Imagine this situation: A woman vows not to have marital relations with her husband, and upon hearing her vow, her husband remains silent. Clearly, it is possible that his silence indicates that he is not interested in being intimate with her or in remaining married to her. And it is also possible that his silence stems from the fact that he is not sure what to say. Still, the question asked in today’s daf (Ketubot 71b) is how might his wife interpret his silence – with the answer given that, סברה מדאישתק מוסנא הוא דסני לי – ‘she [may well] think, “since he was silent, he certainly hates me”’. Significantly, there are halachic implications of this possibility such that his silence to her vow can be considered by her to be sufficient grounds to seek a divorce.
Of course, there could be a plethora of situations that may prompt a woman to make such a vow, and these words may well be an attempt to verbalize a number of series issues in a marriage. Still, it would seem that the specific case being discussed in our daf relates to a situation where her husband is seemingly doing all that he should in his marriage, and his primary failing is that he was silent when hearing these words. But if this is the case, why is his silence considered to be so substantive?
This question is addressed by Dayan Shlomo Deichovsky in his ‘Lev Shome’a LiShlomo’ (Vol. 1 p. 158) who interprets our Gemara as follows: ‘this Gemara discusses a case of a husband who has actively done nothing against his wife and who fulfils his marital duties. Yet, when she made this vow he heard it and did not respond – which led his wife to think that he hates her, for were this not to be the case he would have spoken up…What this teaches us is that hatred in a relationship can trigger a justification for a divorce. Moreover, and this is important to qualify, we are not discussing active hatred. In this case the woman was the one who made this vow…Nevertheless, his silence was understood to convey feelings of hatred.’
There is clearly much that can be unpacked from these words. But the main point being made here is that it is not just the big things that can bring doubt into a marriage. Instead, while marriages are undermined and oftentimes destroyed by deliberate and ill-intended actions, confidence in a marriage can be lost when one or both partners feel that the other dislikes or hates them, and while some people may not reach this conclusion unless a substantive event occurs in their relationship, others may draw this conclusion simply from the failure of the other to express their interest in them, or in their failure to speak up and let the other know that they care.
Massechet Ketubot expends much time talking about marital duties. But what we learn from here relates to marital needs, and specifically, the needs of each member of a marriage to feel wanted and valued. There are those who understand what it means to fulfil marital duties yet fail to understand marital needs – and what we learn from today’s daf that for a couple to have confidence in their marriage, they need their partner to understand and fulfil both.