Ketubot, Chapter Thirteen, Mishnah Five

 

Introduction

This mishnah deals with the case of a father-in-law who at the time of betrothal promised to give his prospective son-in-law money and then reneged on his promise, before the marriage to his daughter.  From the mishnah it is not entirely clear why he reneges, or whether he just cannot afford to pay the promised sum.  The question is, what happens to the daughter in this case if the son-in-law does not want to marry her until the father gives him the money. 

We can see here in this mishnah a reflection where marriage choice was often tied to economic matters.  Indeed, this was typically the situation in most Jewish marriages, and probably in most non-Jewish marriages as well, until modern times.  This is not to say that attraction between the couple was not a factor at all; just that it was probably not the primary factor. 

 

Mishnah Five

1)                     If a man promised a money to his [prospective] son-in-law and then defaulted, 

[his daughter] shall sit until her hair turns white. 

2)                     Admon says:  She may say, “Had I myself promised the sum I would sit until my hair turns white, but now that my father has promised it, what can I do? Either marry me or set me free.”

a)                                           Rabban Gamaliel said:  I agree with the words of Admon.

 

Explanation

Section one:  In this situation, the father has reneged on the money, but the girl is already betrothed to the man.  She cannot marry anyone else without first receiving a get.  According to the first opinion, the son-in-law can effectively hold the girl hostage as a betrothed woman, until the father-in-law pays him the promised money.  This is certainly a grave situation for her, much worse than not being married at all.

Section two:  Admon holds that since it is not the girls fault herself, she can force the husband to either marry her or divorce her so that she may marry others.  If she herself had promised the money, the husband could force her to remain betrothed and not married or divorced.  However, since the father made the promise, why should she suffer.  Again, Rabban Gamaliel agrees with Admon. 

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