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.

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  1. Massekhet Gittin: An Introduction to the Tractate

    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.

    Divorce laws appear in the Torah (Devarim 24:1-4) in just a few short passages. The Sages focus on every word and letter of these pesukim (verses), together with the oral traditions on the subject, in order to reach conclusions about these laws.

    According to Jewish law, the act of divorce as understood by the Sages is the handing of a formal contract by a man to his wife that states his intention to end the marital relationship between them, freeing her to marry whomever she wants. Just as halakha requires the husband to initiate the process of marriage, similarly it is the husband who carries out the act of divorce.

    Since the act of divorce is initiated by use of the get, this document is central to the divorce and does not act merely as proof of the divorce as is the case in most situations of a business transaction. Nevertheless, the document also plays the role of a shtar ra’ayah that can be presented as proof of the divorce with regard to questions of marriage as well as monetary issues, which is why it needs all of the usual requirements of witnesses, proper dates, etc.

    The divorce contract must be written li-shmah – with the specific intent for this husband and wife. Furthermore, the contract must specifically state that the relationship between husband and wife has been fully severed. This leads to a discussion in our massekhet of the question of what types of conditions the husband can place on the divorce.

    After the divorce document has been written properly, the act of divorce is carried out. The Torah writes ve-natan be-yadah – that the husband must place the get in his wife’s hand. The Sages extend this to situations where the husband arranges for the get to be placed in his wife’s possession. Thus, it is acceptable for either party to establish a shaliah, or messenger – the husband to give the get and the wife to accept the get. Allowing the use of a shaliah is particularly important for reasons of tikkun olam – redeeming the world. In situations where the husband and wife are physically far away from one another, this method will allow for divorce to be carried out, freeing the woman from being anchored (aguna) to a missing husband.

    At the same time, allowing a divorce to be carried out by way of messengers also carries with it the potential for a variety of problems. What if the husband chooses to declare the get null and void before it reaches his wife’s hand? Or what if he claimed that it was a forgery after his wife had already received it? To ensure that these situations would not arise, the Sages established a number of principles for the purpose of tikkun ha-olam – like limiting the husband’s ability to annul the get after it left his hand, or to have the accompanying messengers declare that the document was written and signed in their presence.

    This concern with tikkun olam allows Massekhet Gittin to segue into a lengthy discussion of Rabbinic enactments whose purpose is to illustrate the Sages’ concern with areas of life that are not mandated by the Torah itself. These discussions make up most of the fourth and fifth chapters of the tractate.

    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 2a-b: A bill of divorce

    The first Mishna in Massekhet Gittin opens with the rule that a person who is a messenger to bring a bill of divorce – a get – from a community in the Diaspora to Israel must be able to attest that the document was written and signed in his presence. Most of the rishonim (including the Ritva, Ramban, and Ran) explain that the massekhet begins with this rule rather than with the basic halakhot of gittin because it is a rabbinic enactment, and the sages preferred to open with a rabbinic enactment – which was close to their hearts – rather than a biblical law, which they will get to later in the massekhet. Another suggestion is that the sages preferred not to begin with a discussion of the dissolution of a marriage, which is a disturbing topic, and chose instead to focus on an enactment that was made to protect the woman from a contested divorce.

    The popular term for a divorce document – a get (and, in plural, gittin) – is not a word with a biblical, or even a Hebrew source. It is apparently borrowed from the Syriac gitetu, which means a contract or document of any sort. From the Syriac the word became widely used in neighboring languages, including Hebrew and Aramaic. In the Talmud the word is used by the sages both in its original meaning – a contract of any sort – as well as the specific sefer keritut – a contract given by a man to his wife to end their marital relationship and effect a divorce.

    The unusual origins of the word have led the commentaries to suggest a wide range of explanations for its source, including a reference to a midrash that there is a rock in the ocean that is called Gata which has the power to keep other stones from approaching it, and the point that nowhere in the written Torah do we find the letters gimmel and tet (which are the two letters that make up the word get) juxtaposed – a fact that points to the separation that accompanies divorce.

    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 3a-b

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page), a person who is a messenger to bring a document of divorce ? a get ? from a community in the Diaspora to Israel must be able to attest that the document was written and signed in his presence. Two reasons for this are suggested by the Gemara. According to Rabbah, it is because Diaspora communities are not all aware that the get must be written for this specific situation, and we must ascertain that it was done correctly. Rava suggests that the reason for this is because in the event that a question arises about this document, it will be difficult to find people who can recognize and attest to the authenticity of the witnesses’ signatures.

    Our Gemara examines Rava’s explanation and asks why it suffices for the messenger to state that the document was signed in his presence, since ordinary kiyyum shetarot ? in other cases where a contract needs to be verified ? require two witnesses to do so. The Gemara explains that we follow the position of Resh Lakish, who rules that a legal document that contains witnesses’ signatures really does not need to be verified, and the requirement to do so is of rabbinic origin. Given the desire of the sages to save the woman from possibly becoming an agunah ? a woman who cannot get married because she is “chained” to her husband ? they were lenient in this case and permitted a single testimony to suffice in verifying the signatures.

    The idea of kiyyum shetarot is a function that is carried out today by a notary whose job is to ensure that the contract that is brought before him is valid. Although the basic requirements of Jewish law recognize any signed contract as valid, due to a concern that the defendant will attempt to undermine the plaintiff’s case by questioning the contractual agreement between them, the sages established a requirement to assure the truthfulness of the contract either by having witnesses attest to the signatures or by comparing the signatures to other confirmed signatures.

  4. Gittin 4a-b: Even from one district to another

    As we have learned on the previous dapim (pages), a person who is a messenger to bring a document of divorce – a get – from a community in the Diaspora to Israel must be able to attest that the document was written and signed in his presence. Two reasons for this are suggested by the Gemara. According to Rabba, it is because Diaspora communities are not all aware that the get must be written for this specific situation, and we must ascertain that it was done correctly. Rava suggests that the reason for this is because in the event that a question arises about this document, it will be difficult to find people who can recognize and attest to the authenticity of the witnesses’ signatures.

    In an attempt to show that Rava’s reasoning is correct, the Gemara quotes the statement made by Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel in the Mishna that even me-hegmonia le-hegmonia (from one district to another) within Israel there is a need for the messenger to state that the get was written and signed in his presence. The Gemara responds that Rabba accepts Rava’s position that in situations where there will be difficulty in finding witnesses to authenticate the signatures we will require the messenger to attest to the signing of the get; Rabba adds an additional concern about gittin that are written in the Diaspora.

    The hegmonia mentioned by Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel refers to a district within a larger area. The Gemara tells of a city called Asasiyyot that was divided between two districts, creating a situation whereby people could not travel between the two sides of the city easily.

    The boundaries of the land of Israel have changed many times over the years. Even when the Romans ruled the entire land of Israel, there were still areas that were under the control of the Syrian governor and the governor of Palestine. At one point, Israel was divided into three parts: Palestina Prima, Palestina Secunda and Palestina Tertia, with a special military leader in charge of each province. A personal disagreement between the rulers of these provinces could shut down movement between them.

    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 5a-b: Stringency and bills of divorce

    Our Gemara continues the discussion of the need for a messenger who travels from another country to the land of Israel to deliver a divorce to attest that it was written and signed in his presence. The story is related that when a man named Bar Haddaya was asked to deliver a get, Rabbi Ahai who was the memunah a-gitay – the individual appointed over bills of divorce – instructed him to pay close attention as each and every letter of the get was written so that he would be able to testify at the time of delivery. When he asked Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi about this, they told him that he was not obligated to do so, and, in fact, that he should not do it even as a stringency she-lo le-hozi la’az al gittin ha-rishonim – lest people question whether earlier gittin that were not written this way are valid.

    Several of the commentaries ask whether the idea of she-lo le-hozi la’az al gittin ha-rishonim limits our ability to add any clarifications or other changes when writing a get lest doing so casts aspersions on earlier divorces. Given the fact that Rabbeinu Tam and other rishonim did make such changes, this seems most unlikely. One answer offered is that the very requirement of having the messenger attest to the validity of the get is itself a stringency, so nothing should be added to it. The Rama suggests that we distinguish between situations where we are clarifying something that is unclear, which is permissible, and simply adding additional stringencies, which would be forbidden.

    The concept of a memunah a-gitay stems from the fact that writing a get involves many specific details with regard to which much care must be taken, since an error that appears to be small may very well disqualify the get. Given the gravity of issues of marriage and divorce, together with the severity of a situation of a woman remarrying based on an invalid get, in organized communities a specific individual was appointed who specialized in such matters. This remained the case throughout the generations, where only special batei din dealt with issues of divorce.

    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 6a-b: From Bavel to Israel

    Rabbi Evyatar in Israel sent a message to Rav Hisda in Bavel, telling him that gittin sent from Bavel to Israel do not require the messenger to attest that the get was written and signed in his presence. The Gemara’s first suggestion in explaining this ruling is that Rabbi Evyatar must agree with Rabba (see daf, or page, 3) and believe that the potential problem is that the court where the get was written may not know how to write the get properly. Since the Babylonian Jewish community was knowledgeable, this would not be a problem. In response, the Gemara points out that even Rabba accepts Rava’s concern that in places far away from one another we fear that no witnesses will be available to verify the signatures on the get (see daf 4). Finally, the Gemara explains this is not an issue because of the large number of people who travel from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael.

    From many sources it appears that during the early part of the period of the amora’im there was a large movement of people who moved from Babylonia to Israel. Most of Rabbi Yohanan’s students in Israel were originally from Bavel, and we find many other Babylonian students and sages in Israel, as well. We cannot be certain of what the impetus was for this migration, although it is likely that the growth and development of the yeshiva headed by Rabbi Yohanan – the acknowledged leader among the sages at that time – played some role in it. Although there was no violence against Jews in Israel during this period, it was, nevertheless, a period of high taxes and political unrest throughout the Roman Empire. Therefore, it was difficult for people who moved there from Bavel to find means of support for themselves, and even more difficult to support their families left behind in Babylonia. Since the tradition in Bavel – as opposed to Israel – was for men to get married at a young age and continue to learn Torah afterwards, those students who chose to move to Israel were perceived by many sages as having abandoned their wives and children, a decision for which those sages criticized them.

