Many of you Literary Talmud aficionados out there may be familiar with Boyarin’s famous claim about the seduction of the Beit Midrash. He suggests that Rabbis had to choose between a normal home and sex life with their wives or years of abstinence and study in the Beit Midrash. Further complicating things, in a group of stories in Ketuboth, Rabbis often accidentally missed their weekly or yearly visit with their wife because torah “pulled” or seduced them. Ben Azzai says it very clearly: though he is a master at finding verses that reinforce marriage for the purpose of reproduction, he himself refuses to marry so he will have time to learn, arguing that other people will maintain the ongoing generations of the world.

I just came across a striking gemarah that echoes Boyarin’s claim that torah and marriage/childbearing are at odds. (Yevamot 64b) The story is told that Rav Aba bar Zvada did not have any children with his wife, and so the Rabbis urge him to marry another woman (in conjunction with the first or after divorcing the first is not clear) and then try to have children again. Rav Aba bar Zvada says, “no thanks I tried once, who is to say the second will be any different.” He may be making a meaningful statement about the role of the man in a couple’s bareness, as well as perhaps hinting at a spiritual component to a person’s fate- but this is not our focus for today.

The gemarah goes on to dismiss the more spiritual explanation offered by Rav Aba bar Zvada and counters that the only reason he did not want to try again was because he was barren and knew he could not have children. Why is he barren and how can he be sure? Because he became barren due to the long length of the shiurim given by Rav Huna. Not only Rav Aba bar Zvada, but apparently 60 Talmdei Chachamim became barren because they did not relieve themselves for the length of the class they had to sit in respectfully without getting up, even for a bathroom break.

Unbelievable! What’s more crazy is that mostly the tone does not seem angry at Rav Huna. The students are not up in the arms by the violence done to their bodies from the hours in class. Rather there is a positive undertone that their devotion to learning, their ability to ignore the needs of their body, has actually earned them the right to avoid the arduous mitzvah of having children.

Honestly I am torn between being disgusted by the image conjured by this story and intrigued by the magnificence of its symbolic power. These Rabbis again, as in the Ketuboth stories, are literally forced to choose between learning and sex- in this case having children. Specifically the power of the phallus is subverted in the name of learning. Many before me have pointed out that according to Bachtin (a Russian literary theorist) the grotesque obsession with the body specifically is specifically tied to the anxieties surrounding life and death- the ability to reproduce and the danger of dying without leaving behind a seed.

While these Rabbis are deprived of the ability to actually reproduce, their devotion to Torah provides a different kind of immortality. While their teacher Rav Huna in fact castrates them, he implants in his students his wisdom reproducing his mind and his values. They too as teachers of torah and writers of law will have to reproduce themselves in the Beit Midrash, rather then in the bedroom.


Sometimes Chazal make drashot on a word that you just find totally implausible. Like on daf 10b of Ketuboth they say that the term Almana- Widow- is based on the word Maneh- the amount of money an widow receives in her Ketubah if she remarries (as opposed to the double portion – maataim- that the virgin receives).

Are they for real or is it just a cute mnemonic device that happens to linguistically work out?

Thankfully the gemarah expresses the same consternation. When the word Alamana appears in the  Torah, it wasn’t known that the Rabbis would later institute this kind of Ketubah, with this specific amount. To me this is another way of saying that creative linguistics shouldn’t work backwards; you can’t assume origin from the current usage or the current value assigned. Other voices in the gemarah quiet the question by citing additional locations where the language employed by the Tanach seems to reflect a reality much later than its period of composition.

Now I’m getting into Biblical Criticism and that’s not a place I feel comfortable going….. Just want to say that while the Rabbis play with language, and imbue words with multiple meanings from multiple periods of history- granting the word  a timeless power- I also think they are winking at us, aware of the elegant word games they are playing.


The part of the Seder that is most vivid for me – being obsessed with Talmud- is the scene of a few “founding fathers” holding a Pesach Seder at Rabbi Akivah’s house in Bnei Brak. Their conversation about leaving Egypt was so engaging that they nearly missed the time for morning Shema, loosing all track of time. This story proves statements made in the haggada: “even the wise have a responsibility to talk about the Exodus, the more the better” and “we all must feel as if we ourselves were leaving Egypt,” for the telling of the past was more real than the actual sunrise and the present responsibility to pray.

