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.
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 chatanim – crowns worn by the groom, a tradition that was discontinued as a sign of mourning over the churban bet ha-mikdash. As a source for this, Rav Huna quotes a Mishnah from Masechet Sotah (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 BCE until he was named Caesar of the Roman Empire.
The atarot chatanim under discussion were commonly worn by grooms on the occasion of their weddings at that time. The Gemara in Sotah, 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 Sotah, reference is made to other similar enactments, including a restriction of atarot kallot – 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.
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 chachamim (see map), the western border of Israel is a straight line drawn from Taurus Amanus – 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 (see map) 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 chachamim 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 Halacha, 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 chachamim, particularly on the northern end.
According to our Gemara, legal documents and contracts that are written in arka’ot 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 arka’ot appears to be from the same Greek word that gives us the English word “archives,” meaning the place of the judge or the place of the ruling authority. In the context of the Talmud it is used to mean an official non-Jewish court, as distinguished from a traditional bet din.
Under ordinary circumstances, Jews were actively discouraged from making use of arka’ot shel goyim. Rashi explains that they are accepted as reliable with regard to contracts through the mechanism of dina d’malchuta 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 shichrurei avadim fall into the same category simply because the rules of gittin and shichrurei avadim generally parallel one another.
The Mishnah on our daf 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 rules that matzah made by a kuti could be eaten on Pesach and used to fulfill the mitzvah
- Rabbi Elazar forbids use of matzah made by a kuti
- Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel believes that the kutim are even more punctilious 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 the city of Shomron, which is why they are also called 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 bet ha-mikdash. 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; Yochanan Hyrcanus even attacked and destroyed their temple on Mount Gerizim. During other periods, however, there was cooperation between the groups, during the bar Kokhba 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.
In discussing the reliability of witnesses who had signed a contract, we find Resh Lakish asking Rabbi Yochanan how to deal with a case of witnesses who sign using non-Jewish names. Rabbi Yochanan responded by relating a case where a contract came signed by two people named Lukus 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 Antigonos ish Sokho. Nevertheless, most names were Hebrew or Aramaic. From the archaeological finds in the large cemetery in Bet 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.
Having been introduced to the idea that there are parallels between the laws of divorce and freeing a slave (between gittin and shichrurei 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 halacha. 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 Yochanan‘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 halacha 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 charifa that will allow the patient to be cured and back at work in three days.
The sama charifa 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.
The Mishnah on our daf 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 shichrur – 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 Mishnah 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 Mishnah 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 Mishnah that releasing the slave benefits him, still the document that releases him will not work if the owner dies before the shtar shichrur is delivered. The P’nei 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 Mishnah, once the shtar shichrur 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 shichrur is destroyed it makes no difference, since the slave has already been freed. They explain the case of the our Mishnah to be true only in a situation where the man commanded that a shtar shichrur be prepared, but that he died before it had been given to the messenger.
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 www.steinsaltz.org 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.
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