    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 7a-b: The garlands of bridegrooms

    In the context of messages sent back and forth from Israel to Bavel, the Gemara records a discussion about certain rabbinic enactments following the destruction of the Temple that limited the full celebration of weddings. The specific question that was raised relates to the atarot hatanim – crowns or garlands worn by the groom, a tradition that was discontinued as a sign of mourning over the hurban beit hamikdash. As a source for this, Rav Huna quotes a Mishna from Massekhet Sota (49a) that as a result of pulmus shel Aspasyanus – Vespasian’s war – grooms no longer wore these crowns.

    The pulmus shel Aspasyanus that is referred to here is actually what is called “the Great Revolt” which ended with the destruction of the second Temple. It is called Vespasian’s war because Vespasian was the Roman general who presided over most of the fighting beginning from 67 CE until he was named Caesar of the Roman Empire.

    The atarot hatanim under discussion were commonly worn by grooms on the occasion of their weddings at that time. The Gemara in Sota, which is the source for this halakha, teaches that some wanted to replace the crowns with less elaborate symbols of celebration made of plants and flowers, but the conclusion of the Gemara is that those, too, should not be used. In Sota, reference is made to other similar enactments, including a restriction of atarot kalot – crowns worn by a bride to her wedding – which was established after pulmus shel Titus. That enactment was limited, however, only to particularly unique crowns, which were called ir shel zahav. Other, simpler decorations remained permitted. The ir shel zahav was a special ornament made in the shape of a city wall. Such an ornament could only be worn by women from very wealthy families. Occasionally a special version was made that was called a Yerushalayim shel zahav.

    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 8a-b: The Great Sea for a border

    When discussing how the halakha differs depending on whether a get is written in Israel or in the Diaspora, it is essential to define borders. What is considered “the land of Israel”? Our Gemara offers two opinions with regard to this question. According to the hakhamim, the western border of Israel is a straight line drawn from Kefalorya, west of Turei Amnon – a mountain range in Syria – to Wadi el-Arish in the Sinai. This includes the water off the Mediterranean coast, which includes a number of small islands. Rabbi Yehuda suggests that the western border extends much further, measuring the length of Israel from north to south and ranging westward to include the Mediterranean Sea until the Atlantic Ocean.

    This discussion parallels the modern international law question of our day regarding territorial water rights. Every nation claims sovereignty – full or partial – over its neighboring seas and oceans, and with regard to certain claims this area may be viewed as an actual part of the country itself. There is no set law that regulates these claims, and some countries claim that the ocean three, twelve, or even 200 nautical miles off the coast belongs to them. With regard to certain economic rights – e.g. fishing rights, the right to drill for oil – countries claim ownership over areas well into the sea. The argument between Rabbi Yehuda and the hakhamim is over the appropriate boundary line that should be drawn in the waters that neighbor the land of Israel.

    The specific place names that are brought as the places where Israel’s boundaries begin and end are based on passages in the Torah (Bamidbar chapter 34 and Sefer Yehoshua). From a practical standpoint of halakha, however, the boundaries that are important to us are those of the second Temple period. This area is significantly smaller than those discussed by Rabbi Yehuda and the hakhamim, particularly on the northern end.

    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 9a-b: Gentile courts

    According to our Gemara, legal documents and contracts that are written in arkaot shel goyim – in non-Jewish courts – can be relied upon, with the exception of gittin and shihrurei avadim – divorces and documents freeing slaves from their masters.

    The origin of the term arkaot appears to be from the same Greek word arkelon, meaning the place where the magistrate is, or the place of the council of a local ruler. In the context of the Talmud it is used to mean an official non-Jewish court, as distinguished from a traditional beit din.

    Under ordinary circumstances, Jews were actively discouraged from making use of arkaot shel goyim. Rashi explains that they are accepted as reliable with regard to contracts through the mechanism of dina d’malkhuta dina – that the law of the land is considered binding as law. Some suggest that Rashi believes that non-Jewish testimony is acceptable according to Jewish law, with the only problem being that we fear that the non-Jew may tell a lie. If, however, the non-Jewish legal system accepts someone’s testimony then it can be relied upon. According to Tosafot, however, documents approved by a non-Jewish court are acceptable only on a rabbinic level. The Rosh explains that this was a takanat ha-shuk – an enactment established for the good of the marketplace. Since Jews needed to rely upon such contracts, the sages established ways to accomplish that so that business people would not suffer financial loss. The Talmud Yerushalmi explains similarly that this allowance is made for the benefit of Jews who are borrowers and lender.

    These explanations are not relevant to the laws of divorces, since non-Jews play no role in Jewish divorce and therefore cannot be relied upon for testimony in that case. Rashi explains that shihrurei avadim fall into the same category simply because the rules of gittin and shihrurei avadim generally parallel one another.

    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 10a-b: A Samaritan witness

    The Mishna on our daf (page) discusses whether a document that had a kuti signed as a witness would be considered to be valid. The Gemara brings three opinions regarding the status of kutim –
    •The tanna kamma (first) rules that matza made by a kuti could be eaten on Pesah and used to fulfill the mitzva
    •Rabbi Elazar forbids use of matza made by a kuti
    •Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel believes that the kutim are even more exacting in observance than are Jews with regard to those mitzvot that they accepted.

    The term kutim refers to those people who were brought to Israel in a population exchange during first Temple times, when the kings of Assyria exiled the Northern kingdom and replaced them with other nations – not all of whom were truly kutim. They settled in the area around Samaria, which is why they are also called Samaritans (Shomronim).

    In II Melakhim, or Kings (chapter 17) the navi describes how these nations accepted upon themselves some of the Jewish laws and customs out of fear after they were attacked and killed by lions – which is why they are often called gere arayot – converts because of lions. At the same time they did not renounce their own gods and religious traditions.

    At the beginning of the second Temple period, when Jews of the Diaspora began returning to the land of Israel, the relations between the Jews and the Shomronim became tense, with the Shomronim trying to bring down the efforts to rebuild the wall surrounding the city of Jerusalem and the beit hamikdash. At the same time, there were Jewish families – including families of kohanim – who intermarried with the Shomronim and assimilated with them.

    During some periods, the relations between the two groups reached levels of overt warfare; Yohanan Hyrcanus even attacked and destroyed their temple on Mount Gerizim. During other periods, however, there was cooperation between the groups, during the bar Kokheva rebellion, or example.

    While the Sages differed as to how they should be seen from a halakhic standpoint, the final conclusion was to treat them as non-Jews given their continuing worship of pagan gods.

    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 11a-b: Names like the names of gentiles

    In discussing the reliability of witnesses who had signed a contract, we find Reish Lakish asking Rabbi Yohanan how to deal with a case of witnesses who sign using non-Jewish names. Rabbi Yohanan responded by relating a case where a contract came signed by two people named Lukos and Los, and it was accepted. The Gemara continues that gittin coming from the Diaspora are accepted with signatures that appear to be non-Jewish names, since we know that many Jews in the Diaspora have such names.

    Many of the rishonim, including Rashi, understand the original question as dealing with a case where the get originated in Israel, so it was not necessarily accompanied by a messenger who could testify that the document was written and signed in his presence. Based on this understanding of the case, one of several different questions may be dealt with:
    •The Ramban brings an opinion that the question is whether we must be concerned that approving these names in our case – when we know that they are Jewish – will lead to a mistake in other cases where, perhaps, they are not Jewish.
    •The Rashbam suggests that we are not sure as to the identities of the witnesses and we are afraid that the people who wrote the get may have allowed non-Jews to act as witnesses, perhaps because non-Jews can act in this capacity regarding other legal documents (see above, daf 9).

    As far as the names themselves are concerned, we know that Greek, non-Jewish names were commonly used in Israel during the period of the Talmud – even some of the sages had such names, like Antigonus ish Sokho. Nevertheless, most names were Hebrew or Aramaic. From the archaeological finds in the large cemetery in Beit She’arim, where many Jews were brought for burial – often from foreign lands – it becomes clear that Greek and Latin names were commonly used in Jewish communities given the large number of such names found among those interred there.

    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 12a-b: Compensating the master when the slave is injured

    Having been introduced to the idea that there are parallels between the laws of divorce and freeing a slave (between gittin and shihrurei avadim – see above, daf 9) our Gemara becomes involved in a discussion of some of the laws regulating the relationship between slaves and their masters from the perspective of halakha. One issue that is raised is the question of who will receive compensation in the event that someone injures a slave.

    Ordinarily, when someone suffers bodily injury that is caused by another person, the person responsible for the injury must pay for five different elements – nezek (loss of value), tza’ar (pain and suffering), ripuy (medical expenses), shevet (loss of income during convalescence) and boshet (embarrassment). Our Gemara discusses only the cases of shevet and ripuy, both of which are paid to the owner, according to Rabbi Yohanan’s ruling.

    Although the Gemara accepts that it is obvious that shevet belongs to the master, since he is the one who suffers the financial loss connected with the fact that the slave cannot work, the question is raised that perhaps the ripuy should be given to the slave who would then tend to his own health issues. The Gemara answers that according to the halakha it is the owner who will have the right to decide, for example, whether to use a regular treatment that will be effective in five days, or a sama harifa that will allow the patient to be cured and back at work in three days.

    The sama harifa refers to a particularly powerful medicine that offers a faster cure, but is more painful than the standard treatment. The idea that a good balance must be found between the curative powers of a medicine and the possible damage that that particular treatment may do to a patient, is one that was well established by doctors in the ancient world. Doctors understood that treatments needed to be as effective as possible while minimizing potential side-effects including excessive pain. Many medicines are powerfully effective in destroying germs or curing infections, but can be dangerous and/or painful. Oftentimes, offering a patient smaller doses over a longer period of time may be as effective as a shorter term, more powerful dose that will cause pain to the patient.

    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 13a-b: When one says “Give this bill…” and then dies

    The Mishna on our daf (page) teaches that in the case of a man who dies after giving instructions to a messenger to deliver a get – a divorce – to his wife or a shtar shihrur – a document granting release – to his slave, the documents cannot be delivered.

