"Pidyon" for the Wife of a Kohen

  • Rav Yair Kahn
Translated by David Silverberg
     Halakha permits a rape victim to remain with her husband if he is a non-kohen.  Chazal extracted this halakha from the verses in Sefer Devarim (22:25-27): "But if the man comes upon the betrothed girl in the open country, and the man lies with her by force, only the man who lay with her shall die, but you shall do nothing to the girl.  The girl did not incur the death penalty, for this case is like that of a man attacking another and murdering him.  He came upon her in the open; though the betrothed girl cried for help, there was no one to save her."  This is not the case, however, when dealing with the wife of a kohen, given the unique halakhot regarding a woman's suitability for marriage to a kohen.  Just as a divorcee is disqualified from marrying a kohen, so does halakha disqualify any woman who underwent forbidden relations, even by force.  Thus, a kohen's wife who is victimized by rape may not remain with her husband.
     This distinction yields a difference in formulation between the stipulations in the ketuba of a kohen and non-kohen.  As the mishna (51a) establishes, in the ketuba of a non-kohen, the husband obligates himself to ransom his wife should she be taken captive, with the following formulation: "If you fall into captivity, I will ransom you and bring you back to me as a wife."  A kohen, however, writes in the ketuba as follows: "If you fall captive, I will return you to your country."  When a woman is taken captive, we assume, until we can prove otherwise, that her captors forcibly slept with her; consequently, only the captured wife of a non-kohen may return to her husband upon her liberation.  The wife of a kohen, however, may not resume her marriage with her husband, given the assumption that she had been raped.  Although both kohanim and non-kohanim commit themselves in the ketuba to ransom their wives if they fall captive, the ransom serves a different purpose in each case.  A non-kohen ransoms his wife in order to continue the marriage, whereas a kohen may not resume his marriage after his wife's captivity.  At first glance, we might claim that this distinction does not reflect any fundamental difference with regard to obligation of ransom per se.  After all, as mentioned, both kohanim and non-kohanim bear this obligation.  Seemingly, the difference between them relates only to other factors that affect the resumption of marital life following the husband's fulfillment of his obligation to redeem his wife from captivity.  However, an in-depth study of the sugyot relevant to this halakha leads us to a much different conclusion.
Abayei and Rava's Debate
"Abayei said: A widow married to a kohen gadol – he is obligated to ransom her, for I can apply to her [that which is stated in the mishna], 'And regarding a kohen's wife [the husband writes in the ketuba]: I will return you to your country.'  A mamzeret or foreigner married to a non-kohen – he is not obligated to ransom her, for I cannot apply to her, 'I will bring you to me as my wife.'  Rava said: Whenever the prohibition stemming from the captivity causes her [to become forbidden to her husband], he is obligated to ransom her; if a prohibition stemming from a different factor causes her [to become forbidden, such as the case of a widow married to a kohen gadol], he is not obligated to ransom her."
Abayei and Rava agree that the clause in a non-kohen's ketuba, "I will bring you back to me as a wife" not only describes the situation following the wife's freedom from captivity, but sets a condition on the ransom obligation.  When a woman is unsuitable for marriage to her husband, he bears no obligation to redeem her.  According to Abayei, this condition applies only to the wife of a non-kohen; when it comes to the wife of a kohen, he must ransom her even if halakha forbids the marriage.  Rava disagrees with Abayei's distinction and claims that a kohen, too, bears no obligation to ransom his captured wife if she is forbidden to him.  Even when it comes to a kohen, the ransom obligation applies only if we can apply the clause, "I will bring you to me as my wife."  The only exception is the prohibition of shevuya itself; a kohen must redeem his wife despite the fact that they may not remain married after her captivity as a result of being a shevuya.