Interestingly, there is another story about a seder of Rabbis who are so immersed that they too almost miss Shema; this Seder is lead by Rabban Gamliel. The Tosefta records an interesting detail: these Rabbis were not discussing the national story of our leaving Egypt, as Akivah was, but rather were talking about the laws of performing the Korban Pesach- the Sacrifice of Passover.

I wonder at the philosophical debate that is being waged by these two texts - story vs. law, a divide that also seems to appear in the questions and answers offered by and to the four sons. The wise son asks about the laws and is answered with the minutia of halakhic information, while all the other sons receive answers that focus on the story of leaving Egypt and its importance.

I want to suggest that Rabban Gamliel’s choice to focus on the sacrifice reappears later in the haggada as well. Towards the end of Maggid, we read: Rabban Gamliel says anyone who does not say the following three things did not fulfill their responsibility: Pesach, Matza and Maror. The Hagadda goes on to explicate these three elements in relation to the Exodus story: Pesach is the sacrifice that the Jews gave on the night before they left, Matzah is the bread they made in a rush as they left Egypt, and Marror represents the harsh labor of their enslavement.

But knowing that at Rabban Gamliel’s seder they discussed the laws of the korban and not the story of Exodus, I would suggest that this part of the haggada is a gloss. (In fact Rabban Gamliel’s original short quote appears in the Mishna without the explication.) The original meaning of his exhortation is a desire to bring to our seder night the elements of the sacrifice, which we are no longer able to perform. After all the elements of Matzah and Marror were part of God’s original command for how to eat the Korban Pesach even before the Jews leave Egypt, before historical fate forces them to make Matazh, and before they are free from the servitude, which the Marror will eventually represent.

Raban Gamliel is placing the emphasis on the Korban, and only the later gloss sides with “Rabbi Akiva’s seder,” turning the Korban into representative elements that connect back to the story of leaving Egypt. In our own time, we are so distant from the culture of sacrifices that we can’t understand why these two positions – focus on the Korban and focus on the Exodus – should stand opposed to each other. Surely the Korban is only relevant in so far as it represents and teaches us about the Exodus! But the existence of these two parallel Seders, told in the same literary form, suggests to me that they are either opposed or complimentary but not identical.

One binary that we may draw is that Rabbi Akivah tells a national story while Rabban Gamliel tells a religious story. Some suggest that Rabbi Akivah was discussing the Bar Kochba revolt with his fellow Rabbis who had all just returned from a trip to Rome to lobby on behalf of the Jews. The National story of Exodus- rather than the details of law- inspired their own rebellion for independence from the political slavery of Roman rule. However, I worry that presenting their opinions as a strict binary insinuates that while Akivah ran a current and relevant Pesach seder, Rabban Gamliel was detached from the present reality of the Jews, and chose to be busy with the irrelevant details of a sacrifice that was never to return.

But as we examined Rabbi Akivah’s historical moment, we also must understand Rabban Gamiliel’s. Rabban Gamliel is one of the founders of the project of Yavneh, which is at its heart a religious rabbinic pursuit. Its founding is literarily tied with Yochanan Ben Zakkai’s leaving of Jerusalem, the choice to pursue religious sovereignty and national survival over physical political sovereignty. However, religious pursuit is not by necessity detached from reality. Rabban Gamliel may be interested in the sacrifice first and foremost because the temple is destroyed in his lifetime and the pain and loss of the korban is too fresh to imagine a full seder where the sacrifice plays a purely representational role.

At the beginning of his reign as Nasi of the Sanhedrin there probably was no formal Seder, because when the korban was offered in the Mikdash the bringing and eating the sacrifice itself was all that was needed to fulfill the commandment to feel as if you were leaving Egypt. In the most tangible way possible, by eating the Korban Pesach with Matzah and Marror, a Jew could actually act out the moment of Exodus, and relive the sense of declaring National Unity (separation from the Egyptians) with their sacrifice. When the temple stood, the seder was improvisational theatre, whereas only afterward it became storytelling. It would have been insensitive not to mourn the passing of the korban at this point in the Jewish trajectory.

