The Obligation of Pidyon Masekhet Ketubot 52a

  • Rav Yair Kahn
Translated by David Silverberg
     The Gemara cites two Beraytot that record debates between Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel and the Chakhamim regarding the pidyon obligation: "If she was taken captive and they demanded for her as much as ten times her value – the first time, he ransoms [her]; from then on, if he wishes, he ransoms, if he wishes, he does not ransom.  Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel says: We do not ransom captives for more then their value because of tikkun ha-olam [the general welfare of the world, as this will encourage further kidnappings for ransom]… If she was captured and they demanded as much as ten times the value of her ketuba – the first time, he ransoms; from then on, if he wishes, he ransoms, if he wishes, he does not ransom.  Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel says: If her ransom equaled her ketuba, he ransoms; otherwise [if the ransom exceeded the value of the ketuba], he does not ransom."  According to the Gemara, these two Beraytot complement one another, such that Rabban Shimon Gamliel holds two lenient positions: 1. Captives are not ransomed for an excessive price; 2. A husband need not ransom his wife for a price exceeding the value of her ketuba.  The Chakhamim, by contrast, require the husband to ransom his wife even if the amount demanded exceeds her value, and even if it exceeds the price of her ketuba.
     This ruling of the Chakhamim applies only to the first instance of the wife's capture.  Should she fall captive a second time, then, according to the Chakhamim, the husband has the option of whether or not to pay the ransom.  Rashi explains: "The Rabbis instituted for her only a single ransom," implying that the husband bears no obligation whatsoever in a second instance of the wife's capture.  Tosefot cite the position of the Rach who disputes this view: "The Rach explained that if he wishes, he does not ransom for more than her value; but for her value – he ransoms."  Meaning, according to the Rach, a husband is, indeed, obligated even the second time, but regarding this obligation the Chakhamim concede to Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel, that the husband need not pay more than the wife's value or than the price of the ketuba.   This position requires explanation.  Why would the second instance of captivity differ from the first?  If Chazal instituted a requirement of only a one-time ransom payment, then Rashi is correct – the husband should bear no obligation whatsoever thereafter.  And if Chazal obligated the husband to ransom his wife even repeatedly, why is he exempt from payment beyond her worth or the value of her ketuba the second time?
     The Rambam understood this sugya differently.  In Hilkhot Ishut (14:19), he rules:
"If her money [for ransom] exceeded her ketuba, and he said, 'Behold, I divorce her, and here is her ketuba [payment]; let her go ahead and ransom herself' – we do not listen to him.  We rather force him to ransom her, even if her money [for ransom] was set at ten times her ketuba, and even if he has only enough money for her ransom.  When does this apply?  The first time.  But if he ransomed her and she was taken captive a second time and he wants to divorce her, he may divorce and pay the ketuba, and she will ransom herself."
The straightforward reading of the Rambam's ruling implies that a husband has an obligation to ransom his wife even if the price exceeds the value of the ketuba – even in the second instance of his wife's captivity.  According to the Rambam, the difference between the first instance and a subsequent instance relates not to the level of the pidyon obligation, but rather to the possibility of exempting oneself from this obligation through divorce.  The first time, a husband is not permitted to opt for a divorce, pay the ketuba and expect the wife to ransom herself.  But if she falls captive a second time, this option is given to him.  In the Rambam's view, then, it appears that the level of obligation remains the same even in subsequent instances of his wife's captivity; what changes after the first instance is only the secondary issue of his option to divorce rather than pay the ransom.
     It would appear, however, that the difficulty we raised regarding the Rach's ruling exists within the Rambam's view, as well.  After all, the prohibition he describes against divorcing rather than paying ransom does not evolve from an external source, but rather constitutes part of the pidyon obligation itself.  For strictly speaking, if the husband indeed divorces his wife in such a situation, he cannot be obligated to pay for her ransom, since pidyon is an obligation of marriage.  And in light of this, the Gemara concludes that if the husband dies after his wife's capture, his inheritors have no obligation to ransom her.  Since we view pidyon as not a purely monetary obligation, but rather as part of the code of marital laws, it hinges upon the marriage; once the husband dies and the marriage is terminated, the pidyon obligation ends and cannot then be transferred onto the husband's estate.  Seemingly, this would apply to a situation of divorce, as well.  But Chazal withheld from the husband this option, of absolving himself of the pidyon obligation by divorcing his wife.  They cast upon him the obligation not only of paying the ransom, but to bring his wife back to him to continue the marriage.  Therefore, as we have seen, if the woman is unsuitable for him as a wife, she does not earn rights with respect to pidyon, "since I cannot apply to her [the clause written in the ketuba], 'I will bring to you back to me as a wife'."  The Rambam goes even further, requiring that the husband "return her to him as a wife as she had been [previously]" (ibid., 18).  The Or Sameiach deduced from this phrase that a husband is obligated not only to ransom his wife, but also to seclude himself with her ("yichud") after her return in order to avoid rumors and allegations about her.  It stands to reason that this halakha stems from the nature of pidyon obligation, as a personal, marital obligation of a husband towards his wife; clearly, such a requirement of yichud departs considerably from the bounds of monetary obligation. 
