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[page xi] The Tractate Gittin, as its name implies, is concerned principally with problems connected with the kind of document known as Get. The derivation of this word, as also its primary meaning, is obscure. As used in the Talmud it means strictly ‘document’, in the widest sense of the term. In actual practice, however, it was applied almost exclusively to two kinds of document — the get pitturin, the writ of release or divorce, given by a husband to a wife, and the get shihrur, or writ of manumission, given by a master to a slave. When used without further qualification, the word invariably refers to the former of these. It is with this that the treatise Gittin principally deals, though it includes in its purview writs of manumission also, and much of what it has to say of these two kinds applies to documents in general.
From the nature of its subject, Gittin is concerned largely with questions of legal procedure and terminology, and in this respect it has close affinities with certain tractates in the Seder Nezikin. On the other hand, through its preoccupation with writs of divorce, it has necessarily to touch frequently on problems of conjugal relationships; and it was for this reason, no doubt, that it was included in the Seder Nashim. To avoid misunderstanding, however, the fact must be emphasized that the main theme of Gittin is not divorce, either in its legal or its moral aspect, but the validity of the document which effects divorce.
The first three chapters discuss exhaustively the reasons for which a Get may be pronounced invalid by the Beth din. These advance progressively from purely external flaws to serious flaws in the very content of the Get. The first flaw with which Chapter I begins is the omission of the bearer of a Get from one country to another, especially to or from the Land of Israel, to make a proper declaration. Apropos of this, the Gemara takes occasion to enumerate various points of difference between the Land of Israel and other countries (2a-8b). Next we have flaws in the signatures (9a-11b) and then the case of a Get being countermanded [page xii] before it is delivered, in connection with which the Gemara discusses the rights of a wife and a slave to maintenance (12a-13a). Next comes the case of a Get delivered after the death of the husband, in connection with which the whole subject of deathbed and other instructions is discussed (13a-15a).
Chapter II commences with the case of a Get delivered by two bearers jointly (15a-17a), then discusses when the witnesses to the document may sign (17a-19a), then the material with which and on which the Get is to be written (19a-22b), then the persons who are qualified to write out the Get or act as its bearers (22b-24a).
Chapter III sets forth in its various aspects the rule that the Get must be written expressly for the woman to whom it is to be given (24a-28a), and this gives an opportunity for a discussion of the subject of bererah, (‘retrospective decision,’ or ‘anticipatory choice,’ 25a-25b). The case where the husband may have died before the Get is given is then taken and this leads to a discussion of the whole question of ‘presumption’ (28a-29a) and a number of rules on the subject (30a-31b). In between these two passages the conditions under which one bearer may appoint another are laid down.
Chapter IV commences with the regulations under which a man may cancel a Get (32a-34a), or change his name in the Get (34b). These regulations were laid down ‘for the better ordering (or adjustment) of society’, i.e., for the prevention of hardships or abuses; and most of the rest of this chapter is taken up with a number of other regulations made by the Rabbis for the same purpose, most of which have nothing to do with divorce. Incidentally the whole subject of the emancipation of slaves is treated under various headings, which include the marriageability of the slave and his right to compensation for injury (37b-45a).
Prominent among the regulations made for the ‘better adjustment of society’ is Hillel’s institution of the Prosbul, which is discussed in (36a-37b). Other such regulations are that a widow should take a vow on claiming her kethubah from orphans (34b-35b), that captives should not be redeemed for more than their value (45a); that scrolls of the law etc. should not be bought from [page xiii] heathens for more than their value (45b); that a man may not remarry a woman whom he has divorced on account of ill fame or of a vow she has made or because she is barren (46b); that a man who sells himself to heathens is not to be redeemed (47a); and that one who sells a field to a heathen has to buy the first fruits from him (47a).
Chapter V contains a number of regulations of a similar type of which the most interesting refer to the duties of guardians (51b-52b), the penalties for deliberately making other persons’ foodstuffs unclean (52b-55a), and the sicaricon (55b). It closes with some similar regulations made ‘in the interests of peace,’ as that the poor of the heathen should be allowed to gather gleanings etc., or that the wife of a haber (v. Glos.) may grind corn together with the wife of an ‘am ha-arez (v. Glos.) etc.
