Masekhet Ketubot 54a The Widow's Residence

  • Rav Yair Kahn
Translated by David Silverberg
     The mishna (52b) posits, "If he did not write to her [in the ketuba]… 'You shall reside in my home and be fed from my property throughout your period of residence as a widow in my home' – he is [nevertheless] obligated, for this constitutes a tenai Bet-Din [a stipulation imposed on the marriage by Chazal]."  This mishna establishes the obligation upon the inheritors to provide residence for the widow, beyond their responsibility to feed her.  The Gemara, however (54a), sets a significant limitation on this obligation: "'You shall reside in my home' - Rav Yosef taught: In my home, and not in my shack."  This implies that if the residence lacks sufficient space, the orphans are not obligated to care for the widow's housing needs.  Rashi indeed explains, "If he does not have a house, but rather just a shack, a cramped, small hut… they can say [to her]: Go away from us, for he wrote to you, 'You shall reside in my home,' and not 'in my shack'."
1. The Position of the Yerushalmi
     According to this interpretation, our Gemara would seem to argue with the position presented in the Yerushalmi (4:13): "Rav Zeira posed the question to Rav Nachman Bar Yaakov and to Rabbi Avimi Bar Papi, [what is the halakha] if there was no house?  He said to him, the inheritors rent [a residence] for her."  But the Ramban cites the Geonim as interpreting the comment of the Bavli in accordance with the Yerushalmi:
"There are those who explained it to mean that if the house was too small and cramped to contain the orphans and the widow, she cannot say to them: I will live here and you go [live somewhere else].  Rather, they rent for her a house appropriate for her stature.  They resorted to this interpretation because we find this formulation explicitly in the Yerushalmi."
But this explanation seems to contradict the Gemara's discussion later in the sugya: "Food, however, she receives [even if the residence is to small for her to remain there].  Mar Bar Rav Ashi said, even food she does not receive [in such a case], but halakha does not follow Mar Bar Rav Ashi."  Mar Bar Rav Ashi's position clearly indicates that in this situation the inheritors have no obligation to provide the widow with residence at all, and on this basis he extended the exemption to the provision of food, as well.  And even those who disagree with Mar Bar Rav Ashi merely object to the linkage he establishes between the residence obligation and that of food provision.  They do not, however, dispute his basic assumption, that in such a case we exempt the inheritors entirely from the residence obligation.  Similarly, the Gemara later (103a) writes:
"Abayei said, we hold [a tradition] that if a widow's residence collapsed, the inheritors are not obligated to rebuild it.  We similarly learn [in a berayta]: 'If a widow's residence collapsed, the inheritors are not obligated to rebuild it.  Moreover, even if she says, 'Let me be, and I will rebuild it from my own [funds],' we do not listen to her." 
This gemara implies that even if the house collapses, the inheritors are entirely exempt from the residence obligation.
     It thus turns out that according to the straightforward reading of the Gemara, the Bavli disagrees with the Yerushalmi's position that if the residence left by the deceased does not have sufficient space, the inheritors must rent a suitable residence for the widow.  Consequently, it is difficult to accept the Geonim's contention that the Bavli agrees with this view.  The Ramban therefore suggested a different explanation of the Geonim in order to make their view compatible with the Bavli:
"Perhaps this was said only with regard to one who has no house at all, for since it is a tenai Bet-Din that she resides in his house and the inheritors must rent for themselves, they must rent a house suitable for the residence of them all; the place where the inheritors live is 'his house.'  But those who have a house that is unsuitable for the residence of them all, do not rent for her [a residence] for herself, because of the exclusion [implied] in the ketuba – 'in my home' is written [in the ketuba] twice.  I considered this because our Gemara does not imply that the inheritors must rent anything for her, but rather implies that she loses residence [privileges] entirely, from the fact that Mar Bar Rav Ashi said that she doesn’t even receive food payments, although halakha does not follow Mar Bar Rav Ashi."
Surprisingly, however, the Rambam (Hilkhot Ishut 18:3) codifies the Yerushalmi's ruling: "If the house collapsed, or if her husband had a house only through rent, they give her a residence in accordance with her stature."
2. Mar Bar Rav Ashi
     Before we address the Rambam's ruling and the straightforward understanding of the Geonim's view, we must first explain the position of Mar Bar Rav Ashi, exempting the inheritors from feeding the widow once they are exempt from providing her with a residence.  What is the logic underlying this halakha?  Do we further penalize the widow after denying her rights to a residence by withholding her sustenance, as well?  Does Mar Bar Rav Ashi reach irrational and unjust conclusions based merely on the way the ketuba was formulated? If so, it would be preferrable to correct the ketuba text rather than to deny a widow her legitimate rights.
