TalmuDigest

For the week ending 3 November 2007 / 22 Heshvan 5768

Ketubot 65 - 71

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
  • The danger of wine given to women
  • Clothes and bedding obligations of the husband
  • Supporting a child till six years of age
  • The rights of the husband
  • Dowry negotiations and evaluations
  • Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and the former millionairess
  • A dowry of gold and a minimum standard
  • Insights, stories and guidelines regarding charity
  • The orphan's dowry
  • Money deposited by a third party for purpose of dowry
  • The challenge of the Sage Ilfa
  • Transactions of a minor
  • A vow made to abstain from any benefit from a wife
  • The role of the providing agent
  • The impact of other vows
  • Restrictions imposed by a man on his wife

A Matter of Motive

  • Ketubot 67a

Nakdiman ben Gurion was one of the legendary men of wealth in Jerusalem during the Roman siege of the city. When his destitute daughter explained the loss of his fortune as a result of the failing to give charity, this was met with surprise by the Talmudic Sages. After all, it was known that when Nakdiman walked from his home to the Beit Midrash expensive carpets were spread for him that the poor subsequently were invited to appropriate for themselves.

Two resolutions are offered for this conflict between his charitable action and the criticism of his charitable record. One is that his giving was in no way proportionate to his wealth. Another is that his giving was motivated by a desire for honor.

This criticism of his motivation seems to run counter to what the gemara (Pesachim 8a) states about one who makes a charitable donation so that his son should live or that he himself should gain the World to Come. Despite the fact that he has a selfish motivation he is considered a perfectly righteous man.

Why then is the motivation of honor any different?

Maharasha solves this puzzle by referring to a distinction made by Tosefot (Pesachim 8b) between one who will not regret his charitable commitment even if his wish is not granted by Heaven and one who will. When one is motivated by honor alone, it seems, there is a serious danger that he will regret his charity if that honor is not accorded to him. He is therefore considered to be delinquent in his charity obligations and forfeits his right to wealth.

It is interesting to note the sharp criticism of some charitable Jews of his day that Maharsha offers at the conclusion of this explanation. These people earned money in dishonest fashion and then donated it to charity in order to gain honor. Not only is this considered performing a mitzvah through a sin, but, as we see from the example of Nakdiman, their wealth will not endure.

The fact that institutions and organizations do indeed honor their benefactors with banquets and plaques is not a contradiction to the above. There is a sacred purpose in publicizing the good done by individuals so that others will follow in their footsteps.

What the Sages Say

"One who wishes to preserve his wealth should deplete it by giving charity."

  • A motto of Jerusalem Jews quoted to Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai by the daughter of Nakdiman ben Gurion - Ketubot 66b

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