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.
The eighth perek of Masechet Gittin begins on our daf. Entitled ha-Zorek – i.e. someone who throws [a get] – its main focus is on the method used for transferring a writ of divorce from husband to wife. Although the Torah appears to require that the get actually be placed in the wife’s hand (…v’natan be-yadah – Devarim 24:1), the tradition that the sages had was that that passage was not to be taken literally, rather that it had to be placed in her possession and control.
The first Mishnah in the perek teaches that if the husband threw a get to his wife and it landed near her in a property that belonged to her, the divorce will take effect. If she was standing in his property, however, the fact that the get was thrown in her proximity has no significance, and the divorce does not work. The Mishnah concludes that if the husband threw the get to his wife and it lodged on her body or in her kaltah, then it would be a good get. This is true even if she was standing in his house, since these places are on her person and therefore it is as though the get was placed in her hand.
All agree that a kaltah is a basket. According to Rashi, it is a small basket within which a woman keeps pins, needles and other sewing or weaving materials. In his commentary to the Mishnah, the Rambam suggests that it is a basket in which the woman keeps the finished products that she wove, which would indicate that it is a fairly large basket. The origin of the word kaltah is Greek. On occasion such baskets were worn on an individual’s head.
How aware does the woman need to be that she is receiving a bill of divorce? Since according to the Torah a woman can be divorced even against her will (a law that has not been in practice since the enactments of Rabbeinu Gershom Me’or ha-Golah in the tenth century) is it necessary for the husband to inform his wife of the divorce, or can he hide the true significance of the paper until it is already in her possession?
The Mishnah on our daf teaches that a man cannot say to his wife “hold this promissory note for me” and hand a get (writ of divorce) to her; similarly he cannot slip it into her hands while she is sleeping. The get will not be valid until it is given to her together with the statement “here is your divorce.”
The question that the rishonim raise is why this would be essential, given the fact that – at least according to the letter of the law – we do not need the wife’s agreement to the divorce?
The Ra’avad suggests that the problem in this case is that by referring to the get as a promissory note, we are concerned that the husband has negated the validity of the document, with regard to which, as we have learned, proper intent is a crucial factor.
According to the Rambam, we see from this ruling that the get must be handed to the wife with proper intent of divorce. The statement at the moment of the divorce seems to run counter to that intent, which nullifies the proceedings.
Tosafot sees a practical problem in this case. Ordinarily a get can only be given if the wife understands that with this document’s transfer, their marriage has ended, and she knows that she can no longer continue to live with her husband. If a clear statement does not accompany the get, it is possible that she will not understand this, at least for some period of time.
As is the case with all legal documents, the date that appears on a get is one of the basic requirements for the document to be valid. Somewhat surprisingly, the get need not be delivered on the date that is written in the document, and it will be a valid get even if it is given some time later. This is only true if the couple did not continue to live in close proximity after the get was written. If after the get was written the husband and wife were together (i.e., they could have slept together) then the get is considered a get yashan – an old get – which the Mishnah teaches cannot be used according to Bet Hillel, although Bet Shammai permits its use.
The Gemara explains that the basis for the argument between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai is whether we fear that people will mistakenly think that the date written on the get was the actual day of the divorce, and will assume that any children born to the woman more than nine months after that time were born out of wedlock. Bet Hillel is concerned about this possibility, and therefore only permits the get to be used if no children will have been born since the get was written. Bet Shammai is not worried that this will be an issue.
The rishonim suggest that this disagreement between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai has its source in their basic positions on divorce that appears on daf 90a. According to Bet Shammai, a man can divorce his wife only if he believes that she has behaved inappropriately in matters of a sexual nature. Therefore we can assume that if he wrote a get he has indicated that his relationship with her is irreparable, and we need not be concerned that they have slept together, even if they had yichud (they were together in a private place). According to Bet Hillel, there are other reasons that a man may divorce his wife, and we would have every reason to think that even after he wrote a get he may change his mind and continue to have marital relations with her, until such time as they get divorced.
As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the date written in the get is an essential part of the document. The Mishnah on our daf discusses the date and how it must be written. While today the Jewish calendar begins its count from the time of Creation, and the secular calendar – the Gregorian calendar – is based on a count that begins with the birth of the founder of Christianity, throughout history different calendars were used. Our Mishnah was written at a time when the common practice was to count from the time of the ruling king of a given country, and the Sages established a rule that religious documents like a get should include that date as well, mishum shalom malchut – in order to keep the peace with the governing body. The Mishnah teaches that it is essential for the date to accurately reflect the ruling monarchy’s current reign. In the event that the date refers to another government or to some historical event (e.g., the building of the Temple or the destruction of the Temple) the get will be invalid.
