Ketubot, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Two
This remainder of this chapter deals with the wifes ability to collect her ketubah from the husbands estate.
In general, inheritors are not liable to pay their fathers debts from movable property which they inherited. Only land is liable for these debts. Our mishnah deals with the specific case where the inheritors have not yet collected what was owed to their father.
1) A man died and left a wife, a creditor, and heirs and he also had a deposit or a loan in the possession of others:
a) Rabbi Tarfon says: It shall be given to the one who is under the greatest disadvantage.
b) Rabbi Akiva says: We do not show mercy in a matter of law. Rather it shall be given to the heirs, for whereas all the others must take an oath the heirs need not take any oath.
The husband dies while having a deposit or a loan in the possession of others. The question is: to whom is this money repaid, to the widow, to the creditor or to the inheritors? According to Rabbi Tarfon the weakest among the parties is the one who receives the money. The Talmud offers two explanations for who is the weakest. According to one interpretation, the weakest is the one whose proof that s/he is owed a debt is weakest. According to another interpretation, the weakest refers to the womans ketubah, for it is not easy for a woman to chase down those who owe her the ketubah. In any case, Rabbi Tarfon agrees that although in general movable property is not used to pay off a deceased persons debt, in this case, since the inheritors had not yet received the money, it is used.
Rabbi Akiva categorically rejects Rabbi Tarfons application of mercy to a matter of law. Law must operate blindly, ignoring who is weak and who is strong. The law must decide in favor of the one whose claim is the strongest. According to Rabbi Akiva, in our case this is the inheritors. Their case is strongest for they inherit their fathers estate without taking an oath, whereas debtors and widows must swear that they have not already received their due before they collect.