     It stands to reason that Mar Bar Rav Ashi's ruling relates to the very root of the halakha of mezonot (food provisions) requiring inheritors to feed the widow.  Our sugya notes that once a widow submits a claim in Bet-Din for her ketuba payment she loses her rights to mezonot.  From the mishna (52b), however, it is clear that according to "anshei Yehuda," the orphans may, if they wish, pay the widow her ketuba and thereby absolve themselves of the mezonot obligation – even if the widow does not submit a claim for her ketuba payment.  According to the "anshei Galil," by contrast, if the widow has done nothing to forfeit her mezonot privileges, the inheritors do not have the right to absolve themselves of the mezonot payments by paying the ketuba.  The Gemara writes later (96a):
"Rabbi Zeira said in the name of Shemuel, the widow's metzia [lost item that she finds] belongs to her.  If you say the mishna reads 'ha-nizonet' ['who is fed,' implying that at times a widow is not fed, if the inheritors to decide to pay the ketuba instead] – very well.  But if you say that the mishna reads 'nizonet' ['is fed,' implying that the orphans do not have the option not to feed the widow], then they should be equivalent to the husband.  Just as regarding the husband – a woman's metzia belongs to her husband, here, too, the woman's metzia belongs to the inheritors."
This passage suggests that specifically according to the version of "nizonet," which reflects the position of the anshei Galil, do we equate the husband's inheritors with the husband himself.  However, according to the version of "ha-nizonet," which expresses the view of anshei Yehuda, this equation is not valid.  Tosefot (96a s.v. ta shema) indeed explain, "Since they can pay her off [according to anshei Yehuda], they are not like the husband."  Tosefot earlier (95b s.v. nizonet) suggest that according to anshei Yehuda, the widow is fed by the orphans but she keeps her earnings (as opposed to during marriage, when she must transfer her earnings to her husband in exchange for mezonot).  Tosefot write:
"The mishna reads 'nizonet,' in accordance with the anshei Galil's view, that she is fed even against the orphans' will.  Therefore, her earnings belong to them.  According to anshei Yehuda's view, however, that of their own volition she is fed and they have the option of paying her off, her earnings do not belong to them."
     In explaining this debate between anshei Yehuda and anshei Galil, it would seem that they debate the very nature of the inheritors' obligation to feed the widow.  According to anshei Yehuda, the mezonot payments are intended only as a temporary measure.  We might view the mezonot payments according to this view as a penalty for the inheritors' failure to pay the ketuba heretofore, or as a method of pressuring them to pay.  A slightly different approach would be to view mezonot as simply a means of ensuring the provision of the widow's needs until she receives her ketuba payment.  In any event, all these approaches would perceive the halakha of mezonot almana (the widow's mezonot payments) as but a temporary obligation that will be lifted once the ketuba is paid.  According to anshei Galil, however, the inheritors are not allowed to pay the ketuba and thereby terminate the mezonot payments.  In their view, it would seem that mezonot almana reflects a permanent, acceptable situation, whereby the widow lives in her husband's home for his honor, and continues running the household as she did during her husband's lifetime.  In other words, according to anshei Galil, the situation of widowhood is an acceptable situation of continuing the marriage to some extent.  Therefore, the inheritors are like the husband, insofar as they replace him, with respect to the wife's metzia and earnings.  According to anshei Yehuda, by contrast, the marriage is completely terminated with the husband's death.  From that point, therefore, the ketuba awaits immediate payment, and there thus exists no connection at all between the woman's relationship to her husband and her relationship to the orphans prior to their payment of her ketuba (see previous shiur).
     The sugya cites the view of Rav Yosef that a widow who wears makeup does not receive mezonot.  Rashi explains: "She demonstrates [by attempting to attract men] that it is not due to her husband's honor that she delays remarriage."  Meaning, the mezonot obligation remains in force only when the widow stays in her deceased husband's home for his honor.  But if she expresses interest in remarrying, she loses mezonot.  Similarly, Shemuel holds that once the widow receives a marriage proposal she loses mezonot.  Rav Anan explains, "If she said, '[I will not accept] because of so-and-so, my husband,' she receives mezonot; but if she says, 'Because of these people [who proposed to her] who are unsuitable,' she does not receive mezonot."  These views are readily understandable according to the position of anshei Galil.
     In light of this, we can easily understand Mar Bar Rav Ashi's view, that if the widow does not remain in the husband's house due to insufficient space, the inheritors are exempt from the mezonot obligation.  According to what we have explained, the reason is clear.  If the widow does not live in her late husband's home, even due to no fault of her own, she does not continue the state of marriage as she does when she resides in his home in his honor.  Mar Bar Rav Ashi therefore concluded that if the clause "You shall reside in my home" is not fulfilled, then the obligation of "and be fed from my property" likewise does not apply.