     In light of this, the question we posed concerning the Rach's stance returns as we consider the Rambam's position.  If the husband's obligation to ransom his wife remains intact even after her first captivity, why does it differ in subsequent instances?  Why is he obligated to return her as his wife the first time, but able to divorce her the second time?
     In approaching this question, let us first examine the theory we have established, that pidyon constitutes one of the personal obligations of marriage, which help fashion and lend content to marital life.  At first glance, this assumption is contradicted by the Gemara's comment (47b), "They established her mezonot [sustenance] in exchange for her work, her ransom in exchange for fruits [of the wife's assets], and her burial in exchange for her ketuba."  This implies that the husband must ransom his wife within the framework of a monetary arrangement, in exchange for his rights to his wife's peirot (fruits).  And although many Rishonim maintain that a woman cannot waive her guarantee of ransom and keep her peirot, this is not because they view pidyon as an inherent component of the marriage, but rather due to external considerations, such as to avoid her assimilation among her gentile captors (see shiur #21). 
     A solution to this problem is found in the writings of the Rambam, who, in introducing his presentation of the obligations of husband and wife (Hilkhot Ishut 12), writes:
"When a man marries a woman… he becomes obligated to her in ten things, and earns privileges to four.  Of these ten, three are from the Torah.  They are: her she'er, kesut and ona [food, clothing and conjugal relations]… The [other] seven are from the words of the Sages, and all are a condition of Bet-Din.  One is the primary [obligation] of the ketuba, and the others are called 'the conditions of the ketuba,' and they are: to cure her if she takes ill, to ransom her if she falls captive, to bury her if she dies, that she is fed from his property and lives in his home after his death throughout her period of widowhood, that her daughters from him are fed from his property after his death until their betrothal, and that her male sons from him inherit her ketuba in addition to their portion in the inheritance [that they receive] with their brothers.  The four privileges that he earns are all from the words of the Sages, and they are: that he receives [the profits of] her work, that he receives anything she finds, that he eats all the fruits of her property during her lifetime, and if she dies during his lifetime, he inherits her and precedes all other people with regard to her inheritance." 
Only thereafter does the Rambam add: "The Sages further instituted that the [profits of] the wife's work correspond to her mezonot, her ransom corresponds to [his] consumption of the fruits of her property, and her burial corresponds to his inheritance of her ketuba."
     It appears from the Rambam that Chazal's legislation concerning the husband's obligations in general, and the pidyon obligation in particular, occurred in stages.  The first stage of enactment obligated the husband to ransom his wife within the framework of his obligations towards her, stemming from his role as husband.  Only in the second stage did Chazal add that the husband's rights to peirot serve as an exchange, of sorts, for this obligation.  Accordingly, we may suggest that the pidyon obligation is of a dual nature.  On the one hand, the husband must ransom his wife within the framework of the marriage obligations to which he commits himself; but in addition, Chazal lent this obligation a monetary aspect, as well, which obligates the husband in pidyon in exchange for his peirot privileges. 
     The dual nature of the pidyon obligation finds expression in Tosefot's comments concerning the case of a kohen who is married to a divorcee – a marriage forbidden by the Torah.  The Gemara cites Rava's position exempting the husband in this case from paying his wife's ransom.  Tosefot question this ruling in light of a Gemara in Masekhet Yevamot (85a): "A widow [married] to a kohen gadol, or a divorcee… to a regular kohen – she has a ketuba, peirot, mezonot… "  If, Tosefot ask, the husband in this case has no pidyon obligation, as Rava contends, then why does he enjoy privileges to the wife's peirot?  After all, as we have seen, Chazal established that rights to the peirot come in exchange for the obligation of pidyon.  Tosefot in our sugya cite the following answer of the Ri: "There, Rashi explains 'they have peirot' – that the husband eats from their [property].  But if they do not meet the amount [required for ransoming the wife], he does not ransom from his own [funds]."  Meaning, a kohen in fact must ransom his wife even if she is a divorcee, but only up until the amount corresponding to the value of the fruits he actually received.  In other words, the financial arrangement requiring pidyon in exchange for peirot requires the husband to make use of the amount of fruits he consumed for his wife's ransom.  This obligation exists even where we cannot apply the clause "I will bring you back to me as a wife," which expresses the personal commitment to resume the marriage.  When, however, "I will bring you back to me as a wife" is relevant, the husband is obligated to pay for his wife's ransom even beyond the amount of fruits he received.
     In this situation of a kohen married to a gerusha (divorcee), the monetary component is entirely detached from the marital obligation, and the husband therefore has no obligation to pay more than the value of the peirot from which he benefited.  When, however, the personal, marital commitment applies, it stands to reason that the enactment of peirot adds a monetary aspect to this obligation requiring the husband to pay even beyond the amount of peirot he ate.  The Gemara states (47b):
"Her ransom in exchange for fruits… Therefore, the husband eats fruits.  What does 'therefore' mean?  One would have thought that he should not eat them [the fruits], but rather leave them, for otherwise he might refrain from ransoming her.  It therefore teaches us that this [provision allowing the husband eat the fruits] is preferable – occasionally they [the fruits] will not complete [the amount required for the ransom] and he will ransom her from his own [money]."
