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Halachically, marriage is a contract where the husband takes ownership of the wife. I've been married for over 17 years and although I have always been aware of this, I've never really thought of my wife in terms of "owning" her. I've always thought of it in terms of taking on responsibility towards her, and us both making a commitment to each other.

Practically, what does it mean to "own" a wife? Are there any halachic implications? I'm not talking about the things that are in the kesuva, as that didn't always exist, but the concept of ownership has as long as there has been Jewish marriage.

I'm guessing that there are some analogies to servants, where taking on a servant entails a lot of responsibilities on the master (although I don't think that thinking of a wife as a servant is likely to be very healthy to the marriage, so the analogy doesn't go that far! I recall hearing once an opinion that went as far as saying that a husband and wife should avoid asking each other to do things) Possibly there may be some deeper idea relating to baal tashchis here as well that ownership is always about the responsibility of the owner to the item/person in possession?

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    It means he owns e.g. the produce of the field belonging to his wife etc.
    – Dov
    Dec 23, 2023 at 19:44
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    How do you know that the husband “owns” the wife?
    – Joel K
    Dec 23, 2023 at 20:37
  • Simply understood, it means he has exclusive rights to her regarding marital relations. @Dov many of the other rights of the husband are either Rabbinic or can be suspended, so it's unlikely to be those
    – AKA
    Dec 23, 2023 at 21:52
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    He can annul her vows, automatically acquire whatever she acquires. She becomes an extension of him in that If he is a kohen she benefits from his privileges. Dec 24, 2023 at 1:06
  • @JoelK The first Mishna in Kiddushin (quoted in AKA's answer below) Dec 24, 2023 at 9:48

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The following law seems to reflect a practical consequence of a husband's "ownership" of his wife: הַחוֹבֵל בְּאֵשֶׁת אִישׁ הַשֶּׁבֶת וְהָרִפּוּי לְבַעֲלָהּ וְהַצַּעַר שֶׁלָּהּ. וְהַבּשֶׁת וְהַנֵּזֶק אִם בְּגָלוּי הוּא כְּגוֹן שֶׁחָבַל בְּפָנֶיהָ וּבְצַוָּארָהּ אוֹ בְּיָדֶיהָ וּזְרוֹעוֹתֶיהָ הַשְּׁלִישׁ שֶׁלָּהּ וּשְׁנֵי שְׁלִישִׁים לַבַּעַל. וְאִם בַּסֵּתֶר הוּא הַנֵּזֶק הַשְּׁלִישׁ לַבַּעַל וּשְׁנֵי שְׁלִישִׁים לָאִשָּׁה. שֶׁל בַּעַל נוֹתְנִין לוֹ מִיָּד וְשֶׁל אִשָּׁה יִלָּקַח בָּהֶן קַרְקַע וְהַבַּעַל אוֹכֵל פֵּרוֹת (Rambam chovel umazik 4:15)

(Also, I would agree with AKA that there is some sort of halachic "ownership" of the wife with regard to intimate relations.

Aside from that she is only permitted to her husband intimately it can be seen in Rambam's formulation of the law that spouses cannot disallow themselves via a neder to their spouses with regard to intimate relations.

Rambam—in contradistinction to the gemara, tur and sa—uses different terminology when explaining why it doesn't work, writing (nedarim 12:9): הָאִשָּׁה שֶּׁאֲמָרָהּ לְבַעְלָהּ הֲנָאַת תַּשְׁמִישִׁי אֲסוּרָה עָלֶיךָ אֵינוֹ צָרִיךְ לְהָפֵר. הָא לְמָה זֶה דּוֹמֶה לְאוֹסֵר פֵּרוֹת חֲבֵרוֹ עַל בַּעַל הַפֵּרוֹת. וְכֵן הוּא שֶׁאוֹמֵר לָהּ הֲנָאַת תַּשְׁמִישִׁי אֲסוּרָה עָלַיִךְ לֹא אָמַר כְּלוּם מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא מְשֻׁעְבָּד לָהּ בִּשְׁאֵר כְּסוּת וְעוֹנָה כְּמוֹ שֶׁבֵּאַרְנוּ בְּהִלְכוֹת אִישׁוּת providing different rationales for the wife and husband.

Rambam seems to be of the the opinion that the implication of marriage is such that the husband halachically acquires the rights to her body with regard to intercourse, if she tries to forbid herself to him, it is akin to trying to proscribe someone's possessions to them, which is obviously of no consequence. 

As opposed to in the other direction, with the husband forbidding himself to her, the reason it doesn't work is because he is halachically obligated to engage in intercourse with her (just as he must provide her with food and clothing for example), but not that he is actually hers for intimacy. 

See here for more: https://musingsonthetorah.blogspot.com/2023/07/la-rambam.html?m=1)

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    +1 @nahum for the excellent diyuk - this goes further than me in establishing a positive ownership.. With regards to point #1, what is the source of this Rambam and how do you know it's not just a provision of the kesuba?
    – AKA
    Dec 24, 2023 at 7:41
  • Thank you AKA for you upvote and kind words. It is from mishnah kesubos 6:1 mishna.alhatorah.org/Full/Ketubot/6/1#e0n6. It does not show up in Rambam's list of תנאיי כתובה in hilchos ishus chapter 12 rambam.alhatorah.org/Full/Ishut/12.2#e0n6.
    – Nahum
    Dec 24, 2023 at 12:49
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    +1 from me - that's a very clear and logical explanation (as I'd expect from the Rambam), but I suspect this one might get downvoted by some of the women! Dec 24, 2023 at 13:03
  • Thank you! If they know their Rambam this one is pretty benign 😉
    – Nahum
    Dec 24, 2023 at 13:08
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The first Mishna in Kiddushin reads

...הָאִשָּׁה נִקְנֵית בְּשָׁלשׁ דְּרָכִים

A woman is acquired in three ways...

The Tosafos Yom Tov there quotes the Ran to explain the "acquisition" as

נקנית. לבעלה להצריכה ממנו גט. ר"ן.

Is "acquired" to require a bill of divorce [if she wants to be with another man]

The Tiferes Yisrael there points out that a husband does have further rights (eg annulling her vows), however these are only once fully married (post nisuin/chupa). Thus the basic acquisition referred to in the Mishna must be for the requirement of a get and not anything else.

I'd note that feeding Terumah (which on a Torah level is from kiddushin) is downstream of the acquisition (it is derived from וכהן כי־יקנה נפש קנין כספו) - it can't be the acquisition itself.

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