Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
With the enormous amount of responsa that have been written over the past thousand years, there are countless ones about some rather interesting questions. How about this one: What is the halacha if a man offers his bride an egg instead of a ring under the chuppah? Are they halachically married? Who hatched up that question? The Tosefes Rid suggests that people once paid their mikveh fee with eggs. It seems it was commonplace at one point in time. But why exactly would a chassan offer his wife an egg? Presumably, the chassan had egg on his face when he realized he left the ring at home. Someone scrambled over to the caterer to ask him if he had anything that could be used in its place. “Why not use an egg?” The chassan was chickening out, thinking, “That won’t go over easy. My kallah will think I’m an egghead.” “Nonsense! I know your kallah; she’ll accept the egg. Worst-case scenario, she’ll crack up.” What is the halachic question surrounding the use of an egg for kiddushin? Only an item that is worth a perutah may be used for kiddushin. In ancient times, a perutah was the smallest coin. Back then, the price for a small fruit was a perutah. It would seem that an egg is certainly not worth a perutah, as an egg generally costs less than a fruit. My brother, Rabbi Yosef Sebrow, estimated that the purchasing power of a perutah stated in today’s currency would be around thirty cents. If we assume that a dozen eggs cost $1.99, the value of each egg is less than twenty cents. Granted, they are not a dime a dozen, but each egg is still worth less than two dimes. Rebbe Yosi (Eiruchin 27a) says that one may use an egg instead of coins to redeem an item that was consecrated to the Beis HaMikdash. Tosfos explain that an egg was worth a perutah in ancient times.
Presumably they weren’t even referring to jumbo eggs. Commentators cried fowl: “How is it possible that a standard egg was worth a perutah back then? Were egg purveyors poaching their customers?” The Piskei Tosfos suggests that an egg was only worth a perutah in Yerushalayim. There was a rabbinic decree that one may not raise chickens in Yerushalayim for fear they might spread tumah. The chickens might pick up an impure item from a refuse heap and deposit it on a walkway before coming home to roost. A kohen or Yisrael might unwittingly walk over the item and become tamei. To forestall this possibility, the sages forbade raising chickens in Yerushalayim. Hence, all eggs had to be imported from elsewhere. This led to eggs in Yerushalayim being worth a perutah or more. However, a Mishnah in Yoma says that the courtyard of the Temple in Yerushalayim was already full on holidays by the time of “kiriyas gever.” Rebbe Shelah says (Yoma 20b) that this refers to an actual rooster’s call. Evidently, some chickens were allowed in Yerushalayim. The Dovev Meisharim explains that people in Yerushalayim were allowed to raise chickens in coops. Only free-range chickens were prohibited. This still reduced the supply of eggs enough to raise the price to a perutah or more. In ancient times, if someone tried to use an egg for kiddushin in a city outside of Yerushalayim, we would tell him that an egg is not worth a perutah.
Anyway, it’s a rotten thing to use for kiddushin; he should shell out money for something worth more. However, according to the Rosh, the Rambam holds that as long as the item is worth a perutah somewhere in the world, it is still valid for use in kiddushin. The Rosh himself says that if an item was used for kiddushin that is not worth a perutah in the locale of the wedding but is worth a perutah somewhere else, the couple would be considered married rabbinically. So even though the man used an egg for kiddushin in Teveria, not in Yerushalayim, he would be married at least rabbinically. However, if we determine the value of a perutah by the amount of silver it bought back then, then a perutah today would be worth a little more than a penny (based on $22/troy ounce). Expressed in today’s dollars, silver in ancient times used to be worth around $500 a troy ounce (R’ Yosef Sebrow). Using this system, a chassan may use any item that is worth two cents as kiddushin. So if his brain was fried, he can attempt to use an egg for kiddushin. But please don’t egg him on, because it’s certainly not conducive to e-ggreat marriage. As an aside, a friend of mine told me that his wife was befuddled when she was asked by the mesader kiddushin under the chuppah, “Is this ring worth twenty-five cents?” She certainly hoped it wasn’t worth only twenty-five cents! Properly phrased, the question should have been: “Is this ring worth at least twenty-five cents?” That’s an “eggcellent” question. We should be zoche to merit our return to Yerushalayim speedily in our days.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.