When a couple gets married, a ketuba is written. Oftentimes, when the Gemara refers to the ketuba, it means specifically the monetary responsibilities that the husband has accepted in this relationship, and, in particular, the amount of money that he guaranteed to her in the event of divorce or death.
It was traditional for the wife to also bring financial assets into the marriage, which were divided into two:
- Nikhsei melug, which are possessions that remain the property of the woman. While the couple is married, her husband is okhel peirot – literally, he “eats the fruit.” In other words, she owns the property, but as long as they are married the profits accrued by the property belong to the husband. When the marriage ends, they remain hers, in whatever condition they may be.
- Nikhsei tzon barzel, which are possessions that become the property of the husband. Their value is written into the ketuba, and in the event that their marriage comes to an end – if the husband dies or if they become divorced ? the wife will be reimbursed for the full amount, either from the estate if he died or from him if they divorced.
Our Gemara introduces the idea of a woman selling her ketuba for tovat hana’ah. In the case of selling a ketuba, the idea of tovat hana’ah is the value of the ketuba on the open market while the marriage still exists. Like any commodity, the ketuba‘s potential value may be of interest to an investor. Since in the event of divorce or of the husband’s death the woman will receive a lump sum payment, someone may be willing to pay some fraction of the potential value. Of course, should the wife die first, according to takkanot Usha (see daf 88) the husband will inherit her, leaving nothing for the “investor,” something that will limit the amount that an investor might be willing to pay.