Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah| 5764
Intra-familial Obligations (IV) - Obligations of Orphan Sons to their Sisters
There is a misconception that, upon the death of a father, his sons, the sole inheritors, are in a better financial situation than their sisters. However, this is often not so, because two rabbinical institutions ensure that the basic needs of the daughters are seen to, at the expense of the sons.
The first obligation, ketubat banin nukvan (the ketuba of the female children), requires the inheritors to support their sisters on an ongoing basis from the property of the estate. This is not the sons’ personal obligation, but relates to the estate itself. Originally, the daughters could only extract payment from real estate that the father left. (In the time of Chazal, people who accumulated any reasonable amount of money regularly used it to buy property. This was apparently the most reliable way to make sure the wealth would not be stolen or otherwise disappear, as banks, stocks, and pension plans did not exist). The geonim instituted that payment of a variety of monetary obligations, including this, could be extracted from movable objects (Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer 112:7).
The institution covered the period until the daughter was betrothed or until the time she was expected to have been (which in those days was quite young). At that point, an additional, large, lump sum payment was required to prepare her for marriage, as we will discuss next week.
Thus, it turns out that if there were a very large estate and a moderate sized family, the sons would be the ones to become rich. However, if there were a modest estate or a large family, the basic needs of the daughters would be met at the expense of the sons, who often could be left penniless.
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