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.
Our Gemara continues the discussion of how to deal with a divorce that is given predicated on various conditions made by the husband. What if he makes the divorce conditional on actions that his wife cannot possibly perform? Among the examples offered by the baraita are that the get is given –
- On the condition that you climb up to the sky
- On the condition that you go down to the deepest depths
- On the condition that you swallow a board that is four cubits long
- On the condition that you cross the ocean by foot.
In all of these cases the Tanna Kamma rules that since the condition cannot be fulfilled, the divorce cannot take effect. Rabbi Yehuda ben Teima rules that this divorce does take effect, explaining that as a general rule when a condition is made that clearly cannot be fulfilled, we interpret the intention to be one of exaggeration, without any true significance. Since the condition cannot possibly be fulfilled, we view the establishment of the condition as words that have no meaning. Our Gemara concludes by stating that we follow Rabbi Yehuda ben Teima’s position.
The Gemara continues by raising situations where the condition can, theoretically, be fulfilled, but it is something that is forbidden to do. Examples include –
- On the condition that you eat pork (Abayye views this case as being identical to the previous one that we discussed; Rava rules that here the woman can choose to eat pork, although if she does, she will be punished for doing so.)
- On the condition that you have sexual relations with a certain person. In this case all agree that if she has relations with him, the divorce takes effect. The Talmud Yerushalmi argues that she cannot really do this, since she is still married and the divorce has not yet taken effect. Nevertheless, when she engages in relations, the divorce takes effect retroactively, and she has not committed adultery.
According to the Mishnah on our daf, the central statement of the divorce document is the idea harei at muteret le-chol adam – “behold you are permitted to any person,” a statement that breaks the bonds of the existing marriage. Rabbi Yehuda says that it must say that this get (writ of divorce) will act as a document of divorce; a letter of abandonment and a writ of freedom, permitting the woman to marry any man that she desires.
According to most of the rishonim, even the first opinion would not allow a woman to marry based solely on that statement; clearly the get must also include the names of the husband and wife as well as other pertinent information. Nevertheless, the Ri”d writes that the simple statement of harei at muteret le-chol adam would suffice to effect a divorce assuming that there are proper witnesses who can attest to the transfer of the document.
With regard to Rabbi Yehuda’s ruling, there is some discussion as to whether his expanded version of the statement replaces the basic idea expressed in the words harei at muteret le-khol adam or if he still requires that language to be included. The latter position – which is accepted by the Rambam, the Ramban and others – can be explained by the fact that the language mandated by Rabbi Yehuda specifically allows the woman to remarry, but does not clearly state that she is a single woman. The difference would be if she engaged in a sexual relationship without getting married. Did the get allow her to do so, or did the original husband only release her to get married? This lack of clarity obligates the husband to include a clear statement permitting her to all. Others disagree, arguing that a divorce clearly ends the marriage, and without any marital bonds, the woman is clearly free to engage in whatever behaviors she sees fit.
The Mishnah that was discussed on yesterday’s daf segues from a discussion of the correct language in a document of divorce to present that language that should be used when a slave or a maidservant is set free. The two suggested expressions are harei at bat horin – “behold, you are a free woman” or harei at le-atzmekh – “behold, you belong to yourself.”
Some of the commentaries ask why Rabbi Yehuda does not require a greater clarification of the freedom that is being offered to the slave, just as he requires it regarding divorces (see daf 85). The Chatam Sofer suggests that since many codifiers ruled that a slave can be released with a simple statement, and that the document serves merely to be a record of the transfer of ownership, Rabbi Yehuda does not believe that it would be necessary to be very specific in the document.
In the context of this discussion, our Gemara brings a ruling made by Rav Yehuda, who required that the record of sale, transferring ownership of a slave from one person to another, should include statements assuring the purchaser that the slave is fully owned by the individual who is selling him with no claims on him from the government or from any other individual. Furthermore, the record of sale assures the purchaser that the slave does not suffer from any diseases, nor does he have any other mumim – blemishes – on his person.
The commentaries point out that ordinarily these assurances should not be necessary, since the general principle is that the purchaser of a slave cannot claim that the purchase should be nullified because of a mum – either the blemish is significant enough that the sale is automatically or if it is not so significant we can assume that the purchaser checked and was aware of the mum beforehand. Thus Rav Yehuda’s version of the record of sale requires the statement to be made in order to help people from misunderstandings and complaints against each other.
The Mishnah on our daf discusses a situation where two gittin (divorce documents) are written on a single parchment, one next to the other, and are signed by two groups of witnesses. The case presented by the Mishnah raises questions about the witnesses’ signatures, and, in particular, the issue of witnesses who sign in Latin. According to the Mishnah, if we have two signatures in Hebrew, one after another, and then two signatures in Latin, one after another, the get would be fine. If, however, there was a mix between Hebrew names and Latin names, then the get cannot be used.
The assumption appears to be that in the first case one set of witnesses is attesting to the get on the right, while the other set is attesting to the set on the left. In the second case, however, we are concerned lest the Latin signers may have mimicked or changes their own signatures, based on what the Hebrew signers did before them.
