TALMUD. The 19th Massekhet – Gittin

According to the traditional order of the Talmud, Gittin appears as the next-to-the-last tractate in the order Nashim. Its main focus is the way divorce is performed, while the circumstances under which divorce is permitted, encouraged or even obligatory are discussed in other tractates.Halakhic divorce is unique, as it is an action that successfully undoes the relationship that is created through marriage. Just as halakhic marriage creates a relationship that forges forbidden interactions – isurei ervah – without a blood relationship, divorce is the method that removes that relationship. (It should be noted that even after divorce, some of the forbidden relationships remain in force, e.g. the husband can never marry his ex-wife’s mother or daughter. Nevertheless, the main relationship is undone.) Due to the severity of these relationships, the Sages devoted an entire tractate to detailing the rules and regulations that surround these laws.

to be continued in the form of comments

This entry was posted in Beginner and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

90 Responses to TALMUD. The 19th Massekhet – Gittin

  1. Gittin 51a-b: A person would not be so brazen

    One enigmatic rule in Jewish law is the law that distinguishes between two different responses to an accusation that one person owes money to another. The halakha is that if the defendant denies it entirely we believe him without requiring him to bring any further proof; if he denies that he owes all of the money, but admits that he owes part of it, then he must pay the amount that he admits to and then take an oath that he does not owe any more.

    Why do we trust the individual who denies it all, while making the person who admits that he owes some of the money take an oath?

    In answer to this question, Rabba teaches hazakah ein adam me’iz panav lifnei ba’al hovo – we work with the assumption that a person would not be so brazen as to deny his obligation to the face of the lender. Rabba explains the thinking of someone who is modeh be-miktzat – who admits to being partially responsible – as follows. Perhaps he really does owe the money, but he does not have enough to pay at this time. Since he cannot face the lender and deny it all, he admits to partial responsibility, assuring himself that when he has the means to pay the full amount he will do so.

    In Massekhet Bava Kamma (106a) Rashi explains that Rabba’s teaching of hazakah ein adam me’iz panav lifnei ba’al hovo is based on the fact that after the lender has done the borrower such a good turn by loaning him money (we must remember that biblical loans do not accrue interest and offer no advantage whatsoever to the lender), the borrower could not possibly deny his obligation. Tosafot and the Ramban argue that Rashi’s explanation cannot be true, because the law applies not only to loans, but also to cases like when the lender is holding collateral and in the face of accusations from the borrower admits to only part of the claim. Their explanation of this halakha is that since hazakah ein adam me’iz panav lifnei ba’al hovo a person is unwilling to totally deny a claim in the face of someone who knows the truth.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  2. Gittin 52a-b: A steward for orphans

    The Mishna on our daf (page) discusses the responsibilities of an apotropos – a steward appointed by a parent or by the courts to protect the interests of orphans – and specifically whether or not the apotropos will be obligated to take an oath that he did not mishandle their financial affairs. Among the rules that appear in the Gemara are limitations on the types of transactions that the apotropos can engage in, e.g. that they cannot sell real estate to purchase moveable objects.

    The Gemara relates a story about a certain apotropos who lived in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood who sold the orphans’ real estate in order to purchase slaves. After Rabbi Meir stepped in and disallowed the sale, he had a dream in which he was told “I am here to destroy, and you come to build!?” (a reference to Malachi 1:4), indicating that there was a heavenly plan to drain the value of the estate. Nevertheless, the Gemara records his reaction as divrei halomot lo ma’alin ve-lo moridin, essentially rejecting any significance to dreams.

    The idea of significance in dreams is one that is discussed at some length by the Sages – see, for example, the ninth perek (chapter) of Massekhet Berakhot. There are certainly indications from stories in tanakh that truthful, prophetic dreams informing people of future events do exist, and that they fall into the category of nevu’a – of prophecy. The Sages argue that although such prophetic dreams occur, there are also dreams that have no basis in fact whatsoever. Some dreams are simply an extension of daytime, waking thoughts, while others are imaginary fulfillment of an individual’s hopes and aspirations (see, for example, Yeshayahu 29:8).

    A full discussion of dreams and their significance in Jewish law appears in the introduction to Rabbi Reuven Margaliyyot’s edition of the book Shu”t Min HaShamayim – “Heavenly responsa.”

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  3. Gittin 53a-b: Damage that is not evident

    The Mishna (52b) discusses cases of hezek she-eino nikkar – damage that was done that cannot be seen. The examples of the Mishna are cases where someone made someone else’s tithes tameh (ritually defiled) or mixes tithes in with regular produce, or libates his wine to an idol. In all of these situations, although there is no apparent change in the object itself, it no longer can be used and therefore has no value. The Mishna rules that in these cases, if the person did the damage on purpose he will be held responsible, but if it was accidental he will not have to pay.

    Our Gemara brings a disagreement between Hizkiyya and Rabbi Yohanan with regard to this question. Hizkiyya believes that hezek she-eino nikkar shemah hezek – that damage that is not evident is considered to be damage and the person who does such damage should always be held responsible. It is the Sages who freed the person doing the damage by accident from paying, since they wanted to encourage him to admit what he did. Rabbi Yohanan disagrees, arguing that hezek she-eino nikkar lo shemei hezek – that invisible damage really cannot be considered to be damage, yet the Sages obligated someone who did the damage on purpose to pay in order to keep people from doing damage to one another.

    Reacting to Rabbi Yohanan’s position, the Hatam Sofer asks how the Torah could possibly ignore significant financial damage done by one person to another. While admitting that the cases of damages discussed in the Torah are always situations of physical damage, he suggests that cases like these were left by the Torah to the Sages for them to rule according to societal needs. In the Shitta Mekubbetzet the point is made that it is clearly forbidden to do hezek she-eino nikkar for reasons of ve-ahavtah le-rei’ahah kamokhah (Vayikra 19:18) or ve-hai ahikah imakh (Vayikra 25:36); the discussion in our Gemara deals solely with monetary restitution and the possibility that cases where there is no physical damage require no compensation.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  4. Gittin 54a-b: Sacrifice and improper intention

    On yesterday’s daf (page) we learned about cases of hezek she-eino nikkar – damage that is not evident. The Mishna on our daf continues with this discussion, and teaches about a case where the kohen who was working in the Temple informs an individual that he had made the sacrifice piggul. In such a case the Mishna rules that if it was done on purpose, the kohen will be held liable to pay damages.

    The case of piggul is hinted to in the Torah (see Vayikra 7:18), where we learn that if a person eats from a korban (sacrifice) three days after it was sacrificed, the korban will be piggul – it will not be accepted. From this the Sages learn that if the korban was brought with the intention of eating it – or performing one of the other activities associated with the sacrifice – in the wrong time or place, it will be considered void, even if that act was not carried out. The laws of piggul are discussed at length in Massekhet Zevahim.

    There is an argument among the rishonim as to whether piggul applies only if the kohen actually stated aloud that the sacrifice was to be eaten at the wrong time, or if even thinking that it would be eaten then is enough to make the sacrifice piggul. Some of the rishonim suggest that a kohen who merely thinks that the korban will be eaten at the wrong time would ruin his own sacrifice, but to make someone else’s korban piggul the kohen would have to actually state his intentions aloud.

    As noted, our Mishna rules that if the kohen has inappropriate thoughts about the sacrifice he will be obligated to pay for it if he did so purposely, implying that if he did it accidentally, he would be free from liability (some manuscripts of the Mishna state this clearly). The Talmud Yerushalmi asks how piggul, which is based on thought and statement – could take place accidentally. The Yerushalmi suggests a case where the kohen believes that he is allowed to make the sacrifice piggul.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  5. Gittin 55a-b: And on account of this, Jerusalem was destroyed

    One of the lengthiest collections of aggadata – stories – that appears in the Gemara is the anthology of stories in our Gemara that discuss the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This begins on our daf (page) with the famous story of Kamtza and bar Kamtza whose activities led to the eventual hurban – the destruction of Jerusalem.

