Monday, 29 February 2016

Gittin 78: Throwing the Get; One's Personal Space

Before moving on to a new Mishna, the Gemara clarifies whether or not the get is valid if a husband throws it onto a woman's bed within his home, within her home, onto her bed or onto his bed.  Further, they speak about the woman's basket and where it is placed when a husband throws the get.  As part of this examination we learn that a person can claim his or her own domain.  The basket is considered to be part of the woman's domain.  The bed, however, must be hers.  

The rabbis wish to be decidedly clear on whether or not the wife has physically received her get.  They discuss the need to announce the arrival of the get, even though her acquiescence is not legally required for her to be divorced.  To ensure that no other document is given to her - a promissory note, for example - the rabbis insist on the woman understanding that her get is arriving.  We are reminded that a woman who does not have the capacity to consent cannot be divorced and must be provided for for the duration of the marriage.

A new Mishna carries forward this focus.  It teaches us that a woman who is told that her husband is giving her a promissory note must be told that it is actually a get for the get to be valid.  If she reads it and realizes that it is a get, she still must be told that it is her get.  Even if she is sleeping when it is put in her hand, she must be told when she awakens that it is her get for that get to be valid.  My first observation is that women could read their own gittin, which suggests that women were educated in the ancient Jewish world.

The Gemara discusses whether or not the get is valid if the husband places it on the ground instead of in her hand.  They also discuss the validity of the get if the wife pulls it out instead of being given the get.  Pulling is one of the forms of acquisition in other cases of transferring property ownership.  In this case, the Torah is clear and the get must be placed in her hand.  But, the Gemara continues, is the get valid if it is placed in the hand of the wife's sleeping maidservant or slave?  The rabbis conclude that sleep renders a person incapable of consent.  Further, the get must be placed in the wife's hand when she is told, "this is your get" for the get to be valid.

Another new Mishna teaches about gittin that are thrown within the public domain.  If the get is closer to the wife when it lands, she is divorced.  If it falls between the two equally, then it is unclear whether or not she is divorced.  This is compared with similar rituals with a debtor who throws his payment to a creditor, and with a man who betroths a woman within the public domain.

The Gemara spends time on discussing who might be standing where within their four cubits of space; how many witnesses might be present to evaluate the location of the fallen get, and other similar details.  The rabbis also speak about the requirement of guarding the get once it has been delivered.  A woman cannot remarry without that document, and so it must be very carefully guarded from loss - even by a dog trying to take it from her hand.  

We end today's daf with the rabbis extending their earlier conversation regarding a get that is thrown. If the woman cannot 'grab' the get and it falls within her four cubits of space, then she is divorced.  If it bounces off of her hand and lands outside of those four cubits, the get is not valid.  This is compared with a debtor and creditor, who might split the value of the document in half - that cannot be done with a get.  A woman is either divorced or not divorced.  And what if she is standing on a riverbank and her get stands to be destroyed?

We'll have to wait for tomorrow's daf to get the specifics on that question.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Gittin 77: She Belongs to Him BUT Her Hand Belongs to Her

Before beginning Perek VII, we learn more about the timing of conditional gittin.  As long as a husband doesn't die before the get is delivered, the get should be valid.  The rabbis discuss what should happen if a husband dies in the middle of the night, before the get comes into effect, and how long a wife should wait after the condition of time has been met in order for the get to come into effect.  Comparisons with other contracts conditional on timing ("after Shemita", etc.) are discussed.

Perek VII begins with a Mishna: if a husband throws a get to his wife within her home, it is valid.  If he throws her the get inside of his home, it is not valid.  If he throws the get into her lap or her basket, it is valid regardless of where she is situated.

The Gemara discusses the implications of Deuteronomy 24 (1-3) where we learn that the get is to be placed in a woman's hand.  Is this literal or metaphorical?  If it is metaphorical, what are the limitations of the metaphor?  A woman's hand should belong to her, even if she belongs to her husband.  The rabbis compare the actions of a divorcing couple to the actions of a thief and homeowner.  Just as a thief steals the property of a homeowner, another man could steal the property of a husband, his wife, if they are not divorced halachically.   Needless to say, this particular example is illustrative of the true status of women in the times of the Talmud.

We are reminded that it is legally binding if a woman says to her husband that she does not wish to be sustained by him and she does not wish to work for him.  In such a case she keeps her own earnings.  The rabbis are of different opinions about whether or not she continues to be responsible for the work of home and family upkeep.  Hmm.