     At first glance, the position of Abayei appears more reasonable.  Why should a kohen be exempted from the obligation of pidyon of a gerusha, if he never stipulated to the contrary?  Rashi was apparently troubled by this difficulty and explained that the debate between Abayei and Rava revolves around the nature of the pidyon (ransom) obligation.  The mishna later in the masekhet (100b) establishes that in certain cases of forbidden marriages – a widow to a kohen gadol, divorcee to a regular kohen, mamzer to a non-mamzer – the wife receives a ketuba despite the prohibition violated through the marriage.  The Gemara in Yevamot (85a) clarifies that in these cases, the husband is not bound by those conditions written in the ketuba that involve sustaining the marriage; since halakha requires that he divorce his wife, these conditions do not apply.  His obligation is thus limited to those requirements in the ketuba that are not intended for the purpose of sustaining the marriage.  On this basis, Rashi explains in our sugya that according to Abayei, we consider only the redemption of a non-kohen's wife a condition meant to sustain the marriage; the ransoming of a kohen's wife, however, has nothing to do with the couple's marital life and is thus to be seen as merely a financial obligation cast upon the husband.  Therefore, a kohen must ransom his wife despite the prohibition against the resumption of their marriage, whereas a non-kohen would be exempt from ransoming his wife if she is forbidden to him.  Rashi writes:
"A widow married to a kohen gadol – we establish later… that she has a ketuba with the conditions of the ketuba, for she is meant to take [the ketuba payment] and leave [him].  But the conditions of the ketuba meant to keep her with him, such as food and medication, we say in Yevamot that she does not receive… Here Abayei tells us that she does have the condition of the ketuba regarding her ransom… After all, even for a woman suitable for him he would not have stipulated [in the ketuba], 'I will bring you back as a wife,' but rather, 'I will return you to your country,' and this applies to this one, too; hence, this condition, too, is for her to receive and leave." 
Rava, by contrast, claims that even a kohen has no obligation to ransom his wife if she was forbidden to him before captivity.  He denies any fundamental distinction between the wife of a kohen and the wife of a non-kohen regarding the ransom obligation.  In both instances, this obligation constitutes one of the marital obligations of a husband towards his wife; thus, a kohen who marries a divorcee, for example, has no such obligation.  Rashi explains:
"Rava says… but if he is married to a woman forbidden for a different reason – he has not committed himself [to ransom her], for the ketuba stipulations for a non-kohen and a kohen are the same.  Rather, a kohen stipulates to her that even if she will become forbidden to him because of her captivity, she will not lose the ketuba obligation of her ransom."
     According to Rashi, there are two separate types of obligations included in the ketuba.  One establishes the husbands monetary obligations in the event that the marriage is terminated.  The other qualifies the marital relationship itself.  It turns out, then, that Abayei and Rava debate the issue of whether or not there exists a fundamental difference between a kohen and non-kohen regarding the nature of the pidyon obligation.  According to Abayei, a kohen's obligation of pidyon differs fundamentally from that of a non-kohen.  When it comes to a kohen's wife, the obligation to ransom her is a purely financial commitment, whereas regarding a non-kohen's wife this obligation is among those commitments that establish the relationship of marriage between husband and wife.  Rava, however, argues and claims that the pidyon obligation for a kohen is the same as for a non-kohen; for both, this commitment ranks among the basic marriage obligations a husband has towards his wife, and thus does not apply when he is required to divorce her.
Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua
     In any event, we have seen that according to both Abayei and Rava, the clause "I will take you back as my wife" defines the pidyon obligation of a non-kohen as a marital, rather than financial, obligation.  We must note, however, that this issue may very well hinge on a debate between the Tanaim.  We learn in a berayta: "One who makes a vow on his wife [forbidding her from deriving benefit from him] and she is taken captive: Rabbi Eliezer says, he ransoms [her] and pays her ketuba; Rabbi Yehoshua says, he pays her ketuba and does not ransom her."  The Gemara explains (according to Rava's conclusion):
"A widow married to a kohen gadol, or a mamzeret or netina married to a non-kohen – all agree that he has no obligation to ransom her; they argue in a case of a vow taken either on the wife of a kohen or the wife of a non-kohen.  Rabbi Eliezer follows the initial [status], whereas Rabbi Yehoshua follows the eventual [status]."
Meaning, Rabbi Yehoshua holds that if eventually the wife becomes forbidden to the husband, we cannot apply to her the clause in the ketuba, "I will bring you back to me as a wife," and the husband thus has no obligation to ransom her.  His position accommodates our understanding of the pidyon obligation, as a marital, rather than purely financial, commitment.  Rabbi Eliezer, however, disagrees, and claims that even if she becomes forbidden to him, the pidyon obligation applies.  Only a woman who was forbidden to the husband initially, when he committed himself to the ketuba obligations, is disqualified from the right to ransom.  Seemingly, according to Rabbi Eliezer, "I will bring you back to me as a wife" does not define the pidyon obligation as a marital obligation, but rather sets the conditions of the husband's commitment.  According to Rava, both a kohen and non-kohen accept the ketuba obligations only for a woman permitted to them at the time of the ketuba's writing.  A prohibition that takes effect only later thus has no effect on the initial commitment. 
