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—Legal Relations:

As a punishment for her initiative in the first sin, the wife is to be subjected to her husband, and he is to rule over her (Gen. iii. 16). The husband is her owner ("ba'al"); and she is regarded as his possession (comp. Ex. xx. 17). This was probably the case in early times, although women were frequently consulted in matters of importance, and occasionally exerted an influence in national affairs (see Woman). Here, as elsewhere, popular sentiment and practise soon took precedence over legal prescriptions; and in later codes the position of the Jewish wife became well defined, and was often superior to that of the women of many other nations.

Nowhere in the Bible are the duties of the husband to the wife explicitly stated. Incidentally, three obligations that the husband owes to his wife are mentioned in Ex. xxi. 10 as being self-understood; namely, the provision of food and of raiment, and cohabitation. Upon this casual reference the Rabbis base an elaborate system of duties and of rights which accrue to the husband in relation to his wife. Besides the three obligations mentioned above, the rabbinic law imposes on the husband four, and also restricts his privileges to four. These duties are incumbent upon him, whether they are stipulated at the time of marriage or not.

The additional duties are: (1) To deliver a "ketubah" (marriage contract) providing for the settlement upon the wife, in the case of his death or of divorce, of 200 zuz, if she is a virgin at marriage, or of 100, if she is not. This document includes three conditions () which provide for the sustenance of the wife and the children after the husband's death. These are: (a) that the wife shall obtain her support from her deceased husband's estate as long as she remains in his house; (b) that their daughters shall be supported from the estate until they reach the age of maturity or until they become betrothed; (c) that the sons shall inherit their mother's ketubah over and above their portion in the estate with the children of other wives. (2) To provide medical attendance and care for her during sickness. (3) To pay her ransom if she be taken captive. (4) To provide suitable burial for her (Ket. 46b et seq.; Maimonides, "Yad," Ishut, xii. 2; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 69).

Support of Wife.

The husband must allow for the support of his wife as much as comports with his dignity and social standing. "She ascends with him, but does not descend," is the Talmudic principle; that is to say, she is entitled to all the advantages of his station in life without losing any of those which she enjoyed before marriage (Ket. 48a, 61a). The poorest man must furnish his wife with bread for at least two meals a day; with sufficient oil for eating and for lighting purposes, and wood for cooking; with fruit, vegetables, and wine where it is customary for women to drink it. On the Sabbath-day he must furnish her with three meals consisting of fish and meat; and he must give her a silver coin ("ma'ah") every week for pocket-money. If he can not afford to give her even that much, he is, according to some, compelled to grant her a bill of divorce (see "Ḥatam Sofer" on Eben ha-'Ezer, 131, 132). Others thinkthat he should hire himself out as a day-laborer to provide for his wife. If he refuses to support her, the court compels him to do so (Ket. 77a).

The wife is to receive her board at her husband's table; and in the opinion of most authorities he can not send her away from his table against her will, even if he gives her sufficient money for all her requirements. She can, however, leave his house, either if he lives in a disreputable neighborhood or if he maltreats her; and in such cases he is obliged to support her wherever she takes up her abode. If the husband leaves her for some time, the court allows her support from his property; and even if she sells his property for her support without consulting the authorities, the sale is valid. If she borrows money for her actual support during his absence, the husband has to pay the debt on his return; but if some one of his own free will gives her money for her support, he "puts his money on the horns of a deer," i.e., he can not collect it from the husband. The same law applies if the husband becomes insane ("Yad," l.c. xii. 10-22; Eben ha-'Ezer, 70).

Clothing and Lodging.

The husband's duty to furnish raiment to his wife is also regulated by his station and by local custom. He is obliged to provide a home, which must be suitably furnished in accordance with his position and with custom. Besides furnishing her with the proper garments suited to the seasons of the year, and with new shoes for each holy day, he must also provide her with bedding and with kitchen utensils. She must also be supplied with ornaments and perfumes, if such is the custom. If he is unable to provide his wife with a suitable outfit, he is compelled to divorce her (Ket. 64b; "Yad," l.c. xiii. 1-11; Eben ha-'Ezer, 73). On the duty of the wife to follow her husband when he wishes to change his abode see Domicil.

The duty of cohabitation is regulated by the Rabbis in accordance with the occupation in which the husband is engaged (Ket. 61b). Continued refusal of cohabitation constitutes a cause for divorce ("Yad," l.c. xiv. 1-16; Eben ha-'Ezer, 76, 77; see Ketubah).