The rabbis extend their debate regarding delivery of a get to a woman's courtyard.  Because a married woman still belongs to her husband, her courtyard could belong to her husband.  But because her hand belongs to her, her courtyard could be an extension of her hand, and thus placing the get in her courtyard could be the same as placing it in her hand.  But what if the get is thrown into her courtyard and it lands on a piece of wood?  Is the wood considered to be part of the courtyard and thus part of the wife?

When people fall into the category of property, as do women, children, slaves and others in the Talmud, it becomes difficult to determine what is within their agency.  Another good reason for abolishing the ownership of people.

Gittin 73: Uncommon, Unavoidable Accidents; "Family Court"

We continue to learn about gittin that are written in advance of the potential divorce.  A husband might want to give a wife a get in the case that his illness worsens, or he dies, or other similar circumstances.   The rabbis compare these situations to those of a husband giving a gift on his deathbed and not dying immediately, a person selling land that is appropriated by the government, and sailors that take responsibility for the delivery of merchandise across a river that is dammed.  The rabbis seem to be trying to prove that in all of these cases, uncommon and unavoidable accidents allow for leniencies.  The get is valid, the gift can be received, the land purchaser cannot return his purchase, and the sailors are not responsible for the cost of donkeys to carry the merchandise beyond the river.

A new Mishna teaches that when a husband gives a wife a conditional get during his illness, it is unclear whether they are married or divorced in the days between receiving the get and the day the husband dies.  Must the husband and wife retain two witnesses if they are to be secluded together.?  In such circumstances, servants and slaves could be witnesses but maidservants could not.  The rabbis believe that wives might engage in intercourse in the presence of their maidservants because of the intimate nature of that relationship.Rabbi Yehuda says that a wife is like a married woman in all ways at this time, and she is thus forbidden to other men.  Rabbi Yosei believes it is not clear whether or not she is divorced.

The rabbis discuss the need for a second divorce if the couple were to have sexual relations after the wife received her get.  They also speak of licentiousness, which seems a bizarre way of characterizing intercourse between two people who just recently divorced due to the imminent death of the husband.  Is such intercourse a betrothal?  Beit Shammai say that it is not a betrothal nor do they require a second divorce.  Beit Hillel disagree.

The rabbis discuss when the get might take effect.  Not after the husband dies, certainly, but what about just a moment before he dies?  Or perhaps days before he dies?  Or, as Rabbi Meir would argue, does the get take effect as it is delivered? 

Again it feels that the rabbis are using non-congruous analogies to help them understand what should be done in the case of divorce.  Similar to the 'family courts' of modern times, contracts regarding marriage are inherently different to other contracts.  Although women were property in the times of the Talmud, they were also people with individual and collective rights.  

Gittin 76: The Specifics; Timing is Everything

The rabbis continue to discuss conditions that a husband might add to the get.  Two examples are caring for the husband's ill father and nursing the husband's baby.  The rabbis have questioned how one would know that she's met that condition: how long does a baby nurse?  eighteen months or two years?  And what if the father dies almost immediately?  The rabbis consider whether or not one day of work might meet the condition set out by the husband.  Further, they debate about whether or not the get will be valid if a second condition is added to the first.  Apparently conditions are always compounded in the Torah, and the rabbis question how this might fact might apply to gittin with conditions.

A new Mishna teaches us that a person travelling from Judea, one part of Israel, to the Galilee, which was likely considered to be another part of Israel, might offer his wife a conditional get - if he does not return within 30 days.  The get is void if he returns within that time frame.  Similar travels are mentioned with the same result - the get is void if the husband returns within his given time frame.  However, if a person says that the get is based on being away from his wife for 30 days and he sees her briefly on and off - but without being intimate with her - throughout that time, the get is valid.  The Gemara shows us that the rabbis will continue to doubt whether the people will be able to carry out their obligations regarding gittin.

Another new Mishna tells us of a husband who gives his wife a get that is conditional on his travel overseas lasting more than twelve months.  If his wording specifies that the get is "from now", then if  dies before he returns, the get is retroactively valid.  If his wording does not specify "from now", then his death within twelve months renders the get void.  The Mishna specifies a number of other cases where it is necessary to specify specifically whether the get will be valid: in cases of the timing of writing the get, and in cases where it is not clear whether the husband died before or after giving the get to the wife.

The Gemara wonders whether or not the date written on a document verifies when the document takes effect.  The Gemara goes on to discuss whether or not a woman is permitted to marry immediately after receiving the get or whether she should wait for twelve months to be sure that her husband will not return.  

This type of questioning is what has led is into the situation that exists today, where agunot are left without enough proof to support their claim of grounds for divorce.  Agunot are denied their gittin and cannot remarry or move on with their lives due to the power given to their husbands and to the beit din.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Gittin 74: Paying for her Get

A new Mishna teaches us that a husband can give his wife the get on the condition that she pay him a sum of money - 200 dinars, for example, which is significant.  In that case, they are said to be divorced only when she gives him that money.  

