July 5, 2022

Yevamot 113

Today’s daf (Yevamot 113a) informs us how ‘there was once a certain deaf-mute who was living in Rav Malkiyo’s neighbourhood. Rav Malkiyo married him to a woman, and he wrote four-hundred dinars for her from the property [of the deaf-mute as her Ketubah (marriage contract)]. [Responding to this event], Rava said: “Who is as wise as Rav Malkiyo who is a great man!”’.

To understand why Rava praised Rav Malkiyo in this manner we must first note that a deaf-mute is not obligated to give a Ketubah – which meant that those who were deaf-mutes in communities often did not marry. However, Rav Malkiyo found a way to do so, and in so doing, he created a precedent that a Beit Din can act as a parent-like figure and thereby charge the Ketubah against the possessions of the deaf-mute. In fact, the Ritva (in his commentary to Yevamot 113a) and others actually use the phrase בית דין אביהן של חרשים – ‘a Beit Din [should act as the] ‘fathers’ of deaf-mutes’ while making this point.

As I have explained elsewhere (see https://rabbijohnnysolomon.com/shekalim-13/ and https://rabbijohnnysolomon.com/yevamot-56/), medical advances mean that this is generally not how halacha relates to those who are deaf, and given this, there are those who assert that no unique ketubah needs be written in such cases (see a discussion on this point in Minchat Asher Vol. 2 No. 86 Section 3).

Yet there is a powerful message that comes through from this story, from Rava’s praise of Rav Malkiyo, and from the Ritva’s phraseology, which is that community leaders should see themselves as being responsible for the wellbeing of the most vulnerable in the community and for helping those – and especially those who often struggle to find a life partner – to do so.

Admittedly, many people would agree with this sentiment in theory. But Rav Malkiyo didn’t just speak in theory. Instead, he was prepared to do things differently compared to how they had been done until then and to make real changes in practice. And this, I believe, is why Rava praised him by saying: “Who is as wise as Rav Malkiyo who is a great man!” – because real greatness isn’t just about saying the right things, but rather, about making real changes for the benefit of those who are so often overlooked.

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