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|Monday, June 1st, 2015|
Nedarim 5 – How to properly vow
We learned earlier
that one can formulate a simple vow, “I am separated from you,” and the vow will take effect. However, who is forbidden to do what? This is now subject to interpretation.
Shmuel says, “He has to specify what exactly is forbidden.” If he does not, there is no vow at all. This is because Shmuel follows the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah about a Get: It is not enough to put into the Get “You are hereby permitted to all men.” This may still mean that he divorces her with the verbal statement, and treats the Get as a confirmation. Rather, he needs to write, “This will be for you the document of removal, bill of release, and letter of abandonment.”
In other words, it does not help that we understand what the one who makes his vow wants to say. (Technically, his vow is called “partial but sufficient declaration.”) This is not enough, according to Shmuel, and it must be put into words.
Incidentally, why do we pay so much attention to legalese in the case of vows? Because vows represent the power of words that existed before the Torah was given.
Art: A Legal Matter by George Fox
|Sunday, May 31st, 2015|
Nedarim 4 – Or perhaps, “Do not delay” does not apply?
For the past two pages
we were discussing why the prohibition of “Do not delay” applies to a Nazir. We even found a special case when it would apply – when one says, “I will be a Nazir before I die.”
However, is that even true? After all, the laws of Nazir are an unusual innovation not found in other parts of the Torah. What is unusual? – The fact that one can complete his vow of a Nazir by offering only one of the three required sacrifices; this is not ideal, but acceptable. You might have thought that just as the laws of a Nazir are more lenient here, so too they are more lenient in regards to the “Do not delay” requirement. For that we have to rely on the rule of similarity: vows and Nazir are similar; as such, all laws of vows apply to the Nazir.
On the other hand, maybe applying the rule of similarity is an overkill? Perhaps a simple rule of “context” would work? “Context” means if we find a law in one case, it applies to all other similar areas. For example, the father can annul a vow of his daughter. Therefore, he should be able annul other similar vows, such as if she wants to be a Nazir (technically, “Nazirah”). – No, that logic would not work: vows are stricter in that they have no limit, but a usual Nazir is for thirty days. So maybe that's why father needs the power to annul a vow but not a Nazir vow. Thus, we are back to using the rule of similarity.
Art: Father And Daughter In A Landscape by Pierre Duval-Lecamus
|Thursday, May 28th, 2015|
Nedarim 3 – Do not delay
On the previous page
we were left with the question, why the teacher sometimes chooses to explain the concepts out of order, while sometimes he does explain them in the order of introduction. The answer is that the teacher loves complicated and non-obvious derivations, and prefers to explain them first.
Just as one can vow not to eat, drink, or use an object, so one can vow to become a Nazir, so that he won't drink wine, cut his hair or go to a cemetery. The laws of vows and of Nazir are parallel: one should not violate his vow nor should he delay it.
However, how can one violate a “do not delay” to become a Nazir? All the time that he is not a Nazir, he is not, and there is no requirement to become one. And once he vows to be a Nazir, he is, and he is not delaying anything.
This situation can be found when he says, “I will be a Nazir before I die.” Since he does not know when he will die, he should become a Nazir immediately, because he might die the next moment. All the time that he does not become a Nazir, he violates the “do not delay” prohibition. This is similar to the one who says to his wife, “Here is your divorce (Get) an instant before I die.” If for example she is married to a Kohen, she is immediately prohibited to eat the Kohen's portion (terumah) since he may die the very next moment, and it would come out that she ate terumah illegally.
Art: A seated Peasant eating a Meal by German School
|Wednesday, May 27th, 2015|
Nedarim 2 – What is a vow?
A man can vow against eating meat, for example, and then he will become liable for eating it, as if it were non-kosher. He can use the words, “I am making a vow (neder),” but he can also say “This is prohibited to me as a sacrifice (“korban”). He can use a synonym, such as “konam” instead of a “korban.” Finally, he can say an incomplete vow, such as “I am separated from you” or “I am distanced from you,” and as a results he will not be able to derive any benefit from his fellow who was the subject of his vow.
The same rule applies for oaths as well. But how is an oath different from a vow? – Vow is usually directed at an object (bread), but oath talks about the person's action (eating this bread).
For the next ten pages we will discuss incomplete vows, and now the Talmud discusses why the teacher chose to discuss incomplete vows, which were mentioned last, and not synonyms, which were mentioned first. The example of different word sequences are brought from all areas of law, such as adornments which woman can wear on Shabbat, flour sacrifices in the Temple, and the laws of inheritance.
