כ״ב באייר ה׳תשע״ה (May 11, 2015)

Ketubot 98a-b: A Widow’s Support

We have already learned that a widow is entitled to mezonot – support for purchase of food – until such time as she collects her ketuba. During this time, she does not necessarily receive a daily stipend, rather she can sell her late husband’s property in order to support herself.

In our Gemara, Rava’s son Rabba asked Rav Yosef whether a woman who sells her late husband’s land in order to have money to feed herself will be obligated to take an oath in court. Rashi understands that the oath under discussion is a question of whether the widow may have taken more money than she deserved. Tosafot explain that she is being asked whether she is certain that she sold the property at its true value and not at a discount.

Given that she is only permitted to sell it in the presence of three people, some ask why there would be any need for her to take an oath.

The Ramban answers that the need for three people is only when establishing the value of the property. Once the value of the property has been established, the widow searches for buyers, and it is possible that she will find someone who is willing to pay more than the estimated price. It would then be necessary for her to swear that she did not take more money than she was permitted to, something that she would not have needed to do had the estimate and sale taken place under the supervision of the courts.

The Ramban then offers a different approach to the need to take an oath in this case. He argues that the oath discussed in our Gemara is the same oath that we always make the widow take before collecting her ketuba from the orphans – that she did not receive any payments from her husband towards the ketuba payment while he was still alive. Such an oath is necessary because we assume that the orphans do not know the details of their father’s business, so anyone who comes with a claim against the estate cannot collect without taking such an oath. The Gemara’s question in our case is whether the widow needs to take this oath before she sells any of the property, or, perhaps, she can first sell property for her needs, and only take the oath at a later time.