    The story begins with a simple mix-up and disagreement. An unnamed individual was friends with someone named Kamtza and enemies with another person whose name was bar Kamtza. The servant who was commanded to invite Kamtza to a party mistakenly delivered the invitation to bar Kamtza, who, upon coming to the party, was rebuffed by the host who insisted that he leave. No amount of cajoling, or, for that matter, offering to pay for his meal – or even the entire party – could convince the host to allow bar Kamtza to “save face” and remain. Bar Kamtza’s reaction was to lay the blame for his embarrassment squarely on the leadership who sat through this interchange without coming to his defense. In an attempt to punish them he went to Rome and accused them of fomenting rebellion against the Roman authorities. According to the Gemara, this accusation led to the eventual siege around Jerusalem.

    One popular question that is raised when discussing this story is why Kamtza’s name appears at all. It was, after all, bar Kamtza’s actions that led to the destruction! On a simple level the Gemara is trying to tell us that a simple thing – the similarity of names and confusion that that caused – brought about the destruction of the Temple. The Maharal explains on a deeper level that this is connected with the well-known idea that the second Temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam – or hatred that has no basis. Sinat hinam leads not only to arguments between individuals (like bar Kamtza and the host of the party) but also to divisions in society and the creation of groups whose sole purpose is to further those divisions. Because of his involvement with such groups, Kamtza was also involved in sinat hinam and, ultimately, the hurban.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  6. Gittin 56a-b: In truth, you are a king

    On yesterday’s daf (page) we were introduced to the story of Kamtza and bar Kamtza and the unfortunate incident at the party to which bar Kamtza was mistakenly invited. As we saw, according to the Gemara, this led to the Roman siege around the city of Jerusalem and eventually to the destruction of the Temple.

    On our daf, the Gemara describes how Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai managed to escape the city and negotiate with Vespasian, the Roman general in charge of the army surrounding Jerusalem. Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai offered words of welcome to him, referring to him as the king. Vespasian argued that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai deserved death for calling him the king when someone else was sitting on the throne in Rome. Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai assured him that he had to be the king, since Jerusalem was destined to fall only into the hands of a king. In the course of their conversation a messenger arrived from Rome and informed Vespasian that he had been chosen to be ruler of Rome, an announcement that made Vespasian realize the truth of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai’s statement. In appreciation he offered to respond favorably to any request that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai would make. Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai asked that the city of Yavne be spared together with its Sages, a request that would pave the way for revived Jewish life even after the destruction of the Temple.

    Roman historians refer to the year that this occurred as “the year of the four Caesars.” When the year began, Nero was the reigning emperor, and any military general who showed any interest in becoming ruler was immediately sentenced to death as punishment for rebelling against the king – even if there was no real proof that the general had done so. When Nero was killed in an uprising, the leadership figures who were his potential successors fought amongst themselves. The Roman legions that were stationed in the Balkans, Syria and Judea all supported Vespasian, as did the governor of Egypt. While leading the siege around Jerusalem, Vespasian was informed that his allies in Rome had succeeded Vitalius who was acting as emperor in Rome, and he was recognized by all as the Emperor of Rome.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  7. Gittin 57a-b: For the honor of God

    Continuing with the theme of hurban – describing the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple – our Gemara applies the passage in Tehillim (44:23) to the story of a woman and her seven children. This story appears in Sefer Hashmona’im II, chapter 7 and in greater detail in Sefer Hashmona’im IV, chapters 8-17, as well as in various midrashim. As it appears in our Gemara, a woman and her seven children were brought before the Caesar and commanded to bow down to an idol. As each one of the children was brought forward to do so, he quoted a different pasuk (verse) from the Torah indicating that the one true God was the Jewish God and that he could not bow down before any other. Each child was in turn killed. When the Caesar saw that the last one also refused to bow, he suggested that the child simply bend down to pick up the king’s ring so that it would appear as though he had bowed. The child responded that God’s honor was surely more important than the Caesar’s honor.

    The mother asked permission to say a few words to her last child. She instructed him to find Avraham Avinu in the next world and tell him of the woman who was willing to sacrifice not just one, but seven of her children for the honor of God.

    The Gemara does not make clear when this story took place. When it appears in Eliyahu Rabbah the story is dated in the time of Hadrian. According to the versions in Sefer Hashmona’im, it occurred during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes – also the time in which Josephus places this story. According to those sources, the woman’s name was Hannah. This was widely accepted in the Jewish community over the generations and thus this story is known as “Hannah and her seven children.”

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  8. Gittin 58a-b: Ransom him for whatever sum of money

    Our daf (page) continues with stories about the personal tragedies of the hurban period – the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Gemara quotes a baraita that tells of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananya, who traveled to Rome where he heard of a handsome Jewish child who was being held captive in the city. Rabbi Yehoshua went to the entrance of the prison where he was being held and recited the beginning of the verse in Yeshayahu (42:24) which asks “Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers?” In response he heard the child recite the end of the pasuk (verse): “Was it not HaShem against whom we have sinned, and in whose ways they would not walk, neither were they obedient unto His law?” Realizing the unique qualities of this young man, Rabbi Yehoshua felt certain that he would become a great teacher in Israel and committed himself to redeeming the child at any cost. He did so and the child grew up to be the great Sage Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha.

    Tosafot raise the obvious issue in this story: only a few pages ago (see daf 45) we learned that a Jewish person who is being held captive should not be ransomed for more than his worth, mipnei tikkun ha-olam – to encourage the proper workings of society. Tosafot raise a number of possible explanations, among them that Yishmael ben Elisha may have been in mortal danger in prison, or that his great promise to become a talmid chacham allowed him to be redeemed for more than his personal worth. Others point out that the Gemara describes the physical beauty of the young man, implying that the Romans planned to make use of him for immoral purposes. When Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananya “interviewed” him by means of the pasuk, he realized the emotional pain and suffering that he would undergo and felt it essential to save him from that degradation.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  9. Gittin 59a-b: On account of the ways of peace

    Following a lengthy discussion of rabbinic enactments made mipnei tikkun ha-olam – for the sake of the betterment of the world – our Mishna introduces a new set of similar enactments that were instituted to establish certain norms of behavior mipnei darkhei shalom – on account of the ways of peace. One example is the rule that a kohen will always be called to the Torah first, a levi second, and only afterwards will others be called. Several amora’im are quoted by the Gemara as noting that there are pesukim (verses) in the Torah that serve as sources for this rule. This leads Abaye to question why the Mishna refers to this rule as darkhei shalom when, in fact, it is a biblical law. Abaye rejects the possibility that the Mishna is simply referring to a biblical law as darkhei shalom, since all of the laws of the Torah are based on concepts of shalom (see Mishlei 3:17). Instead he posits that while the Torah suggests that the kohen should be honored and given priority, the Mishna is teaching us that a kohen must go first, and that even if he wants to allow someone else to take his place, he cannot, since this will ultimately lead to strife.

    From the conclusion of our Gemara it seems clear that the rule giving precedence to kohanim has its basis in biblical law. From the Talmud Yerushalmi it appears that there is a disagreement between the Sages as to whether this law is truly biblical (based on the quoted sources) or if it is only mipnei darkhei shalom.

    Although the tradition in all communities is to accept Abaye’s position and to call a kohen up to the Torah first under all circumstances, according to the Rambam the ideal would be for a Torah scholar to be called to the Torah first. He suggests that our Gemara is only discussing cases in which there is no Torah scholar in the room or the kohen himself is a Torah scholar, but that the honor due to the Torah requires that we prefer a scholar over a kohen. The Rambam’s position notwithstanding, general practice is to always call up a kohen first.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  10. Gittin 60a-b: To read or not to read

    Rabbi Helbo was asked the following question by a community in the Galilee: Can the obligatory Torah reading be carried out by reading from humashim – individual books of the Torah – in public? He did not know the answer, nor did several of the other Sages to whom he turned. When the question was raised in the beit midrash – study hall – one suggestion was that this case should be similar to reading from a Sefer Torah that is missing one column, which is not acceptable. The Gemara rejects that comparison by arguing that in the case of the Sefer Torah, there is something wrong with the text in question. In our case, there is a full humash with nothing missing. The Gemara concludes by quoting both Rabba and Rav Yosef as ruling that humashim cannot be used for public Torah readings because it demonstrates a lack of kavod ha-tzibur – respect for the community.