More importantly enactment of the korban encapsulates within it several important values; therefore Rabban Gamliel’s choice to talk of the details of the sacrifice was not a hollow act of halakhic nitty gritty. Korban Pesach is the one sacrifice that all Jews do at the same time, yet individually. On Yom Kippur and other holidays the koahim sacrifice one korban in the name of the entire nation, while individual sacrifices were brought when one sinned or had something specific to be thankful for. Korban Pesach is the one sacrifice that all of Israel individually part of a national ritual.

Because of the simultaneous individual and national nature of the korban, there are other special laws. Jews are allowed into the sanctuary to offer this korban in concert with the kohaim. He is even allowed to do the shchita. On the other hand, the meat of the may be eaten in all of Jerusalem, not only in the walls of the sanctuary as with ordinary sacrifices. The ordinary Jew is allowed into the Mikdash, and the kodesh is allowed out side of the Mikdash.

Lastly korban pesach models the creation of smaller communities within the national whole, in which every individual counts. Several families would join together in order to ensure that the sacrifice would sufficiently feed those who gathered to eat it and meat would not be left over or wasted. Men and women need to be counted ahead of time to a given group, so that every individual is included in the korban at the time of the sacrifice. This magnificent law again highlights the importance of the individual in the community within the nation. Each person is included in a smaller community, counted in that community, while circles upon circles are huddled into the walls of Jerusalem all taking part in the Korban.

If these were the laws of Korban Pesach that Rabban Gamliel wanted to discuss, it seems to me that he too wants to talk about nationality and community, the importance of the individual to the whole, and the ability to import the holiness of the temple into the walls of Jerusalem and beyond, into the actions of each individual.

The korban may have been the most appropriate vehicle to discuss the issues of community building in the wake of the destruction, the task of his generation. While for Rabbi Akivah the need to throw off the yoke of political slavery was better served by returning to the story of leaving Egypt without intermediary of the Korban.

I think that both of these stories are embedded in our seder, though the further we get from the time sacrifices the less relevant it seemed to the framers of the seder and to us us. However the value of joining the individual and community in partnership to extend the umbrella of holiness and memory is still relevant and perhaps should be reemphasized in our seder as well.

As modern Jews we tend to privilege aggada- story telling and narratives, which teach values- over law, which we often assume is meaningless in its details. But in truth the two work together, and just as we act to emphasize the values of our religion, we must work to unveil the importance of halakha rather that dismiss it as misguided and empty.


It’s been a while, but I’m back...
In today’s sugya (9a) the story of David and Batshevah is hinted at. The gemarah is trying to ascertain what kind of proof is necessary to accuse a woman of adultery and thereby make her forbidden to both her husband and the man with who she had the affair.

The gemarah is all tied up in knots trying to prevent any woman from slipping through the cracks. Specifically, the beginning of Ketuboth is interested in the case of a woman whose  husband claims she was not a virgin on their first night together. But is his subjective experience enough to prove that she slept with someone of her own free will during the time of their official engagement, meaning that she cheated?

In comparison to the flimsy claim, “I found her opening opened,” the gemarah cites the case of sotah, a system that demands several objective proofs in order to convict. A man who is jealous of his wife, must warn her about a specific man with whom she then secludes herself in front of witnesses. He then takes her to the temple for a miraculous test, which proves her innocence or guilt.

The story of King David and his lover Batsheva is brought as the source of the requirement for warning and witnesses. But anyone who remembers this story knows that Uriah, Batsheva’s husband, was not jealous of his wife, nor did he warn her about sleeping with the King, nor were there any witnesses. Why in the world is their story brought as the source?

“Ahh…” the gemarah replies, true, in the case of David and Batsheva, there were no witnesses and no warning and therefore after the act of adultery Batsheva was indeed allowed to return to her husband (David tried to bring her husband home from war in time so that he will think her pregnancy was due Uriah himself) and she is allowed to marry David after the affair. The absence of witnesses and warning is the reason they were allowed to stay together, and proves that these missing elements are essential in prosecution.

This sounds like a modern soap opera, or a how -to book on how to have an affair and not get caught. Why does the gemarah invoke this story, which only might teach about proof though its absence? Not very convincing.

The gemarah secretly is dying to tell this story, despite it’s inappropriateness, and at the same time it can’t. While it is obvious from the context and from later commentators that the gemarah is referring to David and Batsheva, the gemarah simply refers to “Maashe Sheaya,” a story that once happened.  Why the secrecy?

