Ketubot No.3: Contractual Relationships

Jewish Marriage in Antiquity

Michael L. Satlow

Marriage today might be a highly contested topic, but certainly no more than it was in antiquity. Ancient Jews, like their non-Jewish neighbors, grappled with what have become perennial issues of marriage, from its idealistic definitions to its many practical forms to questions of who should or should not wed. In this book, Michael Satlow offers the first in-depth synthetic study of Jewish marriage in antiquity, from ca. 500 B.C.E. to 614 C.E. Placing Jewish marriage in its cultural milieu, Satlow investigates whether there was anything essentially “Jewish” about the institution as it was discussed and practiced. Moreover, he considers the social and economic aspects of marriage as both a personal relationship and a religious bond, and explores how the Jews of antiquity negotiated the gap between marital realities and their ideals.

Focusing on the various experiences of Jews throughout the Mediterranean basin and in Babylonia, Satlow argues that different communities, even rabbinic ones, constructed their own “Jewish” marriage: they read their received traditions and rituals through the lens of a basic understanding of marriage that they shared with their non-Jewish neighbors. He also maintains that Jews idealized marriage in a way that responded to the ideals of their respective societies, mediating between such values as honor and the far messier realities of marital life. Employing Jewish and non-Jewish literary texts, papyri, inscriptions, and material artifacts, Satlow paints a vibrant portrait of ancient Judaism while sharpening and clarifying present discussions on modern marriage for Jews and non-Jews alike.

אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה: בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה הָיוּ כּוֹתְבִין לִבְתוּלָה מָאתַיִם וּלְאַלְמָנָה מָנֶה, וְהָיוּ מַזְקִינִין וְלֹא הָיוּ נוֹשְׂאִין נָשִׁים, עַד שֶׁבָּא שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן שָׁטַח וְתִיקֵּן, כׇּל נְכָסָיו אַחְרָאִין לִכְתוּבָּתָהּ. תַּנְיָא נָמֵי הָכִי: בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה הָיוּ כּוֹתְבִין לִבְתוּלָה מָאתַיִם וּלְאַלְמָנָה מָנֶה, וְהָיוּ מַזְקִינִין וְלֹא הָיוּ נוֹשְׂאִין נָשִׁים. הִתְקִינוּ שֶׁיִּהְיוּ מַנִּיחִין אוֹתָהּ בְּבֵית אָבִיהָ. וַעֲדַיִין: כְּשֶׁהוּא כּוֹעֵס עָלֶיהָ, אוֹמֵר לָהּ: ״לְכִי אֵצֶל כְּתוּבָּתִיךְ״, הִתְקִינוּ שֶׁיִּהְיוּ מַנִּיחִין אוֹתָהּ בְּבֵית חָמִיהָ. עֲשִׁירוֹת עוֹשׂוֹת אוֹתָהּ קְלָתוֹת שֶׁל כֶּסֶף וְשֶׁל זָהָב, עֲנִיּוֹת הָיוּ עוֹשׂוֹת אוֹתָהּ עָבִיט שֶׁל מֵימֵי רַגְלַיִם. וַעֲדַיִין, כְּשֶׁכּוֹעֵס עָלֶיהָ אוֹמֵר לָהּ: ״טְלִי כְּתוּבָּתִיךְ וָצֵאִי״. עַד שֶׁבָּא שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן שָׁטַח וְתִיקֵּן, שֶׁיְּהֵא כּוֹתֵב לָהּ: כׇּל נְכָסַי אַחְרָאִין לִכְתוּבָּתָהּ.
§ The Gemara discusses the background for the rule that the husband’s property is mortgaged for the marriage contract. Rav Yehuda said: At first they would write for a virgin two hundred dinars and for a widow one hundred dinars. They would then demand that this amount be available in cash, and then the men would grow old and would not marry women, as they did not all possess such large sums of money, until Shimon ben Shataḥ came and instituted an ordinance that a man need not place the money aside in practice. Rather, all of his property is guaranteed for her marriage contract. The Gemara comments: That opinion is also taught in a baraita: At first they would write for a virgin two hundred and for a widow one hundred dinars, and they would grow old and would not marry women, since the women were concerned that their marriage contract money would be wasted or lost, and they had no guarantee that it would be collected. The Sages therefore instituted an ordinance that they should place it, the sum of the marriage contract, in her father’s house, thereby ensuring its safekeeping. And still problems arose, as when he was angry at his wife, he would say to her: Go to your marriage contract, as it was too easy for them to divorce. Therefore, the Sages instituted an ordinance that they would place it in her father-in-law’s house, i.e., in her husband’s house. And wealthy women would craft their marriage contract money into baskets of silver and of gold, while poor ones would craft it into a large vessel for the collection of urine, as their marriage contract was large enough only for a small vessel. And still, when he was angry at her he would say to her: Take your marriage contract and leave, until Shimon ben Shataḥ came and instituted an ordinance that he does not actually give her the money for her marriage contract. Rather, he should write to her: All my property is guaranteed for her marriage contract, and it is not localized to a particular place or object. Consequently, he would need to sell some of his property if he wished to divorce her, and would therefore think carefully before undertaking such a drastic course of action.