    The central question at hand is whether the wife’s divorce or the slave’s release takes effect immediately or only when the document reaches their hands. The general rule is that unless the messenger was appointed by the recipient to accept a document on his or her behalf, it will only take effect when it reaches the hand of the intended recipient. An exception would be a case where the document represents something that is to the benefit of the recipient, where the messenger may automatically become the recipient’s representative. A divorce is not perceived by the Mishna as being to the woman’s benefit; whether or not a slave’s release is to his benefit is the subject of some discussion – see the Mishna daf 11b.

    Thus, it is clear that in our case, the divorce does not take effect immediately and it cannot be delivered after the husband has died. Rashi argues that even according to the opinion in the Mishna that releasing the slave benefits him, still the document that releases him will not work if the owner dies before the shtar shihrur is delivered. The Pnei Yehoshua explains this by suggesting that the language used by the owner indicates that he does not want the release to take effect until the document is actually delivered into the slave’s hands.

    Tosafot and most of the rishonim disagree with Rashi, and argue that according to that opinion in the Mishna, once the shtar shihrur is given to the messenger the slave would immediately be freed since the messenger becomes his representative to accept the document. They argue that even if the shtar shihrur is destroyed it makes no difference, since the slave has already been freed. They explain the case of our Mishna to be true only in a situation where the man commanded that a shtar shihrur be prepared, but that he died before it had been given to the messenger.

    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 14a-b: The discretion of the messenger

    Our Gemara discusses cases in which a person is sent to deliver money to another person, but he cannot locate the intended recipient. In such a case, should the messenger return it to the sender, or does the money already belong to the missing person and thus should be given to his inheritors? Aside from the obvious possibilities – that it should go back to the original sender (or to his children if he has died) or that it should go to the children of the person it was meant for – the Gemara also raises the possibility of dividing the money between them or the possibility of shuda (discretion).

    The suggestion that the money should be divided is based on traditional approaches to safek – situations of halakhic doubt. If we do not know what to do, splitting it between the possible recipients seems logical and fair. With regard to the ruling of shuda we find a disagreement between Rashi and Tosafot. Rashi understands that the obligation of the members of the court – or, in our case, the messenger – is to establish to the best of their ability what the intention of the original sender was. Based on that evaluation of the situation, the messenger is obligated to do what he thinks is most appropriate. Rabbeinu Tam is quoted in Tosafot as disagreeing and ruling that shuda allows the court (or the messenger) to choose either party without concern for the desire of the original sender. Even though the decision appears to be arbitrary, Rabbeinu Tam prefers it over a decision to divide the money; were we to give both sides equal shares, clearly one party would be cheated out of half of what they deserve. If it is given to one person, it is at least possible that the true recipient will be getting what was meant for him.

    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 15a-b: The instructions of a person on his deathbed

    It is a generally accepted principle that we listen to the instructions of a shehiv me-ra – a person on his deathbed – and disburse properties and possessions that he owns simply based on his words, without demanding the usual kinyan – formal act of transfer. This ruling is given because we want to free the shehiv me-ra from all of his worldly concerns and ensure that he is at peace to avoid hastening his death. In point of fact, Rabbi Elazar demands a full kinyan even in the case of someone who was mesukan – ill and in a dangerous state.

    To disprove Rabbi Elazar, the Gemara tells a story about the family of Benei Rokhel whose mother was on her deathbed and requested that her valuable keveina – brooch – be given to her daughter, and her request was fulfilled by the Sages after her death. Rabbi Elazar responded in strong language, arguing that this family were known as resha’im – evildoers. The Rashbam explains that because they were resha’im, the Sages were not interested in having the sons receive a valuable inheritance, so through a power similar to hefker beit din hefker – the Jewish courts’ ability to declare an object ownerless (a type of eminent domain) – they transferred ownership to another sibling.

    Rashi brings the parallel Gemara in Bava Batra (156b) where Rabbi Elazar explains that the Benei Rokhel family were considered evildoers because they allowed weeds to grow in their vineyards, something that according to Rabbi Elazar’s ruling was forbidden because of the halakhot of kilayim – the prohibition against planting different crops in close proximity. Rabbi Uziel Moshe Rothstein explains in his Nahalat Moshe that even though most of the Sages disagree with Rabbi Elazar’s ruling on that matter, since that was the common practice in his community it was enough to consider them evildoers, and the Sages may have applied rules differently to them than to others.

    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 16a-b: With regard to ritual baths

    Our Gemara segues from the discussion of messengers who deliver gittin from the Diaspora to Israel and raises a number of other unrelated issues. These range from a question about the height of a fence that separates between two reshuyot – public and private domains – when there is a height differential between two areas with regard to the laws of Shabbat,to several discussions about laws of tumah ve-taharah – ritual defilement and purity.

    In order for a mikveh (ritual bath) to be valid, it needs to have a measure of 40 se’a of mayim hayyim – water that was collected naturally, i.e. water that was not drawn. Such water can be found in natural settings, like lakes or oceans, or collected rainwater that is directed (but not carried) into a place where it can be used for ritual immersion. Of course, regular drawn water is not, in and of itself, tameh (ritually defiled) unless it becomes tameh through contact with a dead animal, person, etc.

    One surprising halakha that we find discussed on our daf (page) is the rule that a person who enters a pool of mayim she’uvin – simple water that was drawn, and therefore cannot be used for a mikveh – or has such water poured on him, becomes tameh! The Gemara in Shabbat (14a) explains that this gezeirah (rabbinic enactment) stems from the fact that, in the time of the Mishna, mikva’ot were often made from collected rainwater that became dirty and developed a bad smell over time. People who went to the mikveh would then bathe or shower in clean mayim she’uvin in order to cleanse themselves after tevilah (immersion). This led to people mistakenly believe that it was necessary to both dip in the mikveh and cleanse yourself afterwards to become tahor (ritually pure); eventually many came to believe that the mikveh was unnecessary. To counteract this belief, the sages ruled that washing after the mikveh would make a person tameh.

    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 17a-b: The Romans are preferable to the Persians?

    Our Gemara describes a time when Rav Yehuda and Rabba came to visit Rabba bar bar Hana while he was ill. After a discussion of halakhot related to messengers who brought a get from the Diaspora to Israel, a habbara walked into the house and took away the light that they had in the room. Rabba bar bar Hana reacted to this by saying that he would prefer to be ruled by God – or even by the Romans – rather than by the Persians who made life so difficult for the Jews. The Gemara explains that even though there are statements made that God exiled the Jews to Babylonia in order to save them from the difficult rule of the Romans, that was before the habbara came to Bavel. After they came, the situation became much more difficult for the Jews there.

    The term habbara is what the Gemara calls Zoroastrians – the Persian priests – who are also referred to as amgoshim or Magi. They were an independent tribe who, over time, developed into the priestly caste of the Persian empire. They were involved in, among other things, the spread of magic. While the Parthians ruled in Babylonia, this group had no special status in society, but with the rise of the Sassanid dynasty – at the beginning of the period of the amora’im – they became the religious leaders. During one of their holidays the only lights that were permitted were those in their temple, and they had agents whose job it was to extinguish all other forbidden lights.

    We find quite a few references in the Talmud to the comparative benefits of Roman rule in Israel vs. Persian rule in Bavel. Although there were periods of relative quiet in Israel, the Roman rulers were seen as difficult and oppressive. This was both because the Romans were well organized and involved in every aspect of rule in the lands that they controlled, and because the Jews rebelled against them on several occasions. When the Roman Empire began to weaken there was also an increase in taxes; the rise of Christianity also made life more difficult for the Jews. In Bavel, on the other hand, Persian rule allowed a much greater degree of autonomy for the Jewish community, at least until the rise of the Sassanid rule in the year 226 CE, which brought with it the rise of the Zoroastrian religion.

    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 18a-b: A period of distinction

    Our Gemara asks: From when do we begin counting for a divorce? Rav says the significant moment for the get is when the get is handed over; Shmuel says that it is from the time that the get is written. After some discussion the Gemara concludes that we can begin counting from the time that it is written.

    The need to know when we can begin counting “for the get” refers to a period called havhana (literally “a period of distinction”) – three months from the time that the couple has separated.

    This rule appears in the Mishna in Yevamot (41a), which teaches that a woman whose husband passes away with no children will receive neither yibum nor halitza for three months after his death. Furthermore, according to the Mishna, even in non-yibum situations this rule applies, whether the woman was divorced or widowed, whether the first marriage ended after erusin (betrothal) or nissu’in (full marriage).

    These three months are essential in order to clarify who is the true father. Were a woman who was already pregnant at the time that her first marriage ended to get married immediately, we might mistakenly think that the child’s father is the second husband, a mistake that can lead to problems regarding forbidden relations (i.e. we will not know who the child’s true siblings are) as well as mistakes in inheritance law. Moreover, the very purity of the Jewish family will be threatened by the fact that children will be unsure about who their father is. By waiting three months, even if the woman is pregnant it will be obvious, and if she gets married it will be clear that the child is the progeny of the first husband and is not a child from the second husband born a month or two early.

    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 19a-b: Materials for writing a bill of divorce

    We learn in the Mishna on our daf (page) that a get may be written with any material: with deyo, with sam, with sikra, with komos and with kankantom or with anything which is lasting. It may not be written with liquids or with fruit juice or with anything that is not lasting. Furthermore, the get may be written on anything – on an olive leaf or on the horn of a cow if he gives her the cow, or on the hand of a slave if he gives her the slave.

    The Gemara defines the terms as follows:
    •deyo as ink
    •sam as paint – perhaps arsenic sesquisulphide – As2S3 – a mineral used for coloring and commercial production of ink
    •sikra as a type of red ink used for a variety of purposes, among them writing and painting. It likely had a lead base, perhaps lead chromate (PbCrO4).
    •komos as gum, i.e. resin from a tree like the Acacia Arabica or the A. senegalis. This type of material is not an ink in and of itself, but a thickener for other ink substances. It is possible, however, that they used colorful resin to write with.
    •kankantom as blacking used by cobblers (copper sulfate).