I’m leaving you with questions today: Why does the Talmud want to tell the story of David and Batsheva so badly that it brings it here as very weak proof? And if it wanted to tell their tale so badly, why disguise it as “a story that once happened"? Maybe I’ll think of an answer tomorrow.


We learn really slowly- but sometimes when you read the same daf over and over again it becomes like those pictures where a hologram jumps out of them.

Our topic is sex. And it is very tangible as the gemarah circles closer to the intercourse itself on daf 5-6. In asking whether losing your virginity (or breaking the hymen) is allowed on Shabbat, we are all lead to picture the actual act of sex. And lo and behold the gemarah is filled with phallic images.

The detour right before the Shabbat question is all about how the body is designed perfectly. It says if you are about to hear lashon hara you should put your finger in your ear. This is why your fingers and ears are shaped the way they are, says the gemarah. I couldn’t understand what this was doing here, until I read the gemarah for the enth time and it jumped out at me as a serious phallic image.

Then the gemarah begins working through Shabbat laws and how they relate to breaking the hymen. We are being led to imagine all the different problems on Shabbat - blood being released from the womb (a strange understanding of why some women bleed when they loose their virginity) or an opening being formed, a wound being inflicted. This section really leaves you confused envisioning sex, trying to figure out how the woman is shaped, where thy hymen is and where the Rabbis thought it was.

The gemarah compares our case to another Shabbat case, that of stopping up a hole in a barrel with a rag to prevent spillage. On the one hand this case struck me as inappropriate because we were focusing on creating an opening, letting out blood, or making a wound, not soaking a rag in fluid and squeezing it out which is the focus of this case. While we might have expected a case that had to do with wounding or breaking, this case of stuffing a barrel is surprisingly related as another super phallic image.

I am left wondering if the very act of sex is potentially questionable on Shabbat – not the breaking of the hymen alone but the penetration. The idea of penetrating a woman, of changing her status through the first act of sex, perhaps even exertion on the day of rest is one that raises questions about Shabbat.

Or perhaps the rabbis were just subconsciously using images that mirror the penetration they are envisioning.


I recently returned to the end of Ketuboth and was thinking about the movement or process of the gemarah. On daf 100b, after discussing the problematic case of a husband or wife who wants to make aliyah against the will of the other partner, the gemarah moves into discussion of Israel and how important it is. “One who lives outside of Israel is like one who has no God.” In some way this is an explanation as to why making aliyah is such a vital value that it is worth breaking up a marriage over, as if it were agreed upon from the start of the marriage.

As the gemarah is wont to do, one link leads to the next, and from the value of Israel we move to a story about Rabbi Zara, who wants to move to Israel, as he attempts to avoid bumping into his teacher Rabbi Yehuda, who believes such a move is forbidden. Their story is similar to the couple who are fighting over where to live; in the first, two spouses are trying to force their opinion on the other and in the latter a teach and student enter into a battle of wits to ascertain whether Rabbi Zeira is indeed allowed to leave his teacher and his yeshiva to go to Israel.

The discussion between the two Talmudic scholars brings us deep into yet a third related topic. The Rabbis duel over possible interpretations for a verse in Song of Songs “Oh maidens of Jerusalem, swear to me that you will not arouse love until it bursts (until it’s ready).” This mysterious verse is used by Rabbi Yehudah to prove that one is not allowed to move to Israel until God brings us back, until He sanctions the reunion- the end of the exile. Rebbi Zera believes an individual may make Aliyah, but the verse forbids the Jews as a Nation to end the exile by moving in mass to Israel.

Because the verse is repeated thee times and the poetic language speaks in double repetition there are in fact 6 swears that relate to the Jew’s suspended experience of exile according to Rabbi Zera. 1) The Jews sear not to recapture Israel, 2) they promise not to rebel against the non Jews in their exile 3) the non Jewish lords in exile swear not to oppress the Jews too much, 4)The Jews won’t reveal the end 5) they won’t push off the end, and 6) they won’t reveal the secret.

Some of these swears are as mysterious as it gets, but over all it shows a pull and tug between the Jews and God. It is no coincidence that Song of Songs is invoked here and though one might think we are far away from the original husband and wife in question we are in fact right where we began. Just as a wife may try to force her husband to make aliyah, the Jews want to make aliyah against God’s will. Even though it is clear to us in general and from these swears that God is in control, that the exile will not end until he says so- he cannot actually stop the Jews from going back to Israel. He has to rely on an oath and the hope that the Jews will keep their word. For all that God is in control of our destiny, the Jews keep pushing back, testing the limits always trying to reveal the end and bring it closer; moreover- according to these swears we have the power to delay the end as well.