     Indeed, it is Rabbi Yehoshua's view that is accepted as halakha, and we thus return to our initial approach, viewing pidyon as a marital obligation – in the cases of both a kohen and a non-kohen.
     We read later in the sugya:
"If she fell captive during her husband's lifetime and then her husband died [before her release] – if her husband knew of her [capture before he died], the inheritors are obligated to ransom her; if her husband did not know of her [capture before he died], the inheritors are not obligated to ransom her.  Levi considered issuing a practical ruling in accordance with this berayta, but Rav said to him: This is what Chavivi said – halakha does not follow this berayta, but rather the following berayta: 'If she fell captive after her husband's death, the orphans are not obligated to ransom her; what more, even if she fell captive during her husband's lifetime and then her husband died, the orphans are not obligated to ransom her, for I cannot apply to her, 'I will bring you back to me as a wife'."
At first glance, we can readily understand the view requiring the inheritors to ransom the woman.  After all, a person's inheritors bear the obligation of paying all his outstanding debts after his death.  Why, then, would I exclude the obligation to ransom his wife from this general rule?  Apparently, the view that exempts the inheritors maintains that the husband's obligation to ransom his wife constitutes a marital obligation, and thus applies only to the husband himself, as it is intended to sustain the relationship of marriage.  Consequently, we have no reason to demand that the orphans fulfill this obligation after their father's death.  By contrast, the position that indeed casts this obligation upon the inheritors views the pidyon requirement as a financial obligation on the husband's estate.  Naturally, then, the inheritors bear the responsibility of paying this debt just as they must pay all the debts their father left unpaid before his death.
     But this entire discussion relates only to the standard case of pidyon – the case of a non-kohen.  Would the situation be different in a case of a kohen who died while his wife was held captive?  Would the kohen's inheritors be obligated to redeem his wife, given the fact that his obligation does not include her return to him as his wife?  The Sefer Hafla'a claims that the debate between Abayei and Rava would apply to this question, as well.  According to our understanding, this would mean that in Abayei's view, the kohen's obligation to ransom his wife constitutes a financial obligation on the estate – even after his death.  The inheritors thus bear the obligation to pay their father's debt after his death.  Rava, however, maintains that just as a non-kohen's pidyon obligation is a personal, marital obligation, the same holds true for a kohen.  Despite the fact that the kohen cannot bring his wife back to resume the marriage after freeing her from captivity, the personal nature of his obligation remains, and it therefore cannot be transferred to the inheritors after his death.
The Unfaithful Shevuya
     In conclusion, we will address a situation of a wife who willfully betrays her husband in captivity.  The Gemara cites two beraytot that present contradictory rulings as to whether or not women seized by the king are presumed to have engaged in relations coercively.  The Gemara resolves the contradiction by distinguishing between two types of kings – "malkhut Achashverosh" and "malkhut Ben-Netzer."  Rashi explains:
"Ben-Netzer was an outlaw who captured towns and ruled over them, becoming the leader of the outlaws.  With regard to him the berayta says that a king's captives are not like captives and are forbidden to their husbands [as we presume they slept with their captors willfully], because she assumes that he will marry her, and thus has relations with him willingly." 
Presumably, if we suspect that she engaged in relations willfully and on this basis forbid her to her husband, then we should likewise exempt him from the obligation to ransom her.  The Chelkat Mechokek (E.H. 78:8) indeed issues such a ruling: "Since he cannot fulfill with her 'I will bring you back as a wife,' he has no obligation to ransom her."  The question, however, arises as to whether this would apply as well to a kohen's wife taken captive by Ben-Netzer.  Seemingly, this should hinge on the debate between Abayei and Rava.  According to Abayei, despite the fact that the wife is forbidden to the kohen, he must ransom her nonetheless; presumably, this ruling would apply in our case, as well.  According to Rava, however, a kohen must redeem his wife only if the shevuya prohibition alone forbids her to him; if, however, she is forbidden for a different reason, such as if she willingly betrayed her husband, he bears no obligation to ransom her.  This is indeed the ruling of the Beit Shemuel (78:7).
