Sunday, 31 January 2016

Gittin 50: Who Is Responsible?

Who is responsible for a person's debts if those debts cannot be paid?   Usually a guarantor is held responsible, even if the collateral has been sold to someone else.  However, a guarantor for a ketuba is not held responsible for payment of that ketuba.  Facilitating a marriage is presented as a special mitzvah.  Perhaps, as well, the rabbis wanted to encourage people to participate in the system surrounding marriage, for all of Jewish life and halacha is founded on the societal structure maintained by the family unit.

The rabbis compared the case of land for orphans with other cases.  Inferior land is taken from orphans if their deceased father owes a debt.  But we learned earlier that superior-quality land is always used to settle debts.  One of the possible answers to this question regards the rabbis' care for minor orphans.  While this directive does not specify that it applies to child orphans, the rabbis posit that adults might not need this special treatment as would children.

The Gemara in amud (b) considers what the halacha if a person's owed land has been given away as a gift (rather than having been sold).  Is that property taken from the new, possibly ignorant buyer?  The rabbis walk through complicated situations where debtors, lenders, guarantors, sellers, and others might be responsible due to different circumstances.  We learn about how produce that has been consumed and the care for wives and daughters do not meet the same criteria as other responsibilities. 

Finally we read the rabbis' questions regarding consumed produce that has had no fixed price and about the care for women and daughters which was not written into the ketuba but was assumed.  It made a difference whether or not anything was in writing regarding all of these transactions.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Gittin 49: Payback

The consequence for stealing is, in part, return of the stolen item or the value of that item.  Debts like these were often paid back from the thief's assets, which might be land.  The rabbis ruled that the repayment had to be from the thief's most superior land.  Inferior land might have used as repayment in some circumstances.  However, to deter thieve the rabbis insisted on restitution via superior land.

The rabbis use the example of an ox goring another ox to discuss issues of value: consecrated versus non-sacred items, etc.

A debate about the halachot of property transfer in marriage ensues.  Does a woman take the land she has been promised from her new husband's inferior or intermediate land?  Is her consent required for divorce?  A woman's rights are compared to those of an orphan, who also 'inherits'.  However, the rabbis note that a major difference between women and orphans is that the desirability of a woman can be affected by these decisions, where an orphan's desirability is not an issue.

Our daf ends with a discussion about fathers, sons and responsibilities.   When are we responsible for the obligations of others?

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Gittin 47: Redeeming Captives At Risk; When We Bring First Fruits/Tithes

If a person has been taken captive and is at risk of dying, s/he must be redeemed.  The rabbis walk us through a number of circumstances that are iffy - for example, if a person ate treif food specifically to spite G-d, s/he should not be redeemed (should s/he then be taken captive and will be killed).  But if a person ate treif food because s/he was very hungry, s/he should be redeemed.  

A story is told of Reish Lakish who sold himself as a gladiator.  He brought a rock in a bag with him. His captors asked him for his last wish, and he asked to hit them each one and a half times with the rock.  They complied.  The first captor was killed at once, but Reish Lakish pretended to converse with him so that the others would not flee.  After Reish Lakish retired home, his daughter offered him a pillow to sleep on.  Reish Lakish said that his stomach was his pillow.  We learn later that Reish Lakish wished to leave this life with nothing, and he lamented that he still owned a kav of saffron when he died.

The daf then fully embraces the theme of agriculture.  A new Mishna teaches that when a field is sold to a gentile, the Jewish seller must then bring bikurim, first fruits, to promote tikkun loam, the betterment of the world.   The Gemara discusses the notion that Gentiles can own the earth and what goes under it.  However, the sky until the Heavens belongs to the Jews.  Questions are asked about the nature of the land: when do we consider land to be ownerless?  Should we tithe if a field contains mixed produce?  What if a Jew and a Gentile partner to own a piece of land - do we offer tithes? Does it matter whether land is in Syria or in Eretz Yisrael?  

Deuteronomy 26:11 speaks of the need to rejoice in all that the Lord has brought you and your house.  "Your house" is said to refer to one's wife.  Thus does a husband take his wife's first fruits?  If so, what if she dies while her husband is on route?  For that matter, what should be done if an agent learns that the husband has died while the agent was bringing the first fruits to the Temple?

This change in direction toward agricultural halachot has been a surprise for me.  I'm curious about how this will connect back to the specific questions about Masechet Gittin.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Gittin 46: Remarrying After Divorce Due to Vows

Husbands may or may not be permitted to remarry their wives after the have divorced because of one of her vows or because of rumours of promiscuity.  The rabbis discuss how important it is that women are reminded of the seriousness of adultery.  Husbands must be clear about why they are divorcing their wives.  

