Against that backdrop we will attempt to study nedarim. This looks like it could be a complicated tractate; I'll do my best.
The first mishna begins by listing some different types of nedarim, one of which is the Nazarite vow. A Nazarite had to refrain from grape products, cutting his hair, and having contact with the dead for the period of the vow, which is usually not permanent. The g'mara tells us: the Master said that just as in other vows, for a Nazarite vow the father can annul the vow of his daughter and the husband can annul the vow of his wife. An objection is raised: this is obvious -- why are you telling us this? Why should these be special that we would think otherwise? The g'mara answers its objection: perhaps with other vows we might say that he can annul because the vow is permanent while, for a Nazarite vow, it goes away on its own soon enough so there is no need for him to have his privilege. To cut off that line of reasoning, the g'mara tells us outright that a woman's Nazarite vow can be annulled. (2a mishna, 4b g'mara)
The part of this that I found most surprising is that women might take Nazarite vows. I guess because at the end the Nazarite shaves his head, I didn't expect that.
I also am still pretty unclear on why people would do this.
The g'mara analyzes the argument. Elsewhere we learn that a man can pay someone else's shekel (Temple tax), repay his debt, or restore to him an object he has lost, all without benefit to himself, meaning he is not repaid. The shekel and restoring lost objects are religious duties, and repaying debt (some say, but this is disputed) spares the man shame. The g'mara does not here close the loop by addressing whether maintaining the man's wife in his absence also spares him from shame. (107b-108)
The talmud here does not raise the question of agency; if the husband had asked somebody to take care of his wife while he was away, that would be a different case.
1 The g'mara says that this applies to verbal promises, so for "write" read also "say".
The mishna teaches: if a man who was married to four wives died, his first wife takes precedence (for collecting the ketubah) over the second, who takes precedence over the third, who takes precedence over the fourth. However, to collect her ketubah each of the first three must swear that she has not already received any payment toward it, because if she is overpaid she may deprive the next one in line. (So #2 has a claim upon #1 and can make her swear, and so on down the line.) The last need not swear unless there are minor orphans (who would be next in line if they exist).
The mishna goes on to discuss the case of a man who married four wives on the same day, and notes that it was the custom in Jerusalem to add timestamps to the documents in that case. (93b)
Oaths are a serious matter because an oath carries the possibility of a false oath, which is effectively false testimony before God. So even if you're speaking truthfully, you don't do it if you don't have to and the halacha doesn't impose it lightly. (This is why, today, some Jews who have no intention of doing otherwise will still not agree to "swear to tell the truth" etc in courts. When I've been seated on juries I've "affirm"ed my service instead.)
That said, these kinds of requirements that people take oaths to settle claims come up in other cases of torts too; the ketubah case is not especially unusual.
Normally in the event of a divorce the husband must pay the wife her ketubah. The mishna teaches: these are divorced without making this payment: a wife who transgresses the law of Moses or Jewish practice. What are transgressions against the law of Moses? Feeding him untithed food, having relations during the time of month when this is forbidden, not setting aside the dough offering, and making vows and not fulfilling them. What are transgressions against Jewish practice? Going out with uncovered hair, revealing parts of herself that ought to remain covered in the street (the talmud's phrase is "spinning in the street"), or conversing (jesting) with other men (flirting, maybe?). Abba Saul adds: one who curses her husband's parents in his presence. (72a-b)
The mishna teaches: a wife's find -- that is, the benefit from a lost item that she finds (that can't be returned to its owner) -- and the proceeds from her handiwork belong to her husband. Her inheritance belongs to her but he has use of it during her lifetime. But any compensation for an indignity or blemish done to her belongs to her. The g'mara brings an opinion that Rabbi Akiva disagrees on the first part, saying that according to him her find belongs to her, but others disagree with that disagreement. (65b-66a)
SE started with Stack Overflow, for expert programmers, and then added sites for other technical subjects -- programming, system administration, database administration, and the like. Over the years the scope has broadened to include all sorts of topics -- religions, languages, math, cooking, writing, and many more (over 130 of them at the moment). One of these sites is Biblical Hermeneutics (BH).
When BH first showed up I asked why this topic wasn't already covered by the site for Christianity, and I was assured that, in contrast to the religion sites (Mi Yodeya and Christianity, at the time), BH didn't have a doctrinal basis -- the goal was something more akin to the religious-studies department at a secular university. In other words, this was a site for bible geeks, not zealots. I'm a bible (well, torah) geek, so I jumped in.