    The suggestion that the get may be written on an olive leaf stems from the fact that they are hard and have a blank surface that can be written on or carved into. They also remain intact for a long time without changing their appearance. Writing on leaves was not uncommon in the time of the Mishna, although olive leaves were not usually used since they are very small.
    While several of the commentaries suggest that the example of an olive leaf is brought specifically because it is long-lasting and the get must remain intact for a certain time, from the Rambam it appears that only the ink needs to be long-lasting, since the Mishna never clearly states the need for long-lasting paper.

    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 20a-b: One must write a document and not chisel it

    The Gemara on our daf (page) quotes a baraita that understands the need to write a get (see Devarim 24:1) as excluding having it chiseled. The Gemara objects that we find with regard to a slave that the document setting him free can be written on a tavla or a pinekas, but not on a kipa or an andokhtri. In response, Ulla quotes Rabbi Elazar as distinguishing between two types of engraving – hak takhot, where the letters are created by removing the material around them, and hak yerekhot, where the letters are created by chiseling the shape of the letters themselves onto the material where the document is being written. Our page is referring to the former, where chiseling is not the same as writing, and the case of freeing a slave refers to the latter.

    The cases that are acceptable to the baraita are the cases of a tavla (a slate) – and a pinekas (account book). The word pinekas is Greek, and its original meaning was a tablet on which one could write. The term later came to mean a number of such boards that were bound together to make a small book. During the time of the Talmud, pinkasim came in a variety of shapes and sizes and were made of different materials. It appears that the most popular ones were made of wood covered with a layer of wax that could be written on and erased.

    The cases that are rejected by the baraita are the kipa (cap) and the andokhtri. The definition of an andokhtri is not clear (nor is it clear how the word is pronounced). Rashi and others explain that it is a type of embroidered ornament – some type of woven cloth with pictures on it. The Ge’onim suggest that it refers to some type of writing that is not done in the normal fashion, for example letters woven onto a straw basket. According to both interpretations, a bill of manumission (releasing a slave) consisting of letters embroidered onto cloth is invalid, because the letters themselves are not part of the material but merely sewn onto it. Since this can be undone, it is not considered to be permanent.

    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 21a-b: The writing of a get

    According to the Mishna, there are limitations on the material that can be used for writing a get. For example, all agree that a get cannot be written on something that is connected to the ground, although there is a difference of opinion with regard to a situation where the get was written on something connected to the ground, but was signed only after it was removed from there. Rashi explains this based on an earlier Gemara that requires the get to be something that can be handed from husband to wife with no impediment. Others point to the reason suggested by the Talmud Yerushalmi that explains that a get is called a sefer – a book – by the Torah. Just as a book is something unconnected to the ground, so a get cannot be connected to the ground.

    In addition to writing surfaces that are attached to the ground, Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira forbids using paper that had been erased or using diftera, since those can be forged easily. The Hakhamim of the Mishna disagree, since – as the Gemara explains – they rely on the witnesses that attest to the validity of the document.

    Diftera is a Greek word, which means a hide that has been processed and prepared for writing purposes. It, too, like the erased paper, is a writing surface that lends itself to being easily forged.

    In order to understand the rule regarding paper that had been erased, it is important to remember that at that time paper was made from very thin strips of papyrus that were pressed together. Pressing smoothing papyrus creates a truly smooth surface, on which erasures are very obvious. Once the top layer had been removed together with the writing that had been erased, a second or third erasure could be done without it being clear that an additional erasure had taken place.

    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 22a-b: There are three hides

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (page), Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira forbids using paper that had been erased or using diftera for a get, since writing on those items can be forged easily. The Hakhamim of the Mishna disagree, since – as the Gemara explains – they rely on the witnesses who attest to the validity of the document.

    In an attempt to define the term diftera, our Gemara brings the opinion of Ulla, who is quoted by Rabbi Hiyya bar Ami as saying that there are three types of animal hides – matza, hifa and diftera:

    Matza – as its name implies, is bland. It has been neither salted nor treated with flour nor with gallnuts.

    Hifa – has been salted but not treated with flour or gallnuts.

    Diftera – has been salted and treated with flour but not with gallnuts.

    There are many stages in the processing of raw hides into leather, and significant differences in the way the processing is done, depending on the intended final use of the animal skin. The three stages mentioned in our Gemara do not encompass all of the different parts of curing hides, and deal very specifically with the processing stages in preparing an animal skin to be used for writing.

    After the hide is soaked, the remnants of the animal’s meat are removed and the initial processing is completed, it was common practice to soak the skin in salt (today it is soaked in other chemicals, as well). The next step is to put it into a flour and water mixture so that the leavening action of the flour mixed with water will help solidify the skin. The processing with gall-nuts is the final stage before the hide is ready to be used for writing.

    Rashi points out that klaf – parchment – is not mentioned because it has reached a point in processing that it is considered a different entity, and not animal skin.

    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 23a-b: An agent to bring a bill of divorce

    According to the Mishna, anyone can serve as an agent to deliver a get, except for a heresh, shoteh and katan as well as a suma and a goy. The heresh, shoteh and katan (deaf mute, imbecile and child) are normal categories of people who are not considered competent to carry out halakhic requirements. The goy (non-Jew) has no connection with Jewish divorce. The category that the Gemara finds needs an explanation is the suma – the blind person. Why is a blind person ineligible to deliver a get?

    Rav Sheshet explains that the problem stems from the fact that a suma cannot recognize the person who gave him the get nor the person who accepted it from him. Rav Yosef – who was, himself, blind, objects that a suma can recognize people based on voice recognition – teviut eina dekala – which is what allows a suma to sleep with his wife, and, for that matter, for every person to sleep with their spouse when it is dark at night. Rav Yosef suggests that this Mishna is dealing with a specific case of a get brought to Israel from the Diaspora, where the messenger must be able to testify that he saw the document being signed – something that a blind person cannot do.

    The expression used by Rav Yosef to explain how a blind person recognizes people is teviut eina dekala. Teviut ayin is the way a person recognizes an object that does not have a clear indication on it of who it belongs to.This is done by means of broader recognition techniques. Looking at a broad collection of indicators, a person can recognize something even if he cannot explain what specific thing proves that it is his – something similar to the concept of Gestalt in psychology.

    Ordinarily, teviut ayin refers to recognition of the object by use of visual cues. In our case the term is borrowed and applied to a parallel situation, one where the blind person can recognize people by means of their voices.

    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 24a-b: A get for a specific woman

    The third perek (chapter) of Massekhet Gittin begins on our daf (page) and deals with two main issues:
    1.A continuation of the discussions of li-shmah – the law requiring that a get be written with a specific married couple in mind, and
    2.The laws dealing with the messenger who delivers the get. For example, if a messenger travels a significant distance to deliver the get, he cannot be totally certain that the husband is still alive at the time that he hands the get to the wife. As we have learned, a get cannot be given after the husband has died. Although the woman is free to marry whether she is a widow or a divorcee, there are differences between those two situations regarding such laws as marrying a kohen or being obligated in yibum.

    The first Mishna in our perek teaches that a person cannot make use of a get that was written without his knowledge, even if the names that appear in the document match his name and his wife’s name. The example that appears in the Mishna is that if a person hears the scribe reading aloud and hears that he is writing a document with names that match his own, it cannot be used. Furthermore, even in cases where the get was written with some level of intention, it will be invalid. For example, if a man is married to two women (something that was permissible until the enactment of the takkanat Rabbeinu Gershom) who had the same name, he cannot use it to divorce one of them if his intent was to divorce the other one when the get was written. Even if he told the scribe to write the get and that he will decide later on which wife to divorce, the get would be invalid.

    The Ketav Sofer asks why the Mishna presents the case where a man hears the scribe saying his name aloud, rather than the simpler case of a person who simply finds an already written get that has names that match his own. He suggests that such a get would be invalid even if the man approaches the scribe as he is writing and asks him to have him in mind as he writes the name. Since the rest of the document was not written with this couple in mind it is invalid, even if the names are written with the proper intent.

    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 25a-b: Retroactive clarification

    We learned in the Mishna on yesterday’s daf (page) that if a man married to two women who share the same name tells a scribe to write a get for one of them and that he will decide later on which wife to divorce, the get would be invalid. From this ruling our Gemara wants to conclude that ein berera – there is no retroactive clarification. The question of whether or not halakha recognizes berera – the later clarification – is a topic discussed in relation to many laws throughout the Talmud. In an apparent contradiction to the conclusion of our Mishna, the Gemara brings a rule about the korban Pesah, in which it appears that yesh berera – that a later action can clarify an earlier halakhic situation.

    The Mishna (Pesahim 89a) teaches that when a father tells his children “I will slaughter the korban Pesah on behalf of whoever gets to Jerusalem first,” whichever child reaches first is credited with the sacrifice for himself, and his siblings are included as well. This is the case even though the rule is that the only people who participate in a korban Pesah are those who had arranged to do so in advance, apparently supporting the idea that yesh berera.

    In response to this question, Rav Yehuda points out that the case of korban Pesah cannot be compared to gittin, since Rabbi Yohanan explains that the children under discussion are adult children who are obligated in the sacrifice. According to this approach, the father would certainly have needed to include his children in the sacrifice before it was slaughtered, and that he, in fact, did so. The father did not disclose this to his children however, and in the interest of encouraging their enthusiasm, made them think that only the child who arrived in Jerusalem first would merit participation in the korban.

    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 26a-b: The writing must be for her sake

    In order to facilitate the work of scribes, the sages permitted them to write standard forms that would be ready for use. The Mishna on our daf (page) discusses how different types of standardized documents are written. Specifically the spaces that need to be left empty include –
    •In divorces – the names of the husband, the wife and the date
    •In loans – the names of the lender, the borrower, the sum of money and the date
    •In land sales – the purchaser, the seller, the price, the parcel of land and the date

    Rabbi Yehuda does not permit any such forms to be written; Rabbi Elazar permits use of all such forms aside from gittin, which, as we have learned, need to be written li-shmah – with the husband and wife in mind.

    All documents are made up of two parts – the tofes, which is the standard language that applies in all cases, and the toref, which are the individualized parts of the documents, like the people’s names, and so forth. The word tofes stems from a Greek term meaning “stamp” or anything that is made using a single mold that is used over and over again. Sometimes the word matbe’a is used, which has a similar meaning. The word toref also likely has it roots in Greek, from a term meaning something that changes or is unstable. Aside from names and dates, the toref can also include special conditions that are applied to this particular situation or business deal.

