By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 56 – You are their Rock of Gibraltar
In the Mishna, Rabi Meir argues with Rabi Yehuda and says that under no circumstances can one detract from the set, minimum amount of a kesubah. A besulah must have at least two hundred zuz, and an almanah one hundred. If it is any less than that, in Rabi Meir’s precise words, “harei zeh b’ilas znus”. Their union is one of licentiousness.
Noting Rabi Meir’s specific choice of expression, “Kol ha’pocheis” (as opposed to something like “kol besulah sheh’ein lah” – Rashi -), the Gemara infers an additional chiddush included in Rabi Meir’s shitah.
They didn’t write anything. They merely made a verbal agreement that she waives part of the amount of the kesubah. Although such a verbal agreement inherently has no legal repercussions whatsoever, since Rabi Meir holds that a tnai that contravenes Torah mandate is batel; nevertheless, since she is not certain that she will wind up receiving the full amount (in the event of divorce or her husband’s death), it is still a situation of “harei zeh b’ilas znus”.
Now, this obviously demands a bit of explanation. After all, the kiddushin was done k’das v’cha’din. The chuppah went through without a hitch. Even the essential, monetary obligation of the kesubah is in place with full force. There is no question about it; this man and woman are fully married! So in what sense are we to understand Rabi Meir’s shitah that because of the wife’s lack of surety regarding the kesubah “harei zeh b’ilas znus”?
Tosafos back on 51a saves the day for us. Well, at least partly. Over there, Tosafos says as follows (paraphrased): Because the wife is not completely certain about the kesubah, the Chachamim made a takanah that it is b’ilas znus.
We see, then, that, yes, essentially there is nothing lacking in this marriage and in no way would it be able to be viewed as znus. It is only because Chazal went out of their way, so to speak, to make a takanah to that effect that it is in fact considered as such. So now it is a bit easier to swallow. However, and this is a big however, we still need to try to understand why it is that Chazal would make such a takanah.
Perhaps one may feel inclined to suggest that it is a just a deterrent to prevent men from trying to pull off such shtick (i.e. trying to get out of being obligated in the whole amount). But that isn’t going to hold water. Because if that is all there is to it, then just say that it is assur to make any such attempt. “Assur lifchos mi’kesubasah klal” would have worked just fine, wouldn’t it have? So why the seemingly extreme “harei zeh b’ilas znus”? It seems awfully drastic, doesn’t it?
I don’t know if this is really going to answer this question, but one thing that would seem to be emphatically clear from this sugyah (by the way, in the beginning of 57a the Gemara says we pasken like Rabi Meir) is that a woman’s sense of security in the marriage is an essential component thereof.
Why her sense of security is contingent on clarity vis a vis the potential monetary obligation of her husband to her in the event of divorce or his death is not too difficult to understand.
Rav Eliyahu Diskin once explained that part of the significance of the klalos and onshim of the Torah can be understood similar to a business contract. Every serious business contract is going to contain within it a section that delineates the penalties that either side stands to suffer if they breach the contract. The bigger the deal, the sharper and more intense the outlined penalties are going to be. To a great extent, it is the penalty-clause that determines how significant and serious of a contract it is that we are dealing with.
In a similar vein, the binding nature of the kesubah is, to a great extent, that which cements the relationship. The inviolable, monetary repercussion in the event of the dissolution of this merger is what solidifies in her mind the concrete reality of her bond with her husband. Any lack of surety, then, in this regard, generates a force that attacks the very underpinnings and foundations of her sense of security in her marriage. Although that lack of surety and security is not enough to actually undermine the marriage, Chazal nevertheless saw it as enough of a justification to make a takanah to that effect.
That being the case, there is a whole shiur klali in kedushas chayei ha’nisuin that we can derive from this sugyah. Namely, that engendering and cultivating a sense of abiding security for her in the marriage is a key ingredient to the overall health thereof. Making sure that your wife feels secure about every facet of your shared, married life, then, ought to be a top priority in every man’s mind. And, no, this is not just another way of saying “be very nice to your wife”. That is supremely important, but is a different topic altogether.
To sharpen the point, consider the following statement that Rav Chaim Friedlander makes in his amazing kuntras (if you don’t have one yet, go get it) “V’yadata ki Shalom Ahalecha”: When a halachik shailoh comes up, you must give a clear-cut answer. If you are not able to determine the psak yourself, call up a Rav. But under no circumstances can you employ an approach of “let’s be machmir mi’safeik”. With your wife, you must provide clear, unequivocal responses.
Because a woman needs to feel that she is on sure footing. She needs to have a clear sense of direction. Feeling that her husband does not really know what to tell her, or what she really should be doing in any given situation, can undermine her sense of security. She is prone to being accosted by an unsettling sense of instability in terms of how her life/marriage is functioning. And, as we see from our sugyah, that is not good at all. One of the basic things a man must provide for his wife is a strong sense of anchoring in life. He provides strength of power and direction (of course, always in the most kind and benevolent manner), and fosters within his family unit an unshakeable sense of stability. In the words of Rav Yisrael Belsky, “You are their Rock of Gibraltar”.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.