The husband must defray all medical expenses in case of his wife's illness. If she suffers from a disease which may be prolonged for many years, although legally he may pay her the amount fixed in her ketubah and give her a bill of divorce, such action is regarded as inhuman, and he is urged to provide all that is necessary for her cure (Ket. 51a; "Yad," l.c. xiv. 17; "Maggid Mishneh," ad loc.; Eben ha-'Ezer, 79; "Be'er Heṭeb," § 5; comp. "Pitḥe Teshubah" to 78, 1, concerning a case where sickness follows a fault of her own).


The husband is obliged to ransom his wife from captivity, even when the expense is far above the amount promised her in the marriage settlement. Ordinarily, it is the law not to pay for captives more than their market value as slaves, so as not to encourage pirates and officials in their nefarious practise (Giṭ. 45a); but according to some, in the case of the capture of his wife the husband must, if necessary, expend all his belongings for her ransom. The priest whose wife has been taken captive, although he can not afterward live with her (see Priest), is still obliged to pay her ransom, to restore her to her father's house, and to pay her the amount of her ketubah. If they were both taken captive, the court may sell part of his property and ransom her first, even though he protests (Ket. 51a; "Yad," l.c. xiv. 18-22; Eben ha-'Ezer, 78; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yorch De'ah, 252, 10).

If she die before him, he must provide for her burial according to the custom of the land and according to his position. He must hire mourners, if such be the custom, erect a tombstone, and make such other provisions as custom may demand. If he refuse to do so, or if he be absent, the court may sell part of his property to defray the burial expenses (Ket. 46a; "Yad," l.c. xiv. 23, 24; Eben ha-'Ezer, 89).

The rights of the husband are as follows: He is entitled (1) to all the wife's earnings, (2) to all her chance gains, and (3) to the usufruct of her property, and (4) he becomes her sole heir at her death (this last principle, however, was modified in the Middle Ages in various ways).

Married Women's Duties.

The husband's right to his wife's earnings is in consideration of his duty to support her; hence if she wishes to support herself, she need not deliver her earnings to him. Yet he can not compel her to live on her earnings. The wife has to do all the housework, such as baking, cooking, and washing, as well as nurse her children. If she has twins, the husband has to provide a nurse for one, while she nurses the other (Ket. 59b). If she brought him a large dowry, she need not do any work in the house, except such as tends to the case and comfort of her husband and as is of an affectionate nature, viz., prepare his bed, serve at the table, and so forth. At all times, however, she must do something; for "idleness leads to immorality." Raising animals or playing games is not regarded as an occupation (Ket. 52b, 61b; "Yad," l.c. xxi.; Eben ha-'Ezer, 80).

For the husband's right in the usufruct of his wife's property and for his right of inheritance see Dowry and Inheritance.

Besides these positive legal enactments, Talmudic literature abounds with maxims and precepts regarding the attitude of the husband toward his wife. He shall love her as himself and honor her more than himself (Sanh. 76b; Yeb. 62b). "If thy wife is small, bend down and whisper into her ear," was a common saying among the Rabbis; meaning that one should take counsel with his wife in all worldly matters (B. M. 59b; comp. Midr. Leḳaḥ Ṭob to Num. xvi.). He shall not afflict her; for God counts her tears. One who honors his wife will be rewarded with wealth (B. M. 59b). The husband shall not be imperious in his household (Giṭ. 6b). God's presence dwells in a pure and loving home(Soṭah 17a). The altar sheds tears for him who divorces his first wife; and he is hated before God (Giṭ. 90b). He who sees his wife die before him has, as it were, seen the destruction of the Temple: his world is darkened; his step is slow; his mind is heavy. The wife dies in the husband's death; he in hers (Sanh. 22a).

The rights of the wife are implied in the husband's duties, while her duties are mainly comprised in his rights. She should not go out too much (Gen. R. lxv. 2), and should be modest even if alone with her husband (Shab. 140b). The greatest praise that can be said of a woman is that she fulfils the wishes of her husband (Ned. 66b). See also Marriage.

  • Hastings, Dict. Bible, s.v. Marriage;
  • Mayer, Die Rechte der Israeliten, Athener und Römer, ii., §§ 229, 230, Leipsic, 1866;
  • Mielziner, The Jewish Law of Marriage and Divorce, ch. xiii., Cincinnati, 1884;
  • Buchholz, Die Familie, pp. 116-131, Breslau, 1867;
  • Duschak, Das Mosaisch-Talmudische Eherecht, section iii., Vienna, 1864;
  • Weill, La Femme Juive, part ii., ch. vi.-ix., Paris, 1874;
  • Suwalski, Ḥayye ha-Yehudi, ch. liii.-lv., Warsaw, 1893.
E. C. J. H. G.
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