In Chapter VI we return to the subject of writs of divorce, and the formulas by which a husband or wife can appoint an agent for taking or receiving the Get are laid down and minutely discussed (62b-64b). The cases of a young girl and of the wife of a priest are given special consideration (64b-65b). The rest of the chapter is taken up with the validity of instructions given by the husband to others to write the Get.
The first two Mishnahs in Chapter VII continue the same subject. The case of a Get given conditionally on a man’s dying is then considered (72a-74a), and then the problem of a Get with conditions attached to it or inserted in it, and the Gemara discusses the proper formula for laying down a condition (74a-76a). The case of a Get given on condition of a man’s not returning within a certain time is then specially considered (76a-77a).
Chapter VIII lays down the rules for deciding whether the Get has legally been given or not in cases where it was not actually transferred from hand to hand, e.g., where the husband threw it to the wife (77a-79b). Cases in which a second Get is required owing to some doubt about the first are then considered, and various types of invalid Get are defined, as also the penalties incurred by a woman for marrying again on the strength of such a Get (79b-81a). [page xiv]
Chapter IX at first continues with the same subject, discussing the exact force of the word ‘but’ introducing an exception, and the Gemara adduces the attempts of four Rabbis to confute the opinion of R. Eliezer that a Get containing this word is valid. The validity of other conditions and exceptions is also discussed (83b-85a). The proper formula for the Get, and also for a writ of manumission, is then specified (85a-86a), and a description is given of various types of Get which are irregular or unusual but not invalid (86a-88a). The rest of the chapter deals with the validity of a Get given under compulsion (88b), the question whether attention is to be paid to common report (88b-90a), and finally, the ethical grounds for divorce (90a-90b).
The exacting legal discussions which make up a great part of the Tractate are relieved by a considerable amount of Aggadah. The mention of ‘sicaricon’ in the fifth chapter provides a peg on which to hang a long aggadic description of the siege of Jerusalem by Vespasian and Titus and the War of Bethar (55b-58a). This is one of the outstanding aggadic passages in the whole of the Talmud. The mention of kordiakos in the seventh chapter furnishes an opportunity for a quaint disquisition on various common maladies, and their remedies — a sort of Talmudic materia medica (67b-70b).1 Interwoven with this — for some reason which is not quite apparent — is a highly fanciful account of the relations of King Solomon with Ashmedai, the prince of the demons. Other notable pieces of Aggadah are the midrashic expositions of Scriptural texts in chapter 1 (6b-7b), and the discussion whether the Torah was originally written as a whole or in separate scrolls in Chapter V (6oa).
While concerned primarily with documents, Gittin also contains most of the Talmudic law on divorce itself. This combination was rendered easy and natural by the fact that according to the Rabbis the one means of dissolving a marriage is a Get properly drawn up and delivered. If that is so, it may be asked, why should the Rabbis not have concentrated their attention on the act of divorce itself [page xv] rather than on the Get? The answer may be hazarded that they tried deliberately to avoid mention of divorce as a term of evil associations. This idea is borne out by the fact that in speaking of slaves the Tractate does in fact deal in the first place with actual emancipation, and with the writ of manumission only incidentally.
One more point will probably strike the modern reader — the apparent unfairness of the Talmudic law of divorce towards the woman. The husband can practically at any time get rid of the wife against her will; the wife cannot release herself from the husband against his will except under certain conditions when the Beth din can compel him to give her a Get. This is certainly the theory, but in practice this inequality was, in the view of the Rabbis, more apparent than real. They assumed, and rightly so, that both for a man and a woman married life was under almost any conditions preferable to single, and therefore while the man might he trusted not to abuse his power, the woman, if virtuous, would only in the rarest circumstances actually desire a divorce.
The Indices of this Tractate have been compiled by Judah J. Slotki, M.A.
PREFATORY NOTE BY THE EDITOR
The Editor desires to state that the translation of the several Tractates, and the notes thereon, are the work of the individual contributors and that he has not attempted to secure general uniformity in style or mode of rendering. He has, nevertheless, revised and supplemented, at his own discretion, their interpretation and elucidation of the original text, and has himself added the notes in square brackets containing alternative explanations and matter of historical and geographical interest.
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