When discussing other governments whose rule cannot be used as the dating source on a document like a get, as one example the Mishnah mentions malchut she-ainah hogenet – an “inappropriate” kingdom. The Gemara explains that this refers to Rome, and it is labeled with this epithet because it does not have its own writing or language, rather it borrowed its language from others. This assertion is based on Roman history. Latin, the language used in the Roman Empire, is the native tongue of the Latin people, a nation that was swallowed up by the city of Rome. Similarly, the alphabet used by the Romans is based primarily on the Italic alphabet together with the changes made in it by the Latins. For all the strength of the Roman army and its political independence much of Roman culture was derived from other nations.
The Mishnah on our daf discusses a case where a person decided to divorce his wife and went so far as to have a get written. At that point, however, he changed his mind and decided that he did not want to divorce her. In such a case, Bet Shammai rules that the act of having the get written will create a situation that would no longer allow her to marry a kohen (kohanim cannot marry divorced women). Bet Hillel disagrees, arguing that even if the husband actually gives a divorce to his wife, if the divorce is predicated on conditions that are not fulfilled and the divorce does not take effect, we are not concerned with re’ah ha-get, and the woman can marry a kohen (if, for example, her husband dies and she becomes a widow).
In explanation of Bet Shammai’s position, the Me’iri points to the concept of re’ah ha-get (literally, the “smell” of a divorce), that the Gemara raises in another context, suggesting that such a concept may be the underlying principle here, as well. Others suggest that this is a type of gezeirah, or Rabbinic enactment, that treats a get that has been written as if it were actually delivered with regard to certain halakhot.
The Chatam Sofer suggests that the disagreement between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel may be dependent on another argument between them. According to Bet Shammai, a man is not allowed to divorce his wife unless he has strong reason to suspect that she has been involved in sexual promiscuity of some sort. Thus, if a man reaches the point of actually writing a get, even if it is never delivered it would appear that there was a basis for suspicion with regard to her behavior. This itself is enough to keep her from marrying a kohen, according to Bet Shammai. According to Bet Hillel, who allows a man to divorce his wife for any number of reasons, the decision to write a get gives us no information beyond the fact that there is a difficulty in their relationship, something that would not affect her status regarding a kohen in any way.
Perek ha-megaresh, the last chapter of Masechet Gittin, begins on our daf. This perek includes a wide range of topics, and its purpose is to complete the discussion of Jewish divorce laws by covering those areas that were left out of earlier discussions.
The first Mishnah in the perek discusses a case where a person hands a get to his wife and says harei at muteret le-khol adam… hutz mi-ploni – “you are now free to marry anyone who you like, with the exception of one specific person.” One of the basic principles of a Jewish divorce is that the get totally severs the relationship between husband and wife, to the extent that he no longer has any control over her actions or choices. This rule leads the Chachamim to invalidate such a get. Rabbi Eliezer, however, rules that such a get remains valid. According to the Chachamim, the husband can take the get back from his wife and resubmit it to her saying “you are free to marry whoever you like,” at which point the divorce would take effect – unless the statement invalidating the get is written into the document itself.
In this last case, when the husband wants to deliver the get properly, would it be enough for him to say the standard format of “here is your get” or must he specifically restate his original instructions in a manner that clarifies his intent? According to the Ri”d, all he needs to do is to say the normal formula. The Ran argues that in this case, the normal formula of “here is your get” may be understood within the context of his original statement, which limited her options for marriage, and was therefore not acceptable. He therefore must state clearly that the divorce will permit her to marry anyone.
As we have learned, when a man writes a get to divorce his wife, he can make the divorce conditional on a specific thing that the woman will do, but the divorce cannot allow him to retain any level of involvement in her life. Thus, if the husband makes the divorce conditional by saying “this is your get on the condition that you do not go to your father’s house for the next 30 days,” the get will be a good one, assuming that the wife fulfills the condition and does not go to her father’s house for 30 days. If, however, the condition was open-ended – the husband said that the get was conditional on her refraining from going to her father’s house forever – then the get cannot work, since the husband would still be in control of his wife’s activities even after the divorce.
The rishonim ask why we must view the condition of keeping the wife from going to her father’s house as being open-ended. Given the fact that her father may die or the house may be destroyed we should recognize the possibility of closure in this case, when it will become clear that the woman has fulfilled the condition, allowing the divorce to take effect.
The general attitude taken in response to this question is that the condition not to enter the house remains even after her father’s death. This is the case because of the husband’s use of the term, le-olam – forever, or because the husband’s intent was to put a prohibition on the house (his statement is understood to mean that she cannot enter the house which today is owned or occupied by her father), or because we view the house as the patriarchal home, even after the father’s death. Similarly, the possibility that the house may fall or be destroyed is hardly something that we can be certain will happen, leaving the wife in a state of limbo, which we will not allow.
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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