If the process, the sugya brings itself to a new place and yet right back to where we started; it also brought me to a few other texts. One is a passage of Heschel in “Man is not Alone” where he says that our relationship with God is both “ultimate commitment” as well as “ultimate reciprocity.” In the context of this gemarah this means that we are committed to keeping our word and God is committed to protecting us in the exile, but just as he exercises a certain amount of power over the Jews, we reciprocally push back to have a say in our future. The warring couple as well have a relationship built on commitment, meaning if one half wants to move to Israel the other must follow; but also a relationship of reciprocity, whereas if the relationship cannot possibly stand the move then the other cannot be dragged- they must divorce if they’ve lost the element of reciprocity in the relationship.

I was also moved to think of this poem by Adrienne Rich. I would love to hear if any of you readers out there see the connections in this poem- or if I’m just on one of those frustrating Talmudic tangents.

“Trying to Talk with a Man”
by Adrienne Rich

Out in this desert we are testing bombs,

that’s why we came here.

Sometimes I feel an underground river
forcing its way between deformed cliffs
an acute angle of understanding
moving itself like a locus of the sun
into this condemned scenery.

What we’ve had to give up to get here –
whole LP collections, films we starred in
playing in the neighborhoods, bakery windows
full of dry chocolate0filled Jewish cookies,
the language of love-letters, of suicide notes,
afternoons on the riverbank
pretending to be children

Coming out to this desert
we meant to change the face of
driving among dull green succulents
walking at noon in this ghost town
Surrounded by a silence

that sounds like the silence of this place
except that it came with us
and is familiar
and everything we were saying until now
was an effort to blot it out –
coming out here we are up against it

Out here I feel more helpless
with you than without you
you mention the danger
and list the equipment
we talk of people caring for each other
in emergencies – laceration, thirst –
but you look at me like an emergency

Your dry heat feels like power
your eyes are stars of a different magnitude
they reflect lights that spell out: EXIT
when you get up and pace the floor

talking of the danger
as if it were not ourselves
as if we were testing anything else


Before the sun sets on this year’s Chanukah, one of the many neurotic holidays that remind us of all the bad things non-Jews have tried to do to us, I want to talk about one more Hazard that connects Chanukah and Ketuboth.

I think the Braita on daf 3b leaves us wondering when was this “time of danger” that caused the ancient Jews to change weddings from Wednesday to Tuesday. Not surprising several writings about Chanukah (including the Geonim specifically and other Midrashim) describe persecution along these lines – Greeks raping Jewish women in general, specific targeted rapes of brides on their wedding night. One source even explains that young couples were invited to sleep together before their wedding, so that even if a Greek would rape her, she would already have an emotional bond to her husband.

There is one story that I want to share here. For a long time leading up to the rebellion the Jews would avoid violating the decrees of the Greeks without direct conflict. If they were told women were not allowed to go to the Mikvah, they simply would not sleep with their wives. This way they didn’t violate their Judaism but they didn’t provoke the Greeks either.

Until the daughter of the Cohen Gadol, Yehudit (in one version), was supposed to get married to one of the Maccabi brothers. At this point the Greeks had a decree that the governor had the right to sleep with the bride before her wedding. Some marriages were done in secret but not all could avoid the Greeks prowling eye. But Yehudit wouldn’t stand for it. She stripped in public and shocked the Maccabis who wanted to burn her as a harlot. Then she spoke: You are embarrassed that I stripped in front of Jews, but you are willing to send me naked, powerless to the Greek governor to be raped. Her speech embarrassed the Maccabi’s so much that they decided to rebel. Instead of attempting to hold the wedding in secret, they dressed her up in her wedding clothes and paraded to the house of the governor as if they were gladly giving her over to be raped- and then they killed the governor starting the rebellion in force.

The End


Well it’s the last day of Chanukah and I have yet to share with you any insights on Chanukah and Ketuboth. I hope you are not all Chanukah-ed out.

