamnuna inquired into their absence, the elders explained that they no longer show respect to Rav Chisda since he refused to respond to one of their questions. Rav Hamnuna offered to listen to their question and respond, but upon hearing it he could not come up with an answer. Our Gemara relates that the elders mocked him, saying “your name is not Hamnuna, but Karnuna!”

Although it is likely that Rav Hamnuna’s name has its source in the Greek word for song – hymn – the city elders were playing with his name in some fashion. Some suggest that it is a reference to horns (karnayim). Rashi connects the expression with yoshvei keranot – people who sit on street corners instead of in the study hall. The Ritva takes this idea further, suggesting that Hamnuna implies trustworthiness, meaning that he is someone who can be relied upon in his learning.

The rishonim question this approach, arguing that the fact that Rav Hamnuna could not respond to their question is not reason enough for accusations of his not being a scholar. Most rishonim follow the approach of Rabbeinu Chananel that it is a play on words. Ham-nuna means “hot fish” – tasty fish. Kar-nuna, “cold fish” is not tasty, just as his inability to respond to their question left them disappointed.

Kiddushin 26a-b

Our Gemara quotes a Mishnah in Pe’ah ( 3:6), in which Rabbi Akiva taught that even a very small amount of land is obligated in pe’ah (leaving a corner of the field unharvested for the poor) and bikurim (first fruits that were brought to Jerusalem) and could be used as the basis for writing a pruzbol.

According to the Torah, among other things the Sabbatical year annulled most private loans (see Devarim 15:1-3). Recognizing that lenders were reluctant to offer loans as the Sabbatical year approached – which was, itself forbidden by the Torah (see Devarim 15:9-11), Hillel ha-Zaken established a method that would allow the lenders to collect the debts that were owed to them, even after the Sabbatical year. His suggestion was to write a document – called a pruzbol – that effectively turned the loan over to the courts, which were not constrained by the laws of shemitta, since they do not apply to public debts. Thus, when the Sabbatical year was over, the court would be collecting the debt, rather than the individual. This legal fiction was viewed as a benefit for both the rich – who would not be able to recover their loans – and the poor – who would now be able to borrow money when they needed to.

Rashi explains the need for land as the basis for a pruzbol as stemming from the fact that this law only applied to “normal” loans. In order to be considered a “normal” loan, land had to be made available as a guarantee that the loan would be repaid.

The source for the term pruzbol is Greek, although it is not entirely clear what the word refers to. One suggestion is that it means simply “an announcement delivered to the courts.” Another suggestion is that it means “finalizing the sale.” Other suggestions have been raised, as well.

Kiddushin 27a-b

Taking an oath in a bet din – a Jewish court of law – is considered a serious matter, one that cannot be taken lightly. It should be noted that unlike most modern-day courtrooms where the witnesses are asked to take an oath that they are telling the truth, in a bet din we ensure that the witnesses are reliable and are telling the truth in other ways. In a Jewish court an oath is imposed on the plaintiff when evidence demands that he support his claim by means of a serious, weighty statement.

The Mishnah (26a) teaches that when the bet din rules that an individual is obligated to take an oath on a specific matter, other issues that are in dispute can also be included in the oath, even if they are matters that ordinarily would not require an oath. The Gemara on our daf discusses this rule, called gilgul shevua (literally “rolling over” the oath). Ulla teaches that the source for the concept of gilgul shevua is the law of Sotah – a woman whose husband suspects her of infidelity, who is brought to the Temple to be tested by drinking specially prepared “bitter waters.” We find that a sotah who is required to take an oath that she did not commit adultery listens to the words of the kohen who is officiating at the ceremony and responds “Amen, Amen.” This response is interpreted by the Gemara to include not only her denial of an adulterous relationship with this specific man, but also another man and not only at this time, but at different points in her life, as well.

According to the Rambam, it is not the kohen who initiates the gilgul shevu’ah that requires that the oath include other situations beyond the one that she is accused of, rather he offers the option to the husband to include these, as well. According to the Rosh, however, it is the kohen – or, in our case, the bet din – who may choose to include other issues in an oath, beyond the one that is creating the obligation to take the oath.

Kiddushin 28a-b

The Gemara on our daf quotes a baraita that teaches:

Rav Shmuel ben Hafni Gaon was asked why the different epithets receive such different punishments, and he answered that these were simply edicts that could not be explained. Rav Saadiah ibn Denan responded to this by arguing that such an explanation might be appropriate when dealing with a difficult-to-explain biblical law, but when discussing a rabbinic ordinance, there must be a logical explanation for their ruling.

He suggests that each of these punishments fits the crime middah ke-neged middah – each in an appropriate fashion.

Kiddushin 29a-b

What takes precedence – learning Torah or marriage?

In discussing this question, each position is presented as the one that should be done first. Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel as ruling that a person should first get married, and can study Torah later; Rabbi Yochanan objects, arguing rechayim be-tzavaro ve-ya’asok ba-Torah!? – with a millstone – i.e. the responsibilities of supporting a family – on his neck, how can he study Torah!? He concludes that a person should study Torah first and get married afterwards.

The Gemara concludes that there is really no disagreement between Rav Yehudah and Rabbi Yochanan – ha lan v’ha lehu – we must recognize the differences between the communities in Bavel and Israel. What the Gemara does not explain is which ruling is appropriate for which community and why that would be the case.

Rashi explains Shmuel’s ruling as applying to students from Bavel who traveled to Israel to study. Since they were not at home, they were not responsible for supporting their families, and could marry first. Rabbi Yochanan was talking to Israeli students who remained at home and could not divest themselves of their responsibilities. They were, therefore, encouraged to study first and marry later.

Tosafot do not accept Rashi’s explanation. They are disturbed by the idea that a man can choose to abandon his family in order to travel to a foreign land and study. Furthermore, the ruling that encouraged marriage before study was made at least partially to allow a man to learn Torah while having satisfied his natural sexual urges; if he leaves his wife behind in Bavel, this is not accomplished. Rabbeinu Tam suggests that Rabbi Yochanan was telling the poor students of Bavel that they should come to Israel for study before they take on the responsibilities of a family, while Shmuel was telling the wealthy Israeli students that they could marry, since they would remain at home during their studies.

Some rishonim follow Rashi’s approach, but with a different explanation. In Bavel tradition allowed young women to work and support the family, so students who made such an arrangement could first marry. In Israel, where the entire responsibility of support was on the husband, students were told to first learn Torah and to marry later.

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.