How can this be?  First, and this is not discussed by the Gemara initially, how can the get come with a caveat like money owed?  The point of the get is that the wife is guaranteed sustenance if the couple divorces.  If she owes her husband money, then only a wealthy woman can meet the condition of such a get.   

The Gemara immediately focuses on whether a woman is divorced as soon as she receives the get or whether she is divorced later, when she actually pays the money that her husband has stipulated.  If thirty days are given to pay that sum, is she married or divorced over those thirty days?  The rabbis wonder whether we can learn something from betrothal, where the betrothal is valid upon the exchange of money or through sexual intercourse.  But at this point in time, they note, husband is eager to be close to his wife.  In a time of divorce, he is not craving that closeness - in fact, he could set up this condition simply to hurt his wife.

After much discussion, the rabbis basically agree that a get offered with a condition is considered to be valid retroactively from the date that those words are spoken.  The rabbis also look to other circumstances that might encourage the rabbis to rule leniently on 'ownership'.  If a group of sharecroppers each water the field once over the course of the summer but one of them does not need to do so because it rains at that time, should he receive the same compensation as the others?  He did not need to give the same investment in advance.... but he had prepared to do so.  

The rabbis clearly wish to protect people from the ill effects of unforeseen circumstances.  Their arguments are attempts to balance that desire with the need to verify their interpretation of G-d's will through previously determined halachot.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Gittin 72: In the Case of My Future Death, Here is your Get

After ending their conversation about whether or not a get is valid if it is demanded verbally or through writing, we are introduced to a new Mishna.  The rabbis teach that the language of a husband must be very specific if he writes the get in advance of when he wants it to go into effect.  It is necessary for a get to be written and delivered before a husband's death.  Thus a man going overseas might want to have a get written and delivered before he leaves to ensure that his wife is not left an agunah.  But is he allowed to do this?  The rabbis question whether or not this is permitted if the husband writes that they are divorced as of that date in the case of his future death.

Such uncertainty is uncomfortable.  What about chalitza?  What about the husband who returns after a prolonged period, more than twelve months?  Our daf ends with the rabbis discussing what should be done if a husband offers a get in the case of his imminent death, but then he recovers enough to walk through the market.  In that case, the get is revoked.  But if he becomes ill again, is the get valid?  Was this the same illness or a new and different illness that ultimately killed the husband?

Monday, 22 February 2016

Gittin 71: Communicating About the Get; No Substitute Agents

The rabbis consider husbands who are deaf, mute or deaf and mute when they request the get be written.  Do all agreements need to be spoken aloud to be valid?  What is the importance of written documents compared with verbal contracts?  We are walked through the specific steps required to confirm that a person's wishes are honoured, even if their communication is not mainstream.

Today's daf clarifies some of the questions asked in earlier dapim.  In particular, cases that reflect problematic situations are discussed in detail that helps to identify answers to previously posed questions.  The rabbis decide that an agent cannot pass on his responsibility to another person; he must write the get, sign the get and/or deliver the get (as instructed) himself.  This is discussed through the idea of a husband asking two or three people to perform just one of these actions, where the other actions might be assumed. 

Gittin 70: Preventative Treatments; Capacity to Offer Gittin

We have learned about the remedies for multiple afflictions over the past two dapim.  Today we learn more about how afflictions might come about.  Again, we are provided with a long list of ailments and what different rabbis believe to be their causes.  Without listing all of them here, they represent a huge range of problems and preventions - including avoiding standing while eating, drinking or having sexual intercourse to avoid weakness and susceptibility to illnesses.  It seems that demons following people from the outhouse was a significant fear.   One more broad-reaching comment is that those who are fearful (Rashi says that this is about living with constant anxiety), travel on the road, and sin are plagued with weakness.

The conversation finally returns to the question of one who gives a get while mentally incapacitated - or one who gives a get and then becomes mentally ill.  Do the last wishes of someone who is mentally ill require the same halachic considerations as those of others?

The rabbis engage in a conversation that continues to this day in the religious and secular worlds.  If a person is struggling with their mental capacity, do we have the obligation to follow their wishes?  In particular, if they are about to die and in normal circumstances would have their wishes given special consideration, is the same done if they are not capable?  

