Masechet Gittin 21a-27b

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31 Jul 2008

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

Gittin 21a-b

According to the Mishnah, 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 Betera forbids using paper that had been erased or using diftira, since those can be forged easily. The Chachamim of the Mishnah disagree, since – as the Gemara explains – they rely on the witnesses that attest to the validity of the document.

Diftira 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.

Gittin 22a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira forbids using paper that had been erased or using diftira for a get, since writing on those items can be forged easily. The Chachamim of the Mishnah 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 diftira, our Gemara brings the opinion of Ulla, who is quoted by Rabbi Chiya bar Assi as saying that there are three types of animal hides – matzah, hiyfa and diftira:

Matzah – as its name implies, is bland. It has been neither salted nor treated with flour nor with gall-nut.

Hiyfa – has been salted but not treated with flour or gall-nut.

Diftira – has been salted and treated with flour but not with gall-nut

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.

Gittin 23a-b

According to the Mishnah, anyone can be made a messenger to deliver a get, except for a cheresh, shoteh and katan as well as a suma and a goy. The cheresh, 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 listening to their voices – tevi’ut ena d’kala – 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 Mishnah 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 tevi’ut ena d’kala. Tevi’ut 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, tevi’ut 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.

Gittin 24a-b

The third perek of Masechet Gittin begins on our daf 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 Mishnah 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 Mishnah 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 takanat 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 Mishnah 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.

Gittin 25a-b

We learned in the Mishnah on yesterday’s daf 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 en berera – that we do not take seriously a later action which clarifies an earlier issue. The question of whether or not halacha 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 Mishnah, the Gemara brings a rule about the korban Pesach, in which it appears that yesh berera – that a later action can clarify an earlier halakhic situation.

The Mishnah (Pesachim 89a) teaches that when a father tells his children “I will slaughter the korban Pesach 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 Pesach 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 Pesach cannot be compared to gittin, since Rabbi Yochanan 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.

Gittin 26a-b

In order to facilitate the work of scribes, the sages permitted them to write standard forms that would be ready for use. The Mishnah on our daf discusses how different types of standardized documents are written. Specifically the spaces that need to be left empty include –

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-chol 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.

Gittin 27a-b

The Mishnah 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 Mishnah 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 halacha.
  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 memutzah – 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 bet 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.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.