If a vow was taken in public, it cannot be dissolved.  But what is public?  Based on a proof text, Rabbi Nachman believes that at least three people create the public.  Rabbi Yitzchak states that at least ten people are required, as it is written that ten people create a congregation.

IF the wife's vow requires investigation by a halachic authority, her husband should not be allowed to remarry her.  Rabbi Meir says that husbands do not desire disgracing their wives in court, while Rabbi Elazar believes that husbands do not desire that their wives are disgraced in court. 

The Gemara then looks at examples of husbands who make vows regarding their wives.  Are they forbidden from remarrying, too? The rabbis discuss the sanctity of vows.  Vows are seen to be equal to building personal altars which is not permitted.  Vows are taken very seriously because their dissolution is not simple, and people may be bound to those vows and any related consequences of meeting - or breaking - those vows.

Before beginning a new Mishna, we learn that the rabbis agree: it is for the betterment of the world to not remarry one's wife only after she has made a vow, not after the husband has made a vow.

A new Mishna teaches that a man who marries a woman and then realizes that she is an aylonit (a woman who will not be able to have children as she is sexually not developed) may remarry her - though Rabbi Yehuda says that he may not.  If she then marries another man and has children, she could charge her ex-husband with payment of her ketubah.  Rabbi Yehuda says that she should stay quiet, for this claim could hurt her more that it hurts them.  

The Gemara notes that the rabbis are worried about potential harm to the wife.  Vows that lead to permissiveness are seen as particularly dangerous.  It is interesting that harm is not only about transgressing halacha.  Harm is also used as a means of understanding how we should create and recreate society.  What harmed women more, being unmarried and shunned?  Being married with a 'bad reputation'?  Going to court for what they knew they deserved?  Which of those things is most harmful to women today?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Gittin 45: Slavery and Aliyah, Ransom for Captives, Kashrut of Ritual Items

The Gemara discusses differences in how slaves and masters are treated in different situations.  For example, a slave that escapes his master from outside of Eretz Yisrael into Hares is treated differently that a slave who escapes his master within HaAretz to outside of HaAretz.  Other determining factors include whether or not the slave has converted to Judaism.  In some cases the master is forced to release his slave with a bill of manumission as well as giving the slave a promissory note (whereby the person enslaved will have to pay back his own 'cost' as he makes that money).

Interestingly, we see here the valuing of the land of Israel above other lands.  The land itself has inherent worth, and masters are held accountable both for leaving HaAretz and for forcing their slaves to 'go down'.  Similarly, slaves are rewarded for making aliyah, going up, into the land of Israel. In creating halachot that reflect that value judgement about the land itself, the rabbis reinforce our focus on Israel that continues to this day.

A new Mishna teaches us about how to deal with people who have been kidnapped and are being held for ransom.  We are not to pay more for captives than their predetermined worth (each person has a predetermined worth determined by gender, social status, age, etc.).  This is because we do not want to drive up the price of ransom.  Further, we are not to assist captive to escape, either because we do not want captors to increase their security and/or because we do not want captors to torture their captives.  All of this is for tikkun haolam, the betterment of the world.

The Gemara wonders what this means, "for the betterment of the world".  Is this about the financial wellbeing of a community?   We are given examples of daughters of wealthy families who are redeemed for far more than their official worth.  

Through an unbelievable story we are told about dealing with captors.  We learn that Rav Ilish wondered about the verse that suggests that women will not be exceptionally righteous, and thus will bring ill fortune.  Rav Ilash notes that even the daughter of Rav Nachman who were extremely righteous were taken captive.  These women were so devout that they could stir boiling pots with their hands. The evil eye caused Rav Ilish to be taken captive with them.  

Rav Ilish was told by another prisoner who could translate the language of birds that a bird was telling Rav Ilish to escape.  Then this man said that a dove called for Rav Ilish to escape.  Rav Ilish took this as a sign for the dove is special to the people of Israel.   He decided to bring Rav Nachman's daughters with him.  Alas, when eavesdropping on them in the washroom (to ensure that they were still worthy of his help), he heard them say that they had married their captors and hoped that their Jewish husbands did not attempt to redeem them.  Rav Ilish then escaped on his own.  When the women were eventually freed, Rav Ilish stated that they were able to stir pots with their bare hands because they were witches, and not because they were righteous.

A new Mishna teaches us that we cannot purchase Torah scrolls, tefillin or mezzuzot from Gentiles who mark up their prices.  This is to ensure that these required religious items do not become exorbitantly priced.  Again, this is for the betterment of the world.

The Gemara considers whether or not these items when owned by Gentiles would be acceptable for religious use.  The rabbis note that people who prepare these religious items must be those people who are obligated by Torah law to participate in their use.  Thus women and minors, for example, cannot make tefillin that can be used by men, for only men are obligated to perform this time-bound mitzvah.  