Art: Making bread by Frank Bramley
|Friday, May 22nd, 2015|
Ketubot 109 – The girls should be supported
The second of the two judges promulgating decrees
was Admon. However, some of his seven decrees were hotly contested. Here is one example.
By Torah law, when a man dies, only his sons get a portion in his inheritance, but not his daughters. The Sages changed this in favor of the daughters: if there is enough money in the estate, the daughters are supported until they marry or grow up, and the sons divide the rest of the inheritance; but if there is not enough money, then the daughters are supported from whatever there is, and the sons can go begging.
Admon argued: just because they are males, they should lose all? Rather, divide the estate equally! – but the Sages still did not agree, and their logic was that the boys can looks for sustenance easier than the girls.
Another example: if the father of the bride promised money to his son-in-law as dowry but defaulted, the son-in-law can insist on his rights and say that he is no marrying until the promise is paid – or until the bride's hair turn white.
Admon suggested that the bride should argue thus: “I could understand this if it was I who promised the money, but it is my father, so what am I to do?” She can then force the groom to either marry her or write her a Get releasing her. This reasoning of Admon was accepted.
Art: The young bride by John Phillip
Ketubot 108 – One who puts his money on the horns of a deer
A husband who goes oversees still has an obligation to provide for his wife. As we learned before
, his possessions may even be sold for this purpose.
Imagine that someone else, the husband's benefactor, decided to provide for the wife's upkeep. Even though he thus saves the husband from potential losses, still, when the husband returns, he has no obligation to repay his benefactor. In general, if one pays up his fellow's debt, that fellow does not have to repay for this – this is the opinion of Chanan, one of the two judges whom we met before
Other Sages (who, incidentally, were sons of High Priests) disagree and require the husband to reimburse the benefactor. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai concurs with Chanan and expresses it thus: “The benefactor is like one who puts his money on the horns of a deer” (where he is likely to never see it again).
Art: Deer In A Landscape by Johannes Christian Deiker
|Wednesday, May 20th, 2015|
Ketubot 107 – The husband went on a trip, leaving his wife penniless
Imagine that the husband went on a trip, leaving his wife penniless - or, at least, this is what she claims. In this case, she comes to court, asking the court to start selling the husband's property, to provide for her support.
One of the two judges whom we mentioned above as promulgating beneficial decrees
, by the name of Chanan, ruled that she will have to swear afterwards, when she comes to collect her Ketubah payment. However, right now she does not have to swear about her claim and is provided with sustenance. Others disagreed, but Chanan's law was accepted.
But in general, do we really provide for sustenance by selling the estate? – If he left not on good terms, we can believe that he left her nothing. But normally, does a man leave his house empty? – For these reasons, Shmuel ruled that the court does not give her sustenance. What about the ruling of Chanan? Even those who disagreed with Chanan only argued about an oath, but not about sustenance, can we assume that Shmuel is wrong? – No, Shmuel will tell you that Chanan was talking about a special case where there is a rumor that the husband died. Then we can give her sustenance, but not in the normal case.
Rav, however, disagreed with Shmuel: there is no reason to suspect the wife, and sustenance is given her, even including money for fragrances.
Art: In the estate by Boris Kustodiev
Ketubot 106 – Influence of the judge
A certain man brought a basket of cheap small fish to Rav Anan, a righteous man. Rav Anan, who was a judge, said “I am not taking your fish, and I am disqualified from judging your case.” The man said, “Giving a present to a righteous man is like bringing the best sacrifice in the Temple, please accept.” Rav Anan, having disqualified himself from the case anyway, accepted the gift. Still, this is what happened.
Rav Anan sent the man to Rav Nachman's court, saying that he, Rav Anan, was disqualified from judging it. Rav Nachman assumed that the reason was because Ran Anan was a relative of the man, and treated the man with honor. On seeing this, the man's opponent was confused in his arguments and lost the case.
As a consequence, the Prophet Elijah, who used to visit Rav Anan every day, stopped coming. Rav Anan fasted and prayed, and Elijah came back, but now he had a scary appearance, and Rav Anan had to study with Elijah while being hidden in a box. The first set of teachings, before the incident, is called “The Great Book of Elijah,” whereas the second set, after the incident, is called “The Small Book of Elijah,” and the above is the reason.
Art: The Golden Fish by Paul Klee
|Monday, May 18th, 2015|
Ketubot 105 – Judges' salaries
There were two prominent judges in Jerusalem, who were setting new laws. Actually, there were 394 courts in Jerusalem, and the corresponding number of schools for adults and for children, but we are talking only about judges who were promulgating new decrees.
