What's Love Got To Do With It?

On Monday, coinciding with the celebration of Shavuot (outside of Israel), we will end our study of Ketuvot. This tractate addresses, in the words of the Koren Talmud, "matters that constitute the relationship between husband and wife: Conjugal relations, mutual obligations, and monetary arrangements between them. In a general sense it addresses the entirety of marital life."   Except it doesn't. There's one rather important part of marital life that is not addressed at all. Love.  So as we turn the last pages of Ketuvot, now is a good time to ask: what happened to that crazy little thing called love

Love in Ketuvot

How often does the word "love" appear in Ketuvot, a tractate about the obligations of a husband towards his wife (and some of her obligations too)?  For those who've learned it as part of Daf Yomi, how often did you come across the word? For those who have not learned it, how often would you guess it appears in a talmudic volume of 112 pages? And you can't count the name of רב אדא בר אהבה - (though his name appears thirteen times).

I counted (sort of) and the answer is....six. Just six. (And don't look to מסכת קידושין for help. Love, or one of its conjugates appears there twenty-four times. Only one was in the context of spousal love - and that was a quote from משלי 9:9.) Here then, are the appearances of "love" in מסכת כתובות:

1-2.  Two of them are a quote from the ברכות  recited at the wedding.

(שמח תשמח ריעים האהובים and דיצה חדוה אהבה ואחוה)

3. One is used in conjunction with the choice of the method of judicial execution 

(דף מ: ואהבת לרעך כמוך ברור לו מיתה יפה)

4. One is used to claim that women prefer jewelry to wine 

דף סח: אלכה אחרי מאהבי נותני לחמי ומימי צמרי ופשתי שמני ושקויי! דברים שהאשה משתוקקת עליהן, ומאי נינהו? תכשיטין

5.  One is a quote from  משלי א, to claim that the study of Torah protects the scholar against a weird parasitic disease. 

(דף עז: "אילת אהבים ויעלת חן" - אם חן מעלה על לומדיה, אגוני לא מגנא)

6. The final mention of love is a quote from the Torah (דברים ל)  to prove that marrying your daughter to a תלמיד חכם (or going into business with such a person) is a sign of loving God.

דף קיא: לאהבה את ה' אלהיך ולדבקה בו ... כל המשיא בתו לתלמיד חכם, והעושה פרקמטיא לתלמידי חכמים, והמהנה תלמידי חכמים מנכסיו, מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו מדבק בשכינה

So all in all, love is kinda absent. But should we be surprised by this?

A (Really Brief) History of the Institution of Marriage

As the historian Stephanie Coontz points out in her fascinating book, for most of history, marriage was not primarily about individual needs. Instead it was about "getting good in-laws and increasing ones's family labor force."  In ancient Roman society "something akin to marriage was essential for the survival of any commoner who was not a slave...A woman needed a man to do the plowing.  A man needed a woman to spin wool or flax, preserve food, weave blankets and grind grain, a hugely labor-intensive task." Marriage was essential to survive. So it comes as no surprise that historically, love in marriage was seen as a bonus, not as a necessity. In many societies (including that described in the Talmud), a woman's body was the property first of their fathers, and then of their husbands. A woman had to follow, as Confucious put it, the rule of three obediences: "while at home she obeys her father, after marriage she obeys her husband, after he dies she obeys her son."  

This pattern existed for centuries. Here's a rather graphic, but certainly not isolated example.  In the 1440s in England, Elizabeth Paston, the twenty-year old daughter of minor gentry, was told by her parents that she was to marry a man thirty years her senior. Oh, and he was disfigured by smallpox.  When she refused, she was beaten "once in the week, or twice and her head broken in two or three places." This persuasive technique worked, and reflected a theme in Great Britain, where Lord Chief Baron Matthew Hale  declared in 1662 that "by the law of God, of nature or of reason and by the Common Law, the will of the wife is subject to the will of the husband." Things weren't any better in the New Colonies, as Ann Little points out (in a gloriously titled article "Shee would Bump his Mouldy Britch; Authority, Masculinity and the Harried Husbands of New Haven Colony 1638-1670.) The governor of the New Haven Colony was  found guilty of "not pressing ye rule upon his wife." 

Marriage was not fundamentally about love. It was too vital an economic and political institution to be entered into solely on the basis of something as irrational as love.
— Stephanie Coontz 2005. Marriage, a History, p7.