We are told about a convert who returned to idolatry.  Rav Ashi believes that he should be permitted to read from a Torah scroll that he wrote, for he is still a Jew and thus still obligated to observe the mitzvot.  We are then told about an Arab woman who tried to sell Abaye a basket of tefillin.  Abaye offered her only one date for all of these items.  She was angry and threw them all into the river. Filled with remorse, Abaye said that he should not have insulted the tefillin in her practice; he should have paid her the market value for her tefillin, even if they were not going to be used.

A final Mishna shares more insights about what should be done for the betterment of the world.  This time, the rabbis consider a man who has divorced his wife and wishes to remarry.  First, a man who divorces his wife because of her bad reputation (ie. she has committed adultery) may not remarry her later.  Similarly, if he divorces her due to a vow that she took, he may not remarry her in the future.  Rabbi Yehuda suggest a slight difference - if he divorced her because of a vow that was made privately, he may remarry her.  If the vow was made public, he cannot remarry her.

The rabbis then add further detail regarding who might remarry his wife depending on whether or not a vow might have required investigation by halachic authorities.   Finally, we are told of a case where a man divorced his wife based on a konam, a vow regarding something forbidden like an offering.  The rabbis allowed this man to remarry his wife based on the betterment of the world.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Gittin 44: Emancipating Slaves in Different Circumstances

Sometimes Gentiles would take slaves as payment for their debts.  Slaves might also be captured by a Sicarius, who would torture people and take their property.  The rabbis question whether or such a slave could be considered emancipated.  On the other hand, a slave might be sold to a government official as a bribe of sorts.  In this case, the slave might in fact be emancipated.  The rabbis then consider whether or not a slave might be emancipated in numerous circumstances.  Some of these cases explore time-limited purchases and differences between the halachot regarding sellers who are Gentiles or Jews.

The rabbis consider what should be done if a slave runs to serve with another army.  They also consider the differences between slaves and animal who have been purchased by someone other than the rightful master.  Captives must be redeemed, even at a greater cost than market value.  However, a slave or an animal do not necessarily have to be redeemed.  The rabbis also consider whether or not a master who dies passes on to his son the responsibility of redeeming a slave.

The Gemara describes other situations where the son of a man who has died is responsible (or not responsible) for his father's debts. Most of these examples include people who have transgressed a halacha and then died.  Their sons are then left with the possible penalties.  

Finally, the rabbis wonder whether or not slaves are emancipated when they are brought to other lands.  The Gemara considers differences between wives' and husbands' purchases.  As well, the rabbis note whether or not people who travel with their slaves intend to return.  Slaves cannot be forced to leave Eretz Yisrael, but if they choose to leave, they forfeit their right to emancipation.  If they choose to stay, they are emancipated.

How challenging to continually struggle with texts that normalize slavery.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Gittin 43: Half-Slaves, Emancipation, Time

The rabbis continue to discuss the intricacies of granting slaves their freedom.  Those who are half-slaves could fall between the lines in many circumstances.  Many of those examples are jarring to read.  We learn that in some cases, a slave is worth nothing.  For example, when a slave cannot perform labour because he has an injury that will not heal within twelve months, or if a slave has boils and "is not fit to stand before" his master, he is worth nothing.  This is because he cannot be sold.  To conceive of people as worthless is incredibly disturbing.

Betrothal is always complicated with those who are half-freew - issues of true acquisition, heirs, ransoms, etc.  The Gemara discusses cases where a maidservant is half freewoman.  The rabbis have many concerns, from when emancipation takes place to the obligation for women to reproduce.

A new Mishna teaches that a slave who is sold outside of Israel to Jews, or inside of Eretz Yisroel, is emancipated.  The Gemara tells us that this is proven by Torah texts.  It goes on to teach that one who borrows on the bases of that slave also emancipates that slave.  The rabbis attempt to understand how such a transaction might have worked.  They speak about the exemption from tithing, and about the notion of "time" as a defining measure for a slave's move to another household.  

Gittin 42: Slaves Who Are Given Half of their Freedom

A slave can be freed through a letter of manumission.  But we learn about half-slaves.  What happened to them?  They might have been bought by two people.  Alternatively, an owner might have freed half of a slave to facilitate a negotiation with someone else.  Regardless, it is clear that the rabbis have concerns about a half-freed slave.  Would he work for his master one day and for himself the next?  How could he marry (other than marrying another slave and relegating himself to slavery for the rest of his life)?

The rabbis discuss cases that are quite unusual, including two slaves, each of whom who has been given half of their freedom.  They quote contradictory baraitot regarding minuscule differences between two interpretations.