Each of these judges had a court of twenty-three people, with a budget of ninety-nine maneh, to support the court members and their families. This amounted to 140 zuz per family per year, about 70% of the Ketubah amount on which a woman can live for a year. The court salaries came from the Temple treasury.
A judge by the name of Karna would take a payment from both of the litigants and then judge them. How is that possible, being that it amounts to a bribe? It is forbidden to take a bribe to judge incorrectly, or even to judge correctly, and even if the judge may miss a chance to make a living!? – Karna was a well-known wine taster, and by smelling the wine in the storage he could advise if it should be sold immediately. Since he was losing these definite earnings, he was allowed to take a payment for lost wages.
Shmuel was once crossing a bridge, and a man helped him. Shmuel immediately disqualified himself from being a judge in his case. Even praise is considered a bribe.
Rabbi Yishmael had a sharecropper who would bring produce due to Rabbi Yishmael every Friday. Once he brought it on Thursday, saying that he had a court case, so he brought the fruit earlier. Rabbi Yishmael disqualified himself from judging, but went to listen to the proceedings, and found himself constantly advancing the best arguments for the sharecropper in his mind. He said, “If I, who did not accept the bribe, and the produce was mine anyway, react so, then how much more false is the judgment of one who accepts bribe!”
Art: The Roman Wine Tasters by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
|Sunday, May 17th, 2015|
Ketubot 92 – Mind twisting problems
The Talmud first discusses a problem where our previous ruling
is used for comparison and then continues with a series of problems, useful for training the mind.
Let us say a debtor D owes $1,000 to his creditor C. Meanwhile, he owns two houses, and he sells them both to the buyer B, each for $500.
Now C wants his money, and D still cannot pay, so C repossesses the first of the houses, because real estate always guarantees the loan. B loses one of the houses he bought, but he wants to keep the second one, so he comes with $1,000 cash to C and proposes the following: if C wants to consider the first house, the one he just repossessed, as worth a $1,000, then all is well; but if not, then this $1,000 should cover both houses, and C gets his money but loses the repossessed house.
Rami bar Chama wanted to say that this is exactly our previous rule: there the orphans were not able to artificially inflate the worth of their mother's Ketubah
, so here too the argument of considering the $500 house worth $1,000 does not stand. Without this, the second part of the proposal does not stand either, and the creditor can collect the second house. However, Rava reversed him: in the case of orphans their suggestion would hurt the other group of children, but in our case the creditor would always get his $1,000 loan back.
Following cases are abbreviated with mnemonics (“thousand” - that is our case, “hundred,” “mitzvah of Ketubah”...). Such abbreviations, or "signs," contain clues to the mystical meaning of the subjects discussed.
Art: A thinking girl by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
|Saturday, May 16th, 2015|
Ketubot 91 – Two groups of children from two wives want the inheritance
When people were allowed to have more than one wife, fathers were reluctant to give large dowries to their daughters. They were apprehensive that when their daughter and her husband eventually die, the inheritance will go to the children of the other wife. Therefore, the Sages established a rule that when the children come to claim the inheritance, they can ask for their late mother’s Ketubah first. Then they would divide the remaining estate equally with the children of the other wives. This is called “Ketubah of the (male) children.”
Now imagine that it did happen: someone was married to two wives, they both died, then he died, and now the children all want the inheritance. This is where the above rule would kick in.
However, if there is not enough money to pay both the Ketubah of the first and the second wife, then there will be no leftover inheritance to divide: everything will be paid out as a Ketubah payment. Then the law of the inheritance from the Torah will be abrogated completely! - at least in this case. That the Sages did not want, so they limited their rule to only cases where there is enough money to pay both Ketubahs, and then some. If there is not enough, then the rule above is not used, but instead everyone divides equally, which is the Torah law. Even if one group of the children wants to add money to the inheritance, so that there is enough for the Ketubah, and then gain by getting the larger Ketubah of their mother, they are not listened to.
Art: The Three Fishers Wives by Mrs Henry Harewood Robinson
|Thursday, May 7th, 2015|
Ketubot 90 – Serial marriages and divorces
If a woman comes to court with two Get and two Ketubah documents, we assume that things were just as she describes: her husband married her, divorced, then re-married, and wrote a new Ketubah. She collects two payments.
However, if she produces two Ketubah documents but only one Get, we assume that they are from one marriage, but he simply wrote for her another Ketubah. She collects only one. Finally, if she has two Get documents from him but only one Ketubah, he must have married (and divorced) her again, but anybody who re-marries his wife relies on the original Ketubah, so she again collects only one payment.
If one was married to two wives and died, and did not leave enough to pay both, then the Ketubah of the first way has priority over the the Ketubah of the second. If the wives, in their turn, died before collecting their Ketubah payments, then the heirs of the first wife have priority over the heirs of the second one.
