Masechet Gittin 70a-76b

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18 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 70a-b

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

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

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

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

Gittin 71a-b

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

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

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

Gittin 72a-b

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

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

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

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

Gittin 73a-b

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

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

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

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

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

Gittin 74a-b

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

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

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

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

Gittin 75a-b

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

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

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

Gittin 76a-b

The Mishnah on our daf presents a case where a husband who is leaving to travel from his home in Yehuda (the southern part of the land of Israel), offers his wife a conditional divorce. As explained by Abayye in the Gemara, the husband actually makes two conditions:

  1. if I successfully arrive in the Galilee, the get should take effect immediately, or
  2. if I do not arrive in the Galilee, the get will still take effect if I do not return home within 30 days.

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

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

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

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.