     The Chelkat Mechokek (ibid.), however, disagrees, and rules that only a non-kohen has an exemption from the ransom obligation in this case, since his wife becomes forbidden to him.  A kohen's obligation, however, would apply in such a case, even according to Rava, since, the Chelkat Mechokek explains, the wife became forbidden to him immediately when her captivity begun, and yet the ransom obligation took effect nonetheless.  In other words, in his view, the presence of an external prohibition exempts the kohen from the ransom obligation only when this prohibition takes effect before the wife fell captive.  According to our understanding of Rava, however, that even when dealing with a kohen the pidyon obligation constitutes a marital obligation, we would not obligate the kohen to redeem his wife if she betrayed him willingly.  Apparently, the Chelkat Mechokek understood differently, that a kohen's pidyon obligation constitutes a purely financial obligation.  Nevertheless, an external prohibition prevents this obligation from taking effect, so long as the prohibition occurred before the wife's captivity.  Once she is taken captive, and the husband thus became obligated to free her despite the shevuya prohibition, this obligation remains regardless of the emergence of an external prohibition at some point thereafter.
     It turns out, then, that the Beit Shemuel and Chelkat Mechokek argue as to whether the kohen's obligation to ransom his wife constitutes a financial obligation or one stemming from the relationship of marriage.  At first glance, the Chelkat Mechokek's position seems more compelling.  How can we claim to have here a marital obligation if the husband has an obligation to divorce his wife?  Necessarily, it would seem, a kohen's pidyon obligation differs fundamentally from that of a non-kohen. 
The Yerushalmi addresses the phrase "to your country" in the ketuba of a kohen's wife, and asks whether or not we should understand this literally, to mean that the husband must bring her back to her country.  The Yerushalmi responds that in truth, the kohen must return his wife only "le-yishuv," to a settled area, but not necessarily to her hometown.  The Rambam, however, rules otherwise (Hilkhot Ishut 14:18): "If he was a kohen, and she is [thus] already forbidden to him, he ransoms her and returns her to her father's home.  Even if he was in a different city, he must care for her until he returns her to her country."  According to the Rambam, the husband's obligation includes not only the ransom of his wife, but also her return to her father's home.  Clearly, then, this obligation is not merely a financial commitment; it rather requires the husband to care for his wife.  Despite the fact that the shevuya prohibition forbids her to him, he must tend sensitively to all her needs.  Only thereafter may and must he divorce her.
     We dealt in this shiur with the nature of the pidyon obligation in general, and with the kohen's obligation in particular.  Regarding the general obligation for a husband to ransom his wife, we saw that this obligation does not apply if the wife is forbidden to her husband, because the obligation, as written in the ketuba, requires that he redeem her and return her as his wife.  According to Rabbi Eliezer, this condition merely limits the husband's commitment; it says nothing about the nature of this obligation.  Halakha, however, follows the position of Rabbi Yehoshua, who maintains that the clause, "I will bring you back as a wife" defines the pidyon obligation as one of the marital obligations of a husband towards his wife.
     A kohen cannot resume his marriage after his wife's captivity because she becomes forbidden to him as a result of the presumed rape that occurred during the captivity.  Abayei therefore argues that as opposed to that of a non-kohen's wife, the pidyon of a kohen's wife constitutes a purely financial obligation.  Therefore, even if she is forbidden to her husband for some additional reason, such as in the case of a divorcee, her husband must nevertheless see to her release.  Rava, however, argues, and claims that a kohen married to a divorcee bears no obligation to redeem her.  According to the Chelkat Mechokek, Rava agrees in principle that the ransom of a kohen's wife is not part of the husband's marital obligations, given the fact that he must divorce her after her release.  Nevertheless, a condition on the pidyon obligation requires that if a separate prohibition forbids the wife to him before her captivity, the pidyon obligation does not take effect.  The Beit Shemuel, by contrast, claims that even in the case of a kohen's wife, the pidyon obligation is included under the husband's marital obligations, a position that we detected as well in the comments of Rashi and the Rambam.
Sources for next week's shiur:
1.   52a "Tanu rabbanan nishbeit ... it lei"
     Rashi, Tosefot, s.v. ratza.
2.   Rambam Hilkhot Ishut 14:19
3.   47b Tanu rabbanan tiknu ... mididei."
4.   Rambam Hilkhot Ishut 12:1-4.
1.   Chakhamim who argue on Rashbag qualify their position claiming: "mikan va-eilekh ratza yodeh ratza eino podeh." What three interpretations of this clause appear in the Rishonim?
2.   Which interpretation is simplest from a logical perspective?
3.   According to Tosefot, a kohen is partially obligated to ransom his wife (according to Rava).  What is the basis of this partial obligation?