Art: Husband and Wife by Lorenzo Lotto
Ketubot 89 – How to collect divorce settlement
Imagine that a woman comes to court and presents a Get with which her husband divorced her. Then she wants him to pay the amount of the Ketubah. However, she does not have the Ketubah document itself, claiming that it was lost. Normally, she should not be able to collect: anybody who wants to collect a payment should present a loan document (in this case it is the Ketubah). If it is lost, his money is lost.
However, here – since the Ketubah is the enactment of the court – it has the same power as though the document was actually present, and so she can collect the money. Her former husband's claim that he paid the Ketubah is not believed. If he did, they should have torn the Get, given him her Ketubah or the payment receipt.
Now consider the next case: the woman comes with the Ketubah, but without a Get. She wants the payment, but the husband claims that based on the rule above she already collected her payment with her Get, claiming that the Ketubah was lost, and now she has put away the Get, and produced the Ketubah. As for his receipt, he says he lost it. In this case, the husband wins, because she does not have a Get, and indeed could be collecting the money twice.
Rabban Gamliel adds that in the “time of danger” people were afraid to keep their Get or Ketubah, because the idolater were persecuting for the performance of commandments. From this time on, a woman is able to collect her payment even without the Get, because she may have destroyed it right after being divorced.
Art: A group portrait of a husband, wife and their child by Francis Alleyne
|Sunday, May 3rd, 2015|
Ketubot 88 – Further arguments between the widow and the orphans
We learned earlier
that when the widow comes to court, to collect her Ketubah, she must take an oath that her husband, while alive, did not already pay the Ketubah to her. Incidentally, such oaths apply to orphans as well.
For example, if the children of one family, after their father died, claim that the father of the other family (who also died) borrowed money from their father, and the children of the borrower say “Our father told us that he indeed borrowed, but repaid” – the children of the borrower must take an oath. This applied when their father says “I paid,” for then the existence of the loan document does not prove anything.
However, if their father said, “I never borrowed,” then it works against him. “I never borrowed" means automatically that he, of course, never repaid. Since the loan is uncontested and is documented, no oath helps, and the orphans need to pay the debt. Furthermore, this is only when the children are adults, but minors are more protected from the claims of others.
Art: The Children by Henri-Jules-Jean Geoffroy
Ketubot 87 – Repairing trust
Earlier we learned
that a husband may at times impose an oath on his wife, that she did not embezzle any of his property. We also mentioned that the possibility of this oath may lead to a mistrust between the husband and the wife.
To prevent this, the husband may write for her a document stating that he “Will have no right to impose an oath or vow on her,” and he then waive this right, although he can still impose the oath on her successor. He may go further and give up the right to impose an oath on others involved as well.
The purpose of this oath was often to verify that the wife has not as yet collected her Ketubah, and that she is coming with a valid claim on the full amount. However, there was a strong incentive for the widow to take this oath, even if in truth she already collected some or all of the payment, and rationalize that she is indeed entitled to extra compensation, because of the care that she will have to give to the orphans. The courts stopped accepting this oath, and widows had no way of collecting the Ketubah. To rectify that, the Sages gave the orphans the right to ask her to pronounce a vow (such as “The use of my husband's property is prohibited to me if I embezzled”) and then she gets the Ketubah.
The standard case where an oath would be present is where the husband claims that he paid his wife the Ketubah, and she says she received only a partial payment. The oath is in order because the one who pays usually remembers well his payment, but the one who receives is not as careful about the details. The oath makes him better go through his recollections.
Art: The Orphan By Walter Langley
|Friday, May 1st, 2015|
Ketubot 86 – Trust
An oath is a serious thing, and nobody can impose an oath on a person at will, not even a court. There must be a reason, such as the case where one admits to part of the claim and says, "It is true that I owe you money but less than what you say." Then the oath is in order.
However, if the husband appointed his wife a storekeeper or an overseers for his business, he can ask for an oath any time, without a definite claim. Actually, this applies to any business partner, of whom one may have suspicion of embezzlement.
Rabbi Eliezer says that the husband can impose an oath in any case, because it is unavoidable that the wife is an overseer over her spindle and dough. But the Sages say, "One cannot live with a snake in the same basket." That is, if the husband suspects her so much, the wife may not be able to live with him.
Art: Young Italian Woman from Papigno with Her Spindle by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
|Tuesday, April 28th, 2015|
Ketubot 85 – Taking the law into one's own hands
We mentioned that when a man dies, his creditors, who normally have little claim against the man's heirs, can somewhat take the law into the own hands and seize the property of the deceased
. Here is a story.