    Most of the rishonim explain the case of humashim to be one in which the scroll was written properly with all of the requirements of a Sefer Torah; the only problem with it is that it does not contain the whole Torah, but rather contains only a single book of the Torah. While our Gemara is clear that such a humash cannot be used, in a responsum the Rambam rules that in a case where no complete Sefer Torah is available, a Sefer Torah that is missing a word or letter can be used. His reasoning is that humashim are certainly less desirable than a damaged or missing Sefer Torah, yet even use of humashim is restricted only because of kavod ha-tzibur and not because there is something inherently problematic with them.

    Most of the rishonim disagree with the Rambam and argue that the problem of kavod ha-tzibur that is raised with regard to humashim is only true in situations where the humashim are full and complete. Such humashim are certainly better than a damaged Sefer Torah that is missing letters or words. The Rashba suggests that a Sefer Torah that is missing letters or words in one humash cannot be used for public reading in that humash, but can be used, if necessary, for the other humashim.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  11. Gittin 61a-b: Robbery on account of the ways of peace

    As we have seen, our perek (chapter) has begun to deal with rabbinic enactments that were instituted to establish certain norms of behavior mipnei darkhei shalom – on account of the ways of peace (see daf 59). Several of these enactments deal with cases of possession and ownership. If a child picks something up, can it be taken from him? If a poor person drops fruit to the ground from a tree, can someone take it or does it belong to him? In cases like these, even though it appears that there is no real kinyan – formal act of acquisition – mipnei darkhei shalom we view these things as having been claimed. Rabbi Yosei believes that we view it as a full act of acquisition (at least on a rabbinic level) and that taking such an object is forbidden not only because of darkhei shalom, but because it would be actual theft.

    One case from the Mishna that is discussed in our Gemara is the case of someone who sets traps for wild animals. When the animal is trapped, does it actually belong to the person who set the traps? Here too, we find a disagreement as to whether taking it is forbidden because of darkhei shalom or because it is actual theft. Our Gemara points out that there are different types of traps. Nets and traps that actually hold the animal within them are certainly viewed as having brought the animal into the possession of the trapper, and taking an animal from such a trap would be stealing. The argument is in the case of lehi ve-kokrei.

    Rashi explains that a lehi is a hook while kokrei is a long string that holds many hooks. The Ge’onim suggest that kokrei is a stone board that is leaned on a stick that has bait attached to it. When the bait is pulled away, the heavy board falls on the animal and traps it.

    According to the Talmud Yerushalmi all agree that in the case of a trap that is small in size, where the animal is readily taken out by the trapper, the trapper has taken possession of the animal and it belongs to him. In a case where the trap is large and the trapper will need to chase the animal even once it has entered the trap, we do not perceive him as having taken full possession of the animal and we will have the disagreement between the Tanna Kamma (first) and Rabbi Yosei.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  12. Gittin 62a-b: A messenger of divorce

    The sixth perek (chapter) of Massekhet Gittin, which begins on our daf (page), returns us to the issues of Jewish divorce law. Specifically, this perek focuses on shelihut – arranging for a messenger to play a role in the divorce.

    There are two types of shelihut that are discussed regarding a get:
    shelihut le-holakha – a messenger established by the husband to deliver the get. In this case the divorce will take effect when it reaches the wife’s hands and she takes possession of it.
    shelihut le-kabala – a messenger established by the wife to accept the get. In this case, the divorce will take effect the moment that the messenger accepts it on behalf of the wife.

    One issue that concerns our Gemara is whether a woman can act as a sheliha le-holakha on behalf of a man or if a man could play the role of a shaliah le-kabala for a woman. Rabbi Akiva Eiger explains this question as stemming from a basic issue about shelihut in Jewish law. In halakha, creating a messenger is based on the rule of shali’ah shel adam ke-moto – that a person assigned to perform a task acts as the person himself. Therefore we generally assume that a person can only be a formal messenger for a certain halakhic requirement if he or she is also obligated in or connected with that same law. Since in the event of a divorce a woman cannot make a shaliah le-holakha and a man cannot make a shaliah le-kabala perhaps they cannot act in the roles that they cannot themselves create.

    The Gemara’s conclusion is that both men and women can play these roles. Apparently it is not essential that the shaliah be able to fully step into the role of the principal party with regard to all the details of the halakha; it is enough if the law applies to the shaliah. Divorce laws do apply to both men and women even though they play different roles within the framework of those laws. Therefore both men and women can act as shelihim for all aspects of gittin.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  13. Gittin 63a-b: An agent to receive a get

    The Mishna on our daf (page) discusses the case of a shaliah le-kabala – an agent appointed by a woman to receive a get – writ of divorce – on her behalf. The Mishna teaches that in the event that the agent reports that he received the get, but he cannot produce it, the woman needs to produce witnesses both on the original establishment of the agent and on the fact that the agent received it and that it was destroyed. The Mishna concludes by noting that these do not need to be two separate sets of witnesses; the same people can attest to both parts of the divorce.

    The Gemara explains that our Mishna is describing a situation that took place when the Jews were living under foreign rule which forbade them from practicing certain aspects of their religion – among them religious marriage and divorce. In such a situation, as soon as the divorce took effect, the get itself was destroyed in order to keep any evidence from being found.

    The Rambam understands the rule of the Mishna to be teaching that the witnesses must attest to the fact that the get was destroyed. According to other rishonim the point is not that the get was destroyed; all that is really of interest to us is that the shaliah le-kabala received the get, which takes effect immediately, since the shaliah le-kabala represents the woman. That is all the witnesses need to testify about. By mentioning that the get was destroyed, the Mishna is merely offering an explanation of what happened to the document, but it is not an essential part of their testimony.

    With regard to the need for witnesses who will testify to two separate issues:
    that the woman appointed this person to be her shaliah le-kabala, and
    that the shaliah le-kabala actually received the get on her behalf
    Tosafot suggests that we may have thought it unlikely that the same two people witnessed both of these events, since they took place at different times and places, and if the same two witnesses testified about both, perhaps we may have suspected them of lying. That is why there is some measure of hiddush – or novel point – in a ruling that accepts their testimony for both events.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  14. Gittin 64a-b: The age of divorce

    According to Torah law, a father has the right to accept kiddushin – a token of marriage – on behalf of his daughter when she is a minor, and she will be married immediately. A na’ara, that is, a young girl between the ages of 12 and twelve-and-a-half, is in a situation where either she or her father can accept kiddushin on her behalf. Once she passes that stage she is an adult and her father can no longer act on her behalf with regard to marriage.

    The Mishna on our daf (page) teaches that in the case of a na’ara, both she and her father have the ability to accept a get – a writ of divorce – for her. Rabbi Yehuda disagrees, arguing that only the father has the ability to do so. All agree that a basic principle is that for a get to work the woman receiving it must understand the significance of the get and recognize the need to guard the document properly.

    The Gemara quotes a baraita that applies this rule specifically to a young child who was married. In a related case, Rav Yehuda quotes Rabbi Asi as saying that a good indication that a child recognizes the importance of an object is if he knows to save a nut that he picks up, even as he throws away a pebble. A higher level of comprehension is a child who knows to return an object that is given to him for a period of time.

    These descriptions apply to very young children. Already by age three, a child knows to differentiate between a pebble and a nut, and by four or five he knows to return objects to their owners. While the ability to distinguish between an important piece of paper and an unimportant one may only come at a later age, given the fact that even a small child can be married off by her father, it is important for the Gemara to establish criteria even for children who are this young.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  15. Gittin 65a-b: The language of divorce

    The Mishna on our daf (page) is concerned with the language that is used by the husband when he instructs a messenger to write and deliver a get (writ of divorce). The examples that the Mishna gives of statements that are easily understood to mean that a divorce is to be written and delivered are things like “write a get and deliver it to my wife” or “divorce her.” Statements that are not understood to be an instruction to write and deliver a divorce include patruha – “release her” or parnasuha – “provide for her.” The Ra’avad points out that this is true even though the husband had been discussing the possibility of divorce. Even so, these expressions are not clear enough to conclude that his intention was to divorce his wife.

