We have already learned about two types of property that a woman brings with her into a marriage, nikhsei melog and nikhsei tzon barzel (see, for example, Yevamot 38):
- Nikhsei melog (usufruct property) are possessions that remain the property of the woman. While the couple is married, the husband can derive benefit from this property. When the marriage ends, they remain hers, in whatever condition they may be.
- Nikhsei tzon barzel (guaranteed property) 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.
Where do these terms come from?
Some rishonim suggest that the term melog stems from the root m-l-g which means boiling the skin of an animal to remove the hair. Similarly, in our case, the husband “shaves” the profits from the property. Others suggest that it is from the Greek root logos, meaning speech, and it is borrowed in our context to mean property that belongs to the husband because of a verbal agreement. Most likely it is a word that has its own independent meaning, perhaps taken from ancient Akkadian, with the meaning of “property brought by a woman to her husband.”
The words “tzon barzel” have a very clear meaning : literally, “iron sheep,” an illustrative metaphor, which is also found in Roman law. It expresses the status of this property, which is like iron cattle to the owners in the sense that they cannot be destroyed since someone – in our case, the husband – has taken full responsibility for them. In yet another way the metaphor is a good one – like iron cattle, these properties do not produce anything of value for their owners; they only keep their value.