Shabbat Parashat Ki Teitzei 5773
P'ninat Mishpat: Exaggerated Ketubot(based on and article by Rav Ido Rechnitz in Mador Tzedek of Makor Rishon)
It is not uncommon for the shekel sum listed in a ketuba to be an apparently exaggeratedly high one. While at the wedding it seems just like a curiosity, batei din must grapple with the question of whether to abide by it literally in the case of divorce.
In one case, beit din (headed by Rav Eyal Yosef) dealt with the claim for payment of a 1,000,000 shekel ketuba, in a case where the husband’s only property was his portion of a 500,000 shekel home. The husband was clearly not capable of paying the full sum.
Rav Daichovsky previously ruled that an exaggerated obligation in a ketuba is not binding since the chatan certainly did not have in mind to pay that sum, putting it in the category of invalid asmachta obligations (see Rama, Choshen Mishpat 207:13). This is based on the gemara’s (Bava Metzia 104b) statement: “If he exaggerated and said, ‘If I will not cultivate the field, I will pay you a thousand zuz,’ it is an asmachta and is not binding.” Rav Daichovsky posited that an amount over 120,000 shekels (at the time the ruling was handed down) is an exaggeration, as the ketuba is supposed to correspond to support for 12 months, which should not exceed that amount. He points out that the intention of the ketuba is not to make a divorced wife rich and impoverish the husband but to serve as a means of survival until she finds another husband. However, Rav Daichovsky agrees that if the circumstances point in the direction that the sum is logical (e.g., they are people who are used to a high standard of living), it can be binding above that sum.
Rav Yoezer Ariel (Shurat Hadin vol. VIII, p. 262) finds sources that indicate that in the time of Chazal there was a practice of artificially inflating ketubot (see Ketubot 66a and Rambam, Ishut 23:11), which would indicate that such a ketuba would not be taken literally.
On the other hand, Rav David Levanon (see ibid. 270-293) says that the face value is binding. Firstly, the ketuba mentions explicitly that its provisions are not to be viewed as asmachta, and this is even stronger regarding an obligation where there is logic that one needs to obligate himself significantly. Those ketubot that include oaths to fulfill the ketuba are even stronger, especially when they include provisions where the oath cannot be cancelled (e.g., not to take a second wife). This is even clearer when the ketuba lumps together the basic ketuba obligation, which must exist in every marriage, and the added elements and gives one shekel sum for all together. However, Rav Levanon says that beit din must evaluate whether it is logical for the husband to have been serious (making it not very different from Rav Daichovsky’s ruling, in practice). He related to a case where the husband improperly abandoned his wife, in which case, he should not be rewarded with a minimum ketuba.
In this case, the wife agreed to give beit din the mandate to incorporate its common sense. Thus, while basically believing that exorbitantly large sums should not be binding, they made the husband pay 200,000 shekel for the ketuba, which is a sum that he is able to pay, albeit with some difficulty.
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