What advice does the Talmud offer for estate skirmishes?
אלמנה שאמרה אי אפשי לזוז מבית בעלי, אין היורשין יכולין לומר לה לכי לבית אביך ואנו זנין אותך, אלא זנין אותה בבית בעלה ונותנין לה מדור לפי כבודה. אמרה אי אפשי לזוז מבית אבא, יכולים היורשים לומר לה אם את אצלנו יש ליך מזונות, ואם אין את אצלנו אין ליך מזונות. אם היתה טוענת מפני שהיא ילדה והן ילדים, זנין אותה והיא בבית אביה.
If a widow declared, “I don’t want to leave my husband’s house,” then the heirs [i.e., his children from another marriage] are not permitted to tell her, “go back to your father’s home, and we’ll send your food stipend there.” Rather, they must feed her in her husband’s house and give her dignified accommodations. If she declared, “I don’t want to leave [my] father’s house,” the heirs may say, “if you live with us then you will receive your food, but if you don’t live with us, then you don’t get food.” However, if she claimed that the reason she didn’t want to live with them was because they [the heirs and the widow] were all young, then they must feed her even though she lives in her father’s home.
Ketubbot refers primarily to the marriage agreement which obligates a man or his heirs to provide certain benefits to the woman during the marriage and other benefits following a divorce or the death of the husband. A widow is entitled to a food stipend so long as she has not received her husband’s death benefit. In return, she is expected to work for the household of his heirs. But what if she demands the stipend while refusing to live with them? Or what if they are willing to pay the stipend, but can’t stand having their stepmother live with them?
- Does it seem that the Sages are more concerned with the rights of the widow, or those of the orphans?
- What is the sensitivity in case three? Would it be proper for a young widow to live with the orphaned sons?
- Does American law have any principles that would inform the negotiation of rights and obligations among surviving relatives who are unrelated to one another when one of them is charged with executing the estate?