    Our Gemara quotes a baraita where we find that Rabbi Natan distinguishes between two similar cases. According to the reading that appears in our Gemara – which is Rashi’s reading – if the husband says patruha he is saying in Aramaic “release her,” which is clearly understood to mean that she is to be divorced, while saying pitruha, a Hebrew word, would mean that he wants her to be freed, but that might mean from other obligations, and not from her marriage. It is likely that Rashi suggests this explanation because the Gemara says that Rabbi Natan was from Bavel and was more careful with his use of language. Since it is unlikely that the Babylonian was more careful with his use of Hebrew than were his Israeli peers, Rashi interprets this to mean that one of the expressions was in Aramaic, a language better understood by Rabbi Natan. Other rishonim suggest an alterative reading in the Gemara, where Rabbi Natan rules that pitruha is a command to “free” the woman, i.e. to divorce her, while patruha is in the past tense and in this context is a word with no meaning.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  16. Gittin 66a-b: On the instruction of the husband

    After the previous Mishna taught that we must be very careful in following the husband’s instructions in writing and delivering a get (writ of divorce), our Mishna teaches that if a man instructs two people “give my wife a get” or if he says to three people “write a get and deliver it to my wife,” those people are the ones who must write the get and deliver it; they cannot pass on those responsibilities to others. According to Rabbi Meir, an exception to this rule would be a case where a man says to three people “deliver a get to my wife.” In such a case, since there was no specific instruction that they write the get we can view the three of them as a court, which has the right and the ability to instruct others to fulfill the court’s obligation. Rabbi Yosei argues, claiming that his tradition was that under all circumstances the people must follow the instructions of the husband, and even if he approached the beit din ha-gadol she-bi-Yerushalayim – the great court in Jerusalem – and said “give a get to my wife” they would have to do it themselves. Rabbi Yosei continues that even if the court does not know how to write a get they will have to learn how to do it in order to fulfill the husband’s command.

    In his commentary to the Mishna, the Rambam writes that it is not surprising to find the possibility discussed that even a well established court may not know how to write, since they were appointed to the beit din for their scholarship and not for their abilities as scribes. Nevertheless, we know that the Sages required members of a beit din to be proficient in languages and in writing, so what the Mishna most likely refers to is the possibility that the members of the court may not write in the legible and clear manner necessary for this kind of document. If this is the case, Rabbi Yosei would obligate them to learn this method of writing in order to fulfill the requirement of the husband who wants to divorce his wife.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  17. Gittin 67a-b: Of disease and divorce

    The first Mishna in the seventh perek (chapter) of Massekhet Gittin discusses a case where a man who is suffering from a condition called kordeyakos instructs messengers to write a get – writ of divorce – for his wife. The Mishna rules that in such a case the get should not be written.

    In the Gemara, Shmuel explains that kordeyakos is a condition that comes from drinking new wine that came directly from the winepress and has not properly fermented. The source of the term kordeyakos is in Latin, where it refers to a heart disease. Nevertheless, in our context it does not mean a physical disease of the heart. According to both the Sages and the ancient Greeks, the heart was the seat of human intellect. Therefore, the term heart disease was used to describe mental illness – in this case, temporary insanity. Thus our case is one where the husband cannot think straight because of his condition, which is why we do not take his instructions seriously.

    The Gemara explains that the cure for kordeyakos is lean, roasted meat and diluted wine. This statement leads to a discussion in the Gemara of a variety of medical conditions and the recommended treatment for them – several of them are brought by Abaye who quotes his adoptive mother as an expert on these topics (see also, for example Shabbat 134a). Her suggestion for someone suffering from cold is to eat roasted fatty meat with strong, undiluted wine. Although many of the medicinal recommendations that we find in the Gemara reflect the contemporary knowledge of that time, this suggestion makes sense based on our current understanding of human physiology. When a person has been exposed to cold for a lengthy period of time, his body is in need of a supply of calories in order to get the body fully functioning again to counteract the effects of the cold. The recommended fatty meat and undiluted wine are ready sources of energy, since they are easily digested, and can offer a quick influx of calories. Even today, common practice is to give alcoholic beverages to people who are suffering from frostbite, since we want to give them ready access to calories.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  18. Gittin 68a-b: Demons and the Temple

    Our Gemara turns its attention to an aggadic discussion, one that encompasses both issues of demonology and medicines prescribed by the Sages.

    As interpreted by the Gemara, the passage in Kohelet (2:8) describes how King Solomon tells of the pomp and ceremony that went on in his realm – there were singers with musical instruments, pools and bathhouses and – according to the Sages in Israel – great chariots. The Babylonian Sages interpreted the end of the pasuk (verse) as referring to demons, which is understood by the Gemara as being essential for the building of Solomon’s Temple. In I Melakhim (6:7) we learn that the entire beit ha-mikdash was built out of full stones that had not been split by normal means using metal implements. Rather it was a miraculous shamir that was able to divide the stone. (The shamir, a worm, was also used by Moshe to cut the gems for the High Priest’s breastplate. According to Massekhet Avot, it was one of the 10 items created by God during twilight on the sixth day of creation.)

    When King Solomon searched for the shamir he captured a male and female demon in an attempt to get them to inform him of its location. They referred him to Ashmedai, king of the demons. The Gemara describes how King Solomon sent Benayahu ben Yehoiada who tracked down Ashmedai, who informed him that the shamir had been entrusted to the tarnegola bara – the “wild rooster” – the bird that we know as a hoopoe. Benayahu found a wild rooster’s nest filled with chicks and covered it with glass. When the mother came to feed her young, finding the nest covered she dropped the shamir on the glass to open it. This was Benayahu’s opportunity to secure the shamir for use in building the Temple.

    Obviously stories like this one are difficult to accept at face value, and in Sefer Pardes Rimonim we find that that Rabbi Shem-Tov ibn Shaprut offers an explanation that views this story as allegory, and that the various demons, birds, etc. all refer to philosophers and Sages who spent their time in seclusion in the desert contemplating matters of secrets and mysticism. According to the Midrash Shlomo, the shamir should also be understood metaphorically, as a means by which one accomplished certain difficult tasks.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  19. Gittin 69a-b: To your health

    As we learned above (see daf, or page, 67), one of the concerns of our Gemara is medicines and treatments for a variety of diseases. It is worthwhile noting that the Sages clearly viewed these discussions as being important and worthwhile discussing in the beit midrash (house of study) and even being recorded in the Talmud for posterity. Thus we see that the Sages of the Talmud saw themselves as responsible not only for the spiritual growth and well-being of their constituency, but for their health, as well.

    One treatment recommended by the Gemara involves the application of ilava – apparently a reference to the aloe vera plant. This plant is a species of succulent plant that probably originated in Africa. It has thick green leaves that can be split or broken and ointments can be made from the sap that is extracted. Even today the aloe vera plant is used to make such ointments, which are used primarily to assist in healing dry skin and burns. Nevertheless there is little scientific evidence of the effectiveness or safety of aloe vera extracts for either cosmetic or medicinal purposes, and what positive evidence is available is frequently contradicted by other studies.

    It should be noted that already in the tenth century the Ge’onim ruled that we should not make use of the medicines or procedures recommended by the Rabbis in the Talmud, unless they were checked by contemporary medical professionals who can assure us that they are not dangerous in any way. Later aharonim forbade the use of these approaches entirely, arguing that since we do not understand the underlying basis of the treatments and how they are supposed to affect the diseases, it is likely that making use of them will lead to a lack of respect for the words of the Sages.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  20. Gittin 70a-b: Medicinal bloodletting

    The Gemara on our daf (page) continues with a discussion of medicinal recommendations of the Talmudic Sages. One teaching that is presented is that there are eight things which are harmful in large quantities but in small quantities are beneficial, namely, traveling, sexual relations, wealth, work, wine, sleep, hot baths, and bloodletting.