(א) בראשונה כשהיתה כתובתה אצל אביה היתה קלה בעיניו להוציאה התקין שמעון בן שטח שתהא כתובתה אצל בעלה וכותב לה כל נכסים דאית לי אחראין וערבאין לכתובתיך דא. אין עושין כתובת אשה מן המטלטלין מפני תיקון העולם אמר ר' יוסי וכי מה תקון העולם יש בזו אלא לפי שאין לה קצבה.

(1) Originally, when her ketubah was with her father, it was light in [her husband's] eyes to divorce her. Shimon ben Shatah decreed that her ketubah should be with her husband and that he should write for her "All of my property will be mortgaged or pledged for your ketubah". They do not make a wife's ketubah from moveable items [i.e. they don't make moveable items the thing that she can collect from it, but rather real estate] because of tikkun ha-olam. Said Rabbi Yose: What tikkun ha-olam is there in this!? It is because they [the moveable items] have no fixed value.

מַתְנִי׳ הַיְּבָמָה לֹא תַּחֲלוֹץ וְלֹא תִּתְיַיבֵּם עַד שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהּ שְׁלֹשָׁה חֳדָשִׁים. וְכֵן כׇּל שְׁאָר הַנָּשִׁים לֹא יִתְאָרְסוּ וְלֹא יִנָּשְׂאוּ עַד שֶׁיְּהוּ לָהֶן שְׁלֹשָׁה חֳדָשִׁים: אֶחָד בְּתוּלוֹת וְאֶחָד בְּעוּלוֹת, אֶחָד גְּרוּשׁוֹת וְאֶחָד אַלְמָנוֹת, אֶחָד נְשׂוּאוֹת וְאֶחָד אֲרוּסוֹת.
MISHNA: A yevama may neither perform ḥalitza nor enter into levirate marriage until she has waited three months from the time of her husband’s death. And similarly, all other women may not be betrothed and may not marry until they have waited three months since their previous marriage ended. This waiting period is necessary so that, should a woman give birth shortly after remarrying, it will be obvious who the father of the child is. This applies both to virgins and non-virgins, both to divorcées and widows, and both to women who were married to their previous husbands and women who were only betrothed. All of these women must wait three months before remarrying even though for some of them the reason for doing so does not apply.
אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאָמְרוּ בְּתוּלָה גּוֹבָה מָאתַיִם וְאַלְמָנָה מָנֶה, אִם רָצָה לְהוֹסִיף אֲפִילּוּ מֵאָה מָנֶה — יוֹסִיף. נִתְאַרְמְלָה אוֹ נִתְגָּרְשָׁה, בֵּין מִן הָאֵרוּסִין בֵּין מִן הַנִּשּׂוּאִין — גּוֹבָה אֶת הַכֹּל. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה אוֹמֵר: מִן הַנִּשּׂוּאִין — גּוֹבָה אֶת הַכֹּל, מִן הָאֵירוּסִין — בְּתוּלָה גּוֹבָה מָאתַיִם וְאַלְמָנָה מָנֶה, שֶׁלֹּא כָּתַב לָהּ אֶלָּא עַל מְנָת לְכוֹנְסָהּ. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר: אִם רָצָה כּוֹתֵב לִבְתוּלָה שְׁטָר שֶׁל מָאתַיִם, וְהִיא כּוֹתֶבֶת ״הִתְקַבַּלְתִּי מִמְּךָ מָנֶה״, וּלְאַלְמָנָה מָנֶה וְהִיא כּוֹתֶבֶת ״הִתְקַבַּלְתִּי מִמְּךָ חֲמִשִּׁים זוּז״. רַבִּי מֵאִיר אוֹמֵר: כׇּל הַפּוֹחֵת לִבְתוּלָה מִמָּאתַיִם וּלְאַלְמָנָה מִמָּנֶה — הֲרֵי זוֹ בְּעִילַת זְנוּת.
MISHNA: Although they said as a principle that a virgin collects two hundred dinars as payment for her marriage contract and that a widow collects one hundred dinars, if the husband wishes to add even an additional ten thousand dinars, he may add it. If she is then widowed or divorced, whether from betrothal or whether from marriage, she collects the entire amount, including the additional sum. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya says: If she is widowed or divorced from marriage, she collects the total amount, but if she is widowed or divorced from betrothal, a virgin collects two hundred dinars and a widow one hundred dinars. This is because he wrote the additional amount for her in the marriage contract only in order to marry her. Rabbi Yehuda says a related halakha with regard to the marriage contract: If he wishes, he may write for a virgin a document for two hundred dinars as is fitting for her, and she may then write a receipt stating: I received one hundred dinars from you. Even though she has not actually received the money, the receipt serves as a means for her to waive half of the amount due to her for her marriage contract. According to Rabbi Yehuda, the financial commitment in the marriage contract is a right due to the wife, which she may waive if she chooses to do so. And similarly, for a widow he may write one hundred dinars in the contract and she may write a receipt stating: I received from you fifty dinars. However, Rabbi Meir says: It is prohibited to do this, as anyone who reduces the amount of the marriage contract to less than than two hundred dinars for a virgin or one hundred dinars for a widow, this marital relationship amounts to licentious sexual relations because it is as if he did not write any marriage contract at all.
מַתְנִי׳ לֹא כָּתַב לָהּ כְּתוּבָּה — בְּתוּלָה גּוֹבָה מָאתַיִם, וְאַלְמָנָה מָנֶה, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא תְּנַאי בֵּית דִּין. כָּתַב לָהּ שָׂדֶה שָׁוֶה מָנֶה תַּחַת מָאתַיִם זוּז, וְלֹא כָּתַב לָהּ ״כֹּל נְכָסִים דְּאִית לִי אַחְרָאִין לִכְתוּבְּתִיךְ״ — חַיָּיב, שֶׁהוּא תְּנַאי בֵּית דִּין.
MISHNA: If a husband did not write a marriage contract for his wife, a virgin collects two hundred dinars and a widow one hundred dinars upon divorce or the husband’s death, because it is a stipulation of the court that a wife is entitled to these amounts. If he wrote in her marriage contract that she is entitled to a field worth one hundred dinars instead of the two hundred dinars to which she is actually entitled, and he did not additionally write for her: All property I have shall serve as a guarantee for the payment of your marriage contract, he is nevertheless obligated to pay the full two hundred dinars; and he cannot say that she should take only a mortgaged field for payment of her marriage contract, as it is a stipulation of the court that all his property is held as surety for the entire sum.

Creating Judaism: History, Tradition, Practice

Michael Satlow

How can we define "Judaism," and what are the common threads uniting ancient rabbis, Maimonides, the authors of the Zohar, and modern secular Jews in Israel? Michael L. Satlow offers a fresh perspective on Judaism that recognizes both its similarities and its immense diversity. Presenting snapshots of Judaism from around the globe and throughout history, Satlow explores the links between vastly different communities and their Jewish traditions. He studies the geonim, rabbinical scholars who lived in Iraq from the ninth to twelfth centuries; the intellectual flourishing of Jews in medieval Spain; how the Hasidim of nineteenth-century Eastern Europe confronted modernity; and the post-World War II development of distinct American and Israeli Jewish identities. Satlow pays close attention to how communities define themselves, their relationship to biblical and rabbinic texts, and their ritual practices. His fascinating portraits reveal the amazingly creative ways Jews have adapted over time to social and political challenges and continue to remain a "Jewish family."