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By: Rabbi Max Sutton

Danny and Brenda were happily married for years. Danny operated a successful wholesale corporation throughout the early years of their marriage, from which the two enjoyed financial freedom and security. Unfortunately, tougher times arrived. The business suffered multiple setbacks and Danny equally divided the title of his private home to include Brenda as an owner. His intention was to somewhat protect the property from potential creditors seeking to collect payment in case of default. Two years later, Danny resorted to borrowing funds in order to sustain his company and signed personal liability notes to the lenders. In time, his financial situation further deteriorated, and not only were Danny’s lenders seeking to collect their loans, but his once-happy marriage was on the verge of divorce. He and his wife were no longer able to live peacefully together and mutually decided to terminate their marriage.

In Bet Din, the primary dispute was focused on their private home, which was listed in both Danny and Brenda’s names. Danny asserted that the property should first be sold to satisfy the outstanding debts that they had accumulated and only then should the balance be split. After all, the debts accumulated could largely be attributed to the high lifestyle they tried to maintain while married. Danny believed that his business capital was depleted due to their extravagant spending, which indirectly caused the company’s downfall. Furthermore, Danny claimed, that the property was originally only in his name, which clearly indicated that he was the real owner. Brenda argued that she was not a partner in Danny’s business, and thus not responsible for his debts. She said that she was unwilling to forfeit her share of the property on account of Danny’s inability to earn a living.

How Should the Bet Din Rule and Why?


According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, property that belongs to a married woman may not be collected by her husband’s creditors. This ruling is not limited only to property which she brought into the marriage, but also includes any inheritance or gift a woman receives while married. Furthermore, even if the husband himself gave a gift to his wife, and he thereafter borrowed money, the gift is not subject to collection in the event that the husband defaults on his loan. While it’s true that according to Torah law a husband is generally entitled to the proceeds and dividends of his wife’s property, he is nevertheless not owner of the principal property. He therefore may not sell the property or use it to satisfy his debt.

Leading contemporary halachic authorities concur with the common law regarding real estate proprietorship. Hence, the holder of the formal document known as the “deed” is the rightful owner of a property. Typically, evidence of ownership is listed in title reports, and the bearer of the title is unquestionably the legal owner.

This ruling is applicable even in instances in which a man transfers the title of his property to his wife’s name sometime during the course of their marriage. Even if his spouse did not render payment for her share of the property, nevertheless, the gift extended by a husband to his wife is deemed valid and legally binding. Hence, debt accumulated may not be collected from assets that a husband transferred to his wife’s name.

Torah law requires a man to provide financial support for his wife. This responsibility is unrestricted and includes working as a menial employee in order to bring home earnings to cover the household budget. In instances in which a husband refuses to comply with this basic responsibility, rabbinical guidance and professional intervention is needed before bringing the matter to a Bet Din.

Hence, even in instances in which the debt accumulated was due to a wife’s extravagant spending, her assets are not subject to collection by the husband’s creditors. Since it is the husband’s responsibility to provide for his wife, he is solely responsible for their debts. In addition, it is the husband’s duty to manage their income and regulate the household spending.

By rule of the Shulhan Aruch, a husband and wife that borrow funds are equally accountable to return the loan extended to them if they both signed for the loan. In this case, since the wife also signed, her assets, including her Ketuba at time of divorce, are subject to collection by the lender. If however, she did not sign the loan document, she is not responsible for payment.

A woman of valor understands her marital responsibilities and helps to maintain her husband’s financial stability. She only spends within her husband’s means, thereby building his trust and confidence throughout the course of their marriage. Excessive spending usually puts stress on a couple’s relationship and is very often the cause of divorce. As the wisest of all men wrote, “The heart of her husband safely trusts in her as her spending does not damage his financial status.” (Proverbs 31:2)

VERDICT A Clean Split

Our Bet Din ruled that Brenda is not liable for Danny’s debt. Therefore, she is entitled to her fifty percent share of their property.
As mentioned in Torah law, property that belongs to a married woman may not be collected by her husband’s creditors. Since Danny listed Brenda as an equal shareholder of their private home, he may not thereafter use her share of the property to satisfy his debts without her written consent. Although Danny claimed that Brenda should bear the burden of his debt since it accumulated as a result of their lavish spending, our Bet Din rejected his claim. As a husband, Danny was responsible to earn and properly manage their income. Failing to regulate the budget properly and living way beyond his means is solely his liability. Upon verifying that Brenda did not sign for any of the loans extended to her husband, she was absolved of payment.

Nevertheless, our Bet Din chastised Brenda for her harsh and vicious comments with regard to Danny’s inability to earn a living.
Danny made every effort to earn a living; he is presently struggling by Divine decree. Additionally, Brenda was reminded that a woman of valor only spends within her husband’s means. As excessive spending was seemingly the downfall of their marriage, it seems Brenda and Danny’s subsequent divorce could have prevented if she’d adhered to that precept.

A Terrorizing False Alarm

Yaakov, a teenager of Sephardic Jewish descent, strongly resembled a young Muslim in his facial and physical features. Whenever he traveled through airports, he was detained for questioning on account of his appearance.

One evening, Yaakov went with a friend to a steakhouse for dinner. The restaurant was packed with seated customers and many were waiting at the entrance for the next available table. Yaakov, who was curious to evaluate the waiting time, dodged quickly through the crowded entrance into the middle of the restaurant. Bobby, who was dining with his wife and children, detected Yaakov’s rash entry, and suspected Yaakov of being a terrorist. He immediately screamed “terrorist!” and attacked Yaakov, pinning him to the ground after a brief struggle. In the meantime, the entire restaurant went into a panic and within seconds people were running out the door. The friend who’d joined Yaakov for dinner that evening finally made his way through the charging crowd and corrected Bobby’s mistake.

Upon realizing the error he had made, Bobby sincerely apologized to Yaakov – both for the embarrassment and the physical harassment he inflicted upon him. Yaakov humbly accepted. However, Solomon, the restaurant owner, felt differently. Although it was only a false alarm, he was enraged with Bobby’s actions. In a matter of seconds, his maximum capacity restaurant had emptied on account of Bobby’s mistake. Nearly all the customers did not return for dinner that evening and he expected Bobby to pay for his loss. The damages were estimated at $6,500 which included in-house orders, food already served and not paid for, the cost of employees, and the pro-rated cost of the storefront rent for the evening. In addition, Solomon requested compensation for the lost income of that evening’s waiting customers and reparations for the tainted reputation of his restaurant.

In defense, Bobby claimed that if Solomon had seen a Muslim running into his restaurant with his hand in a bulging pocket, he would have reacted the exact same way.

 Is Bobby liable for the damages he caused Solomon?

How should the Bet Din rule and why?