It thus emerges that the monetary element of the pidyon obligation requires more than the mere return of the amount of fruits consumed.  The husband eats the fruits, and in exchange, he obligates himself to cover all pidyon expenses should his wife fall into captivity, even beyond the value of fruits of which he partook.  This arrangement thus turns out to resemble an insurance policy of sorts.
     In light of this, we may now return to the view of the Rach requiring the husband to pay for his wife's ransom even beyond her value and the amount of the ketuba – but only the first time.  As we saw, the Rach maintains that if the woman falls captive a second time, the husband must ransom her again but need not pay beyond the objective worth of the wife or the value of the ketuba.  We wondered why any distinction should be made between the first and subsequent instances of the wife's captivity in this regard.  But according to what we have seen, that the pidyon obligation bears a dual quality, we may perhaps explain that in the Rach's view, these two aspects of pidyon exist only the first time.  Subsequently, however, the husband is obligated only with regard to one component of the pidyon obligation.  It thus remains for us to clarify which aspect of the obligation dissolves after the first instance, and which remains intact.
     If the husband were required the second time to pay for his wife's ransom only up until the amount of peirot he had consumed, then we would simply conclude that the personal, marital aspect of pidyon requires only one ransom, whereas the monetary obligation, which comes in exchange for the peirot, remains even beyond the first instance.  However, the Rach maintains that the obligation the second time extends not until the amount of peirot consumed, but rather until the woman's value and the amount of her ketuba.  Moreover, it seems far more reasonable to limit the monetary debt to a single instance and leave the personal obligation intact throughout the entire period of marriage.  It would therefore appear that after the first ransom, the monetary aspect no longer applies, and only the marital obligation of pidyon remains.  This obligation is therefore restricted to the amount of the ketuba, as it is the ketuba that reflects the primary obligations of the marriage.  Naturally, then, the husband's obligation, as husband, to ransom his wife does not exceed this amount, "so that the secondary shall not be more stringent than the primary – the condition of her ketuba [= pidyon] more than the ketuba [payment itself]" (Rashi, 52b).
     Similarly, it would seem that the obligation to ransom one's wife even beyond her objectively defined value is likewise limited to the monetary aspect.  The mishna in Masekhet Gittin (45a) establishes, "We do not ransom captives for more than their value, because of tikkun ha-olam."  In the same vein, a husband, who bears the obligation to ransom his wife, has no obligation to pay beyond her value.  Only when he is obligated as a monetary debt can he be required to pay even beyond this amount.  Therefore, the Chakhamim hold that only the first time the wife falls captive, when the obligation stems from the monetary commitment made by the husband in exchange for peirot, must he ransom his wife at any price.  Once, however, the monetary component of the pidyon obligation no longer applies, and the husband is obligated only by virtue of his marital commitment, he has no obligation to pay beyond her value or the amount in the ketuba.
     We may explain the Rambam's position in a similar manner.  As we saw, the Rambam makes no distinction between the first and subsequent ransoms in terms of the level of obligation, but does distinguish between the two with regard to the husband's ability to absolve himself by divorcing his wife.  The first time, it is forbidden for the husband to give a get and expect the wife to ransom herself, whereas in subsequent instances he may.  We might explain that with regard to the first ransom, the husband bears a monetary obligation from which he cannot absolve himself.  But thereafter, so long as he remains married to his wife he is obligated to redeem her as her husband, as part of his marital commitments.  As opposed to the Rach, the Rambam holds that according to the Chakhamim, this obligation extends even beyond her value and that of her ketuba.  However, no obligation is cast upon the husband from outside the framework of his marital commitment that would forbid him from giving a get and thus exempting himself from his ransom obligation.  He thus may, indeed, according to the Rambam, divorce his wife and thereby absolve himself from the obligation of pidyon.
Sources for next week's shiur:
1.   Ketubot 53a "Yativ Rav Nachman" ve-Ullah ... bebavel."
47b Tanu Rabbanan ... ketuvata."
2.   Eruvin 17b "Detanya ... ein zeh met mitzva"
     Rashi s.v. de-it lei kovrin, Tosafat Nazir
43b vehai [till "ein zeh met mitzva."]
3.   Ra'a 53a "u-mihu kasha lan ... ve-zeh nachon."
4.   Mishna Ketubot 95b, Rambam Hilkhot Ishut 18:6
     Ra'avad ibid.
1.   When a person passes away, who is obligated to bury him?
2.   Does this general obligation apply to a husband whose wife passed away?
3.   If it does, why is a rabbinic enactment required to obligate a husband to bury his wife?
4.   Who is obligated to bury a widow? What is difficult about the Rambam's ruling regarding this matter.