Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Guests were streaming into the wedding hall. The band was playing soft music, as people wished the chassan and kallah “mazal tov” and savored the smorgasbord.

Moshe sat at the head of the table at the chassan’s tisch. The officiating rabbi filled out the kesubah with him. The rabbi explained to Moshe that the kesubah was a standard form filled out at weddings, which contained the husband’s obligations toward his wife during the course of their marriage, as well as monetary provisions in the event of death or divorce.

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Moshe nodded in understanding. The completed kesubah was signed by two witnesses. The rabbi asked Moshe to add his signature, as is the practice in certain communities.

After singing “Siman tov u’mazal tov,” those assembled at the chassan’s tisch davened Ma’ariv and proceeded to the badeken.

Unfortunately, the marriage lasted only a short time; Moshe decided to get divorced shortly afterward. The couple did not have any children and had amassed minimal property, so the financial settlement in civil court was expected to be negligible.

When Moshe and his wife came to Rabbi Dayan’s beis din to arrange the Get, his wife demanded full payment of the kesubah, which amounted to thousands of dollars.

“What are you talking about?” asked Moshe. “I wasn’t aware that the kesubah entailed payment of such sums.”

“Didn’t the rabbi explain to you that the kesubah entailed a monetary commitment in the eventuality of death or divorce?” asked the beis din.

“Yes,” replied Moshe. “But we never discussed exactly how much it would be. Had I known it was thousands of dollars, I would never have signed!”

“You could have asked,” responded his wife. “You gave your agreement and signed the kesubah from your own free will. The kesubah is no worse than any other contract that you committed to.”

The two turned to Rabbi Dayan to hear his ruling.

“Moshe is obligated in the full value of the kesubah,” ruled Rabbi Dayan.

“When a person signs a document that contains an obligation,” he explained, “he cannot claim afterward that he didn’t know what he was signing. The Shulchan Aruch [C.M. 45:3] writes that even if the document were written in a foreign language and witnesses testify that he signed it without reading it, he is obligated in whatever is written.”

“How could this be?” asked Moshe.

“Sma [45:5] explains that this is based on a responsa of the Rashba [7:77],” continued Rabbi Dayan. “When a person does not bother to read what he is signing and relies on another, he commits himself to become obligated in whatever is included in the terms of the contract; the person becomes obligated through his signature.”

“In another responsa [1:629],” added Rabbi Dayan, the Rashba rules that the same applies to one who claims he did not understand what was written in the kesubah, since the witnesses signed on the basis of his agreement, against the opinion of Rabbeinu Meir. This ruling is cited in the Shulchan Aruch [C.M. 61:13] and Rama [E.H. 66:13]. Thus, the chassan is not able to claim the was unaware of the commitment of the kesubah, both on account of the witnesses and of his own signature.” (Yabia Omer E.H. 3:13)

“Nonetheless,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “the Aruch Hashulchan [C.M. 45:5] writes that if there was deception involved, and there is evidence that the amount written was not the amount agreed upon or that was said, the document is invalid, since the person never intended to obligate himself in the amount written in the document.”

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Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to subscribe@businesshalacha.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail ask@businesshalacha.com.