The ketuba is a central part of the marriage agreement that exists between husband and wife. Thus, any agreement that the couple makes between themselves that does not contradict the Torah should be valid. Nevertheless, there are situations where either spouse may violate the marriage agreement to such an extent that the courts will insist that the marriage be undone. In such cases, it is the individual who is perceived to be at fault who is punished. If the wife is the cause of the breakup, she is divorced and does not receive the ketuba payment; if it is the husband, he is forced to divorce his wife and pay her ketuba. There are three possible things that can lead to such consequences – all of which are discussed in this perek (chapter), Perek ha-madir, the seventh chapter of Massekhet Ketubot. They are:
- Nedarim – vows
- Inappropriate behavior
- Mumim – physical blemishes
The first Mishna discusses the case of ha-madir et ishto mi-lehanot lo – a person who takes a vow forbidding his wife from deriving any benefit from him. In such a case, according to the Mishna, he can arrange for her to be supported for a certain amount of time, but if he cannot undo the vow, he will eventually be forced to divorce her and pay her the ketuba.
There is a disagreement among the rishonim as to how to understand the effects of a vow that keeps a wife from benefiting from her husband. If marital relations are included in that vow, the husband has abrogated one of the basic requirements of marriage!
Rashi and others suggest that even if this was the husband’s intent, that aspect of the vow will not take effect, since the husband cannot deny that basic marital obligation to his wife.
Tosafot argues that the expression “deriving benefit” refers only to monetary obligations and not to sexual ones.
The R”i Migash suggests that the Mishna should be understood to be referring to a case where the vow was made before the nisu’in had been completed, and there were not yet any obligations of marital relations.