Ketubot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Ten

 

Introduction

This mishnah lists defects in a husband (either physical defects or ones related to his profession) that allow the woman to demand a divorce and receive her ketubah.

 

Mishnah Eight

1)                     These are the ones who are forced to divorce [their wives]: one who is afflicted with boils, one who has a polypus, a gatherer [of dog feces for the treatment of hides], a coppersmith or a tanner—whether they were [in such a condition] before they married or whether they arose after they had married.

2)                     And concerning all these Rabbi Meir said: although the man made a condition with her [that she accept him despite these defects] she may nevertheless say, “I thought I could accept him, but now I cannot accept him.”  

3)                     The Sages say: she must accept [such a person] against her will, the only exception being a man afflicted with boils, because she [by her intercourse] will enervate him.

4)                     It once happened at Sidon that a tanner died, and he had a brother who was also a tanner. The Sages said:  she may say, “I was able to accept your brother but I cannot accept you.”

 

Explanation

Section one:  The wife of any husband who has one of the below-listed defects can demand a divorce, whether or not he had them before he was married. Clearly if they only developed after marriage, she can claim that she cannot remain with him and that she didn’t know he would be this way when she accepted his offer of betrothal.  The mishnah emphasizes that these defects are so physically revolting to a woman, that she has the right to be divorced even if she noticed them before he betrothal.  The defects are: 

1.                  One who has boils.

2.                  One who has a polypus.  This is a Greek word for someone who has a protrusion on his nose that complicates breathing.  According to the Talmud he smells bad. 

3.                  One who gathers dog feces, which was used in the processing of hides.

4.                  A coppersmith.  Assumedly, he too smells bad.

5.                  A tanner, who will carry an awful odor.

Note that the effect of this mishnah is that a husband cannot work in such a profession without his wife’s profession.

Section two:  Rabbi Meir says that these defects are so repulsive to a woman that even if she explicitly stated that she could accept a husband in such a condition, she may retract her word and demand a divorce.

Section three:  The Sages disagree with Rabbi Meir.  They hold that in most such cases, if the woman accepted upon herself to marry a man in such a condition, she cannot later say that he disgusts her and therefore demand a divorce.  The only case in which a woman can later demand a divorce is the case of a man who has boils because she “enervates” him. This means that when they have intercourse, she actually wears down his flesh and this is dangerous for him.  Since he will refuse to have relations with her, she may demand a divorce.  After all, she is guaranteed her conjugal rights. 

Section four:  This chapter of mishnah concludes with a story that happened in Sidon, on the coast of modern Lebanon.  There a woman was married to a tanner who died, leaving her liable for yibbum with his brother, who also worked as a tanner.  She claimed that she didn’t want to have yibbum because living with a tanner is revolting and unbearable.  The brother, assumedly claimed, that if she could endure his brother the tanner, she could endure him. The Sages ruled that the woman has the right to say that she could endure her original husband but not his brother.  Perhaps she liked her original husband enough that she was willing to put up with his smell.  She will not necessarily like his brother this much. Therefore, he must perform halitzah and she receives her ketubah. 

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