    Including bloodletting in this list is an example of the value that was placed on this practice, at least in measured amounts. For many generations physicians believed that bloodletting was a powerfully helpful remedy for the human body, both as a cure and as a general preventative therapy that would keep a person healthy. Based on this belief, many people arranged to have bloodletting on a regular basis, and in fact the Gemara forbids a scholar from living in a community that did not have a professional bloodletter. At the same time, there was recognition that bloodletting weakened the body in the short-term, and could potentially be dangerous. Recognizing this, the Gemara offers lists of things that a person should be careful to avoid at the same time as bloodletting. These include having blood-letting immediately after returning from a trip, getting up immediately after bloodletting, or engaging in relations immediately after bloodletting.

    In offering this advice, it appears that the Sages were sensitive to the potential problems that could be caused by physical exertion immediately before or after bloodletting. For this reason the Gemara also includes a list of foods that should be eaten after bloodletting, all of which offer a ready supply of calories that can be used by the body to recover. Many of these suggestions appear to be similar to advice offered by contemporary medical professionals after a person donates blood.

    Today it is well-established that bloodletting is not effective for most diseases. Indeed it is mostly harmful, since it can weaken the patient and facilitate infections.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  21. Gittin 71a-b: Instructions for the agent

    We learned previously that the Mishna (see daf, or page, 66a-b) teaches that if a man instructs two people “give my wife a get” or if he says to three people “write a get and deliver it to my wife,” those people are the ones who must write the get (writ of divorce) and deliver it; they cannot pass on those responsibilities to others. The underlying rule is that a shali’ah (an agent) who is instructed to carry out a certain act cannot pass that responsibility onto others.

    Our Gemara continues that theme in discussing a case where a man who is ill or is about to leave on a trip is asked whether he would like a get written for his wife (such a suggestion would stem from the concern lest the woman be obligated to yibum (levirate marriage) should he die or would be left as an aguna should he never return from his trip). If the husband’s response is “write it!” the people who received that command are obligated to do it themselves, and if they had others write the get or act as witnesses on it the get will not be valid – even if it was given to the husband who handed it to his wife.

    The Pnei Yehoshua asks why the Mishna needs to emphasize that the get will be invalid even if the husband hands the get to his wife personally, given that we have already established that a get that was not written in accordance with the specific directions of the husband is no good. He suggests that one of the underlying ideas behind this halakha is a concern with bizayon ha-ba’al – that the husband is belittled, that he is not being taken seriously – if a divorce is written in a way other than what he ordered. Since in our case he is given the get and chooses to make use of it, we might have thought that it is a clear indication that there is no concern with bizayon ha-ba’al in this case. The Mishna therefore needs to emphasize that such a get is inherently invalid and cannot be used.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  22. Gittin 72a-b: Divorce after death

    At the end of the first perek (chapter) of Massekhet Gittin we learned that a divorce cannot be granted after the husband has already died (see daf, or page, 13a-b). Therefore, if the husband orders a messenger to deliver a get (writ of divorce) to his wife, should he die before the get was successfully delivered, there will be no divorce (i.e., the woman will be a widow, not a divorcee).

    The Mishna on our daf discusses cases where the husband makes the divorce conditional on his death. It is fairly obvious that if he uses an expression that indicates that the divorce will take effect when he dies, then the divorce will have no meaning. If, however, he says that he is giving her the divorce and that once he dies he wants the divorce to take effect retroactively from today, then the divorce will work, according to his instructions.

    One question that is raised by Rabbeinu Tam in Tosafot is what the halakha will be in a case where a man gives a get to his wife, saying that when he dies he would like it to take effect from today – and then he dies on that same day? Does “today” mean the end of the day and the get effectively comes too late? Should we distinguish between a case where he said that the get should take effect “from today,” and where he said that it should take effect “from now”?

    Rabbeinu Tam writes that he cannot reach a conclusion with regard to this question. Tosafot quote Rabbeinu Elhanan who writes that this is a case where we must try and evaluate the thought process of the husband. It is clear that he is offering this divorce because he fears that he will die. If that is the case, we can conclude with certainty that the fear is an immediate one, and that his intention was to divorce her immediately, even if he were to die the same day.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  23. Gittin 73a-b: An uncommon, unavoidable accident

    Our Gemara establishes a principle that a person cannot be held responsible for an ones – an occurrence beyond his control – and even if he accepts responsibility for ones, that only will include relatively common occurrences. An unsa d’lo shakhiah – an uncommon, unavoidable accident – will not be his responsibility, even if he accepted responsibility for situations of ones.

    The cases that the Gemara uses to illustrate this point require an understanding of the reality on the ground in the place where the Sages lived. In Bavel there is very little rainfall, and the vast majority of water used for irrigation comes from the large rivers that flow through the country. Already during ancient times, the local government initiated projects to build large irrigation canals. Some of these canals were so wide that they were viewed as small rivers, particularly at the points where they received water directly from the Tigris or the Euphrates, and they served not only for irrigation but also for travel and transport on small boats that plied them as waterways.

    In the first case presented by the Gemara, someone sold a field to another person, accepting upon himself any ones that might take place. After the purchase was completed, the local government announced plans to dig a canal that would go directly through that field. The case was brought to Ravina who ruled that the seller, who had accepted any ones that might occur, needed to return the purchase price to the buyer. An objection was raised that this was an unsa d’lo shakhiah, and that he could not have intended to offer a guarantee against such an unlikely possibility, a position that was upheld by Rava.

    A second case that is brought tells of an agreement made between Rav Pappa and Rav Huna brei d’Rav Yehoshua and a group of sailors who agreed to transport their merchandise across the canal known as Nehar Malka – the Malka (Royal) River. The sailors agreed to accept responsibility for any ones that might occur. In fact, the canal was dammed up and they could not transport the goods. Rav Papa and Rav Huna brei d’Rav Yehoshua insisted that the sailors hire donkeys to transport the goods, but Rava insisted that the sailors could not be held responsible, since they would never have accepted responsibility for an unsa d’lo shakhiah.

    Nehar Malka, which connected the Tigris and the Euphrates, was one of the largest canals in Bavel. It would certainly have been unusual for this major artery to have been closed, making such an event an unsa d’lo shakhiah.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  24. Gittin 74a-b: With this condition

    While discussing situations where the husband gives his wife a divorce that is conditional on some event taking place (e.g., that a monetary payment will be made), the Gemara brings other situations where a conditional agreement is made and it is not clear whether the condition was fulfilled.

    One example is a case where the owner of a field offered his sharecropper an increase in the percentage that he will get from the produce if the sharecropper put more effort into tending the field. Specifically, he told him that while most sharecroppers receive a quarter of the profits and water the field three times a year, he is willing to offer one third of the profits if he agrees to water the field four times a year. What if the sharecropper agrees to this arrangement, waters the field three times, and then discovers that rainfall has made it unnecessary to water the field a fourth time. Do we consider him to have fulfilled his agreement or not?

    Rabba rules that there was no need to water the field, so he is credited as though he did it and he receives the larger payment; Rav Yosef says that even though he agreed to water the field, he did not get to do so, and he should only receive the normal payment of a sharecropper.

