Alimony in Judaism is a right written into most Jewish marriage contracts (Hebrew:ketubah)[1]; the alimony itself is often referred to as the ketubah, in consequence of this. In Judaism, the same alimony regulations applied to a woman if she had been widowed, rather than being divorced, and the same alimony was given to the woman in either situation[1].

Originally, the alimony payment was set aside at the start of the marriage, and deposited with the bride's father[1]. It later became more fashionable for the amount to be converted into an expensive household utensil, and given to the wife for the duration of the marriage[1]; for example, the payment could be made by means of silver coinage, which might then be melted into a solid silver rolling pin. Eventually, the Pharisees regarded this fashion as unsatisfactory, so Simeon ben Shetah argued that the alimony payment shouldn't be set aside during the marriage, but instead should be regarded as a lien to the husband, granted by the wife[2][3].

Value and content

The Talmud sets the minimum amount for this alimony as 200 zuzim for a bride who had been a virgin when the marriage began, and a mere 100 zuzim for a non-virgin bride[4], though it also states that Jewish priests and nobility commonly gave twice these amounts as the alimony[4]; 200 Zuzim is generally considered[by whom?] to have been enough for a woman to financially support herself for a full year.

Any property owned by the woman before the marriage, or given to her by her father (or by his heirs) as a marriage gift, became the property of the husband[5]; however, the classical rabbis also argued that it should eventually return to the bride's ownership, as part of her alimony, and therefore the husband could only claim its usufruct[6]. It was common for the ketubah to record the value of this dowry-like property, although not entirely accurately; for example, the custom in some Jewish communities was for the ketubah to claim that this property was worth 133% of its actual value, while in other Jewish communities ketubahs typically claimed that the property was worth less than it really was[6].

These minimum amounts were not the upper limit, meaning that the groom could, if he wished, increase the amount of alimony that the bride would receive; the amount added by the groom was usually recorded in the ketubah, together with the total amount[1]. In the late 19th century, it was customary for the groom to add the same amount as the bride's own property was worth, hence doubling it in total[1]. These amounts are still commonly recorded on the ketubah, in Sephardic communities, but Ashkenazi communities have since adopted the custom of specifying fixed amounts in the ketubah instead.

This alimony payment was intimately tied to the right and the obligation of the couple to have sexual intercourse with each other. The Talmudic rabbis insisted that the couple could not have sexual intercourse with each other, unless the alimony specified by the ketubah was at least the Talmud's minimum amount[7]. Conversely, for each week that the husband refused to have sexual intercourse with the bride, the rabbinical courts imposed a fine of 36 grains of silver, which was to be paid to the bride (eventually) as an additional part of her alimony[1].


According to the Talmud, a divorcee could collect her alimony at any point following her divorce, no matter how many years had passed[8]. Nor was there a statue of limitations against a wife collecting her alimony in the event of the death of her husband, as long as she possessed the ketubah for the marriage in question[1]; if she no longer possessed this ketubah, and had re-married since the death, the statute of limitations for the claim was 25 years since the death[1]. Although the amount of alimony was specified in the ketubah, if the wife no longer possessed the document, the Talmud still permits her to collect the minimum amount (200 zuzim for a virgin bride, 100 zuzim for a non-virgin)[9].

The right of a wife to claim the alimony could be transferred by her to absolutely anyone, for any reason, including selling the right[10][11][12]. In the view of the Talmud, if the wife died before her husband, then her male children inherited the right to claim the alimony[13]; such alimony could be claimed from the husband's estate before any other inheritance could be subtracted from it[13][5]. According to the Talmud, inheriting the right to the alimony carried with it an obligation to pay for the proper burial of the woman, if the husband died before the alimony was collected[14].

There was no direct mechanism for a woman to release her husband's estate from the obligation of paying the alimony[10][11][12]; nor could the husband limit which parts of his estate the alimony could be claimed from[15]. A widow had the right to sell any parts of her former husband's real estate, in order to obtain her alimony[15]. She was not required to make such sales via rabbinic courts[15]; however, the Talmud argues that if she did not involve a rabbinic court, and had sold land (for this purpose) for less than it was actually worth, the sale would be void[16]

Once a widow had obtained part of her alimony, she was expected to claim the remainder via the rabbinic court system. When doing so, courts would ask her to confirm, under oath, how much of it she already possessed[15]; the husband's heirs had the power to waive this requirement for the widow[1]. The Talmud argues that if the husband's property was of insufficient value to realise the outstanding amount, or if he had none at all, the alimony could even be claimed from any property which the husband had sold, or given, to a third party since the ketubah, for the marriage in question, was first written (this was also the case in divorce)[17][18][1].


There are several things which Jewish tradition regards as sufficient to cause the alimony to be forfeited, should the bride commit them. These included immodest behaviour, such as cursing her husband's parents in his presence, wandering the streets without covering her head, and flirting with strangers[1]. Jewish tradition also regarded certain sexual acts as punishable by forfeiture of the alimony, namely the wife either having had sexual intercourse before the marriage (except during a previous marriage), or having committed adultery during the marriage, or having had sexual intercourse with her husband while she was ritually impure due to menstruating[1].

In Jewish tradition, if the wife refused to have sex with her husband, due to spite[1], the husband could take her to court about it. Rabbinic courts were expected to warn her against continuing in her obduracy[1]; the Jewish tradition was to publicly shame her, by announcing her behaviour during synagogue services, if she continued[1]. If, four weeks after the warning was issued, she continued to refuse, a final warning would be issued[1]; failure to have sex with her husband after this warning would result in the forfeiture of her right to claim alimony[1]. In the middle ages, these rules were modified to include some consideration of what reasons the wife had for her refusal[1].

Failure to uphold certain ritual obligations could also be the cause of the wife losing the right to claim the alimony; specifically, Jewish tradition thought that this loss should occur if she were found guilty of having:

  • failed to inform her husband, prior to the marriage, of all of her physical defects which were not already known about by him[1], or
  • failed to inform her husband, prior to the marriage, of any religious vows to which she had subjected herself[1], or
  • refused to move with her husband, whenever he moved home (unless he had moved to an entirely different country, and it was not Palestine)[1], or
  • given her husband food that was ritually forbidden[1].

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Ketubah", a publication now in the public domain.
  2. Ketubot 82b
  3. Ketubot (Tosefta) 12:1
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ketubot 12a
  5. 5.0 5.1 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Husband and Wife", a publication now in the public domain.
  6. 6.0 6.1 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "dowry", a publication now in the public domain.
  7. Ketubot 54b
  8. Ketubot 104a
  9. Ketubah 16b
  10. 10.0 10.1 Ketubot 51a
  11. 11.0 11.1 Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Ishut, 10:10
  12. 12.0 12.1 Jacob ben Asher, Arba'ah Turim, Eben haEzer 66:9
  13. 13.0 13.1 Ketubot 52b
  14. Ketubot 11:1
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Widow", a publication now in the public domain.
  16. Ketubot 11:4-5
  17. Gittin 48b
  18. Gittin 55b

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