     We have seen that according to Mar Bar Rav Ashi, the halakha of a widow's residence is not merely a financial debt owed by the inheritors to the widow, but rather a framework in which the widow perpetuates her status and place in the husband's family.  But, as mentioned, halakha does not follow Mar Bar Rav Ashi's view.  It stands to reason that according to the opposing view, accepted as halakha, the residence obligation constitutes merely a financial debt the inheritors owe to the widow.  However, Tosefot (54a s.v. be-veiti) express uncertainty as to whether or not the inheritors may provide the widow with a different residence of equal status to the husband's, or if they must give her specifically the husband's house: "They cannot exchange [the residence] for a worse one, or perhaps even for an equal one."  It would seem that if the residence obligation constitutes a purely financial obligation, then we would allow the orphans to give her a different residence of equal value.  If, however, the residence requirement is intended to allow for the continuation of the marriage, the inheritors would be required to grant her residence specifically in the husband's home.
     It therefore emerges from Tosefot that even according to those who argue with Mar Bar Rav Ashi, we might still view the residence requirement as an extention of the marriage.  Only as opposed to Mar Bar Rav Ashi, they maintain that the lack of space in the husband's home does not undermine the mezonot obligation.  We may understand their position in one of two ways:
a. The marriage can be perpetuated during widowhood so long as the widow does not remarry, even if she cannot physically live in the husband's home.  The mishna later (103a) states: "A widow who said, 'I do not want to budge from my husband's home' – the inheritors cannot say to her, 'Go to your father's home and we will feed you.'  Rather, they feed her and grant her residence in accordance with her stature.  If she said, 'I do not want to budge from my father's home,' the inheritors can say to her, 'If you are with us, you have mezonot; if you are not with us, you do not have mezonot.'  If she claimed [that she cannot continue living in the husband's home] because [it is improper since] she is a young girl and they [the orphans] are young men, then they feed her in her husband's home."  It thus turns out that if the widow has a justified reason for returning to her father's home, she does not forfeit her rights to mezonot, even though she does not live in her husband's house.
b. Alternatively, perhaps the halakha of mezonot almana is of a dual nature.  When she lives in her husband's house, then she receives mezonot within the framework of the continuation of the marriage.  But when she cannot remain in the husband's home, due to no fault of her own, the inheritors must nevertheless provide her with food as part of their financial obligations towards her.
3. The Rambam and Geonim
At this point we may return to the view of the Rambam and Geonim that we saw at the beginning of the shiur.  Based on the Yerushalmi, they ruled that if the husband's residence has no space for the widow, the inheritors are required to rent a different residence for her.  We questioned this ruling in light of the Gemara's discussion of the collapse of the husband's house.  The Gemara there exempts the inheritors from rebuilding the widow's residence, implying that when the husband's house in unsuitable for the widow, the inheritors are entirely exempt from responsibility towards the widow's housing needs.  Seemingly, this Gemara contradicts the ruling of the Rambam, based on the Yerushalmi.  For if they are obligated to rent for her a home, then of what relevance is it that we do not require them to rebuild the old home?  But according to what we have explained, there exists a fundamental difference between the situation of a widow continuing to live in the husband's house in the context of the continuation of the marriage, and the rental of an alternative residence which merely fulfills the inheritors' financial obligation, without continuing the marriage. [This distinction is not only conceptual, and may have practical ramifications.]
     Similarly, we can now easily understand how the Rambam explained our sugya.  As we saw, our Gemara, which cites the view of Mar Bar Rav Ashi denying the widow her mezonot rights in a case of an unsuitable residence, appears to contradict the Rambam's position.  Mar Bar Rav Ashi clearly understood that the inheritors in such a case have no obligation with respect to the widow's residence whatsoever – an assumption that the opposing view seems to share, as well.  But according to what we have explained, we might claim that even Mar Bar Rav Ashi requires the inheritors to rent a residence for the widow, and yet they are still exempted from the mezonot obligation.  As we saw, the connection between mezonot and residence is not a purely technical link due to the text of the ketuba, but rather a fundamental connection between her residence in her husband's home and the continuation of the marriage.  According to Mar Bar Rav Ashi, only when the widow actually resides in her husband's home does she continue the marriage and fulfill the clause in the ketuba, "you shall reside in my home and be fed from my property," which reflects the continuation of the marriage, justifying the mezonot payments.  If, however, she does not live in her husband's house, then even though the inheritors must pay for alternative housing arrangements, they no longer bear the obligation of feeding her.
     However, we do not accept the ruling of Mar Bar Rav Ashi.  According to the accepted halakha, the inheritors must feed the widow even when she does not physically live in her husband's house.  The explanation might be that the obligation of mezonot almana is of a dual nature; it both reflects the continuation of the marriage after the husband's death and constitutes a separate financial obligation.  Alternatively, we might claim that those who argue with Mar Bar Rav Ashi maintain that the continuation of the marriage does not depend on the widow's physical residence in the husband's home.  Even when the widow cannot actually live there, she can still sustain her connection to her late husband so long as she remains in her situation of widowhood in his honor.