Employing Shaveh Kessef in Place of Currency for Kiddushin

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

The first mishna in Kiddushin establishes the admissibility of non-currency for kessef of kiddushin. As the well known mishna asserts, "A woman can be married through currency and through general items of value (shaveh kessef).” Does the extension beyond actual currency suggest that coins are irrelevant to kiddushin as long as VALUE is transferred? Or are currency equivalents allowed because they can be cast as “virtual currency?” Since items can easily be sold, perhaps they are “currency convertibles” and delivering them to a woman is the equivalent of actual CURRENCY delivery.


An interesting debate between Tosafot and the Ramban Kiddushin (2a) may revolve around this very issue. Twice in Shas, shaveh kessef is allowed in place of actual currency – once to redeem an eved Ivri and once to reimburse for damages. In each instance, the gemara offers a source to justify this rule. Yet the gemara in kiddushin offers no source to justify substituting shaveh kessef for actual kessef. Tosafot claim that the same source that allows redemption of eved ivri through shaveh kessef can imply shaveh kessef for kiddushin. Effectively, Tosafot assume the NEED for a source and manufacture one for kiddushin. Alternatively, the Ramban claims that no pasuk is necessary; it is INTUITIVE that shaveh kessef can replace actual kessef.


Perhaps these Rishonim differ about the nature of the shaveh kessef replacement option. If shaveh kessef actually mimics kessef and substitutes for it, we might require a source to validate this replacement, as Tosafot claim. If, however, shaveh kessef does not replicate kessef – because kiddushin is not driven by currency, but rather by value – the employment of shaveh kessef would be obvious and intuitive and would not require a pasuk, as the Ramban claims.


This question of whether shaveh kessef operates as a CURRENCY stand-in or as abstract VALUE may have triggered an interesting machloket between Amora’im about the need to assess shaveh kessef items before utilizing them for kiddushin. According to one position of the gemara in Kiddushin (7b), R. Yosef required that every item be professionally assessed before delivering it as shaveh kessef for kiddushin. Even if the item’s worth well exceeds the minimum peruta level and even if the woman is aware of its surpassing value, it cannot be employed for kiddushin unless previously assessed and tagged with a price. As the gemara asserts, "Just as kessef has a concrete and fixed value, shaveh kessef must similarly be tagged with a finite value." Evidently, shaveh kessef acts as a kessef stand-in and therefore must be price-tagged as kessef. Rabba, who argues and does not require this assessment, may have believed that shaveh kessef does not replicate kessef but acts as pure value, parallel to kessef's ability to represent value. Therefore, no kessef-like tagging is necessary.


Several interesting comments of Rashi may indicate that he viewed the shaveh kessef allowance as mimicking currency and not simply exchanging value. Several gemarot speak of delivering "BENEFIT" to a woman as her kiddushin money. In each instance, Rashi only validates the kiddushin if the benefit is a service that is typically contracted for. For example, the gemara (kiddushin 6b) speaks of delivering benefit to a woman by extending the term of her loan. By offering her more time to repay the loan, the man has delivered  benefit to her. Rashi claims that the gemara refers only to a situation in which people generally pay for the service of “loan extension.” If the woman would have paid someone to enable the loan extension and instead the potential husband extended it for her, she has received a service-based benefit and the kiddushin is successful.


Similarly, the gemara (Kiddushin 7a) speaks of delivering benefit to a woman by ACCEPTING her gift (see shiur #05). Since the man is a dignitary, by accepting her gift, he has provided her with “benefit.” Rashi again claims that this benefit can entail kiddushin ONLY if a woman would typically contract someone to lobby dignitaries on her behalf to accept her gifts. Again, Rashi claims that mere benefit is insufficient unless it is a service based benefit which people typically pay for. Perhaps Rashi claimed that any items delivered must be seen as “virtual” kessef. Just as R. Yosef developed conditions by which ACTUAL items can be rendered as kessef replacements, Rashi similarly developed criteria by which benefits can be rendered as kessef.


An interesting comment of Rashi in Kiddushin (7b) also suggests that he views all kessef alternatives as kessef mimickers and not mere value. In his comments (s.v ih), he claims that when delivering shaveh kessef, the husband must declare, “I am marrying you with money and here are items (shaveh kessef) in their place.” Evidently, Rashi understood that shaveh kessef substitutes for money. The value must be verbally stipulated so that the shaveh kessef can be regarded as its substitute.


If indeed shaveh kessef is meant to mimic actual currency, we may disqualify the type of shaveh kessef which, for various reasons, cannot adequately mimic actual currency. For example, the Ittur disqualifies land as shaveh kessef. This is odd, since typically land possess robust value and should induce valid kiddushin. Perhaps the Ittur also believed that shaveh kessef must replicate actual currency. Portable items that can be easily sold (since they can be transported to multiple markets) can be viewed as virtual currency; the ease by which they can be transformed into ACTUAL currency allows them, under certain conditions, to be viewed as money. However, land, although valuable, is more difficult to sell. Although it possesses robust value, it cannot be viewed as kessef equivalent. It may not be convertible to kessef, and therefore may not be suited to kiddushin.



This approach may explain the view of the Rashba, who discusses the use of a utensil for kiddushin. Even though a small utensil may not possess marketable value, it does possess utility, which enables it for use in chalipin. Given its utility, can it be transferred for kiddushin purposes? The Rashba in Shavuot quotes those who claim it can and argues against their position. Perhaps he also demanded that shaveh kessef serve as virtual kessef. Only items possessing market value can be viewed in this manner!