Two approaches are offered to explain the case of the Latin signers. According to Rashi, all of the witnesses used Hebrew letters in their signatures, and that some of the people who signed the two gittin shared the same line while signing. The concern is that one of the Latin signers may have copied the writing style from the Hebrew signer and switched the order of his name and his father’s name. The Rambam suggests that one set of witnesses actually used Latin characters when signing their names. According to this approach, even though each name was written on a separate line, still there is a concern that one of the signers in Latin copied the order of the witness who signed before him and may have confused his name with his father’s name.
As we have seen throughout Masechet Gittin, according to Torah law only the husband can act to divorce his wife; the wife does not have the power to create a divorce. Are there any situations where she can appeal to the courts to force her husband to offer her a divorce?
The Mishnah on our daf teaches that if a bet din – a Jewish court – forces the husband to give a get, the divorce will take effect. If it is a non-Jewish court that forces him to give a get, no divorce takes place. If, however, the Jewish court rules that the husband should divorce his wife, but they do not have the power to force him to give a get, they can turn to the secular courts and arrange for them to force him to follow their ruling.
The Talmud Yerushalmi considers the possibility that a Jewish court will only force someone to grant a divorce if the marriage is a forbidden union (for example, a kohen who married a divorcee). The Yerushalmi‘s conclusion, however, is that the court can make this decision for other reasons, as well, e.g. if he behaves inappropriately towards his wife.
The Rambam (Mishnah, Hilkhot Gerushin, 2:20) asks how the bet din could force someone to offer a get – shouldn’t he be considered an anoos (someone forced to perform an action against his will) – whose actions are considered null and void? The Rambam explains that the idea of anoos is that a person is forced to do something that he is not obligated to do. Someone who is obligated to perform a certain action – for example, if he is instructed by the bet din to perform that action – cannot be considered forced against his will to do it, since we believe that every Jewish person wants to do what is right and just. Therefore we perceive the situation as being different than what it appears to be – really this individual wants to give the get, and it is his yetzer ha-ra – his evil inclination – that is keeping him from doing the right thing. Thus, forcing him to agree that he desires to give the get, in actuality is allowing him to do what he really wants to do.
The Mishnah on the last daf discusses how we are to deal with rumors about a woman’s marital status. According to the Mishnah, if there are rumors that a woman has gotten married we must take such statements seriously, at least to the extent that we will obligate her to get a divorce before allowing her to marry someone else. If the rumors indicate that she was divorced, we will trust those rumors, as well, and treat her as a divorced woman.
In the Gemara on our daf, Ulla points out that this ruling does not apply to simple rumors, rather to rumors that have a solid basis. An example of that would be that there is a wedding hall prepared, with guests coming and going, and the guests say that they have come for a specific person’s wedding. A question that is raised by the rishonim is how the rumors of a divorce may be substantiated. Some suggest that this is just an example, and the intent of the Gemara is to teach that the community leaders are obligated to make inquiries to substantiate the rumors before acting on them. The Talmud Yerushalmi argues that we must distinguish between weddings, which often involve public festivities and divorces that are usually arranged privately. Since there is no possibility that we can find a parallel source for the rumors of a divorce, we are more open to accept what is considered “common knowledge” in the community.
What is clear in the Gemara is that we reject rumors that ascribe various negative attributes or behaviors to a given woman. Therefore, if there are unsubstantiated rumors that that a woman got engaged, got married, committed adultery or has a checked family background, we do not give credence to those rumors. The Me’iri writes that in all such cases, not only will the bet din – the Jewish court – refuse to accept those rumors itself, but it is obligated to tell anyone who asks that the rumors cannot be accepted as being true.
A Mishnah appears on this, the last daf in Masechet Gittin, that deals with one of the most basic questions about divorce. According to Jewish law, what are considered reasonable grounds for divorce? The Mishnah brings three opinions on this matter:
- Bet Shammai rules that a man can divorce his wife only if he found a davar ervah – a promiscuous situation.
- Bet Hillel permits divorce even in a case where the wife hikdichah tavshilo (literally “burned his food”).
- Rabbi Akiva says that he can divorce her for any reason – even if he found another woman who he finds more attractive.
Each of these three tanna’im points to a biblical passage as a source for their positions. Both Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel rely on the pasuk that says ki matzah bah ervat davar – that he found a matter of promiscuity. Bet Shammai emphasizes the word “promiscuity” while Bet Hillel believes that the key word is davar – anything. Rabbi Akiva’s source is the beginning of the pasuk – ve-hayah im lo timtzah hen be-einav – if she does not find favor in his eyes.
The Talmud Yerushalmi emphasizes that Bet Shammai’s position does not require that the husband actually discover that his wife has committed adultery, rather that any promiscuous behaviors can be grounds for divorce.
Bet Hillel‘s ruling seems rather callous, and, in fact, Rashi offers two possible explanations for how the wife may have ruined the food – either by burning it or by putting in too much salt. Based on the Rambam, who explains Bet Hillel‘s position as referring to a woman whose attitude and behavior do not match that of her husband, the Chatam Sofer suggests that the expression used by Bet Hillel does not refer to ruining the food, rather as a metaphor whose meaning is that if the husband finds his wife to be distasteful, then he would be allowed to divorce her.
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.