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Does a husband have to maintain his wife's bondwomen?


A mishna on Ketubot 59b lists the household tasks a husband may demand of his wife (grinding corn, baking bread, washing his clothes, etc). It then goes on to say that if she brought a bondwoman (into the marriage?) that exempts her from certain of the chores, and if she brings a second then she's exempted from even more, and so on up to four (when she's exempt from everything on the list). R' Eliezer dissents and says that even if she brought a hundred bondwomen she'd have to do one of the chores.

All this got me wondering: who supports these bondwomen? Is a husband automatically obligated to do so, the same as he maintains his wife? Only for ones that predate their marriage (he knew what he was getting into)? Only if this was specifically negotiated? Only up to a certain number (and we assume R' Eliezer is exaggerating)? And if he doesn't, is his wife likely to be able to or would her father somehow still be obligated or what?

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I asked this on Mi Yodeya and didn't get an answer, though I got a comment that led to a partial answer, which I've added here. I would still welcome a fuller answer. Monica Cellio about 1 month ago

2 answers


As written in your own answer, this depends on the status of the bondwoman in the context of their ketuba arrangement.

If the bondwoman is categorized as nichsei m'log, then the wife retains ownership of the principal, and the husband retains any derived profit or benefit. Under this arrangement, the husband may not take any action that would put the principal at risk, and so must maintain the bondwoman. This same rationale would hold true of any acquisition of a bondwoman using m'log funds (presuming both husband and wife agreed to such an acquisition, as this would not be a typical investment choice and either party could prevent such a transaction).

If the acquisition is made using funds that are under sole ownership of the wife, then the husband has no claim to any derived benefits - only the wife can determine how her labor is utilized. As such, he would also not be responsible for any maintenance, and that would be solely the wife's decision.



I previously asked this question on Mi Yodeya and while I didn't get a full answer, I received a hint in a comment and will expand it here.

The Rambam in Hilchot Avadim 9:7 writes:

A master may tell his Canaanite slave: "Work for me, but I will not provide you with sustenance," and the slave must instead, go and beg from door to door and derive his sustenance from charity. For the Jews are obligated to support the slaves that live among them.

When does the above apply? To a man's own slaves. For the court does not take any steps to protect the property of adults. If a person does not provide food and drink for his slaves in a fitting manner, they will flee or die. And a person has greater concern for his own money than anyone else. Different rules apply, however, to slaves that his wife brought to his household as nichsei m'log. He is obligated to provide for their sustenance, for this is one of the conditions of bringing them to his household. For if the husband does not provide them with sustenance, they will die or flee, and he is not responsible for them.

According to this Rambam the husband must support bondwomen his wife already had at the time of the marriage. I couldn't find anything there that addresses the case of bondwomen acquired after the marriage. I suppose that would depend on whether a wife is even able to acquire bondwomen; I assumed that she could, because she can have money of her own, but if doing so would place a burden on her husband then perhaps she cannot.


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