Nedunya in Cash

Ketubot (6:3) | Yisrael Bankier | 12 years ago

The pasuk in Yirmiya (29:6) teaches:

Take wives and beget sons and daughters; take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men…

Using this pasuk as an asmachta, the Chachamim asked is a father really in control that he can give his daughter to man for marriage? Rather they explain that a father must provide his daughter with clothing and nedunya (dowry) to increase her potential suiters. 

The topic of the nedunya takes up much of the sixth perek. The second Mishnah teaches that if the nedunya is provided in cash, the value recorded in the ketuba must be inflated by an additional 50%. The Bartenura explains that this is because the husband is able to profit from this money (as apposed to, e.g. her clothing). The Tosfot Yom Tov cites the Ran who explains further. Really the husband should not be allowed to use anything from the nedunya, be it money or utensils. Yet the Chachamim instituted that he be able to profit from that money and against that privilege inflate the value when recording it in the ketuba

The Mordechai, cited by the Tosfot Yom Tov anticipates the following question: is this not ribbit? Was does this arrangement not violate the prohibition of charging interest?  He explains in the name of R’ Shmuel ben Baruch, that this is not ribbit because if the husband divorce his wife immediately after marriage, he would nonetheless be required to pay the inflated value. Normal cases of interest are only arranged with the understanding that the borrower will have some time to profit from the loan.

The Tosfot Yom Tov however provides a different answer. He explains that this arrangement looks nothing like a loan. If the wife passed away before the husband, then the husband would inherit the nedunya and never be required to pay her heirs the inflated value. Since ribbit was only prohibited in the context of a loan, and this is not a loan, there is no prohibition. Now even though sometimes the Chachamim extend the prohibition on a rabbinic level, it is just that, on a rabbinic level and they can decide not to extend it in this case.1

The Haflaah explains that from the language of the Mishnah we understand that that which is given to him is not in the context of a loan. The Mishah teaches, “he is posek against it…” The language implies that what was given over was in the form as an acquisition and is his. He then obligates himself to pay the inflated amount, all be it an obligation that is dependent on his divorcing his wife or dying first. 

1 The Tosfot Chadishim asks that according to this logic a father should be able to loan his only son with interest and that is simply not the case. He does admit that there is a difference between the father’s money, which he could use or give away, and a nedunya. Nevertheless he questions whether potential yerusha is enough to justify what looks like ribbit


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