Previously we explained that the Ketuba records the financial duties of the husband, particularly the monetary compensation due to his wife in case, God forbid, they get divorced or the husband passes away. This compensation is composed of three elements. Last time, we explained iqar haketuba or mohar (roughly a minimum year salary) i.e., the principal or the minimum amount assigned to the wife as a marriage insurance (see here).
Today we will explain the other element: nedunya, often translated as dowry.
The nedunya includes the valuables the wife brings into the new couple. The Ketuba mentions as examples: silver or gold articles, jewelry, house-utensils, bedding, etc. These articles are mentioned explicitly to show that the wife is not coming into the marriage empty handed. Technically speaking the husband has the right to trade or use the value of the dowry as he sees fit, but he still accepts responsibility for losses. These assets become for the husband "iron sheep" (ṣon barzel), which means that his financial responsibility toward them will never expire. Therefore if the marriage is dissolved, it is his responsibility to restitute the value of the dowry to his wife.
Now, regardless of how much valuables the bride brings into the marriage as her dowry, the ancient custom is to assess all valuables that she brings at the sum of one hundred pieces of silver (me-a zequqim dekesef, which according to some opinions in today's market value it will worth around $17,000). Jewish tradition views this uniformity of the value of the nedunya as a way to avoid any distinction between a rich and a poor bride, and save a bride with no means from embarrassment. Thus, no matter what the value of what a bride brings into her marriage is, the husband obligates himself to eventually pay her back this fixed amount.
(to be continued...)