    In the case of gittin, Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel as teaching that the words harei at muteret le-khol adam are also part of the toref and need to be written in at the time that the get is finalized with the names of the couple who are getting divorced. This is necessary because the get must be written li-shmah, and those words are basic to the very definition of the divorce.

    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 27a-b: When the messenger loses the get

    The Mishna teaches that a messenger who loses the get that he was sent to deliver can still hand it over to the wife if he locates it right away. If, however, he does not find it right away then we fear lest the get that he finds might not be the one that he lost – perhaps it is another one that has the same names, which could not be used for this couple. The Mishna concludes, however, that if he recognizes the document then he would be allowed to complete his obligation and deliver it.

    The Gemara discusses how someone might be able to recognize a document, and discusses different types of simanim – signs or indicators in the document that can be used to identify it with certainty. There are three types of simanim –
    1.siman kelali – A general indicator, e.g. is it long or short. Such simanim cannot be relied upon in any area of halakha.
    2.siman muvhak – A very strong indicator is one where the person can point out something out-of-the-ordinary, like a hole or a dot next to a specific letter or word in the document. Such simanim are reliable in all cases.
    3.siman memutza – An in-between indicator, which is neither too general nor fully specific.

    It is in cases of simanim memutza’im where we find a difference between the sages. In such cases, some believe that such simanim are reliable on a Torah level and can be utilized in all cases, and others believe that they are reliable only on a rabbinic level, and can be utilized for monetary matters like returning lost objects, but not on matters like marriage and divorce.

    A rabbinic siman is sufficient in money matters because the rabbinic courts have wide latitude through their powers of hefker beit din hefker – in effect, eminent domain – to transfer ownership of money from one person to another. Thus, even if an honest mistake is made the court’s ruling is effective. This is not the case with regard to mistakes made in the realm of family law where more reliable simanim are required.

    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 28a-b: The presumption that the husband is still alive

    According to the Mishna on our daf (page), if a man sends a messenger to deliver a get, the messenger is obligated to do so, even if the person sending the get is elderly or ill. Simply put, we presume the husband is still alive and there is no concern that he has died in the meantime. This rule holds true not only for divorces, but also with regard to other laws, e.g. a woman who is married to a kohen continues to eat teruma – which is permissible only to a kohen and his immediate relatives – even if the kohen travels to far away lands.

    Rava limits the rule presented by the Mishna to ordinary cases only – for instance, to an elderly person or to someone who has an illness from which most people recover, but not to someone who has reached 80 years old. Were the person who sent the messenger older than 80 or if he appeared to be on his death bed at the time, then we cannot assume that he remains alive for a significant period of time. Abaye counters Rava’s ruling by quoting a baraita which states that even someone who has reached 100 years old is assumed to be alive and his messenger would be obliged to hand the get to his wife as instructed.

    The first response of the Gemara is that Rava has been proven wrong. Another suggestion raised by the Gemara is keivan d’iflig, iflig – once someone has lived beyond his expected years, he may very well continue to do so.

    Estimating the life span of an individual about whom we have limited information is a question that is raised by both scientists and actuaries who work for insurance companies. Generally speaking we assume that people live an average lifespan, which is usually estimated to be 70-80 years. Tehillim 90:10 uses these dates, suggesting that the expected lifespan of a person has not changed much since biblical times; the higher average lifespan that we enjoy today is largely a result of the drop in death rates during infancy.

    This assumption notwithstanding, once someone survives well beyond the average lifespan, he no longer fits into the normal statistical groupings, as it has become clear that he is in the category of “long lifers” about whom we cannot assume that death is imminent until we have definitive information about his death.

    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. Yehudith_Shraga says:

    Gittin 29a-b: With regard to an agent who became sick

    The Mishnayot on our daf (page) discuss cases where an agent who was sent to deliver a get became ill and could not fulfill his mission. When the get was sent in Israel, the Mishna teaches that the messenger can pass on the responsibility to another; if it was sent from the Diaspora to Israel – a situation where the messenger is obligated to testify that the get had been written and signed in his presence – then the messenger would need to appear before a beit din, which would appoint a messenger to replace the first one.

    The Gemara emphasizes that the messenger can only turn over his responsibilities to another if he becomes unable to fulfill them himself, i.e. he becomes sick or suffers some other ones – something beyond his control. According to Rabbi Abbahu, if necessary the second messenger can appoint a third, and the third can appoint a fourth – as many as are necessary to deliver the get.

    In response to Rabbi Abbahu’s ruling, Rav Ashi teaches that if the first messenger dies, the power of all of later messengers to carry out the mission is lost, and the get cannot be delivered. Upon hearing his father quoted, Mar bar Rav Ashi said ha d’Aba, d’katnuta he – this statement of my father is from the time he was small (Rashi understands this to mean that he said it at a young age, and the ruling should not be relied upon, while the Arukh understands it to mean that he said it in a “small minded” way; i.e. incorrectly), and, in fact, that as long as the original sender – in our case, the husband – was still alive and still wanted the get delivered, the final messenger should fulfill his obligation to deliver it.

    Apparently Rav Ashi’s original approach viewed the creation of a messenger as handing over all rights with regard to this issue to him, thus with his demise the mission cannot be fulfilled. Mar bar Rav Ashi points out that in gittin the power of divorce always remains in the hands of the husband.

    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. Yehudith_Shraga says:

    Gittin 30a-b: Circumstances beyond one’s control

    One question that comes up a number of times in the Talmud is whether we take seriously the claim of a person who writes a conditional get and argues that he did not mean to fulfill the condition, but that circumstances beyond his control kept him from doing so (ones be-gittin).

    An example of a conditional divorce is when a man writes a get to his wife that says “this will be your bill of divorce if I do not return within 30 days” and at the end of the 30 days the husband is stranded on the wrong side of the river with no ferry to take him across. Even though he is shouting “See that I have arrived! See that I have arrived!” we do not consider him to have come back and the divorce goes into effect.

    Although this case seems to support the contention that ein ones be-gittin – that circumstances beyond one’s control do not have legal standing – the Gemara in Ketubot (2b-3a) explains that being stranded on the wrong side of the river with no available ferry to take him across was an ones that should have been anticipated and made part of the conditions of the divorce. Since it was not done that way, we do not consider it to be a true ones.

    The ferry to which the Gemara refers here is called a ma’abra – a small boat or raft that took people across the river. Such ferries usually made several crossings every day, with a group of people each time. Generally speaking, it was not worthwhile for the owner of the ferry to cross the river with just one passenger, so people had to wait until the boat filled up before it would set sail. When the rivers were wide and deep – as was the case in Babylon – there was no other way to cross the river aside from these ferries, and if the boat was on the opposite bank of the river it may have even been possible that the boat’s captain would not realize that someone was waiting on the other side of the river for him. Thus, problems of crossing the river should have been taken into account by someone who made a condition to return by a certain 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.

  31. Yehudith_Shraga says:

    Gittin 31a-b: One who sets aside produce for tithing

    Continuing the discussion of whether we need to be concerned with changes in the status quo, the Mishna on our daf (page) discusses a case where a person sets aside fruit from which he will bring all of his terumot u’ma’asrot (various tithes). Specifically, he puts aside some of his harvested crop and whenever he harvests more of that type of fruit he proclaims that the tithes will be taken from the fruit that has been set aside for that purpose. The Mishna teaches that he can rely on the fact that that fruit remains extant and is available for tithing. Rabbi Yehuda teaches that there are three times of the year that wine set aside for this purpose must be checked to ensure that it has not become spoiled – the windy period after Sukkot , when the first tiny grapes appear on the vine, and when they begin to fill up with juice.

    Rashi explains that Rabbi Yehuda’s ruling about wine is also talking about a situation where the wine that is being tithed is in a place that is separate from the wine that is stored for tithing. Our concern is that the wine may have turned to vinegar, which is considered a separate entity and cannot be used for tithing wine.

    The need to check wine stems from the fact that chemical changes continue occurring in wine even after its period of fermentation. These slow changes add specific smells (bouquet) and tastes to the wine. For many generations – until the development of pasteurization techniques – wines were subject to the effects of bacteria and microorganisms that occasionally ruined the taste of the wine or turned it into vinegar.

    Severe weather changes – especially those accompanied by a significant rise in temperature – could hasten the effect of these microorganisms and fungi, which is why it was necessary to check the wine during those times of year to make sure that the wine had not gone bad.

    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. Yehudith_Shraga says:

    Gittin 32a-b: Rendering a bill of divorce void

    The fourth perek (chapter) of Massekhet Gittin begins on our daf (page) and deals with a wide variety of rabbinic enactments that were made for the betterment of society – mipnei tikkun ha-olam.

    As we have learned, a get can be sent by a husband to his wife by means of a messenger. Since the get is only meaningful if the husband desires that the divorce take place, in theory up until the time that the get is actually delivered, the husband can choose to nullify the get – even without the knowledge of the messenger and without notifying his wife. Thus, a situation could be created where the woman may enter unknowingly into an adulterous relationship, thinking that she can remarry, unaware that she is legally still her first husband’s wife. To avoid this situation, the Sages decreed that a person cannot nullify a get unless he is in the presence of the messenger.

    Having taught about the establishment of this enactment, the Mishnayot continue along a theme of tikkun ha-olam. These cases offer a broad range of public policy topics that the Talmudic sages felt needed clarification and strengthening in order to ensure that the mitzvot would be kept properly and to keep people from harming one another. The first such cases that are discussed are in the realm of divorce, but other topics are covered, as well.

    As we have learned, the Mishna quotes Rabban Gamliel as forbidding a husband to nullify the get unless he does so in the presence of the messenger. The Gemara asks how this nullification can be done and brings a disagreement between Rav Nahman, who permits it to be done in front of two people, and Rav Sheshet who requires a full beit din of three. Rashi explains this discussion as relating to the halakha as it existed prior to the establishment of Rabban Gamliel’s enactment, but most of the commentaries argue that the Gemara would not enter into a discussion of a law that was no longer applicable. Several explanations are given. Tosafot suggest that this discussion is based on Rebbe’s position that it was forbidden for a man to nullify the get, but if he does it properly it will work. The Tiferet Ya’akov suggests that this is talking about a case where the husband wants to nullify the get in the presence of the messenger, as is required, and the Gemara is teaching that it must be done in a formal manner before the court.

