Masechet Gittin 28a-34b

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07 Aug 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 28a-b

According to the Mishnah on our daf, if a man sends a messenger to deliver a get he is obligated to do so, even if the person sending the get is elderly or ill. Simply put, we do not assume that someone who was alive in the recent past has passed away. 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 terumah – 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 Mishnah 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. Abayye 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.

Gittin 29a-b

The Mishnayot on our daf discuss cases where a messenger who was sent to deliver a get became ill and could not fulfill his mission. When the get was sent in Israel, the Mishnah 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 bet 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 Abahu, 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 Abahu’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 – what was said in the name of my father was said when 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 Aruch 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.

Gittin 30a-b

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 “I have returned! I have returned!” 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 we do not accept the husband’s claim – 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.

Gittin 31a-b

Continuing the discussion of whether we need to be concerned with changes in the status quo, the Mishnah on our daf 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 Mishnah 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.

Gittin 32a-b

The fourth perek of Masechet Gittin begins on our daf and deals with a wide variety of rabbinic enactments that were made for the betterment of society – mipnei tikun 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 tikun 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 Mishnah 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 Nachman, who permits it to be done in front of two people, and Rav Sheshet who requires a full bet din of three. Rashi explains this discussion as relating to the Halacha 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 Yaakov 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.

Gittin 33a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, 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 v’Yisrael – 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.

Gittin 34a-b

Our Gemara tells the story of a man named Gidel bar Ri’elai 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 Gidel bar Ri’elai, Gidel responded with a hearty baruch 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? Abayye 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 Abayye and Rava as being based on the question of how to apply devarim she-ba-lev einam devarim – that thoughts that have not been clearly stated (i.e. they remain “in your heart”) are not significant. Abayye believes that this is a typical case of devarim she-ba-lev; according to Rava, the statement made by Gidel bar Ri’elai is a clear enough statement that it is no longer considered devarim she-ba-lev. Rav Uziel Moshe Rothstein in his Nachalat Moshe suggests that even Abayye 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 halakhah follows Nachmani – Abayye. While Rashi explains that Abayye was called Nachmani by his adoptive father, Rabbah, as a nickname, the Geonim suggest that Abayye’s real name was Nachmani and that Rabbah could not call him by that name because it matched his own father’s name, a situation that could lead to problems of honoring one’s parents. He therefore called him Abayye – a diminutive “Aba,” or “little father” – a nickname that became accepted by all.

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.