Mezonot and Maaseh Yadeiha

Ketubot (5:4) | Yisrael Bankier | 3 months ago

A husband must support and provide food for his wife (mezonot). Against that obligation he has the right to her "maaseh yadeiha" -- her handiwork. The Mishnah (5:9) discusses the amount of maaseh yadeiha he has rights to and what is considered the excess (motar) if she produces more. The Mishnah (5:4) teaches that the husband is not able to makdish (consecrate) maaseh yadeiha. The excess however is the subject of debate. R' Meir maintains he can whereas R' Yochanan disagrees.

The Gemara (58b) explains that the case in our Mishnah is where the wife was supporting herself, such that she retained maaseh yadeiha. In this case everyone agrees that the husband cannot makdish maaseh yadeiha, since it does not belong to him. The debate at the end of the Mishnah regarding the excess, which would be his, is whether someone is able to makdish something before it exists. R' Meir maintains that even though that motar is not yet produced, that declaration can have an effect such that it will become hekdesh once produced. R' Yochanan however disagrees.

The Gemara cites our Mishnah when trying to determine nature of this takana -- the decree that connects the husband's obligation to support her with his right to maaseh yadeh. R' Huna (citing Rav) understands that the main purpose of the takana was for the benefit of the wife, to ensure that she is supported. The reciprocal right to her maaseh yadeiha was to prevent the animosity that could be caused if he was obligated to support her, and she could also retain the profits from her handiwork. The other way to understand this takana is that the main motivation is that maaseh yadeiha goes to the husband. After that, because she would not have any funds, he is obligated to feed her.

Our Mishnah is brought as proof for the first understanding, since it would seem, as explained above, that the wife can decide not to activate this agreement, and instead support herself and retain maaseh yadeiha. This appears to only make sense according to the first understanding where the main motivation is to support the wife, which she can decide to forgo. The Gemara rejects this as a proof since it is possible that the reason why she is retaining maaseh yadeiha in our Mishnah is simply because it is a case where he is unable to support her. Indeed, according to the second understanding she cannot opt to retain maaseh yedeiha. Yet, if the husband cannot support her, then the arrangement is not in play.

According to the way we have described the Gemara above, the entire discussion appears to be focused on the nature of an entirely rabbinic law. Indeed, the Chatam Sofer understands that Rav Huna maintains that the obligation to provide mezonot is rabbinic and the continuation of the Gemara is assuming his position.

The Ran however find this understanding difficult. He reasons that most tanaim maintain that the obligation of mezonot is biblical. How then could Rav Huna understand that that mezonot was central to the takana (a rabbinic decree)? The obligation to provide mezonot is biblical!

The Ran therefore cites the Rashba who explains that the Gemara can be understood assuming Rav Huna maintains that the obligation of mezonot is biblical. In other words, the starting point was the biblical obligation of mezonot. The takana that followed granting the husband maaseh yadeiha was to avoid any animosity. One might ask, granted that she can choose to forgo that right to mezonot, however once the takana is in place that the husband received maaseh yadeiha, how can she act to counter that takana? The simple answer is that the takana was ultimately for her benefit such that she received mezonot without any ill will. Consequently, she can choose not activate the takanat chachamim. The Rashba continues that if she does choose not to provide maaseh yadeiha the husband would not need to provide mezonot even though the obligation is biblical. The Rashba explains this is because the Chachamim can enforce or strength their takanot that relate to financial matters just as they have the ability to declare one's property hefker (ownerless).


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