    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. Yehudith_Shraga says:

    Gittin 33a-b: By the will of the Sages

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (page), the enactment of Rabban Gamliel notwithstanding, Rebbe believes that a husband can still nullify a get that he sent to his wife, if it is done properly. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel disagrees, arguing that the power of the courts to create enactments to protect the community must be taken seriously, and the divorce takes effect against the husband’s expressed wishes.

    The Gemara objects to Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s position, arguing that the Sages do not have the power to uproot a clearly established marriage. If the husband has the power to annul the get and chooses to wield that power, the divorce is never carried out and his wife is still married to him. How can the Rabbis undo the marriage?!

    In answer, the Gemara points out that every Jewish marriage is predicated on the agreement of the Rabbis, and the couple effectively agrees to abide by rabbinic rulings on the matters of marriage. The language used at the wedding ceremony is that the wedding is being done ke-dat Moshe ve-Yisra’el – according to the statutes of Moses and the Jewish people. Should one party attempt to break these regulations, the Rabbis have the authority to dissolve the marriage.

    By what mechanism can the Rabbis do this?

    Ravina suggests that if the marriage was carried out with money (the husband gave his wife something of value at the ceremony, thus establishing their relationship), we understand that the courts have the power of eminent domain to seize a person’s property, and it turns out that the marriage never was consummated. He asks, however, about marriages that are carried out through an act of sexual intercourse (something that is discouraged by the Gemara, although it is technically feasible). How can the courts undo that type of marriage? Rav Ashi answers that in such a case, as well, the courts have the power to turn that act of intercourse into one of promiscuity, rather than an act of marriage.

    Although some of the rishonim view marriage performed by means of money vs. marriage established by a sexual relationship as the difference between rabbinic marriage (money) and biblical marriage (relations), Rashi and most of the rishonim view marriage carried out by an exchange of money as a biblical. They explain our Gemara as simply discussing the mechanism for dissolving this marriage, and that Ravina did not understand how the Sages could undo a significant physical act.

    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. Yehudith_Shraga says:

    Gittin 34a-b: Disclosure of intent

    Our Gemara tells the story of a man named Giddul bar Re’ilai who sent a messenger with a get to be delivered to his wife. As the messenger approached his wife, he found that she was in the middle of weaving. This process, which involved working the loom with both of her hands, did not allow her to accept the get, and she asked him to return the following day. When the messenger shared this with Giddul bar Re’ilai, Giddul responded with a hearty barukh ha-tov ve-ha-meitiv! – “Blessed is He who is good and who does good to others.” Does such a statement affect the status of the undelivered get? Abaye believes that it does not – gilui da’ata be-gita lav milta he – and that sharing one’s thoughts about a divorce has no significance; Rava rules that the get is no longer valid – gilui da’ata be-gita milta he – and that there is significance to sharing one’s thoughts about a divorce.

    The Ri”d explains the disagreements between Abaye and Rava as being based on the question of how to apply devarim she-ba-lev einam devarim – that disclosure of intent (i.e. things that remain “in your heart”) is not a significant matter. Abaye believes that this is a typical case of devarim she-ba-lev; according to Rava, the statement made by Giddul bar Re’ilai is a clear enough statement that it is no longer considered devarim she-ba-lev. Rav Uziel Moshe Rothstein in his Nahalat Moshe suggests that even Abaye would accept this level of gilui da’ata in most cases; it is only with regard to gittin – where the act was begun with a clear, directive statement – that only a straightforward statement will suffice.

    Our Gemara concludes that this is one of the few cases in the Talmud in which the halakha follows Nahmani – Abaye. While Rashi explains that Abaye was called Nahmani by his adoptive father, Rabba, as a nickname, the Ge’onim suggest that Abaye’s real name was Nahmani and that Rabba could not call him by that name because it was his own father’s name, a situation that could lead to problems of honoring one’s parents. He therefore called him Abaye – a diminutive “Aba,” or “little father” – a nickname that became accepted by all.

    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. Yehudith_Shraga says:

    Gittin 35a-b: A widow’s oath

    As we have learned, the impetus for many of the laws that appear in this perek (chapter) is the idea of tikkun ha-olam, that the rule was established in order to encourage the proper workings of society. In our Mishna we learn that a widow who comes to collect the money guaranteed to her by her late husband in the ketuba, can only do so if she takes a shevu’a – an oath that she had not received any payment up until that point. As the Gemara points out, this is the normal rule for anyone who wants to collect money from the orphans. The Mishna teaches that at some point the courts refused to allow widows to take oaths, and replaced them with a neder, a vow – that the widow would accept upon herself not to partake of something that was important to her if she had already been paid the ketuba.

    Why did the courts change their policy and refrain from allowing widows to take oaths? In answer to this question the Gemara tells a story about a widow who accepted the responsibility of watching a dinar – a coin – during a year of famine. She placed the dinar in her flour for safekeeping but accidentally baked it into a loaf of bread that she gave to a poor person. When the owner of the dinar came to collect it, she said “my child should die of poison if I derived any benefit from the coin.” A short time later, one of her children died, leading the sages to conclude that such oaths must be taken very seriously.

    It appears that our Gemara works with assumption that the decision was made to abolish oath-taking by widows because of the severity of the punishment that was attached to it. The Talmud Yerushalmi offers a different approach, suggesting that these women did not take the oath seriously enough and that the Sages felt that it could not be relied upon. According to the Yerushalmi, women were more concerned with nedarim than with shevu’ot, so they switched to a more reliable method of verification.

    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. Yehudith_Shraga says:

    Gittin 36a-b: Collecting debts

    Another example of tikkun ha-olam – a rule established in order to encourage the proper workings of society – that appears in the Mishna is Hillel’s establishment of a prosbol. A prosbol is a legal document that is written prior to the beginning of the shemitta – Sabbatical – year. Aside from the agricultural laws connected with the shemitta year, the Torah also commands that all debts are annulled – via the law known as shemittat kesafim. The prosbol document effectively turns over all debts to the courts so that the individual creditor will not be collecting – which would be forbidden after shemitta – rather the court, which is not obligated in this law, will be collecting the debts.

    This enactment was established by Hillel in order to ensure that loans would be available to the poor even just prior to the shemitta year. Observing that many people refused to lend when they feared that the loan would not need to be repaid, Hillel expressed concern that the commandment to make loans available at all times would go unfulfilled (see Devarim 15:9). By establishing prosbol, Hillel avoided this problem.

    The mechanics of the enactment are subject to some disagreement. According to the Sifrei it appears that the law annulling debts during shemitta applies only to the creditor, but not when the loan was turned over to the court. Hillel’s legal document allowed the debt to be taken over by the court without the promissory notes actually changing hands. Another approach is that the law of shemittat kesfim applies even if the loan is turned over to the court. What the prosbol accomplishes is effectively adding a condition to the loan allowing it to be collected though the medium of tenai she-ba-mamon kayyam – that in money matters any agreed upon condition applies, even if it negates the standard rules as presented by the Torah.

    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 37a-b: Nevertheless, I want to repay you

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (page), aside from the agricultural laws connected with the shemitta year, the Torah also commands that all debts are annulled during the Sabbatical year via the law known as shemittat kesafim. Can the borrower insist on paying back the loan or is the creditor obligated to refuse payment?

    In this case, the Torah law notwithstanding, the creditor is not obligated to do more than offer a perfunctory statement that the loan need not be repaid. Should the borrower insist on paying, the lender can certainly take the money; in fact the general attitude of the sages is that loans should be paid back even after the shemitta year has annulled them.

    In this vein, Rabba rules ve-tali lei ad d’amar hakhi (“he hangs it – or him – until he says this”) a statement that is understood differently by the various rishonim. Rashi suggests that after formally saying meshamet ani (“I recognize that shemitta frees you from paying”) the creditor can hang the borrower from a tree until he says af al pi ken (“nevertheless, I want to repay you”). Most of the rishonim understand Rabba as advising the creditor to hint broadly that he would like the loan repaid, even as he is saying the required formula meshamet ani. The Ra’avad understands differently, suggesting that it is the borrower who should hang the money in front of the lender, i.e. offer it to him even after he has refused it.

    To illustrate this principle, the Gemara tells that once Abba bar Marta owed a sum of money to Rabba. When Rabba said meshamet ani, Abba bar Marta took him at his word and kept the money. When Abaye saw how upset Rabba was, he followed Abba bar Marta and hinted broadly to him that Rabba would accept payment of the loan were it offered to him. Upon receiving payment, Rabba commented that a sage like Abba bar Marta should have known to respond af al pi ken.

    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 38a-b: Slaves for life

    Our Gemara is discussing the case of an eved kena’ani – a non-Jewish slave – and Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel as teaching that releasing a non-Jewish slave is forbidden because it involves violating a positive commandment – le-olam ba-hem ta’avodu (“Of them may you take your bondmen forever”) – requiring that one subjugate slaves their entire lives (see Vayikra 25:46). In fact, as the Gemara points out, Rabbi Yishmael believes that this passage is reshut – it gives permission to behave in this way, but does not require it. Rabbi Eliezer, however, views it as a commandment. The Gemara follows this up with a story describing how Rabbi Eliezer once found that the synagogue lacked a minyan of ten people and he freed his slave so that there would be the required ten, explaining that for the purpose of a mitzva it would be permissible.

    Some of the rishonim explain the possible prohibition against freeing a non-Jewish slave as stemming from the idea of lo tehanem – according to which giving a gift to a non-Jew with no expectation of reciprocity is forbidden (see Devarim 7:2). If this is the source of the prohibition then we can conclude that as long as the slave pays for his release, or if it is in the interest of the owner to free the slave, then the prohibition is no longer in place.