I recently read a halakhic responsa, the Dvar Yehoshua by a former chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, who argued that it is actually wrong to light your Chanukah candles outside, as so many Israeli’s do. He explains the following: In our past historical times of danger, when lighting candles outside would provoke pogroms and other communal hazards, we didn’t simply dump the mitzvah and hide the candles indoors. As a community an alternate minhag was formed. The new minhag to light candles inside, near a door or near a window, then took on legal status. It is important to the halakhic system that an alternate setting fills the void, and that every individual family does not make their own decision, relocating the candles wherever they see fit.

He learns this from the opening sugya Ketuboth, which I have been beating to death on this blog. The Jews had a minhag to marry on Wednesday but in time of danger the minhag was changed to Tuesdays. First off, says the Dvar Yehoshua, the minhag was changed uniformly and a unified alternative date was chosen. Though interestingly, from the text itself it seems that the community uniformly changed the minhag, and the Rabbis gave it their stamp of approval afterward. Secondly, says the Dvar Yehoshua, according to the Braita on daf 3b, after the time of danger passed the minhag remained in place because the change of date had acquired a halakhic status of it’s own. Hence he claims we should continue to light our candles inside, even after the time of danger has passed.

Interesting, in the Dvar Yehoshua’s discussion he brings up the question asked by the Gemarah and many Rishonim, what was exactly the danger that caused the Jews to change wedding dates from Wednesday to Tuesday. One possibility is that it is a time of shmad- religious persecution- where the very purpose of the prowling governors who came to rape brides on their wedding night was to force the Jews to abandon mitzvoth- any and all. Therefore it is very significant, according to the Dvar Yehoshua, that the Jews picked a new date for weddings and stuck to it.

By choosing Tuesday, the Jewish community may save some women from rape (though not all because the governor might catch on to the new wedding day), while still not surrendering their right to have a religious system that they adhere to. Similarly with candle lighting, if we remove our candles from outside, without mandating a new location for the mitzvah, then the threats of our enemies are stopping us from keeping our religious rites. But if the system mandates a new location, then we –as a community, as a religion- are simply outsmarting the potential pogrom.

I think this is an important comment on change in religion. These cases show a dynamic relationship between, tradition, community action, and Rabbinic/halakhic sanction. On the one hand the Gemarah displays distaste for change, both because we don’t believe in being submissive to religious persecution and because we have a strong faith in the need to have a stable system of laws that accompany us through the generations. On the other hand if the system can’t change, then the religion is in danger of collapsing. How many people would marry off their daughter’s on Wednesday if they knew it meant she would be raped? How many people would put their Chanukah candles outside, if it was a sure fire invitation for pillage. If the Rabbis and the institutions want the Jewish people to be faithful to the halakhic system, then laws need to change based on community reality. The transformation can occur within the Batei Midrash and Batei Din, or else they surely will be overrun by the power of the community. If the Rabbis don’t sanction some of the changes, we are more likely to have disparate and dis-unified solutions to problems facing Jews worldwide.  

What about our Chanukah candle ritual, which in Israel is increasingly moving outside? I think this is a powerful communal response to the State of Israel. In the US where people proudly light their candles in their windows and have no worries (in most cities) of anti-Semitic attacks, they still light indoors. In Israel the invention of the glass box that sits outdoors and protects candles from blowing out in the wind, is a statement about a fundamental change in reality. Now that we have our own state, where the official National Holiday includes Chanukah it is time perhaps for one more communal change in halakha. We are not reverting to the “correct” halakha in times when there is no danger; this is an actual change. We are not simply no longer afraid of pogroms, but we are positively asserting that the reality of galut - of being a minority whose safety fluctuates with the whims of others - has changed, and so have we.

(Thanks to Rav Ariel Holland for bringing the Dvar Yehoshua to class at Matan)


One method in psychological counseling (don’t ask- information from a previous life) is to pay really close attention to the direction of the conversation. Of course you hope your psychologist is listening to what you say, but sometimes the twists and turns of the topic itself is a telling indication of a client’s feelings. What do they avoid talking about, how do they distract the therapist from following a line of questioning, when do they change the subject sometimes so subtly that a fledgling therapist might never notice the intense avoidance under the cover.