    The case discussed in the Gemara is one where the crops were not watered on a regular basis, and most of the water that they need to grow comes from rain and water sources deep in the ground. Nevertheless, such fields were watered a number of times a year – particularly in Bavel where the seasons were often dry ones – at critical times when the plants were putting down roots, until such times as the plant had developed an established root system. An additional watering, if done at the right time, may significantly improve the health of the plants and ultimately produce a larger harvest. It is therefore understandable that the owner’s interest would be to offer a larger percentage of the profit to the sharecropper, knowing that the increased harvest will more than cover the extra payment.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  25. Gittin 75a-b: On the condition that you nurse my son

    The Mishna on our daf (page) discusses cases of a divorce that is dependent on fulfillment of a condition. If the husband says to his wife that he is divorcing her on the condition that she nurses his child, once she completes nursing the child the divorce will take effect. Two opinions are offered by the Mishna regarding the amount of time that is considered appropriate for nursing to be considered completed – the Tanna Kamma (first) says that it is two years, while Rabbi Yehuda says that it is eighteen months. If the child dies during that time, the Mishna rules that she still fulfilled her obligation, and the divorce takes effect. This is true, however, only if the husband said “on the condition that you nurse my son,” implying that the nursing should go on as long as necessary. If he said specifically “on the condition that you nurse my son for two years,” the Tanna Kamma says that she must complete the two years, and if the child dies she has not fulfilled the condition. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel disagrees and rules that also in this case the divorce would take effect, since she was not at fault.

    Regarding the length of time that is considered normal for breastfeeding, we find wide variations in different cultures. In the Western world today, it is considered typical to nurse a newborn for six months to a year; a-year-and-a-half or two years would be quite a bit longer than what is ordinary in contemporary society. There were many different reasons for a lengthy period of breastfeeding in Talmudic times. First and foremost, was the difficulty in preparing or obtaining appropriate substitutes for mother’s milk. Even if the raw materials were available to make such food, it was likely beyond the financial means of many families.

    Another reason for extended nursing may have been the fact that breastfeeding may act as a natural method of birth control, which allowed for spacing children. This was probably a more effective method in the times of the Mishna. Improved nutrition today limits the efficacy of nursing as a contraceptive.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  26. Gittin 76a-b: Divorce and travel

    The Mishna on our daf (page) presents a case where a husband who is leaving to travel from his home in Yehuda (the southern part of the land of Israel), offers his wife a conditional divorce. As explained by Abaye in the Gemara, the husband actually makes two conditions:
    1.if I successfully arrive in the Galilee, the get (writ of divorce) should take effect immediately, or
    2.if I do not arrive in the Galilee, the get will still take effect if I do not return home within 30 days.

    The Mishna teaches that in such a case, if the man travels as far as Antipatris and returns home, the get will not take effect, since he has not made it to the Galilee, and has returned home before the deadline. Similarly, if he was traveling from the Galilee to Yehuda and attached such conditions to the get, if he reaches Kefar Otnai and returns home, the get will not take effect, since he has not made it to Yehuda and has returned home before the deadline.

    Antipatris is a city in the northern part of Judea. It was built (or reestablished) by King Herod, who named it after his father, Antipater. The city stood at a major crossroads, and it was a resting place for travelers and soldiers. It was not destroyed during the revolts against the Romans, and stood for hundreds of years. Archaeologists place Antipatris near today’s Rosh HaAyin.

    Kfar Otnai was a small city on the southern edge of the Jezreel Valley in the lower Galilee. It is seen as the first point in the Galil when traveling from the south of the country. The city was on the border between what was known as the land of the Kutim and the Galilee, and was likely a mixed community of Jews and Kutim. It is placed a few kilometers north of today’s community of Ein Ganim.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  27. Gittin 77a-b: When one throws a bill of divorce

    The eighth perek (chapter) of Massekhet Gittin begins on our daf (page). Entitled HaZorek – i.e. someone who throws [a get] – its main focus is on the method used for transferring a bill of divorce from husband to wife. Although the Torah appears to require that the get actually be placed in the wife’s hand (…ve-natan be-yadah – Devarim 24:1), the tradition that the Sages had was that that passage was not to be taken literally, rather that it had to be placed in her possession and control.

    The first Mishna in the perek teaches that if the husband threw a get to his wife and it landed near her in a property that belonged to her, the divorce will take effect. If she was standing in his property, however, the fact that the get was thrown in her proximity has no significance, and the divorce does not work. The Mishna concludes that if the husband threw the get to his wife and it landed in her lap or in her kaltah, then it would be a good get. This is true even if she was standing in his house, since these places are on her person and therefore it is as though the get was placed in her hand.

    All agree that a kaltah is a basket. According to Rashi, it is a small basket within which a woman keeps pins, needles and other sewing or weaving materials. In his commentary to the Mishna, the Rambam suggests that it is a basket in which the woman keeps the finished products that she wove, which would indicate that it is a fairly large basket. The origin of the word kaltah is Greek. On occasion such baskets were worn on an individual’s head.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  28. Gittin 78a-b: This is your bill of divorce

    How aware does the woman need to be that she is receiving a bill of divorce? Since according to the Torah a woman can be divorced even against her will (a law that has not been in practice since the enactments of Rebbeinu Gershom Me’or ha-Golah in the tenth century) is it necessary for the husband to inform his wife of the divorce, or can he hide the true significance of the paper until it is already in her possession?

    The Mishna on our daf (page) teaches that a man cannot say to his wife “hold this promissory note for me” and hand a get (writ of divorce) to her; similarly he cannot slip it into her hands while she is sleeping. The get will not be valid until it is given to her together with the statement “This is your bill of divorce.”

    The question that the rishonim raise is why this would be essential, given the fact that – at least according to the letter of the law – we do not need the wife’s agreement to the divorce?

    The Ra’avad suggests that the problem in this case is that by referring to the get as a promissory note, we are concerned that the husband has negated the validity of the document, with regard to which, as we have learned, proper intent is a crucial factor.

    According to the Rambam, we see from this ruling that the get must be handed to the wife with proper intent of divorce. The statement at the moment of the divorce seems to run counter to that intent, which nullifies the proceedings.

    Tosafot sees a practical problem in this case. Ordinarily a get can only be given if the wife understands that with this document’s transfer, their marriage has ended, and she knows that she can no longer continue to live with her husband. If a clear statement does not accompany the get, it is possible that she will not understand this, at least for some period of time.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  29. Gittin 79a-b: An outdated bill of divorce

    As is the case with all legal documents, the date that appears on a get (bill of divorce) is one of the basic requirements for the document to be valid. Somewhat surprisingly, the get need not be delivered on the date that is written in the document, and it will be a valid get even if it is given some time later. This is only true if the couple did not continue to live in close proximity after the get was written. If after the get was written the husband and wife were together (i.e., they could have slept together) then the get is considered a get yashan – an old get – which the Mishna teaches cannot be used according to Beit Hillel, although Beit Shammai permits its use.

    The Gemara explains that the basis for the argument between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai is whether we fear that people will mistakenly think that the date written on the get was the actual day of the divorce, and will assume that any children born to the woman more than nine months after that time were born out of wedlock. Beit Hillel is concerned about this possibility, and therefore only permits the get to be used if no children will have been born since the get was written. Beit Shammai is not worried that this will be an issue.

    The rishonim suggest that this disagreement between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai has its source in their basic positions on divorce that appears on daf 90a. According to Beit Shammai, a man can divorce his wife only if he believes that she has behaved inappropriately in matters of a sexual nature. Therefore we can assume that if he wrote a get he has indicated that his relationship with her is irreparable, and we need not be concerned that they have slept together, even if they had yihud (they were together in a private place). According to Beit Hillel, there are other reasons that a man may divorce his wife, and we would have every reason to think that even after he wrote a get he may change his mind and continue to have marital relations with her, until such time as they get divorced.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  30. Gittin 80a-b: Dating a divorce

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (page), the date written in the get (bill of divorce) is an essential part of the document. The Mishna on our daf discusses the date and how it must be written. While today the Jewish calendar begins its count from the time of Creation, and the secular calendar – the Gregorian calendar – is based on a count that begins with the birth of the founder of Christianity, throughout history different calendars were used. Our Mishna was written at a time when the common practice was to count from the time of the ruling king of a given country, and the Sages established a rule that religious documents like a get should include that date as well, mishum shalom malkhut – in order to keep the peace with the governing body. The Mishna teaches that it is essential for the date to accurately reflect the ruling monarchy’s current reign. In the event that the date refers to another government or to some historical event (e.g., the building of the Temple or the destruction of the Temple) the get will be invalid.

