Forfeiting a Ketubah

Ketubot (7:6) | Shmoiki Berkowitz | 15 years ago

The Mishnah (7:6) presents a number of cases where a wife’s behaviour warrants her immediate divorce while forfeiting her rights to a ketubah (an obligation of a husband to provide an amount of money to his wife in the event of his death or divorce). One of the cases mentioned is where a wife feeds her husband untithed food.

The Gemara (72a) seeks to understand how a husband could have the knowledge that he is being fed untithed food. If he is aware, he will tithe the food himself. If he is oblivious, he has no comprehension of his wife’s behaviour. The Gemara concludes that the situation is where the wife informs her husband that food was tithed by a reputable authority and was later found to have lied.

The Rishonim discuss why the Gemara did not bring a seemingly more simple case, that the wife admitted that she fed her husband untithed food. This is a dispute between the Ra’avad and the Ran, and is discussed in the sefer Simchat Binyamin.

The Ra’avad writes that if the wife admitted, she would not be believed, as we have the principle of “a person does not admit to self incriminating information” and she retains her rights to her ketubah. This principle is applied to cases relating to issurim (prohibitions) relevant here as she is admitting to have caused her husband to transgress. The Meiri adds that anyone who places an impediment to the performance of a mitzvah is considered a rasha (wicked), and as such, no-one would admit to such behaviour.

According to the Ran, the wife would be believed and her ketubah would be revoked, yet the Gemara did not cite this case as it is uncommon. The reason why she is believed is due to the conflicting principle of “the admission of one of the parties in a legal dispute is equivalent to the testimonies of 1 witness pairs”. This principle relates to monetary matters, and the ketubah is an issue of financial concern.

The conflict between the Ra’avad and Ran when the wife admits to having fed her husband untithed food stems from their different understandings of why a ketubah is revoked when she is discovered to have lied.

The Pnei Yehoshua writes that according to the Ra’avad her ketubah is revoked as punishment imposed by the Chachamim against her undesirable behaviour. Since we would not believe her if she admitted to have acted improperly, as it is self incriminating, she retains her ketubah. The Pnei Yehoshua adds that we only apply the principle of “the admission of one of the parties in a legal dispute is equivalent to the testimonies of 1 witness pairs” in the event where the consequences relate directly back to the original admission. The punishment of losing her ketubah is a result of her character flaw, and not specifically due to one specific act.

Rav Elchanan Wasserman ztz”l in his sefer Kovetz Shiurim has a different understanding of the Ra’avad. When it is found out that the wife has lied, it becomes apparent that the couple can no longer remain together, as the husband has lost his trust in his wife. Since the couple is incompatible, the wife loses her rights to her ketubah. Only when the husband decides to divorce based on his personal reasons, not because his wife cannot be trusted, is the wife entitled to her ketubah. In the event where the wife admits to have fed her husband untithed food, she is, in essence, admitting that she is not compatible with her husband. We therefore do not believe her as “a person does not admit to self incriminating information”.

The sefer Simchat Binyamin provides an explanation of the Ran. In contrast to the Pnei Yehoshua’s understanding of the Ra’avad, it may be said in the name of the Ran that the annulment of the wife’s ketubah is not a punishment but rather a condition placed on the ketubah. A husband, generally, offers his wife a ketubah with the understanding that she will sustain an appropriate household. Accordingly, if she admits to having fed her husband untithed food, she is merely saying that she is no longer entitled to the money outlined in the ketubah. We would therefore believe her, as we would in any commercial situation, in accordance with the principle of “the admission of one of the parties in a legal dispute is equivalent to the testimonies of 1 witness pairs”.

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