    It should be noted that every eved kena’ani is obligated in some level of mitzvot, a situation that leads the Rashba to conclude that he cannot be considered a non-Jew, and lo tehanem would not apply. According to this approach, we have a unique command of le-olam ba-hem ta’avodu, which would fall away should there be any good reason to set the slave free. So if the slave performed a particularly meritorious act towards his owner or his family, the owner can choose to set him free, viewing it as a type of payment in kind for his service.

    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 39a-b: When one consecrates his slave

    The Gemara on the previous daf (page) discusses a case where someone who owns a non-Jewish slave declares him to be kodesh – holy. Under ordinary circumstances, when such a statement is made about an animal or property, they are understood to have been consecrated to the Temple where they may be brought as sacrifices or sold by the Temple treasurer and the proceeds used for the needs of the mikdash. In our case, when dealing with a slave, Rabba quotes Rav as saying that the slave becomes a free man. The logic behind this ruling is that his body cannot become kodesh (i.e., he cannot be brought as a sacrifice) and the owner did not say that he was donating the slave’s value to the Temple. Thus we understand his statement to mean that the slave would become a member of the am kadosh – of the holy people – i.e. he will become a full-fledged Jew.

    In contrast to this view attributed to Rav, our Gemara quotes a baraita that a person who declares his slave to be kodesh can continue to have him work, since his only intention was to donate the slave’s value to the Temple. This position is identified by the Gemara as Rabbi Meir, who believes that when a person makes a statement we are obligated to interpret it in a meaningful way.

    Rashi explains – and perhaps even has this as part of the text of the Gemara – that Rabbi Meir’s rule applies specifically to cases of hekdesh, so that when a person makes a statement consecrating something to the Temple, we must interpret it to mean something significant. Thus, if a person offers the erekh – the estimated value – of a utensil to the Temple, we interpret it to mean the damim – the actual value of the utensil, since the laws of erekh apply only to people (see Vayikra 27:1-8). Similarly in our case, we understand the owner’s statement to refer to the value of the slave.

    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 40a-b: Something that gives satisfaction

    Although we learned above that it is considered a violation of a positive commandment for the owner of an eved kena’ani – a non-Jewish slave – to free him because of the pasuk (verse) le-olam ba-hem ta’avodu – “you should subjugate them forever” (see Vayikra 25:46), our Gemara discusses a number of cases where the activity of the owner is understood as a statement that he is freeing his slave. For example, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi teaches that when a slave owner leaves a set of tefillin for his eved kena’ani, it is an indication that the slave is set free.

    Although as we have mentioned, an eved kena’ani is obligated in many mitzvot, he is not obligated to put on tefillin, since his only obligation is to perform those mitzvot that women are commanded to perform. Although a woman can perform mitzvot that she is not obligated to do on a voluntary basis, nevertheless it is out of the ordinary for an eved to do so. Thus, leaving him tefillin is understood as a statement on the part of the owner that this man is no longer an eved.

    Another case presented by the Gemara is the statement made by Rav Shmuel bar Yehuda quoting Rabbi Yohanan that a person on his deathbed who says “that slave gave me satisfaction (nahat ru’ah astah li), so do for her something that gives her satisfaction” is listened to, and the people who inherit are forced to deal with her kindly. The Gemara explains that this ruling stems from the common law of mitzva le-kayyem divrei ha-met – that we are obligated to fulfill the expressed desires of someone who dies.

    Rashi understands that the expression that she should be dealt with kindly means that we must offer her whatever will satisfy her; if she insists on her freedom, the heirs will be obligated to set her free. Some of the rishonim object to this interpretation, arguing that an unclear statement on the part of the dead man should not force his heirs to free the slave, something forbidden by the Torah. The Ramban and others respond that as long as there is a good reason for freeing the slave, it is permissible (see above daf, or page, 38). Nevertheless, many of the rishonim disagree with Rashi and say that the heirs are not obligated to do anything beyond offering her a comfortable job – as a slave.

    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.

  41. Gittin 41a-b: The case of one who is a half-slave

    The Mishna on our daf (page) discusses the case of an individual who was half-slave and half-free (e.g. the slave was owned in partnership by two people, one of whom freed him). At first, Beit Hillel ruled that the slave should simply work for himself half the time and for his owner half the time. Beit Shammai objected to such an arrangement, arguing that it solves the issue of work but not the half-slave’s personal issues. To solve those, Beit Shammai ruled that mipnei tikkun ha-olam – to ensure the proper working of the world – we force the remaining owner to free the slave fully, and we will require the slave to pay his value to the owner over time. In this case Beit Hillel found the issues raised by Beit Shammai so convincing, and his solution so attractive, that they changed their ruling and agreed with Beit Shammai.

    What are the half-slave’s personal issues that concerned Beit Shammai?

    The Mishna relates that the problems related to marriage. According to the halakha, his half-slave part could not marry a regular Jewish woman, but his half-free part could not marry a non-Jewish female slave. The option of celibacy is rejected because the purpose of the world is to populate it, based on the passage in Yeshayahu (45:18) “He did not create it for naught; He formed it to be inhabited.”

    Rashi explains this pasuk (verse) as teaching that the will of God is that the world should not remain in its original, pristine form, rather that it must be settled, obligating people to have children. Tosafot raises the question why this passage from the Prophets is brought, rather than the commandment in the Torah to “be fruitful and multiply” (Bereishit 1:28). Among the answers that are offered is the suggestion that the sages wanted to emphasize how essential it is to bring children into the world; it is not merely a commandment, it is the fulfillment of the very purpose of creation.

    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.

  42. Gittin 42a-b: Damage to a half-slave

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (page) both Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel agree that a non-Jewish slave cannot be left in a situation where he is half owned and half free, and that in such a situation the remaining owner will be obligated to make the slave a fully free man. Our Gemara asks what such a person’s status is until the master formally sets him free. For example, if a slave is gored by an ox, the ox’s owner pays a penalty of 30 shekalim to the slave’s owner (see Shemot 21:32). If a half-free slave is gored, does the master who owns half of him receive payment?

    The Gemara tries to bring a proof that the owner deserves nothing in a case where a slave’s owner knocks out his tooth and then blinds his eye (note that either of these actions will allow the slave to go free – see Shemot 21:26-27). In this case we find that the slave is set free and paid for the loss of his eye. This appears to be a case – similar to ours – where the slave is technically free and is missing only his formal release papers, and the ruling is that the owner must pay for the loss of his eye. Yet if the owner deserves to receive payment for the slave’s injuries until the time of his formal release, then we would have the absurd situation in which the owner would be paying himself!

    The rishonim point out that in the case of a slave becoming free because of loss of shen va-ayin (tooth or eye), it is only after formal court proceedings that the change of status takes effect. Until the completion of those proceedings the slave remains in his original situation; thus, why would the second injury be viewed as taking place when he was already a free man? Some suggest that in the case under discussion the second injury must take place after the slave had already been declared free by the court, but is still waiting for his formal discharge papers. The Ramban and Rashba disagree, explaining that once the court decision is made it takes effect retroactively, and the second injury will be seen as having taken place after the slave had already been declared free.

    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.

  43. Gittin 43a-b: An entity that has not yet come into the world

    The Gemara on our daf (page) deals with the question of whether a slave owner can sell the potential possibility that his slave will become injured and will have an income of kenas – penalties – that will be paid to the master. This question is presented as a situation of adam makneh davar she-lo ba la-olam.

    One of the basic questions that comes up regarding issues of ownership in Jewish law is adam makneh davar she-lo ba la-olam – whether or not a person can buy or sell an object that is not in existence right now. Rav Nahman bar Yitzhak believes that according to Rabbi Akiva a person has the ability to do so and lists tanna’im and amora’im who follow that approach.

    The simplest way to understand this approach is to say that we view an object that is expected to be seen (e.g. fruits that have not yet appeared on the tree, or a purchase that has not yet been completed) as already in existence from a legal standpoint. Thus, the seller can transact business with it, either by stipulating that the sale go into effect immediately or that it take place at some later date. In bringing examples, the Gemara in Yevamot (daf 93) offers both types of cases. Rav’s case has the seller saying “I am selling this field, and when the purchase is complete, it will belong to you from now.” In Rav Huna’s case the seller says “I am selling you the dates on this tree.” It is clear that the sale will not be complete until the fruit actually appears, which is why Rav Huna allows the seller to back out of the deal – until the fruits appear.
    Another case that appears in Yevamot is that of Rabbi Yannai, who had a tenant on his land who paid him by delivering fruit every Friday. One Friday the tenant did not arrive at the usual time, and Rabbi Yannai – relying on the fact that the fruit would be delivered – chose to separate tithes from other fruit that he had in his house so that he would be able to eat the fruit from his tenant on Shabbat. When he turned to his teacher Rabbi Hiyya to ask about this, Rabbi Hiyya agreed that his behavior was correct. The proof from this story is that neither Rabbi Yannai nor Rabbi Hiyya appear to be concerned with the fact that the fruit had not been delivered. Their concern was whether or not tithes could be taken when the fruit was not all together.

    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.

  44. Gittin 44a-b: The case of one who sells his slave to gentiles

    The Mishna on the last daf (page) taught that a person who sells his non-Jewish slave to a non-Jew – or even to another Jewish person living in the Diaspora – loses ownership of the slave and the slave becomes a free man. The basis for this is that a “non-Jewish” slave is actually obligated in a variety of commandments – generally speaking, the same mitzvot in which women are obligated – and selling him to a non-Jew will keep him from fulfilling these mitzvot.

    On our daf the Gemara brings the ruling of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that someone who sells his slave to a non-Jew is penalized up to one hundred times his value. Most of the commentaries explain this to mean that if an owner sells his slave to a non-Jew we force him to redeem the slave. In the event that the buyer is unwilling to sell the slave at the market price, the original owner should pay up to one hundred times his value and set him free. In the responsa of the Ge’onim we find a different explanation. They do not understand Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling as obligating the original owner to buy back the slave, but rather that a penalty of one hundred times the value of the slave is imposed and paid to a community fund that will be used for pidyon shevuyim – redeeming captives – or other important needs.

    The Gemara asks whether the amount – one hundred times – is to be taken literally. Rashi explains that the question is whether the penalty is to be understood as it is written or if it just means “a large amount.” Tosafot understand it differently. According to them the question is whether one hundred times is the upper limit, or perhaps the original owner will have to pay even more, if necessary.