Amud (b) walks us through the many circumstances that might confuse people regarding the laws of slavery.  We learn a number of ‘what ifs’.  Who pays the penalty if  a slave has been gored by an ox?  What if a master hurts a slave – knocks out his tooth and then blinds his eye, for example?  Who is paid, and how much are they paid?  And what if a slave has no bill of manumission when his master dies– can he partake of teruma?  Finally, what do we do if a priest has children with his wife and his maidservant, and no one knows which child is whose?   The Gemara answers this one easily: all children get teruma, for a priest shares teruma with his children and with his slaves and their children.

The rabbis begin a conversation about something that we know is about to happen.  If something hasn’t happened yet but it is about to occur, we can assume that it will happen and in fact make rulings based on that assumption.  How might this affect the slave?

Again, discussions of slavery are uncomfortable and upsetting.  More on this uncomfortable reality soon, I’m sure.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Gittin 39: Getting Out of Slavery

Continuing yesterday's conversation regarding the consecration of slaves, the rabbis wish to understand how a slave compares with other property.  The rabbis suggest that a person does not make a statement for no reason.  And so if a slave is consecrated, and of course not sacrificed to the Temple, how do we interpret the slave's consecration?  Is a slave like moveable property?  Like land? If a slave's hair is considered to have already been cut once his owner intends that it is cut, how does that affect his status as a consecrated person?

The rabbis extend the analogy of a slave being like land.  They consider what is done with grapes as they ripen, for example, and what can be done with the vines ahead of time.  They consider, as well, whether or not a bill of manumission is actually required when a slave is freed.  It seems that some verses suggest that a bill of manumission is absolutely necessary to ensure that a slave is freed.

The rabbis consider what happens when a slave is freed by his master  who then dies.  Is this like other cases of death before one is released, like a man who has written a get for his wife but has not yet delivered it to her hand when he then dies?  

We are given an example of one of their questions via the rabbi's story of a maidservant whose master was dying.  She came to him in tears, begging to be freed from servitude.  He threw his hat to her and said that she should acquire the hat and with it her freedom.  Sounds terrific -- except that a court denied the relevance of his actions: "He did nothing".  This is because he act was one of transfer of ownership, which is different from an act releasing one from ownership.

Again, it seems incredulous to discuss people's freedom as human beings in this way.  It is hard to believe that only recently did most societies set aside the notion of slavery and indebted servitude as barbaric.  More - it is hard to believe that our society only recently developed and instituted bills of human rights.

As Jews of conscience, what do we do with this?

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Gittin 38: On Consecrating/Emancipating Slaves

The Gemara discusses who can acquire whom: can a Gentile acquire a Gentile slave? A Jewish slave?  What about a slave who has been captured and then freed?  The Gemara teaches us that a slave who has been set free must be given a letter of manumission by his/her owner.  The owner already gave up on reacquiring that slave, and so the slave must be set free upon finding freedom.  The letter of manumission assures that that a male slave is able to find a Jewish bride.

Master Shmuel had a maidservant who was captured.  She was redeemed as a maidservant; that is, for those who believed that a freed slave is emancipated, she was only freed to return to her work with Shmuel.  The rabbis discuss the importance of being freed.  If one has no human authority of him/herself, then s/he is a freeman.  Meaning that this maidservant was no longer a slave of Shmuel, but a free woman.

It seems that there was an interplay of political realities regarding slaves, redeeming slaves, being Jewish or a Gentile, being of any religion while owning a slave, etc.  The rabbis teach that she needs the bill of manumission because of a number of reasons, including the fact that Gentiles might not want her any longer if she was a Gentile redeemed by a Jew.

The Gemara then notes different cases where a maidservant is not emancipated for different reasons.  One, though she was performing sexual acts with many men (and her master was unable to end these behaviours) was not given a bill of manumission because we are told to hold our bondspeople for life.  Another tells of a maidservant who was half-slave half-freewoman.  She was freed by one master but not the other.  The court ruled for both to free her, because people were performing sexual acts with her and it would be better for her to marry and cease tempting men with sin (from our notes).

The rabbis discuss whether it is ever appropriate to emancipate one's slave.  Rabbi Yehuda points to Leviticus 25:46 - "of them you will take your bondsmen forever."  However, does this mean that we cannot transgress a positive mitzvah in any circumstance?  What if Rabbi Eliezer freed his slave to allow a minyan at a service?  Can the requirement of one positive mitzvah override the requirement of another positive mitzvah?  Don't we have to factor in whether or not these mitzvot are rabbinic?

When a slave is consecrated, it is his her monetary value that is consecrated and not his/her person (every person is assigned a monetary value based on status).  Does that consecration automatically assume emancipation?  The rabbis debate this question based on their lived experiences of selling slaves.  The rabbis engage in a fascinating discussion about the sale of people.  If a slave cannot be emancipated in one setting, might s/he be emancipated after being sold by the court to another person with the intention of emancipation?  

