Central to Massechet Ketubot are the personal and financial responsibilities that a husband accepts upon himself as delineated in the Ketubah for his wife, including his duty to arrange for her burial if she predeceases him. However, while the two halachic stages of marriage – known as Eirusin and Nissu’in – are nowadays performed together under the chuppah, it was previously customary for there to be a delay of a year between these two stages during which the couple are technically married but do not live together.
With this in mind, today’s daf (Ketubot 53a) tells us about an incident that occurred in Babylon when Rav Nachman, Ulla, Avimi bar Rav Pappi were sitting together at which time a man approached them and told them that his ‘arusa’ (i.e. his wife with whom he had performed ‘Eirusin’ but with whom he had not yet lived with) had died. In response, they told him זיל קבר או הב לה כתובתה – ‘either bury her yourself, or give her heirs the sum stipulated in her marriage contract so they can do so’.
However, Rav Chiya bar Ami, who was also present, disagreed, and related a beraita which states that: ‘with regard to one’s arusa, the man does not observe the laws of an onen (which are observed by those who have an immediate responsibility of burial), nor does he becomes ritually impure for her if he is a kohen, and similarly, she does not observe the laws of an onen nor does she become ritually impure for him. If she died he does not inherit from her, while if he died she collects payment of her marriage contract.’ Simply put, according to Rav Chiya bar Ami, if an arusa pre-deceases her husband, he is not obligated to bury her. In fact, we are then told that Rav Hoshaya, who lived a generation beforehand, had previously stated this rule.
The Gemara then proceeds to inform us of a different incident when Ravin travelled from Israel to Babylon and related, in the name of Reish Lakish, this same rule that if an arusa pre-deceases her husband he is not obligated to bury her. In response, Abaye said: “Go and tell [Ravin] שקילא טיבותך שדיא שחיזרי – we’ll take what [you think] is good and throw it on thorns” – which is understood to mean that we do not owe you thanks for informing us of this statement as Rav Hoshaya himself already interpreted and ruled this way in Babylon.
On first glance we could interpret Abaye’s reply as expressing irritation for being told a rule which was already known to him as if it were an innovative ruling. However, my understanding of his response is that his criticism relates to the enthusiasm with which this law was related. Admittedly, the law – that if an arusa pre-deceases her husband then he is not obligated to bury her – may be true. Still, there are certain laws that, however true they are, do not warrant being conveyed with enthusiasm, and it takes wisdom and sensitivity to know which are those that should be enthusiastically shared, and which are to be applied where necessary but without fanfare.