    When discussing other governments whose rule cannot be used as the dating source on a document like a get, as one example the Mishna mentions malkhut she-ainah hogenet – a kingdom that is not legitimate. The Gemara explains that this refers to Rome, and it is labeled with this epithet because it does not have its own writing or language, rather it borrowed its language from others. This assertion is based on Roman history. Latin, the language used in the Roman Empire, is the native tongue of the Latin people, a nation that was swallowed up by the city of Rome. Similarly, the alphabet used by the Romans is based primarily on the Italic alphabet together with the changes made in it by the Latins. For all the strength of the Roman army and its political independence much of Roman culture was derived from other nations.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  31. Gittin 81a-b: The kohen and the divorcee

    The Mishna on our daf (page) discusses a case where a person decided to divorce his wife and went so far as to have a get (bill of divorce) written. At that point, however, he changed his mind and decided that he did not want to divorce her. In such a case, Beit Shammai rules that the act of having the get written will create a situation that would no longer allow her to marry a kohen (kohanim cannot marry divorced women). Beit Hillel disagrees, arguing that even if the husband actually gives a divorce to his wife, if the divorce is predicated on conditions that are not fulfilled and the divorce does not take effect, the woman can marry a kohen (if, for example, her husband dies and she becomes a widow).

    In explanation of Beit Shammai’s position, the Meiri points to the concept of rei’ah ha-get (literally, the “smell” of a divorce), that the Gemara raises in another context, suggesting that such a concept may be the underlying principle here, as well. Others suggest that this is a type of gezeira, or Rabbinic enactment, that treats a get that has been written as if it were actually delivered with regard to certain halakhot.

    The Hatam Sofer suggests that the disagreement between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel may be dependent on another argument between them. According to Beit Shammai, a man is not allowed to divorce his wife unless he has strong reason to suspect that she has been involved in sexual promiscuity of some sort. Thus, if a man reaches the point of actually writing a get, even if it is never delivered it would appear that there was a basis for suspicion with regard to her behavior. This itself is enough to keep her from marrying a kohen, according to Beit Shammai. According to Beit Hillel, who allows a man to divorce his wife for any number of reasons, the decision to write a get gives us no information beyond the fact that there is a difficulty in their relationship, something that would not affect her status regarding a kohen in any way.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  32. Gittin 82a-b: Any man except so-and-so

    Perek ha-megaresh, the last chapter of Massekhet Gittin, begins on our daf (page). This perek (chapter) includes a wide range of topics, and its purpose is to complete the discussion of Jewish divorce laws by covering those areas that were left out of earlier discussions.

    The first Mishna in the perek discusses a case where a person hands a get (bill of divorce) to his wife and says harei at muteret le-khol adam… hutz mi-ploni – “you are now free to marry anyone who you like, with the exception of so-and-so.” One of the basic principles of a Jewish divorce is that the get totally severs the relationship between husband and wife, to the extent that he no longer has any control over her actions or choices. This rule leads the Hakhamim to invalidate such a get. Rabbi Eliezer, however, rules that such a get remains valid, like any other get with a stipulated condition. According to the Hakahmim, the husband can take the get back from his wife and resubmit it to her saying “you are free to marry whoever you like,” at which point the divorce would take effect – unless the statement invalidating the get is written into the document itself.

    In this last case, when the husband wants to deliver the get properly, would it be enough for him to say the standard format of “here is your get” or must he specifically restate his original instructions in a manner that clarifies his intent? According to the Ri”d, all he needs to do is to say the normal formula. The Ran argues that in this case, the normal formula of “here is your get” may be understood within the context of his original statement, which limited her options for marriage, and was therefore not acceptable. He therefore must state clearly that the divorce will permit her to marry anyone.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  33. Gittin 83a-b: An act of severance

    As we have learned, when a man writes a get (bill of divorce) to divorce his wife, he can make the divorce conditional on a specific thing that the woman will do, but the divorce cannot allow him to retain any level of involvement in her life. The bond must be severed completely. Thus, if the husband makes the divorce conditional by saying “this is your get on the condition that you do not go to your father’s house for the next 30 days,” the get will be a good one, assuming that the wife fulfills the condition and does not go to her father’s house for 30 days. If, however, the condition was open-ended – the husband said that the get was conditional on her refraining from going to her father’s house forever – then the get cannot work, since the husband would still be in control of his wife’s activities even after the divorce.

    The rishonim ask why we must view the condition of keeping the wife from going to her father’s house as being open-ended. Given the fact that her father may die or the house may be destroyed we should recognize the possibility of closure in this case, when it will become clear that the woman has fulfilled the condition, allowing the divorce to take effect.

    The general attitude taken in response to this question is that the condition not to enter the house remains even after her father’s death. This is the case because of the husband’s use of the term, le-olam – forever, or because the husband’s intent was to put a prohibition on the house (his statement is understood to mean that she cannot enter the house which today is owned or occupied by her father), or because we view the house as the patriarchal home, even after the father’s death. Similarly, the possibility that the house may fall or be destroyed is hardly something that we can be certain will happen, leaving the wife in a state of limbo, which we will not allow.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  34. Gittin 84a-b: Here’s your divorce – with one condition

    Our Gemara continues the discussion of how to deal with a divorce that is given predicated on various conditions made by the husband. What if he makes the divorce conditional on actions that his wife cannot possibly perform? Among the examples offered by the baraita are that the get (bill of divorce) is given –
    •On the condition that you climb up to the sky
    •On the condition that you go down to the deepest depths
    •On the condition that you swallow a reed that is four cubits long
    •On the condition that you cross the ocean by foot.

    In all of these cases the Tanna Kamma (first) rules that since the condition cannot be fulfilled, the divorce cannot take effect. Rabbi Yehuda ben Teima rules that this divorce does take effect, explaining that as a general rule when a condition is made that clearly cannot be fulfilled, we interpret the intention to be one of exaggeration, without any true significance. Since the condition cannot possibly be fulfilled, we view the establishment of the condition as words that have no meaning. Our Gemara concludes by stating that we follow Rabbi Yehuda ben Teima’s position.

    The Gemara continues by raising situations where the condition can, theoretically, be fulfilled, but it is something that is forbidden to do. Examples include –
    •On the condition that you eat pork (Abaye views this case as being identical to the previous one that we discussed; Rava rules that here the woman can choose to eat pork, although if she does, she will be punished for doing so.)
    On the condition that you have sexual relations with a certain person. In this case all agree that if she has relations with him, the divorce takes effect. The Talmud Yerushalmi argues that she cannot really do this, since she is still married and the divorce has not yet taken effect. Nevertheless, when she engages in relations, the divorce takes effect retroactively, and she has not committed adultery.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  35. Gittin 85a-b: You are hereby permitted to any man

    According to the Mishna on our daf (page), the central statement of the divorce document is the idea harei at muteret le-khol adam – “you are hereby permitted to any man,” a statement that breaks the bonds of the existing marriage. Rabbi Yehuda says that it must say that this get (bill of divorce) will act as a scroll of divorce; a letter of leave and a bill of dismissal, permitting the woman to marry any man that she desires.

    According to most of the rishonim, even the first opinion would not allow a woman to marry based solely on that statement; clearly the get must also include the names of the husband and wife as well as other pertinent information. Nevertheless, the Ri”d writes that the simple statement of harei at muteret le-khol adam would suffice to effect a divorce assuming that there are proper witnesses who can attest to the transfer of the document.