It didn't work, despite the best efforts of some excellent users -- shining examples of how people should behave there, some of whom I count as friends. Over the three and a half years that it has existed BH has moved from respectful discourse to quite a bit of Christian evangelism and presumption. When nearly every question about the Hebrew bible is answered with the claim that it's talking about Jesus, no matter how inappropriate, it can get pretty frustrating.
BH is a Christian site. Its users refuse to bracket their bias, to write descriptively rather than prescriptively, and to rein in the preaching and truth claims. Opinions masquerade as answers, supported by those who share the opinions and don't stop to ask if an answer actually supported its claims. When that happens you don't have an academic site; you have a church bible-study group. Most people there seem to be fine with that; it's not likely to change.
The site actively recruited Jews. Originally they welcomed us, but the evangelists and those who support them have driven nearly all of us out now by creating a hostile environment. (Last I checked, there was one known Jew there.) It kind of feels like we've been invited to a medieval disputation, except that we, unlike our ancestors, can actually opt out.
In explaining why I no longer felt comfortable there, I wrote:
I don't have a problem with Christians. I have a problem with Christian axioms -- or any other religion's axioms -- being treated as givens on a site that claims to welcome all. I thought we could keep that in check, but now I wonder. [...]That was in 2013. Not only did those words fall on deaf ears, but things got worse. I (belatedly) sought rabbinic advice, and it became clear that BH.SE is no place for Jews. I left the site, made (and later updated) this post on Mi Yodeya's discussion (meta) site, and ultimately deleted an account with over 10k reputation.
I came to teach and learn in a classroom. But people brought in an altar, crucifix, and communion wafers, and the caretakers gave them directions.
Other Jews from Mi Yodeya were smart enough to not get very involved there in the first place. But for the sake of other Jews who might come across that site (and this post) I leave this warning: participating there comes with hazards. Please consult your rabbi first.
I'll stay in touch with friends from there in other ways. I wish them the best of luck in trying to bring the site back on track, Herculean task though that may be. I hope it doesn't hurt them. But I'm done.
(I was not planning to make a public post in this journal about this, but some discussions with other SE folks after the deletion of my account persuaded me that I should make one post here.)
The question arose this morning of whether he is required to support the bondwomen, or if that is somehow her responsibility. I don't yet know the answer to that.
(I don't know what the "up to" depends on or if there's a minimum.)
Finally (for now), the Ladycorn joined me at choir practice, where our director, desperate to get us to pay more attention to our hypothetical audience, began conducting with her -- and I was laughing too hard to think about taking a picture. Oh well; some things will just have to be left to memory and imagination.
We learned previously of a case where a fine isn't owed on top of a death penalty (the latter punishment suffices), but that doesn't seem to apply here -- execution precludes a fine but flogging doesn't, at least in some cases. I don't know these laws very well, sorry.
R. Yose says he does not pay a fine, but R. Akiva says that not only does he pay a fine but it belongs to her, not to her father. Why is her divorced status important? Because if she were betrothed and not divorced there would be no fine for a different reason -- that's a death-penalty offense for him (adultery starts from betrothal not marriage), and a man who is liable for death by the court does not also pay fines. (38a) This last point is based on Exodus 21:22-23. (36b)
It appears that the purpose of a fine is punishment, not compensation, and the rule is that there is one punishment per transgression. In other cases (like theft, and I think property damage) there are compensatory payments, like paying back the value plus some extra, but this appears to be different. I don't understand this yet.
At the beginning of the book of Esther we're told of the rather-excessive party that King Achashverosh threw for his court. We're told that the wine was abundant and drunk from gold vessels. What does abundant mean? That each man was given wine older than himself. The drinking was according to the law -- what does that mean? According to torah -- there was more food than drink. None did compel -- what does that mean? That each man was given wine from his own country. It's good to be the king (or at least a rich king), and perhaps even better to be one of his friends. Cheers! :-)
On the seventh day when the king's heart grew merry with wine -- wait, what? Was he not merry with wine before then? He's been drinking for seven days, after all! The seventh day was Shabbat; on Shabbat Israel begins with discourse about torah and proceeds to give thanks, but the idolatrous nations of the world begin with frivolity and proceed with lewdness. This is how it came to be that they were discussing which nation's women are the most beautiful -- one would say the Medians, and another would say the Persians, and another the Chaldeans, and it was getting right rowdy. The king said that Vashti was the hottest babe and said "would you like to see her?" and they said "yes, but she has to be naked!", and so he summoned her but she refused. And because of that we get the rest of the book of Esther. (Megillah 12a-b)
I took some liberties in the retelling -- it's Purim, after all. Happy Purim! Be sure to check out this small collection of Purim-related Q&A, serious and silly.
(Today's daf is Ketubot 31.)