More importantly, the rabbis ask whether a person can be a possession in the same way that other items are possessions.  Could treasurers sell slaves when they were never truly consecrated, as an animal or another item of value might be consecrated?  Could a slave free him or herself, given s/he had the money required to do so?

These questions are particularly interesting when we continually speak about the antiquated halachot of the times of the Talmud.  One of our most commonly used examples is that of slavery.  But they had slaves back then, we admit.  This was not a progressive time.  And yet here we see the rabbis questioning the logic of their system of people-ownership.  How did that fit with Torah teachings; with other halachot of the day?  It is wonderful to experience the rabbis' obvious discomfort with this ownership of human beings.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Gittin 37: Prosbol, Redeeming Slaves

A prosbol may be written to allow payment of a debt over the course of the shemita, the sabbatical year, which is ordinarily forbidden.  We learn that the bulei are the wealthy and the butei are the poor.  Each of these parties is named in the prosbol.  The rabbis discuss what amount of debt can be negotiated via a prosbol.  What about a perforated pot on the ground?  A pot sitting on stakes?  Or a stump of a palm tree?  And if a person lends 100 dinars to a friend who in turn lends that money to another friend, is it permitted to return the the 100 dinars directly to the first lender?  

The rabbis explain that shemita cancels both written an unwritten loans.  Promissory notes are loans written with property guarantees.  The rabbis question whether or not the shemita year would excuse all of these agreements.  They seem to lean toward allowing specific, time-based loans to be repaid although such repayment seems to go against the intention of the shemita.  Further, they also discuss loans  that are based on collateral, loans that are made within the same courtyard.

We are provided with the example of a promissory note with a property guarantee.  Rabbi Asi says that the shemita year's rules hold; Rabbi Yochanan says that shemita rules can be broken in this case.   Rabbi Yochanan's argument is that a loan that stands to be collected is considered to be a loan that has already been collected.  Thus it cannot be abrogated - it is as if the loan was already repaid.    

Reading this material as a beginner is extremely challenging.  What does this last suggestion say about all items over the shemita year?  What does it say about cancelling repayments?  

When one person says to another that he wishes to pay his debt to his friend that was due before the shemita year after that year has passed, his friend must say, "I abrogate the debt".  And if the debtor then says, I want to pay you anyway, the creditor is allowed to accept the money.   Deuteronomy 15:2 teaches about this abrogation.  The rabbis continue on, telling us about how the drama must play out - including lowering one's eyes and voice, etc.  Like a choreographed dance, the players are supposed to walk through their steps to ensure that they have prepared poorly.  The Gemara clarifies at the end of this conversation that one who brings a promissory note after the shemita year should also bring a prosbol.  However, saying that the prosbol was lost will also suffice.

A new Mishna teaches us that when a Canaanite slave is  captures and then redeemed by Jews who do not know him, if he was redeemed to be a slave he will be a slave.  But if he was redeemed to be a freeman, that will be his fate.  But Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says that in both cases the man will be a slave.

The Gemara wonders if the slave's owners are despairing  over their slave.  They wonder about ownership at all if this person was captured.  They note that it is a mitzvah to redeem both slaves and freemen.  Different rabbis share different opinions about whether or not this man should be a slave; whether or not he should belong to the first or second owner.   The rabbis also ask whether or not the first owner was despairing of his slave in the first place - did he even want this slave? Finally, the rabbis ask questions about differences between Gentiles and Jews regarding the permission to acquire and the acquisition of slaves in the first place.  Over and over again, the rabbis remember that it is a mitzvah to redeem a slave. However, they do not fully critique the ownership of people. 

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Gittin 36: Public Vows, Courts Nullifying Vows of Other Courts

Vows taken in public are nullified by the public, as well.  The rabbis tell the story of a teacher who was "negligent" regarding his students - stories suggest he either hit the children too much or he ignored them.  Rav Acha vowed that he could no longer teach based on the consent of the public.  Ravina nullified Rav Acha's vow as they could not find a better teacher.  

Next, our daf teaches that witnesses sign documents with their full names to avoid problems related to identity at a later time.  Thus this is for the betterment of the world.  We learn in this conversation that different rabbis signed documents using pictorials: Rav dew a fish, Rabbi Chanina drew a palm branch, Rav Chisda drew the letter 'samech', Rav Hoshaya drew the letter ayin, and Rabba Rav bar Huna drew a sail.  These symbols, however, are unmistakable, and need not include the rabbis' full names.

The remainder of our daf focuses on the prosbol initiated by Rabbi Hillel the Elder.  Although lending and borrowing was excused for individuals over the Sabbatical year, shemita, courts could continue to demand payment of loans.  If loans were granted to those who were very poor/needy close to shemita, lenders were afraid that they would not receive back their payments.  Thus the prosbol allowed the courts to continue paying out/following up with the poor close to shemita.

