Ketubot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Four



This mishnah delineates basic rights that a father has over his daughter and that a husband has over his wife.  In addition the mishnah outlines basic responsibilities that a husband has to his wife.  We can easily see from this mishnah that the society that the Mishnah envisions/reflects is patriarchal.  The father/husband is head of the household.  Most of the earnings of the members of the household belong to him and he has the responsibility for providing for them.


Mishnah Four

1)                     A father has authority over his daughter in her betrothal [whether it was effected] by money, document or intercourse.

2)                     He is entitled to anything she finds, to her handiwork and to annul her vows. 

3)                     He receives her get but he has no usufruct [from her property] during her lifetime. 

4)                     When she marries, the husband surpasses him [in his rights] in that he has usufruct during her lifetime.

5)                     And he is obligated to feed her, to pay a ransom for her and to provide for her burial.

a)                                 Rabbi Judah says: even the poorest man in Israel must provide no less than two flutes and one lamenting woman.



Section one:  When we learn the first mishnah in tractate Kiddushin we will see that there are three means by which to effect betrothal:  money, document or intercourse.  Our mishnah teaches that a father has the right to accept money or document on behalf of his daughter in order that she should be betrothed.  He also has the right to give her to a man with whom she will have intercourse and thereby become betrothed.  This right is limited to a girl who has not yet reached majority age (typically 12 ½).  After that the girl receives her own betrothal.

Section two:  Any money a daughter might earn belongs to her father.  This includes things she might find and her handiwork (for instance weaving, sewing, work in the field, etc.).  In addition the father has a right to annul her vows (see Numbers 30:6).  The reason that annulling vows is listed in this clause is that it is in essence an economic right since a vow could prevent him from having her handiwork.  For instance if she took a vow that any thing she finds is forbidden to her father, she would thereby deny him of one of his economic rights. 

Section three:  If the father betroths his daughter and then the husband decides to divorce her before fully marrying her, the father receives the get.  However, if the girl was married, the father no longer has any domain over her.  If the girl should come into money while still in her father’s house, the principal belongs to her as well as the interest (the usufruct).  However, if she dies, her father inherits both the principal and the usufruct.  The normal way that a girl would come into money that does not automatically belong to her father is by inheriting her mother’s father.  This would happen if her mother died before her grandfather died (for if her grandfather died first when her mother died her husband would inherit her) and her mother was an inheritor (i.e. her grandfather had no sons).  In such a case she would inherit her grandfather. 

Section four:  A husband has more rights than the father in that the husband does have right to the usufruct from his wife’s property during her lifetime.  This could happen if she received an inheritance after the marriage.  If she should die before her husband dies then he would inherit the principal as well, but if the husband would die first he would never own the principal.  The husband also has rights over whatever his wife finds and whatever money she earns.  He also can annul her vows.

Section five:  The mishnah now begins to list the husband’s responsibilities towards his wife.  The primary responsibility is to provide food.  He also must provide her with clothing and shelter.  If she is taken captive he must pay a ransom in order to redeem her.  From the very fact that this is listed as a basic responsibility of the husband to his wife clearly demonstrates that kidnapping must have been a serious problem. 

The husband is also responsible to pay for his wife’s burial.  According to Rabbi Judah, even if the husband is poor he must provide two flutes and one lamenting-woman for the funeral.