The Talmud, though it didn’t happen in real time, is sort of like a recorded conversation. On daf 3b-4a there is a discussion of various kinds of unfortunate situations that may force one to change the planned wedding date. One painful occurrence is if the father of the groom or mother of the bride passes away on Monday, and the wedding is planned for a Wed; the bride and groom get married and are sent into Yichud (to have sex) before the funeral, then they have the burial, 7 days of shevah brachot and wedding feasting, and then 7 days of mourning. The idea behind the strange order of events is that they don’t want to push off the wedding because the very parent who passed away put a lot of effort into the wedding, and if it were to be pushed off no one would be around to finance and organize another wedding. On the other hand once they bury the parent the laws of mourning kick in and it would be inappropriate to hold the wedding. So the wedding is quickly held before the funeral.

Interestingly after this shockingly sad and psychologically uncomfortable mix of emotions the gemarah seems to take a detour from the main issue at hand (which was what day one should get married and under what circumstances can you change the date.) The gemarah goes into painstaking details of whether one could sell a half cooked meal and save the money from this aborted wedding for another time. They discuss the different stages of preparing a wedding feast and the different economic climates of different cities. The escape into the minutia of what kind of meat can be sold in what size city, seems to me to be a defense against the very painful material at hand.

I’d like to suggest that the detour doesn’t display the gemarah’s insensitivity to the emotional situation it just set up- rather the defense mechanism could be a hidden signal that the writers of the Talmud were quite saddened and in touch with these feelings. However, just as someone recently bereaved may loose themselves in the details of planning a funeral, the shiva, the kaddish, the gemarah finds a literary escape from the weight of such situations.


I want to comment on the Mishnah order in chapter 5. I think attention to order (and disorder) reveals the Mishnah’s awareness of woman’s need for a certain amount of economic independence within marriage.

The Mishnayot seem to be following the order of the natural progression of events in planning and executing a wedding. At the engagement the price of the Ketuba is set (Mishnah 1), then during the couple’s engagement both the man and women are entitled to a year’s time to work to make money for building the household, making the furnishings, or executing the wedding (Mishnah 2); if the wedding date comes and goes, certain rights and responsibilities kick in at the end of 12 months even if the wedding is pushed off (end of Mishnah 2). The fourth Mishnah picks up where the 2nd left off: it details the responsibilities of a wife to her husband once the marriage has begun. The fifth talks of the husband’s responsibilities to his wife after the wedding.

The third Mishnah in this chapter seems, raises eyebrows and seems totally out of place. It asks can a husband donate or vow to donate his wife’s handiwork to the temple, making the forbidden for everyday use. The larger question at hand is to what extent is the woman economically independence in the marriage and in control of her earnings. The Gemarah fills in some details: the Rabbis dictate that during marriage a woman should hand over her handiwork to her husband in exchange for his responsibility to feed her. However there is a debate as to what comes first. Perhaps he is essentially responsible to feed her, but in order to not to create bad feelings, the Rabbis ask her to pitch in by contributing her earnings to his total assets. Or maybe he owns her handiwork automatically and in return he is responsible to feed her. In the end of the day he can only donate her handiwork if he owns it a priori, or if he has control over her “hands,” meaning he has the ability to force her to work.

Ultimately most opinions suggest that a woman can opt out of such a contract – even though it may be built to protect her – she can choose to refuse his food and thereby keep her own handiwork to support herself, demonstrating that she owns her own handiwork and can choose how to use it. First point I want to make is that on the basic level this discussion reminds us that women were not always as economically dependant on their husband’s as we may imagine. They worked both in and out of the house, sometimes bringing the second salary into the household, sometimes choosing maintain their own savings.

We are still left with our original question: why does the Mishna bring up issues of bank accounts during marriage, when the progression of the Mishnayot are still dealing with the pre- marriage stage? Why not lay out the basic rules of the game (Mishna 4’s description a wife’s basic responsibilities) before discussing the exception to the rule, the woman who keeps her own savings, the man who tries to donate his wife’s salary as if it were his own?

I think this out-of-place Mishnah addresses the transition FROM independent wage earning woman (albeit young) who spends the year before her marriage earning money and furnishing her new house TO dependant wife who is fed at her husband’s hand and turns over all her earnings to his bank account. This Mishna answers perhaps the emotional needs of a transitioning woman; even when she becomes part of his family estate, she maintains a certain amount of control over her contribution to the family. Despite the fact that she may deposit her money into his bank account, so that he can divvy out the spending money for the week- still she has some independent control over her own productivity in that he can’t donate it against her will, and that she has the right to craft a more independent economic arrangement.