A man died, and his creditor, by the name of Yeimar, sent an agent to seize the man's boat. The agent did so, and as he was towing the boat, he was met by Rav Pappa and Rav Huna. They told the agent, “You are just an agent, not a creditor, so you have no right to seize anything, since you deprive other creditors!” Then they seized the boat themselves, because they, too, loaned money to the deceased.
So now Rav Pappa rowed the boat, while Rav Huna pulled it with the rope, each claiming that he thus acquired the boat. In this way, they came to Rava, to (in the language of the Bard) “try whose right, of thine or mine, is most in this boat.”
Rava told them, “White geese, you strip clothes off people!” That was a compliment: white because they were old and gray, and geese, because it is a sign of wisdom in a dream. Rava continued, “The law is like Rabbi Akiva, who only allows you to seize the property while the debtor is alive, not after his death!”
Art: Towing the Boat by Winslow Homer
Ketubot 84 – The wife, the creditor and the children
When someone dies, his wife wants the Ketubah, his creditors – monies owed to them, and his children want the full inheritance, without paying his debts to anyone.
However, his wife can only take the land, since this is what she relied on when getting married, and so too his creditors. The children automatically get all movables and all precious objects.
What happens to his things that are deposited with somebody, such as at a bank in a safe deposit box? Since the children have not yet taken possession of them, the court should give them to the underdog, that is, the wife or the creditor – this is the opinion of Rabbi Tarfon. Rabbi Akiva argues: you cannot base judgment on the feeling of mercy, the objects are given to the children or other inheritors, to whom they rightfully belong. Even if the wife or creditor seizes the valuables, the court takes them away from her.
Today, when people don't own the land as commonly as they used to, the question is moot, since the wife gets her Ketubah paid from all valuables that the husband has left. Also, everybody agrees that there is a moral obligation on the children to pay their father's debts, it's just that they cannot be forced to do so.
Art: Group portrait of a gentleman and his wife, and their four children by Gerbrand Ban
|Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015|
Ketubot 62 – Man's obligations to his wife
A husband has to provide his wife with food, clothing and intimacy
. If he quarrels with her, and in his rage vows to never have relations with her, this vow does not take effect, because he cannot take away her right. However, if he phrases his vow as “the pleasure of relations with you is prohibited to me,” then he has created a prohibition for himself. Since now he is not a good husband, he should divorce her immediately and – because it is his fault – pay her the complete amount of her Ketubah.
If, however, he limits his abstinence vow for a week or two, then we need to estimate when this situation becomes unbearable, and he has to give a divorce after that. How long is that? Beit Shammai say that it is two weeks. What is there logic? – In the Torah there is a situation where they have to be apart for two weeks, after the birth of a daughter, but more than this is too much. Beit Shammai compare the situation caused by the husband (vow) to the birth, also caused by the husband. However, Beit Hillel argue that “too long” is one week. They compare this to niddah
, which lasts for one week, and make an analogy between common occurrences – niddah and vows.
Practically, however, people with means and without worries should be intimate with their wives every day, laborers working in town – twice a week, donkey drivers who travel – once a week, and sailors, who are often absent for a long voyage – once every six months.
Art: Awaiting the Sailors Return by David Woodlock
Ketubot 61 – On the danger of some foods
We mentioned that if the wife brings enough maidservants or wealth as her dowry
, she does not have to do any work, but can “sit in an easy chair.” However, it is still advisable for her to prepare his wine, spread his bed, and assist with his washing of his hands, feet and face, because these are the signs of endearment – this was the advice of Rav Yitchak bar Chananiya.
He also added that these exact three things the wife should not do when she is a niddah
– in order not to endear him too much. However, she can do them with a change or when not in front of him.
Rabbi Yitchak ben Chananiya also said that a waiter who is serving food must be allowed to try some of it, and this refers to meat that gives off a good odor and to pungent wine – or else the waiter will suffer from craving. Others say that this refers to all savory foods. There was a righteous man who would give the waiter from every course – and Elijah the Project would speak to him, while another righteous man only gave from one, and from the rest- after the meal, and with him Elijah would not talk.
There was once a Roman who wanted to marry a certain woman, but she refused. He started eating pomegranates in front of her, and as she was swallowing the saliva produced by her desire of it, she finally became all bloated. He made her promise that if he cures her, she will marry him. Then he brought more pomegranates and started eating these, saying “All saliva that causes you discomfort, spit it out, spit it out!” She did so, until something like a green palm leaf shot out of her, and she became healed.
Art: Pomegranates by John Singer Sargent