    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.

  45. Gittin 45a-b: Redemption of captives

    The Mishna on our daf (page) teaches that a Jewish person who is being held captive should not be ransomed for more than his worth, mipnei tikkun ha-olam – for the betterment of the world.

    The Gemara offers two possibilities in an attempt to understand why this rule was established. Was it tikkun ha-olam inasmuch as the community would find it difficult to pay larger sums than normal, or was it to discourage kidnappers from capturing more people by ensuring that they would not find it lucrative enough?

    The Gemara tries to prove that it was an issue of the cost to the community by telling the story of Levi bar Darga who paid an enormous sum to redeem his daughter from captivity, indicating that if someone can pay the ransom we are not concerned about the future implications. In response to this proof Abaye asks “perhaps he did it against the will of the Sages?”

    The rishonim examine this discussion and how it relates to the Gemara in Ketubot 52a which clearly permits a husband to pay ten times his wife’s value to her captors in order to redeem her. The Rambam and the Rif simply suggest that there is a difference of opinion between the author of that Mishna and the Mishna on our daf. Tosafot, however, suggest that there may be some exceptions to the rule presented in our Mishna. For example, a person can certainly make use of all of his personal resources to free himself from captivity; Tosafot suggest that the rule ishto ke-gufo – that a person’s wife is like himself – allows him to make use of all his resources on behalf of his wife, as well.

    Some rishonim suggest that we should distinguish between different kinds of hostage situations and that we have more leeway in cases where the individual’s life is in danger. The Ramban disagrees with such an approach, arguing that every situation in which someone is held captive is inherently dangerous, and the sages would apply their rule nevertheless.

    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.

  46. Gittin 46a-b: One who is underdeveloped

    The Mishna on our daf (page) discusses a case in which a man divorces his wife claiming that she is an ailonit – a woman who cannot conceive. The rishonim point out that theoretically a man need not divorce a woman with such a condition; since one of the essential points of marriage is having children, once a man discovers that his wife cannot bear children he can claim mekah ta’ut – that the entire marriage was predicated on a mistaken assumption – and have the marriage annulled. Rashi suggests that although a person can make such a claim, in practice people do not do so because ein adam oseh be’ilato be’ilat zenut – a person does not want to make the relations that he had with his wife into promiscuous acts. Tosafot simply explain that the woman was not definitely an ailonit but rather had only some of the indicators that pointed to that condition.

    From the detailed discussions in the Gemara – mainly in Massekhet Yevamot- it appears that an ailonit suffers from a genetic defect that does not allow her to have children. This is a different categorization than an akarah – a barren woman – whose physical and sexual development is ordinarily normal, but cannot have children because of some other deficiency or impediment. From those descriptions it appears that an ailonit can be recognized by certain unique physical traits, including a lack of secondary sex characteristics like pubic hairs. Furthermore, it appears from the Gemara that there are different types of ailonit, ranging from women who have an overabundance of male hormones to those who suffer from Turner syndrome, where only one X chromosome is present and fully functioning. Approximately 98% of all fetuses with Turner syndrome spontaneously abort; the incidence of Turner syndrome in live female births is believed to be about 1 in 2500.
    Within Jewish law there are many discussions about the status of an ailonit, mainly because of the lack of secondary female sex characteristics and because they develop at a relatively advanced age. Thus we find questions about when an ailonit is considered to have reached the age of adulthood, which halakha ordinarily defines as physical maturity.

    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.

  47. Gittin 47a-b: First fruits from the land he sold

    Continuing the theme of mipnei tikkun ha-olam – for the betterment of the world – the Mishna on our daf (page) teaches that a Jewish person who sells his field in Israel to a non-Jew is obligated to purchase fruit from the new owner and bring bikkurim – the offering of first fruits – to Jerusalem.

    This version of the Mishna is Rashi’s, who understands that the tikkun olam involved is that the original owner is obligated to purchase fruit from the field – at any price – in order to fulfill the mitzva of bikkurim. This is done to encourage the original owner to rethink the sale and pressure him to buy the field back from the non-Jew.

    According to most other rishonim – as well as the standard text in the Mishnayot and the Talmud Yerushalmi – the Mishna does not require the seller to purchase fruit from the field; rather, in a situation where another Jewish person purchases the field from the non-Jew, he will be obligated to bring bikkurim, even though the fruit grew in the possession of someone who was not obligated in this mitzva. Some rishonim suggest that this rule would also hold true in a case in which the field remained in the non-Jewish hands, but the fruit was purchased by a Jewish person; mipnei tikkun ha-olam, he would have to take bikkurim from the fruit that he bought.

    One question that is raised is why there is specific interest in bikkurim and not on the other agricultural tithes like terumot and ma’asrot?

    The Ri”d suggests that this is because the mitzva of bikkurim takes place in the public eye with a colorful march to Jerusalem, and someone who doesn’t know that the land was sold will mistakenly think that the mitzva of bikkurim does not apply. With regard to the other tithes, which are all taken and arranged privately, the need for such a tikkun ha-olam was not as pressing. The Meiri suggests that bikkurim is just an example and that someone who purchases the field or the fruit would be obligated in all of the agricultural tithes mipnei tikkun ha-olam.

    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.

  48. Gittin 48a-b: Paying one’s obligations

    The fifth perek (chapter) of Massekhet Gittin – perek ha-nizakin – begins on our daf (page). There are no discussions of divorce law in this perek; it is a continuation of the previous perek which dealt with cases of rabbinic enactments established mipnei tikkun ha-olam – for the betterment of the world.

    The first Mishna in the perek describes how different monetary obligations are paid differently:
    •Nizakin – debts that stem from damage done to someone will be paid in iddit – superior quality land
    •Ba’al hov – debts whose source is borrowing will be paid in beinonit – intermediate quality land
    •Ketubat isha – payment of the ketuba (the obligations stemming from a marriage contract) are paid in ziburit – inferior quality land.

    According to the Gemara’s conclusion, the actual value of the land in each of the above cases will be the same; nevertheless iddit – the best land – is preferred by all, even though the size of the land will be larger if payment is made in ziburit. The preference for iddit stems from the fact that its quality will make it easier to tend and its harvest will be larger even though the cost and effort put into the land is smaller. This reality leads to the fact that there will be more potential buyers and it will be easier to sell, even though the ziburit has the same value.

    These distinctions are only made with regard to the quality of land. If payment is to be made with moveable objects then we consider them meitav – the best – no matter what they are, so long as they are truly worth the amount of the debt. This is true even though the ideal is to pay with money, particularly in the case of a loan where the basic obligation is to return the money that was borrowed.

    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.

  49. Gittin 49a-b: To discourage robbers

    We learned on yesterday’s daf (page) that for reasons of tikkun olam – the betterment of the world – the Sages established a rule that nizakin – debts that stem from damage done to someone – will be paid in iddit – the best land. In explaining this law our Gemara quotes a baraita where Rabbi Shimon says that this rule was enacted in order to discourage inappropriate behavior on the part of gazlanim and hamsanim – robbers of various sorts. If they know that any damage they cause will have to be paid back in iddit, they will think carefully before carrying out a criminal act. Aside from this explanation the Sages also relied on a passage in the Torah that hints to such a law. In Sefer Shemot (22:4) the Torah says regarding someone who does damage to another that meitav sadehu u’meitav karmo yeshalem – that he will pay from his best field and his best vineyard.

    Although the rule of iddit as presented in the Mishna referred to a case of nizakin – damages – which may not have been done intentionally, according to Rabbi Shimon the main source for the halakha is a case where intentional damage is done. In truth, these, too, fall into the category of nizakin. Furthermore one could argue that even if the damage was done unintentionally, a person will take better care if he knows that the consequences of his actions will be punished more severely.

    Rabbi Shimon gave two examples of nizakin, gazlanim and hamsanim. We usually understand that hamsanim are people who force a person to sell an object against his will, but who pay the full value of the object. Since our discussion of nizakin would not appear to apply to someone who paid for the object that he took, some of the rishonim remove the word hamsanim from the text of the Gemara. Some explanations are offered that would include the case of hamsanim, like that suggestion made by Rabbi Uziel Moshe Rothstein in his Nahalat Moshe that we are dealing with a case where the hamsan promised to pay but has not yet done so.

    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.

  50. Gittin 50a-b: Collecting payment of a debt

    Another one of the rules presented by the Mishna (48b) for reasons of tikkun olam – the betterment of the world – is ein nifra’im mi-nehasim meshubadim be-makom she-yesh b’nei horin – that payment will not be taken from “obligated” monies (liened property) when “free” monies are available.

    The idea of “obligated” monies (nehasim meshubadim) as opposed to “free” monies (nehasim b’nei horin) works as follows. When a person borrows money and signs a formal loan agreement, all of his property becomes obligated to secure the loan. Thus, if a person cannot pay back his loan, the lender can collect real estate that the borrower owned at the time of the original loan – even if it has been sold to a third party in the interim. This works because the purchaser had the opportunity when he bought the field to examine liens that existed on the real estate and accepted the risk at that time. Of course, if the field is taken from him in payment of the loan, he will be able to try and collect the value of the field from the seller (although we already know that he is someone who does not have available cash to pay).

    The ruling of the Mishna is that nehasim meshubadim will be collected in payment of the debt only if the borrower has no other means of payment. If he has real estate in his hands – even if it is ziburit (the lowest quality land) – that is what will be used as payment, even though the lender usually should be receiving beinonit (middle quality land).

    Our Gemara asks whether the protection offered by the Sages to the purchaser of land would extend to cases where the borrower gave away that same land as a present. In his Haver ben Hayyim Rav Hizkiya Feivel Ploit explains the question as follows:
    Was the rabbinic enactment to protect nehasim meshubadim from collection made in order to encourage business, so that someone purchasing land should feel secure that the field he is buying will not be taken from him, in which case, it only applies to sales and not to land that is given as a present, or was the enactment made to protect people who have received land from others, in which case it would be applied in all cases.

    The Rambam understands the conclusion of the Gemara as applying the enactment in all cases.

    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.

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