The rabbis use the example of a man whose throat has been slit and one or both of the pipes has been severed - this will cause death soon, but not immediately.  Is that person considered to be in his "right mind" at this time or is he suffering from lack of oxygen to the brain; is he not thinking clearly and perhaps already dead, so to speak?  What if he is asked three times about his intentions but his movements are involuntary?  They tell of those who have survived both this type of injury and crucifixion, leading to the conclusion that the get should be written.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Gittin 69: Medical Conditions and Their Remedies

All of today's daf tells us about the remedies that heal different diagnoses.  Sometime these are relatively benign, like drinking wine mixed with water.  Often, they are frighteningly bizarre, like hanging a mixture of items from one's breasts or one's penis.

I am not going to list the remedies here, but I highly recommend taking the time to read today's daf.  To imagine our ancestors trusting such complicated, unappealing remedies is illuminating.  I think about the remedies that we use today with 'proof' of their efficacy: going to the gym and using machines to exercise, taking high doses of manufactured vitamins, even putting chemotherapy into our bodies to kill everything in their paths.  My point is not that we shouldn't take vitamins or use chemotherapy, but that one day our very best remedies will be seen as quaint, disturbing or even damaging.  Again, Talmud is teaching us that we are part of a long line of seekers; damaged people longing for relief and truth.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Gittin 67: The Rabbis Know Torah; Temporary Insanity; Medical Treatments; Exilarch Conflicts

We begin by continuing the rabbi's conversation about what should be done when more than one person is asked to scribe and/or deliver the get.  This leads to a number of statements about which rabbis are learned in which ways.  We should respect their opinions because of this knowledge.

And finally we learn why the rabbis are so concerned about who scribes, delivers and witnesses the get.  If a husband is allowed to give verbal directions to an agent and witnesses, how do we know that this was truly the husband's intent?  In fact, perhaps the wife has paid a scribe to write the get and paid witnesses to make the get valid.  Perhaps the wife wants out of this marriage and she has found a way to make her wishes seem as though they come from her husband.  Why wouldn't the rabbis look for ways around these laws rather than focusing on certain letters of the law??  For example, in certain circumstances, a woman could initiate the get.  A man might not be keeping his obligations in marriage...

We learn more of the details regarding a husband's directives to groups of people.  His particular wording determine whether or not everyone witnesses and signs the get, and whether one person  delivers the get or all watch the get being delivered by just one person.

Amud (b) is also the beginning of Perek VII.  A new Mishna teaches us that if a man is temporarily insane when he issues the get, the get is void.  But if he is of sound mind when he issues the get, the get is valid, even if he is 'off' later on.  We also learn that a person who cannot speak can issue that a get is written.  If he nods and shakes his head appropriately to three questions, he is considered to have the capacity to issue the get. 

The Gemara moves quickly into wonderful aggadic material regarding healing.  First, the rabbis admit that someone who is 'temporarily insane' might have been drunk on 'new wine'.  We learn about how to cure sicknesses beyond wearing an amulet with the name of the demon who creates the sickness.  Red meat with diluted wine, fatty meat with undiluted wine -- these might help an illness.

Abaye tells us his mother's (aunt's) remedies for fever: day one, a jug of water.  Day two: bloodletting.  Day three: red meat cooked over coals and diluted wine. Longer fevers: rip a black hen into four parts and place it on the patient's shaved head.  Leave it there until the blood coagulates. Send the patient into water up to his/her neck until s/he is faint, and then have him/her rest.  If s/he is too weak for this treatment, let him/her eat leeks and then stand in the water as before.

We learn about foods fed to those who have chills.  Rav Amram was teased in the house of the Exhilarch, who sent him to sleep in the snow.  On waking, he asked for the opposite food of what he wanted -- food for those with chills -- because he knew they would sen him the opposite of what he wanted.  We then learn that Yalta, Rav Nachman's wife, was kind to Rav Amram and brought him to the bathhouse.  But the water turned red and he broke out in boils.

Rav Sheshet also had difficulty with the Exilarch.  He told the Exilarch that he refused to eat with him because the food was not prepared properly.  Offended, the Exilarch tried to prove otherwise, but Rav Sheshet managed to demonstrate that the servants were serving legs of live animals, something strictly forbidden.  He joke about it, too, saying "Did this come from a five-legged animal?". 

The servants were furious at Rav Sheshet, who helped their master realize that he could not trust them.  They attempted to choke Rav Sheshet by placing a bone in his meat, for he was blind and could not see it.  He found the bone and hid the entire piece of meat in his scarf.  They then accused him of theft of a cup, like Joseph and his brothers.  And told the Exilarch what they found.  The story will resume with tomorrow's daf...

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Gittin 66: Deathbed Divorce

In ordinary circumstances, a gift or a divorce must be received or acquired by someone to take effect.  The rabbis note that on a person’s deathbed*, the acquisition part of the process is not required.  This is because one is expected to die and fulfilling that person’s last wish is a mitzvah.  Even after the person has died, their wish can be fulfilled and is valid without formal acquisition before the time of death. 

The rabbis compare this with a get that is written just before a husband dies.   Is the wife considered to be divorced without formally acquiring the get?  This is obviously different from a gift given on one’s deathbed, for the bond between husband and wife is severed as soon as the husband dies; there may not be a similar need for divorce, which also severs that bond.  The rabbis also note that what is done with the ‘gift’ is also significant.

A new Mishna tells us that a person who is thrown into a pit and expects to die might call out and say that anyone who hears his voice should write a bill of divorce for his wife and give it to her.  This is considered to be valid, it seems, because people were living in times of danger.  In times of danger, the rabbis rule leniently to ensure that the people maintain what they can of their Jewish observance.  If the man’s call was ignored because he could not be identified, his wife might participate in prohibited sexual relations, which could result in a mamzer.   This would be much more disturbing, the rabbis believe, than potentially issuing a get to a woman who should still be married. 

The Gemara is concerned that this voice might not be that of a man but instead the voice of a demon.  Does he have a shadow that can be seen?  Does he have the shadow of a shadow?  Rabbi Chanina notes that his son Yonatan taught that demons have a shadow but not the shadow of a shadow.  Our notes suggest a number of explanations for the bavuah d’vavuah, the shadow of a shadow.

Another new, short Mishna: A healthy (as opposed to dying, like those men mentioned above) man who said “Write a get for my wife” was actually mocking her.  He did not tell others to deliver the get, and thus it was not a valid document.  Another healthy man said the same thing, but then fell from a rooftop and died.  In this case, it was a valid get.  The rabbis suggest that he knew he was about to die – suicide? – and thus he wanted the get to be delivered to his wife.  But if there was a strong wind that pushed him from the roof, the get is not valid.

The Gemara tells another story: a man found a teacher and his son sitting in the synagogue with another friend.  The man said that two of them should write a get for his wife.  The schoolteacher then died.  Do people designate a son as an agent in the presence of his father?  He should not be eligible as a witness for they are related.  The rabbis argue this point. 

A final Mishna in today’s daf asks what should happen if a man said to two, three, or even ten people that they should write a get and give it to his wife.  Is designating three people the same thing as designating a court?  Can a man ask the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to write his get in order to teach them to write it?  In each circumstance, the rabbis consider how many people should write the get and how many should sign the get to ensure that the get is valid even if one of the witnesses dies.

The rabbis then discuss whether or not it is acceptable to delegate verbal directives to a secondary agent – or even to a primary agent.  They also teach us about the signatures of sages.  Apparently each Sage developed a symbol that would serve as a recognizable, individual signature for public identification.  In a new court, there could be a number of Sages who have not yet developed their new signatures and thus could not sign documents including a get. 

 * This also incudes “one who sets sail, one who sets out in a caravan, or one who is taken out in a neck chain, and one or someone in a neck chain, and one who is dangerously ill.” (Notes p.381)

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Gittin 65: Agents, Minor Girls, and the Specifics of Receipt

Today's daf covers a number of different Mishnayot.  First, the rabbis continue a conversation about redeeming the second tithe and Torah law versus rabbinic law.  In this conversation, the rabbis clarify a couple of principals that have been mentioned earlier.  A plant in a perforated pot is a plant subject to the halachot of plants that are rooted in the earth.  A plant in a non-perforated pot is a plant that is not subject to Torah law, for its roots are not benefiting from the nutrients in the earth.  This is used both as basic information as well as a metaphor to understand when Torah law applied to a certain issue.

The rabbis discuss differences between girls that are under age six, ages six-eight, ages nine-twelve, and young women.  In each group, different halachot apply regarding gittin.  For example, a minor girl is permitted to be betrothed by her father if alive and by her mother and brother if her father has died.  She is permitted to refuse that betrothal when she becomes a young woman at age twelve.  However, she cannot appoint an agent for receiving a get when she is a minor girl, for she cannot halachically acquire.  And her father is permitted to send an agent to receive the get if he is alive, which may have a huge effect upon the rest of her life.  If a husband wishes to retract the get after it has been sent to the father's agent, it cannot be retracted.  Further, if the wife or husband specify a place where the get should be received, it must be received in that place to be valid.  If a place is suggested ("you'll find her there"), the get can be received at any place.

Another Mishna teaches that an Israelite woman married to a priest will continue to partake of teruma until she receives her get.  If she appoints an agent, however, she must stop accessing teruma immediately, for the agent might receive the get on her behalf at any point in time - even that same day.  The rabbis compare this to the creation of an eiruv at the edge of the Shabbat boundary.  In that case similar arguments exist regarding the specifics of the eiruv and the specifics of the instructions to an agent.

The next Mishna teaches us that words carry specific meaning.  When husbands call two people together to write letters to their wives asking for non-specific things: release her, sustain her, do unto her as is required by Torah law, etc., no get should be written.  But if those husbands say words that specifically indicate divorce, including "Divorce her", or "Write a letter of divorce to my wife," they are able to write gittin.  In any case, those gittin are not to be delivered.  They can be written and stored.

Our daf ends with the beginning of a new Mishna.  These words tell us that a husband who requests a get be written for his wife should be indulged, regardless of the circumstance.  He might have left with a caravan or he might be dangerously ill, says Rabbi Shimon Shezuri, but others should provide this service for him.

Again the rabbis encourage the people to end their marriages according to halacha to ensure that people are not left in places where they will be more likely to transgress other laws.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Gittin 64: Third Party Witnesses; Betrothed Girls, Minors and the Capacity to Acquire their own Gittin

What is the legal responsibility of the agent, the third party who is authorized to deliver the get from a husband to a wife?  The rabbis discuss a new Mishna where a number of fundamental issues are discussed when it comes to a third party.  These include the need for witnesses to a husband's claim of delivery, the need for witnesses to a wife's claim of receipt, the voracity of the agent's word, and the credibility of both husbands and wives when it comes to statements about gittin.  Who has something to lose; who has something to gain by inventing a truth?  

Interestingly, the rabbis mention that wives would not be so insolent as to lie in the presence of their husbands about the fact that their husbands divorced them.  However, they still require the written document, the get, as proof of their claims.

Amud (b) shares a new Mishna.  We learn that a betrothed girl (one who is twelve years old and has at least two pubic hairs and is engaged to be married) and her father both acquire the get.  Rabbi Yehuda disagrees, saying that two hands cannot acquire together and thus the father must always acquire the get on her behalf.  It also introduces a principal: if she cannot safeguard her get, she is not eligible to be divorced.

The rabbis wonder whether the girl in question is in fact properly protecting more than one item.  Perhaps the girl in question is able to acquire both her get and another item of value.  The rabbis also consider whether she might mistake her get for something else of little value.  They call her an imbecile for doing such a thing, evaluating her capacity in general.  Then they consider the possibility that this girl is able to save more than one item of value. 

Next, the Gemara approaches this question of a minor acquiring.  When is a minor permitted to acquire in other situations?  The then rabbis remind us of Masechet Eruvin, where we learn that even Hebrew maidservants are permitted to acquire food in alleyways in order to connect courtyards for the purpose of extending Shabbat boundaries.  The rabbis also tell us about minor boys who might be given a pebble and a nut.  If they keep the nut and get rid of the pebble, they understand value and they are permitted to acquire on behalf of themselves (but not for others).  

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Gittin 63: Receipt of the Get; Chalitza and Gittin

The rabbis wish to distinguish between agent who receive and agents who deliver.  This becomes important when a husband chooses to retract the get and not divorce his wife.  Because the divorce takes effect as soon as she receives the physical get, we must be clear about an agent who receives the get in her name.  The rabbis want to be very clear about an agent that is simply delivering the get and one who is receiving the get.  Further, they note who has appointed the agent, which can affect whether or not that agent can be redirected.  They also consider the power granted to a minor girl in such circumstances.

The rabbis walk through a number of cases that illustrate the importance of receiving the get properly.  One of those cases includes chalitza, which should not matter because in chalitza stands in the place of a get.  However, in this circumstance, reception of the get was questioned before the husband died, putting the wife in an impossible legal position: if she is widowed, she does not require chalitza.  But if her husband died while the get was en route, should she be subject to chalitza?  

The rabbis also consider lost documents and the use of specific words that might specify what an agent is to do in particular with said documents.

Again, the importance of the receipt of a get is a woman's status.  If she is not legally divorced when she remarries and has children, those children are mamzerim.  Mamzerim are severely limited in their choice of marriage partners.  Further, it would seem that they were ostracized at least to some degree from mainstream society. The receipt of a proper get eliminates that possibility. 

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Gittin 62: An Am HaAretz and a Chaver Prepare Food; Delaying Receipt of the Get

It seems that there may have been continual 'contamination' of foods.  If the wife of an Am HaAretz touches the food of the wife of a Chaver, that food becomes ritually impure.  How were the rabbis to manage these frequent opportunities for contamination?  They considered separation people, restricting interactions around food.  How might this work?  Cases describe those who knead dough and those who press olives.  The rabbis wished to ensure that these people had jobs, but the laws around tithed produce and other causes of ritual impurity were stringent.

We learn about greeting Gentiles who are working in the fields during Shemita, the sabbatical year.  Should Jews help them?  Greet them? The rabbis teach that we cannot help them, but we should certainly greet them.  But what kind of greeting?  "Shalom" is fine, but "Shalom Shalom" is not - it is repeating one of G-d's names in an untoward situation.  The rabbis consider other greetings that are kind an meaningful but not considered to be offensive to G-d in any way.

In today's world, our concern is not as it was described in our daf.  We are not as concerned about people believing that Jews also appreciate idol worship.  Instead, we worry that people might be offended by Jews and our "chosen people means conceited people" behaviour.  Common decency includes greeting all others, regardless of whether or not they are adhering to our halachot.  How different were all different societal groups and their interactions in the times of the Talmud?

Amud (b) is also the start of Perek V.  Our first Mishna  teaches us more about agents that stand in for husbands or wives in the delivery and receipt of the get, the divorce certificate.  Men and women are both permitted to send agents.  Men can overrule women's agents of receipt, however, if they wish to do so.  A man might wish to change his mind before his wife acquires the get.  In this case he can 'buy time' by insisted that the get is brought to her hand himself, with another agent, or with this agent who then becomes his own agent.

Before reading today's daf I had assumed that agents were discussed because of the need for delivery of gittin when people were far from each other.  Today I am wondering about the social reasons for agents.  Perhaps, when a couple did not wish to meet yet again after deciding to divorce, the rabbis wished to minimize conflict and agree with the appointment of agents.  Could this be about avoiding fights in peoples' homes or in the streets?

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Gittin 60: Scroll or Chumash?

Are we allowed to read from a chumash when we read the weekly parasha? Or must we read from a Torah scroll?  What if the Torah scroll is incomplete, or is missing a letter, or is otherwise compromised?  Is it more important to revere the central position of the Torah in our prayer, or is it more important that we actually pray?

In answering these questions, the rabbis share examples of what had been done in other communities across time and location.  One example is Queene Helen's Golden Tablet that held the sacred words used in the practice of judging a sota.  The rabbis wonder whether its existence proves that documents other than complete Torah scrolls were valid in services.  Alternatively, they argue that the tablet might have contained just parts of the verses used with a sota.   Perhaps just the first initials or words of alternating lines. 

As children we learn about what is sacred, what is holy, and what is not.  We learn how to behave with books that contain G-d's name if they are accidentally dropped on the floor.  We learn that the Torah is so sacred that it cannot be touched; we do not turn our backs on a Torah that has just been read.  More to the point, we learn that a Torah is read from a scroll during services while others follow along with chumashim.  But in a pinch, a chumash will do. 

All of these rituals and rules come from somewhere.  The minutia was determined over hundreds and hundreds of years by brilliant rabbis who tried to imagine halachot that would ensure the future of Jewish practice.  Obvious, of course.  And yet reading about the specific conversations which determined today's practices is somehow both surprising and exciting.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Gittin 59: Mipnei Darchei Shalom: On Account of the Ways of Peace

In the context of a larger conversation, we learn that the newest rabbis at court or in the Sanhedrin were asked to share their rulings first.  This was because after the experienced, elder rabbis spoke, including Yehuda HaNasi, the newer members might be intimidated to share contradictory rulings.  Those newer rabbis sat on the sides of the court.

The rabbis then have a debate.  Were there any rabbis between Moses and Yehuda HaNasi who were equal to those two men in political and in religious leadership.  They name many famous leaders, changing the ramifications of the question to suit their answers (we meant to say that this leader would be in that position of power for all of his life). 

A new Mishna teaches that a person who is deaf and cannot speak can make valid business transactions through gestures or even lip movements.  Children can also participate in valid business transactions.  Both of these guidelines apply to movable property.

The Gemara discusses a number of questions that arise from the Mishna.  For example, how old must a child be to be trusted with such transactions?  The rabbis argue that while older would be better, children from the age of six should be permitted because this might be their only source of income.  They recognize that some children develop these skills quickly and some slowly.  Abba bar Ya'akov was the rabbi who made this ruling, and the Gemara relates another of his rulings.  This time the ruling concerns fabric or other items that stretch and contract significantly.

Before moving on to another Mishna, we learn about how children are compensated in business transactions gone wrong. We also learn that children's gifts are valid in all circumstances.