The Gemara goes on to discuss whether Hillel instituted the prosbol only for his generation or for all generations.  To this end, the rabbis discuss what is done with ownerless property, when courts can nullify the decisions of other courts (when they are greater in number and in wisdom), and whether or not courts are collecting money when that is in fact prohibited.  

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Gittin 35: The Vows of Widows and Divorcees

The rabbis are concerned that widows and divorcees may request their ketubot after having benefitted  already from part of that source of sustenance.  They are also concerned that these women might make oaths that are either false or unintentionally false, leaving themselves open to significant punishment at G-d's hand.

A story is told of a woman who was holding a dinar in a jar of flour for a man in a time of need.  She baked the dinar into a cake and gave the cake to a poor man.  When asked for the dinar back, the woman said she did not have it.  In fact she made an oath - take one of my children from me if I derived any benefit from your dinar.  A few days later, one of her children died.  Does this suggest that one who takes an oath is punished - even if she is telling the truth?  Some of the rabbis decide that widows should never take oaths for just this reason.  Others believe that they can take vows, but oaths must be taken in public settings.  Still others say that both divorcees and widows can take oaths; widows are different in that they often are caring for orphans and thus "nothing" is for their benefit but for the benefit of their children.

The rabbis discuss rulings that differ in Sura and in Neharde'a regarding what can be done in and outside of the court room itself.  They also consider when and whether a widow should collect payment for her ketubah, and whether or not she is permitted to protest for her inheritance if she is already receiving sustenance from her dead husband's estate.

The rabbis tell the story of a woman who vowed that she would deny herself any produce in the world  if it was not true that all she received from her ketubah was a coat and three books, all of which were worn.  Those items were assessed and found to be worth 500 dinars and it was ruled that the remainder of her ketubah was hers to take from her husband's property.  But is this a case that we can learn from?  She was a yevama, married and divorced from her husband's brother after her husband died childless.

It was ruled that she could receive the money as long as she did not remarry.  But why would the vows of women who remarry be problematic?  Because their new husbands could nullify their wives' vows. But the rabbis rule that new husbands cannot nullify their wives' previously made vows, even if those vows come into effect in the time of the new marriage.

We end this daf with the beginning of a new conversation.  If a priest marries a woman who transgresses a prohibition, he is not permitted to take part in Temple services.  To return to that status, the priest must vow that he will divorce his wife, and then serve in the Temple, and then immediately divorce his wife.

Gittin 33: Multiple Agents

Rabban Gamliel the Elder said that one must not render a get void through a court located elsewhere for the betterment of the world.  Why?  Is it because we might conceive mamzerim, when women believe that they are divorced but they are not and any future children born of them and other men are thus separated from their Jewish inheritance?  Reish Lakish wonders if he is referring to the betterment of deserted wives, who might wait for their husbands to confirm their gittin our of fear?  The rabbis explain their points of view based on how many people might be necessary as witnesses at the court and whether those people might be found.

The rabbis note that the dissolution of a betrothal/marriage is different, of course, but one of those differences is critical.  The Sages do not recognize betrothal through sexual intercourse as full marriage.  It is considered to be “licentious sexual intercourse’. Thus the husband has no get to void.  There is no need for divorce.  It is rare to learn about the rabbis’ condemnation of men’s sexual behaviour – but very common to hear their critiques of women’s licentiousness.  This is a nice change.

A sticking point is whether the rabbis believe that “testimony that is partially invalidated is entirely invalidated”.  If a man asks a number of men to write and deliver a get, one will write and two will officially witness and sign.  What about the others?  If they were present, they were witnesses. The Rabbis must understand whether or not all witnesses are required to be present when a court is convened to void a get.  There are a number of risks, including a wife getting multiple or incorrect information from agents regarding her status.

We are told that Rabbi Yoshiya from Usha was sitting with five Elders.  When a man approached him, he compelled that man to write a get against his will.  In fact, he told the elders to hide and write the get so that the man would not find them and void the document.  Does this teach us that voiding a get requires the presence of all who witnessed its writing?   Or does it teach us that the rabbis were together for another reason – if they had scattered, they would not be reconvened as may be necessary for voiding a get?

The underlying theme here, again, is that the rabbis are aware of the consequences that face women who are left without a proper get.  They seem to explore every minute angle to ensure that gets are written, that they are delivered properly, and that women are clearly divorced.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Gittin 32: Voiding a Get - Specific Words

Today's daf marks the beginning of Perek IV.  As well it begins with a Mishna.  Is a husband permitted to interrupt delivery of a get that he sent with an agent by announcing that "the get was void and thus this get is void"?  Once the get has reached her hand, is it automatically valid?  Initially a new court could render the get void.  However, Rabban Gamliel the Elder* introduced legislation: one should not do this for the betterment of the world.  We learn in a note that tikkun olam, betterment of the world, refers to keeping halachot in a strong Jewish society.  This is in contrast to tikkun olam, repair of the world, which is referred to in modern Jewish thought and kabbalist philosophy.

The rabbis note that such a husband is possibly attempting to vex his wife.  If he wishes to void the get for this reason, it cannot be voided.  They suggest that the words he uses are important.  Is he saying that "it is void" or "I do not desire it"?  If so, the get can be voided.  But if he says that "It is invalid" of "it is not a bill of divorce", his words have no effect.  The rabbis attempt to understand whether the husband was saying that the document was already flawed.  They compare the halachot regarding gift-giving to these circumstances.  While I understand that there are similarities, it is easy to understand the get as very different from a gift, whether or not it is desired by the wife.

If a husband says that the bill of divorce  shall not be effective, shall not release, shall not cause to leave, shall not send away, shall not divorce, shall be potter, or shall be like pottery, the get is void.  The rabbis question how "pottery" is different from claiming that the get is like any other ownerless property.  The rabbis note that when a husband interrupts an agent's delivery of the get and makes that get void, he may use it again in the future should he choose to.  However, if the husband is delivering the get himself and he names that document void, he cannot reuse the document at a later time.

The rabbis consider a betrothed woman's ability to change her mind about marriage within thirty days of her betrothal (when that option is presented to her).  Speech both created and nullified that vow.  Should the same guidelines apply to voiding a get?

Our daf ends with the rabbis' conversation about the Mishna's description of a court.  Are only two other people required at that court?  How many witnesses are necessary to deem a get void?  We'll learn more about this question tomorrow.

* Grandson of Hillel the Elder, Grandfather of Rabban Gamliel (of Yavne), head of the Sanhedrin for years, teacher of Saul of Tarsus aka Christian apostle "Paul".

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Gittin 31: Estimating Teruma; Checking Produce; Winds

When people set aside tithes, they were permitted to hold those tithes for some time before bringing them to the Leviim at certain times over the course of the year.  The produce that was set aside could not be consumed, though - it had to actually exist.  We learn in today's daf that the rabbis permitted teruma to be measured by eye.  One-sixtieth of one's crop could be set aside without measuring.  This seems very unusual compared with the general stringencies of our rabbis regarding measurable items.  

The rabbis are concerned that the produce set aside should not go bad.   Similarly, they are concerned that wine may become sour.  The rabbis designate certain times of year where produce should be checked; other times of year when wine should be checked. 

We also learn about the winds.  The rabbis seem to believe that there are four winds: the north, south, west and east winds.  The east wind seems to hold great power, both figuratively and practically speaking.  At the end of today's daf the rabbis discuss wind, heat, and the effects of these elements on people and upon objects.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Gittin 30: Unforeseen Circumstances; Repaying Loans After a Parent Dies in Debt

When an agent - or a husband - is delayed in delivering the get due to unforeseen circumstances, what happens to the get?  For example, if a husband misses his ferry after telling his wife that they will be divorced if he does not return within thirty days, is the get valid?  If the husband wishes to appease his wife with money but she will not be appeased, does the get hold?  The rabbis are concerned about virtuous women refusing to remarry because they have not received the get within very stringent limitations. They decide that if unforeseen circumstances could have been foreseen -- for example, if the ferry is often a problem -- then the husband is at fault and the get continues to be valid regardless of his current intention.  

A new Mishna continues an earlier conversation about the effects of the death of one party on a gift or a loan.  An example is the provision of a loan for a Kohen, a Levite or a poor person.  If those people change status in some way, the original loan agreement holds.  If one of them dies, the lender must contact his heirs to ensure that other laws are not forgotten.  The Gemara considers issues including interest accrued (which is not permitted), shemita (which cancels all loans), whether one can renege on a loan in these circumstances (which is not permitted) and what to do about separating teruma and tithes from such loans.

We learn that going back on a loan is permitted halachically before the borrowed item has been 'pulled' or 'lifted' from the lender.  However, a note teaches us that this is considered to be ethically reprehensible and that the courts will curse a person who reneges.

The Gemara discusses laws around poor people and how they might differ for Jews, Samaritans and other Gentiles.  Part of the determination of whether to continue to separate tithes and teruma in the case of a death of the receiver has to do with what is 'common'.  Rav Pappa shares a folk saying about what is common and what is uncommon: When we are told that a friend has died, we believe it.  But when we are told that a friend has become wealthy, we have to check.

Today's daf ends with a conversation about separating the teruma from the tithe when it comes to real estate or other objects of value after a person has died.  What are the considerations regarding these obligations?  One story tells of Rabbi Akiva's ruling when orphans are left with a tiny piece of land that do not cover their deceased parents' debts.  He decides that the lender should take the land, and the orphans should but the land back.  The lender should then repossess the land while the orphans buy it back again.  This should continue until the orphans have paid back their parents' loan.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Gittin 29: When an Agent Becomes Ill

We learn two Mishnaot in today's daf.  The first tells us that if a husband appoints an agent to deliver a get overseas and then that agent becomes ill, the agent can appoint another agent to deliver the get.  The second agent cannot be sent if the husband requested that the agent receive an item from his wife.  This is because he might not want that item to be in the possession of a person other than his chosen agent.

The Gemara asks questions about the circumstances of an illness.  How do we determine whether or not the husband would be alright with a secondary agent?   What about other unforeseen circumstances that are not illnesses?    The Gemara compares the get to other documents, like a deed which is presented as a gift, and rules of borrowing/lending.  For example, a person who is renting a home cannot sublet that home unless that sublet is the desire of the owner.

The second Mishna shares another guideline regarding a get that is delivered from out of town by an agent of the husband.  If he became sick, he appoints another agent in court, saying that the get was written in his presence and signed in his presence.  The final agent does not need to repeat those words when he delivers the get.  Instead, he can say, "I am an agent of the court."

The Gemara first questions the meaning of the first agent saying the required words at court and then the second agent saying the newly required words upon delivery of the get.

The conversation then turns to agents who are appointed in HaAretz.  The halachot may be slightly different.  A agent in Eretz Yisrael was allowed to give his responsibility to other agents.  However, it is possible that if one died, they were all cancelled.  Based on the challenge of Marbar Rab Ashi, who spoke about his father's statement,  if the husband were to die, all other agents were 'cancelled'. 

The Gemara then considers cases where women were presented with gittin.  The rabbis wonder about how long it might take for the agent to deliver the get, whether husbands might have been mollified and changed their minds about the get, and whether or not the wives are deemed credible to say that the agent never arrived with the get in hand.  Rava made a decision that was disputed by the rabbis.  At the very end of our daf, Rava wonders whether or not the rabbis might have ruled differently if the situation regarded a betrothed woman rather than a married woman who was awaiting her get.  The rabbis note that he says this due to embarrassment.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Gittin 28: Presumed to be Alive

A new Mishna teaches that a woman who receives a get from the agent of a man who is overseas, the man is assumed to be alive.  The get is assumed to be valid.  Similarly, a the wife of a priest who is overseas is allowed to partake of teruma, and the sin-offering of a person who is overseas may be sacrificed in his/her name.  In both of these last cases, the man could be dead, but he is presumed to be alive.

The Gemara asks a number of questions.  What about a very elderly husband?  Is he presumed to be alive?  A note reminds us that people had similar lifespans to those of today but that the very high infant mortality rate lowered the average age of the population.  And what about a person who gives his wife a get, telling her that it will go into effect one hour before he dies?  In such a case, the get goes into effect immediately.  This is because he could die at any time.  It could always be his last hour.  And so the couple is divorced and thus the wife cannot partake of teruma if she is an Israelite married to a priest.  Conversely if she is the daughter or a priest married to an Israelite, she can now partake of teruma again.

Rabbi Elazar ben Parata suggests that there are three cases where people are presumed to be alive.  These are when a town is surrounded by a besieging group, when people are stranded on a ship at sea, and when a person is about to be sentenced to the death penalty.  In these cases, rulings are both stringent and lenient.  The example provided in the Mishna is are two women who does not partake of teruma. The first is married to a priest; she can only partake of teruma if her husband is alive.  The second is the daughter of a priest married to an Israelite; she can only partake of teruma is her husband is dead.

Of course, the Gemara questions the differences between Jewish and Gentile witnesses; Jewish and Gentile courts.  Using this distinction, the rabbis also question differences in the meanings of the words "died" and "was killed".  

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Gittin 26: Tofes and Toref

The rabbis understand that it is very time consuming to write out full documents for people who are waiting to end conflicted situations.  They discussed whether or not portions of certain documents might be written in advance. In gettin, the names of the husband and wife should be added in the moment.  In addition the date should be written on that day that the get is 'written'.  Similarly, a loan document could be written in advance while the names of the borrower, the lender, the sum of money borrowed, and the date would be written in the moment.  And when land is sold, the names of the seller, the purchaser, the price and the parcel of land, and the date would be added to the pre-prepared text.

The tofes is the standard text.  The toref refers to the details - the names, dates, etc.  One of the sticking points, particularly for Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Elazar, would be that gittin must be written li shma - for the sake of that particular wife.  Writing out the verbiage of a get in advance automatically invalidates that get.  Intention confuses halacha.  It allows us to question rules that would otherwise be very clear.

Today's daf also looks at the differences between divorce after betrothal and divorce after marriage.  It is clear that the rabbis are concerned about husbands deserting their wives without proper gittin.  The selection of the date written on a get could impact many lives.