Masechet Gittin 63a-69b

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10 Sep 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 63a-b

The Mishnah on our daf discusses the case of a shaliach l’kabalah – a messenger appointed by a woman to accept a get – writ of divorce – on her behalf. The Mishnah teaches that in the event that the messenger reports that he received the get, but he cannot produce it, the woman needs to produce witnesses both on the original establishment of the messenger and on the fact that the messenger received it and that it was destroyed. The Mishnah concludes by noting that these do not need to be two separate sets of witnesses; the same people can attest to both parts of the divorce.

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

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

With regard to the need for witnesses who will testify to two separate issues:

  1. that the woman appointed this person to be her shaliach l’kabalah, and
  2. that the shaliach l’kabalah actually received the get on her behalf

Tosafot suggests that we may have thought it unlikely that the same two people witnessed both of these events, since they took place at different times and places, and if the same two witnesses testified about both, perhaps we may have suspected them of lying. That is why there is some measure of chiddush? Or novel point – in a ruling that accepts their testimony for both events.

Gittin 64a-b

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

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

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

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

Gittin 65a-b

The Mishnah on our daf is concerned with the language that is used by the husband when he instructs a messenger to write and deliver a get (writ of divorce). The examples that the Mishnah gives of statements that are easily understood to mean that a divorce is to be written and delivered are things like “write a get and deliver it to my wife” or “divorce her.”

Statements that are not understood to be an instruction to write and deliver a divorce include patruhah – “release her” or parnasuhah – “provide for her.” The Ra’avad points out that this is true even though the husband had been discussing the possibility of divorce. Even so, these expressions are not clear enough to conclude that his intention was to divorce his wife.?

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

Gittin 66a-b:

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

In his commentary to the Mishnah, the Rambam writes that it is not surprising to find the possibility discussed that even a well-established court may not know how to write, since they were appointed to the bet din for their scholarship and not for their abilities as scribes. Nevertheless, we know that the Sages required member of a bet din to be proficient in languages and in writing, so what the Mishnah most likely refers to is the possibility that the members of the court may not be expert in the intricacies of the square writing that was commonly used in official documents. If this is the case, Rabbi Yossi would obligate them to learn this method of writing in order to fulfill the requirement of the husband who wants to divorce his wife.

Gittin 67a-b:

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

In the Gemara, Shmuel explains that kordyakos is a condition that comes from drinking wine that has not properly fermented. The source of the term kordyakos is in Latin, where it refers to a heart disease. Nevertheless, in our context it does not mean a physical disease of the heart, rather the heart refers to understanding and sensitivity. Thus our case is one where the husband cannot think straight because of his condition, which is why we do not take his instructions seriously.

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

Gittin 68a-b:

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

As interpreted by the Gemara, the passage in Kohelet (2:8) describes how King Solomon tells of the pomp and ceremony that went on in his realm – there were singers with musical instruments, pools and bathhouses and – according to the Sages in Israel – great chariots. The Babylonian Sages interpreted the end of the pasuk as referring to demons, which is understood by the Gemara as being essential for the building of Solomon’s Temple. In I Melakhim (6:7) we learn that the entire Beit HaMikdash was built out of full stones that had not been split by normal means using metal implements. Rather it was a miraculous shamir that was able to divide the stone. When King Solomon searched for the shamir he captured a male and female demon in an attempt to get them to inform him of its location. They referred him to Ashmadai, king of the demons. The Gemara describes how King Solomon sent Benayahu ben Yehoyadah who tracked down Ashmadai, who informed him that the shamir had been entrusted to the tarnegola bara – the “wild rooster” – the bird that we know as a hoopoe. Benayahu covered a woodpecker nest with glass and when the mother came to feed her young, finding the nest covered she dropped the shamir on the glass to open it. This
was Benayahu’s opportunity to secure the shamir for use in building the Temple.?

Obviously stories like this one are difficult to accept at face value, and in Sefer Pardes Rimonim we find that that Rabbi Shem-Tov ibn Shaprut offers an explanation that views this story as allegory, and that the various demons, birds, etc. all refer to philosophers and sages who spent their time in seclusion in the desert contemplating matters of secrets and mysticism

Gittin 69a-b

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

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

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

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.