The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Wife and Partner: Financial Autonomy and Legal Scrutiny of Women in Ketubot 86b-90a

The Mishnah at Ketubot 86b contemplates the position of a wife who is appointed a storekeeper henvanit or an administrator apotropia for her husband. Because of her dual position in the household as a person with independent financial interests and simultaneously as a manager of his assets, these administrative duties are subject to scrutiny through an oath administered by the husband or his heirs. The gemara explores the parameters of the woman’s control over the financial assets as well as the extent of court supervision over her administration of her dead husband’s estate.

Considering the woman’s ability to make financial claims, these pages of Talmud (Ketubot 86b-90a) contain different legal possibilities with regard to the wife’s ability to obtain her ketubah payment under these circumstances. It pits her financial rights against those of the orphans and other third-party claims to the estate. Finally, it considers the case of a woman who has received a partial payment for her ketubah pogemet ketubatah and contemplates scenarios in which the woman may collect the remainder.

This sugya and subsequent pages introduce complex themes about the status of the women as administrators and creditors of an estate. In its discussion of the requirements of oath administration as part of the verification of the woman’s claim, important baseline presumptions are made about the women’s trustworthiness. The gemara reveals deep amoraic ambivalence about women’s legal position with regard to making these financial claims. This paper will explore the various themes that emerge from the discussion of women’s access to the financial settlement that they claim. It will identify and analyze the various epistemic communities holding different legal positions about these women’s claims. Finally, the paper will reflect on the implications of these differing legal postures on the practical rights of women.