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.





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