    With regard to Rabbi Yehuda’s ruling, there is some discussion as to whether his expanded version of the statement replaces the basic idea expressed in the words harei at muteret le-khol adam or if he still requires that language to be included. The latter position – which is accepted by the Rambam, the Ramban and others – can be explained by the fact that the language mandated by Rabbi Yehuda specifically allows the woman to remarry, but does not clearly state that she is a single woman. The difference would be if she engaged in a sexual relationship without getting married. Did the get allow her to do so, or did the original husband only release her to get married? This lack of clarity obligates the husband to include a clear statement permitting her to all. Others disagree, arguing that a divorce clearly ends the marriage, and without any marital bonds, the woman is clearly free to engage in whatever behaviors she sees fit.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  36. Gittin 86a-b: You are hereby a free woman

    The Mishna that was discussed on yesterday’s daf (page) segues from a discussion of the correct language in a document of divorce to present that language that should be used when a slave or a maidservant is set free. The two suggested expressions are harei at bat horin – “you are hereby a free woman” or harei at le-atzmekh – “you are hereby your own.”

    Some of the commentaries ask why Rabbi Yehuda does not require a greater clarification of the freedom that is being offered to the slave, just as he requires it regarding divorces (see daf 85). The Hatam Sofer suggests that since many codifiers ruled that a slave can be released with a simple statement, and that the document serves merely to be a record of the transfer of ownership, Rabbi Yehuda does not believe that it would be necessary to be very specific in the document.

    In the context of this discussion, our Gemara brings a ruling made by Rav Yehuda, who required that the record of sale, transferring ownership of a slave from one person to another, should include statements assuring the purchaser that the slave is fully owned by the individual who is selling him with no claims on him from the government or from any other individual. Furthermore, the record of sale assures the purchaser that the slave does not suffer from any diseases, nor does he have any other mumim – blemishes – on his person.

    The commentaries point out that ordinarily these assurances should not be necessary, since the general principle is that the purchaser of a slave cannot claim that the purchase should be nullified because of a mum – either the blemish is significant enough that the sale is automatically or if it is not so significant we can assume that the purchaser checked and was aware of the mum beforehand. Thus Rav Yehuda’s version of the record of sale requires the statement to be made in order to help people from misunderstandings and complaints against each other.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  37. Gittin 87a-b: Two bills of divorce, one next to the other

    The Mishna on our daf (page) discusses a situation where two gittin (divorce documents) are written on a single parchment, one next to the other, and are signed by two groups of witnesses. The case presented by the Mishna raises questions about the witnesses’ signatures, and, in particular, the issue of witnesses who sign in Greek. According to the Mishna, if we have two signatures in Hebrew, one after another, and then two signatures in Greek, one after another the get would be fine. If, however, there was a mix between Hebrew names and Greek names, then the get cannot be used.

    The assumption appears to be that in the first case one set of witnesses is attesting to the get on the right, while the other set is attesting to the get on the left. In the second case, however, we are concerned that the Greek signers may have made changes to their own signatures, or mimicked the format of the signatures of the Hebrew signers before them.

    Two approaches are offered to explain the case of the Greek signers. According to Rashi, all of the witnesses used Hebrew letters in their signatures, and the signatures of some of the people who signed the two gittin continued onto a second line. The concern is that one of the Greek signers may have copied the writing style from the Hebrew signers and switched the order of his name and his father’s name. The Rambam suggests that one set of witnesses actually used Greek characters when signing their names. According to this approach, even though each name was written on a separate line, there is a concern that one of the Greek signers may have tried to sign underneath a Hebrew signer and due to the reverse order of the names, there is now one too many signatures under the get on one side of the parchment.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  38. Gittin 88a-b: Compelling a divorce

    As we have seen throughout Massekhet Gittin, according to Torah law only the husband can act to divorce his wife; the wife does not have the power to create a divorce. Are there any situations where she can appeal to the courts to force her husband to offer her a divorce?

    The Mishna on our daf (page) teaches that if a beit din – a Jewish court – compels the husband to give a get (bill of divorce), the divorce will take effect. If it is a non-Jewish court that forces him to give a get, no divorce takes place. If, however, the Jewish court rules that the husband should divorce his wife, but they do not have the power to force him to give a get, they can turn to the secular courts and arrange for them to force him to follow their ruling.

    The Talmud Yerushalmi considers the possibility that a Jewish court will only compel someone to grant a divorce if the marriage is a forbidden union (for example, a kohen who married a divorcee). The Yerushalmi’s conclusion, however, is that the court can make this decision for other reasons, as well, e.g. if he behaves inappropriately towards his wife.

    The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Gerushin, 2:20) asks how the beit din could compel someone to offer a get – shouldn’t he be considered an anoos (someone forced to perform an action against his will) – whose actions are considered null and void? The Rambam explains that the idea of anoos is that a person is forced to do something that he is not obligated to do. Someone who is obligated to perform a certain action – for example, if he is instructed by the beit din to perform that action – cannot be considered forced against his will to do it, since we believe that every Jewish person wants to do what is right and just. Therefore we perceive the situation as being different than what it appears to be – really this individual wants to give the get, and it is his yetzer ha-ra – his evil inclination – that is keeping him from doing the right thing. Thus, forcing him to agree that he desires to give the get, in actuality is allowing him to do what he really wants to do.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  39. Gittin 89a-b: A rumor circulated in the city

    The Mishna on the last daf (page) discusses how we are to deal with rumors about a woman’s marital status. According to the Mishna, if there are rumors that a woman has gotten married we must take such statements seriously, at least to the extent that we will obligate her to get a divorce before allowing her to marry someone else. If the rumors indicate that she was divorced, we will trust those rumors, as well, and treat her as a divorced woman.

    In the Gemara on our daf, Ulla points out that this ruling does not apply to simple rumors, rather to rumors that have a solid basis. An example of that would be that there is a wedding hall prepared, with guests coming and going, and the guests say that they have come for a specific person’s wedding. A question that is raised by the rishonim is how the rumors of a divorce may be substantiated. Some suggest that this is just an example, and the intent of the Gemara is to teach that the community leaders are obligated to make inquiries to substantiate the rumors before acting on them. The Talmud Yerushalmi argues that we must distinguish between weddings, which often involve public festivities and divorces that are usually arranged privately. Since there is no possibility that we can find a parallel source for the rumors of a divorce, we are more open to accept what is considered “common knowledge” in the community.

    What is clear in the Gemara is that we reject rumors that ascribe various negative attributes or behaviors to a given woman. Therefore, if there are unsubstantiated rumors that a woman got engaged, got married, committed adultery or has a checkered family background, we do not give credence to those rumors. The Meiri writes that in all such cases, not only will the beit din – the Jewish court – refuse to accept those rumors itself, but it is obligated to tell anyone who asks that the rumors cannot be accepted as being true.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  40. Gittin 90a-b: Grounds for divorce

    A Mishna appears on this, the last daf (page) in Massekhet Gittin, that deals with one of the most basic questions about divorce. According to Jewish law, what are considered reasonable grounds for divorce? The Mishna brings three opinions on this matter:
    •Beit Shammai rules that a man can divorce his wife only if he found a devar erva – a promiscuous situation.
    •Beit Hillel permits divorce even in a case where the wife hikdihah tavshilo (literally “burned his food”).
    •Rabbi Akiva says that he can divorce her for any reason – even if he found another woman who he finds more attractive.

    Each of these three tanna’im points to a biblical passage as a source for their positions. Both Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel rely on the pasuk (verse) that says ki matzah bah ervat davar – that he found some unseemly matter. Beit Shammai interprets the unseemly matter to be promiscuity while Beit Hillel believes that the key word is davar – any thing (some shortcoming). Rabbi Akiva’s source is the beginning of the pasuk – ve-hayah im lo timtzah hen be-einav – if she does not find favor in her eyes.

    The Talmud Yerushalmi emphasizes that Beit Shammai’s position does not require that the husband actually discover that his wife has committed adultery, rather that any promiscuous behaviors can be grounds for divorce.

    Beit Hillel’s ruling seems rather callous, and, in fact, Rashi offers two possible explanations for how the wife may have ruined the food – either by burning it or by putting in too much salt. Based on the Rambam, who explains Beit Hillel’s position as referring to a woman whose attitude and behavior do not match that of her husband, the Hatam Sofer suggests that the expression used by Beit Hillel does not refer to ruining the food, rather as a metaphor whose meaning is that if the husband finds his wife to be distasteful, then he would be allowed to divorce her.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *