The Mishnah begins:
A woman enters marriage in three ways and departs marriage two ways.
This is an idiomatic translation; the Hebrew actually uses the verb “is acquired” and “acquires herself” for reasons that are explained in the Gemarah, but since those words have additional difficult connotations in our contemporary usage, I’m avoiding them. Anyway, back to the Mishna.
She enters marriage by money, a document, or sexual intercourse. [How much] money? The School of Shammai say a dinar coin or something worth a dinar; the School of Hillel say a perutah coin or something worth a perutah. What is a perutah worth? One-eighth of an Italian issar coin.
Which doesn’t help us today…. A prutah is worth about a U.S. dime
She departs marriage by divorce or by the death of her husband.
A yevamah, that is, a childless widow, enters levirate marriage by sexual intercourse, and departs marriage either by the ceremony of chalitzah or by the death of the yabam.
That ends the first Mishnah. The Gemara begins by considering the implications of the first two words.
Q: Why does the Mishna use the words “A woman is acquired”? Chapter 2 of this tractate says “A man betroths…”, why not say “A woman is betrothed…” here?
A: Because the Mishna will discuss money as the medium of betrothal, [and in general the use of money as a medium of establishing a contract is most commonly found in acquiring property.]
Q: From where do we learn that money can be used [in the case of betrothal]?
A: From a gezerah shava on the word kichah from the purchase of the field of Efron. In our case, Devarim 22 says “Ki yikach ish ishah“ (”when a man takes a wife”); while in Bereshit 23 it is written “natati kesef hasadeh kach mimeni“ (”I will give you money for the field, take it from me”). And kichah, taking, is also called kanin, acquisition, citing Bereshit 49 “Hasadeh asher qanah Avraham” (”the field which Avraham acquired”), or if you prefer, citing Yirmiyahu 32 “S’dot b’kesef yiknu” (”they shall acquire fields for silver.”) And so the Mishna uses the phrase “Haisha niknet,” A woman is acquired.
Q: Fine, so if it’s better to use the verb “acquire”, the Gemara should use the verb “acquire” both here and at the start of the next chapter.
A: The Tanna starts off with the D’oraita verb, and ends with the d’rabbanan term.
Q: But what does the D’rabanan term teach [that the d’oraita term does not teach]?
A: [The d’rabbanan term is mekadesh, to make holy or to set apart exclusively, and] just as hekdesh [is dedicated exclusively for the Temple], she is forbidden to all other [men once she is betrothed, even though the marriage is not yet complete.]
Q: [OK, so that’s why the verb here is “acquires” and the verb there is “sanctifies”. But why is the Mishna taught with the woman as the subject?] Why not teach “A man acquires”?
A: Because the woman must be the subject of the second clause, “and she acquires herself”, and for parallelism the Mishna makes her the subject of the first clause.
Q: Why can’t the man be the subject of both clauses? Let the Mishna say “A man acquires [a wife], and he causes her to acquire [herself].”
A: Two answers: In the case [where she acquires herself] through his death, it is not he who causes her to acquire [herself], but rather it is Heaven who causes her to acquire [herself]. And if you prefer, you could explain it this way: If the Mishna had said “a man acquires” you might have thought this means [it is only the action of the man that matters, and he can acquire a wife] even against her will. [We have translated “niknet” as “is acquired”, which is passive, but let’s go back to our idiomatic translation of “enters marriage,” which is active voice] By teaching “a woman enters marriage”, [the Mishna also teaches that she is an active participant and] with her intent [to enter marriage the action] is valid, without her intent, it is invalid.
Q: Why does the mishna continue “shalosh”, saying “three” in the feminine, instead of “sheloshah”, masculine?
A: Because [even though derachim sounds like a masculine plural], the word derech is a feminine noun, as it is written in Shemot 18: “V’hodaat lahem et haderech yal’chu BAH”, and you shall show them the way in which they shall walk, and bah is the feminine pronoun.