Coontz concludes that marriage for political and economic advantage was the norm for some five thousand years, and only started to change in the eighteenth century. And throughout, the husband was the owner of his wife. Love had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

For most of recorded history, people married for logical sorts of reasons: because her parcel of land adjoined yours, his family had a flourishing business, her father was the magistrate in town, there was a castle to keep up, or both sets of parents subscribed to the same interpretation of a holy text. And from such reasonable marriages, there flowed loneliness, infidelity, abuse, hardness of heart and screams heard through the nursery doors. The marriage of reason was not, in hindsight, reasonable at all; it was often expedient, narrow-minded, snobbish and exploitative.
— Alain de Botton. Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person. The New York Times, May 29, 2015.

It is with this historical perspective that the attitudes of the rabbis in Ketuvot (and in the Talmud in general) should be judged.  Marriage was an economic arrangement, and so it required economic regulation.  For example (and there are dozens,) the Mishnah ruled that a widow may sell her late husband's property in order to collect the money owed to her in the ketuvah without obtaining the permission of the court.  This leniency was enacted, (according to Ulla) "משום חינה" - so that women will view men more favorably when they understand that the ketuvah payment does not require the trouble of going to court. Consequently (and as Rashi explains) women will be more inclined to marry. Which leaves the reader to wonder just for whom this law was really enacted. 

Jews and Asians in their home cultures used arranged marriages, in which overt economic bargaining and kinship networks beyond the marrying pair played acknowledged parts....Chinese and Japanese parents regularly took the decisive part in arranging marriages for their children...often well in advance of the marriage date. These traditions did not ignore considerations of affection and sexual satisfaction, but considered them alongside economic and family stability.
— Nancy Cott. Public Vows. A History of Marriage and the Nation. Harvard University Press 2008. 149-150.
אבל אם נושא אשה כשירה לשם ממון שאלמלא ממונה היה נושא אחרת אין בזה עון ואדרבא ראוי לעשות כן אם הוא ת”ח דעי”ז לא יצטרך להיות טרוד הרבה בענייני העולם וכן נוהגין אנשים ישרים ליקח ת”ח לבתו וליתן לה ממון הרבה ולהחזיקו על שולחנו כמה שנים שישב וילמוד ואין לך מצוה רבה מזה ובשכר זה מצליחים בעסקיהם
— ערוך השולחן אבן העזר סימן ב


It is also with this historical background that the exceptions should be noted. Like the earliest record of love as a reason to marry, found in Bereshit 29:18. "ויאהב יעקב את רחל" - "Jacob loved Rachel" and for this reason he agreed to work in Laban's house for seven years, which "seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her."  

And then there's this odd exception, found where you'd least expect it - in Rashi's discussion on Ketuvot 86b. There, the Talmud is discussing when a husband can make his wife - who is acting as his business manager  - swear that she has not taken anything of his.  The Talmud puts limits on a husband's suspisions that his wife is embezzling him, and she may claim: כיון דקדייקת בתראי כולי האי, לא מצינא דאדור בהדך – "since you are checking up on me to this degree, I can no longer live with you." This seems to be a fair: when one business partner has an unreasonable degree of suspicion about another, the partnership should be ended. But Rashi's explanation of this phrase adds in the aspect of love - or rather, a lack of it:

וקא דייקת בתראי - אינך אוהב ומאמין אותי ולא מצינא דאידור בהדך

Since you are checking up on me: [She claims that] you don't love or believe me - so I can no longer live with you. 

Rashi's explanation suggests (at least as far as he understood marriage), love was, if not essential, then certainly highly desirable.  Without a wife feeling loved and trusted, the marriage is in deep trouble.  

Today of course, most of us believe that love is the only reason to marry. Economics should have nothing to do with it. And although this is a thoroughly modern (and western) idea, if you look carefully, soft echoes of it can be heard in our tradition. Although love has almost nothing to do with marriage in Ketuvot, it is in fact mentioned near the start of the tractate. There, we learn that seven blessings - שבע ברכות – are said for a week after the wedding. And in the text of the sixth of these blessings, the bride and groom are called "beloved companions" -ריעים האהובים -  or as Rashi explains it, "companions who love each other." 

We should not judge the Talmud's business-like approach to the institution of marriage, because for thousands of years, and for the vast majority of those who entered into it, that's all it was. Business.  But western society has changed its beliefs about the nature of marriage, and so have we.  Still not convinced? Then answer this. Did your parents marry for love or money? If you are married - did you marry for love or for economic advancement (and how did that work out)? If you are not married, but want to be, what is driving you? The search for the love of your life, or the search for physical security? And if you have children - or grandchildren, would you want them to marry because they loved their significant other, or because it would be a good way to unite two families and insure financial stability? If your answers were like mine, they were closer to contemporary secular values about marriage than they were to the models of marriages described in Ketuvot. And that's probably a very good thing.


Next time on Talmudology: Heliotherapy.

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