Ketubot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah One

 

Introduction

Chapter eight discusses a wife’s ability to own money independently of her husband. Possessions that come into her hands while married belong to her, but her husband has usufruct on them.  Therefore, since he too has rights, she cannot sell them. 

 

Mishnah One

1)                     If a woman came into the possession of property before she was betrothed, Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel agree that she may sell it or give it away and her act is legally valid.

2)                     If she came into the possession of property after she was betrothed, Bet Shammai says: she may sell it, and Beth Hillel says: she may not sell it. 

a)                                 Both agree that if she had sold it or given it away her act is legally valid.

b)                                 Rabbi Judah said: they argued before Rabban Gamaliel, “Since the man acquires the woman does he not also acquire her property?” 

1)                                             He replied, “We are embarrassed with regard to her new possessions and you wish to roll over on us her old ones as well?”

3)                     If she came into the possession of property after she was married, both agree that, even if she had sold it or given it away, the husband may seize it from the buyers.

4)                     [If she came into possession] before she married and then she married, Rabban Gamaliel says: if she sold it or gave it away her act is legally valid.

a)                                 Rabbi Hanina ben Akavya said: they argued before Rabban Gamaliel, “Since the man acquires the woman does he not also gain acquires her property?” 

1)                                             He replied, “We are embarrassed with regard to her new possessions and do you wish to roll over on us her old ones as well?”

 

Explanation

Section one:  Money that a woman receives before she is betrothed is hers.  She may give it away or sell it, even after she has been betrothed.  However, as we will learn later, once she is married she no longer can do so.

Section two:  If she comes into possession of property after betrothal, but before marriage, Beth Shammai maintains that she may still sell or give away the property.  However, Beth Hillel says that a priori she does not have the right to do so.  The reason is that once she is betrothed she will likely be married, and at the point of marriage her husband will have the rights to the usufruct from her property.  Therefore, already at betrothal Beth Hillel says she may not sell her property. 

However, both Beth Hillel and Beth Shammai agree that if she goes ahead and sells her property anyway, the sale is valid.  Rabbi Judah presents an argument against this previous line, an argument that had been presented in front of Rabban Gamaliel a generation earlier.  The Sages argued that since the husband has already, at the point of betrothal, acquired the woman as his wife, should he not also, at that point, acquire her property.  In other words, even if she had sold it, these Sages believe that the sale should be annulled.  Rabban Gamaliel says that he is distressed enough that according to the halakhah, if a woman came into possession of property after marriage and then sold it, the sale is annulled.  This halakhah does not seem reasonable to Rabban Gamaliel, but he evidently does not have the ability to change it.  However, he argues that what these Sages want to do is expand the same halakhah and apply it to the point of betrothal as well. 

This statement, which also appears at the end of this mishnah, provides an interesting glimpse of rabbinic authority to modify Judaism versus their acceptance of tradition.  The rabbis in the mishnah are receivers of traditions which certainly predate them.  While these traditions are in their minds authoritative, this does not mean that they blindly accept them.  As much as they do accept these traditions, they also, at least occasionally, limit their applicability and recognize the problematic aspects to the tradition.

Section three:  If she comes into possession of property after marriage, everyone agrees that she may not sell or give the property away and that even if she does the sale is invalid.  The husband can then go to the purchaser and reclaim that which his wife sold.  You can imagine that this halakhah would make it difficult for women to sell things in their society. 

Section four:  If she came into possession of property before the marriage and then got married, she may not a priori sell the property, but according to Rabban Gamaliel, if she nevertheless does, the sale is valid. According to Rabbi Hanina ben Akavya, the argument brought in front of Rabban Gamaliel mentioned above, was actually in connection to this case, and not in connection to the case of a woman who sold property after betrothal but before marriage. 

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