Q: [But sometimes derech is masculine!] What about this baraita? “B’shivah drachim bodkin et hazav”; [shivah is masculine] so the tanna should use “sheva”, [the feminine form, instead.]
A: But in this case the tanna wants to use derech as a masculine noun, as it is written in devarim 28 “bderech echad yatz’u eilecha uvshiva derachim yenusu lefanecha.” — they will come out against you in one way, and they will flee from before you in seven ways. [And in this verse, the number words are those used with masculine nouns, so derech is masculine.]
Q: So the verses contradict each other, and the Mishnas contradict each other!
A: [No, because the word “derech” adapts its gender to the word it refers to.] The first verse refers to Torah, which is a feminine noun, as it is written in Tehillim 19, “Torat Hashem temimah, meshivat nefesh” “The Torah of God is pure, restoring the soul,” and the adjectives are the feminine. But in the second passage, [derech] refers to war, and it is the way of a man to wage war, and it is not the way of a woman to wage war, so the writing [of the second passage] uses the masculine.
A: And the Mishnas also pose no contradiction: here, where the subject matter is a woman, the feminine form is used. There, [in the discussion of the zav], the subject matter is a man, for it is the way of a man to be examined [for unnatural emissions], but it is not the way of a woman to be examined, for she becomes tamei even by events outside her control. [So since the subject matter is a man, the other Mishna] uses the masculine.
Q: The only reason we had this discussion of “shalosh” was because the Mishnah uses the word “derakhim”, “three ways”. If the Mishnah had used “devarim”, “things”, instead, then there’d be no ambiguity and we would have said “shelosha devarim.” [Wouldn’t that have been simpler?]
A: [One of the “ways” that the Mishna enumerates] is “sexual intercourse,” for which the word “derech” is sometimes used [as a euphemism], as it is written in Proverbs 30, “v’derech gever b’alma, ken derech isha munefet” (”the way of a man with a maid is the way of an adulteress”).
Q: That accounts for “sexual intercourse,” but what is there to say about [the other two “ways”], money and a document?
A: They are called “ways” because of “sexual intercourse”
Q: [There are two of them that are not usually called “ways”, and one that is called “way.” Do you mean to say that the majority,] two are taught [that way] because of the one?
A: Well, in this case they are prerequisites to the consummation of the marriage, so they are related to intercourse, [and it’s reasonable to use the word “derech” for all three.]
A: If you want, I can say this Mishna was written by Rabbi Shimon, for Rabbi Shimon said:
RABBI SHIMON: Why did the Torah say “When a man takes a wife,” and not “When a woman is taken to a man?” Because it is the way of a man to search for a wife, but it is not the way of a woman to search for a husband. It is like a parable: A person who has lost an item, who seeks whom? The person who lost the item searches for the item.
A: What Rabbi Shimon alludes to is the story of the creation of womankind from the rib of Adam HaRishon; in his parable, man has lost his rib and is the one searching for the woman who will complete him. And, in general, the word “derech” refers to things that happen in their natural way, and if Rabbi Shimon is in fact the author of our Mishna, then it makes sense that he would choose the word “derech”.
Q: Earlier, we cited that Mishna about the zav being examined in seven ways. Shouldn’t that Mishna have used the word “devarim”, things, instead of “derachim”, ways?
A. Well, actually, the point of that Mishna using “derachim” is to teach that gonorrhea is a natural consequence of overeating or drinking too much. Since it’s the natural way, the word “derachim” is used.
A. And you’ll find the same thing in the teaching “The etrog is like a tree in three ways.” Why doesn’t it say “in three things” since it’s talking about legal categories? Because later in that mishna it will say that an etrog is like vegetables in one way, and that way is that they can grow with irrigated water. That influences their category for tithing, which isn’t important right now per se, but the point is that growing is a natural process, and so the word “derachim” should be used according to Rabbi Shimon.