Our next Mishna teaches more practices that are done mipnei darchei shalom, on account of the ways of peace:

  • Priest read first, Levites second and Israelites third from the Torah
  • Courtyards of an old house should be joined
  • Pits nearest the irrigation channels are filled first
  • Animals, birds and fish that are caught in traps can be found and used by others, but they should be left for their owners (Rabbi Yosei says that this is robbery)
  • Objects found by children, deaf-mutes and "imbeciles" cannot be kept
  • Olives that fall from a tree that one is gleaning from up at the top can be kept by others but they should be left (Rabbi Yosei says that this is robbery)
  • Pe'a is left for poor Jews, but poor Gentiles should be allowed to take from this
The rabbis try to determine which Torah verses can serve as proof-texts for the ordering of Torah readers.  They extend this argument to other potential causes of tension.  Many of the examples have to do with people slighting each other within the context of Jewish practice.  The rabbis also walk through what should be done if there is no priest at the Torah reading.  They are concerned about how to understand who is a priest and who is a Levite.  What if a person says that he is the son of a priest but his mother is a Gibeonite?  What if the congregant was a mamzer?  Or a Levite?  Or even an Israelite?

The rabbis are eager to manage any potential conflict through their rulings.  However, as we all know, conflict arises whether or not we plan for it.  Minimizing conflict is important, though.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Gittin 58: Horrors of War; Land Taken by a Sicarius

Our daf is in two very distinct parts.  Amud (a) continues the rabbis' conversations about the horrors of war caused by seemingly innocuous issues.  Amud (b) returns to the rabbi's questions about what to do when a Sicarius has taken a person's property.

Amud (a) shares violent, horrible details of war and captivity.  The rabbis describe measuring the amount of children's brains found upon one rock; abuse, rape and the burning of children wrapped in Torah scrolls.  They even tell of children who are forced to witness sexual intercourse (to encourage the conceived child to be as beautiful as the Jewish children chained to the foot of the bed).  The Jewish people are described as simultaneously clever, pious, learned; victimized, tortured, and fearful.  This juxtapositioning of the strength and the vulnerability of Jews continues to live on.

Amud (b) shares some of the questions and the halacha that address land ownership and the transfer of property from one party to another.  Questions include the order in which a Sicarius takes land and the rights of wives versus husbands.  Again, the details of this particular conversation is still a challenge for me.  

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Gittin 57: Taking Customs Too Seriously; More Stories of War

We continue to hear colourful examples of how small events can lead to horrible bloodshed.

Before this, Onkelos bar Kalonikos, Titus's nephew, practiced necromancy to learn three things: the place of the Jews in the world to come, how he should behave in this world toward the Jewish people, and how anti-Semites are punished.  He asks both Balaam and Jesus of Nazarene (who is not the Jesus of Christianity but who was excommunicated by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perahya after insulting an innkeeper's wife).  The punishments are surprisingly bad: being cooked in boiling semen or in boiling excrement.  Those are seriously frightening consequences!

On to the wars: first, we learn about the war that began because of a rooster and a hen.  In a town on Tur Malka, the King's Mountain, the villagers would put a rooster and a hen by the couple about to marry as part of the ceremony.  Roman officers saw the birds and removed them, as their presence was not permitted.  The custom was so important to the people of this town that they beat the officers, who told the emperor about the Jewish rebellion. Bar Deroma, who may have been Bar Kocheva, was a great fighter -- uttering words as a statement rather than a question to G-d, he was killed by a snake.  The emperor saw this gift and halted an attack on the Jews.  However, the people were so happy  that they celebrated until late at night.  The emperor saw those lights from afar and was insulted, thinking that the Jews were celebrating his loss rather than their 'victory'.  He began again his war.  

The mountain was filled with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people in different villages. The Gemara discusses how a city might 'stretch' to accommodate people and 'shrink' when the population lessens.  Three towns were described by name and characteristics, including Kefer Dichrayya, the Town of Males, where women were said to have boys before they had girls and then would become infertile.

The Gemara then tells us that three rabbis sat together, speaking of Kefar Sechanya, a town in Egypt. They tell three stories, each of which describes either lascivious behaviour or a demonstration of sexual restraint.  The people there were said to be punished because they did not properly mourn for the destroyed city of Jerusalem.

Back to silly things leading to the destruction of cities, the rabbis tell of the city of Beitar which was destroyed because of a piece of wood in a carriage.  The emperor's daughter was travelling in a carriage that broke.  Her attendants cut down a tree for its wood to repair her carriage.  The tree was one of the cedars that were planted for boys or one of the cypress trees planted for girls - when married, those trees were cut to make their wedding chuppahs.  The people were so upset at the disruption of their custom that they beat the attendants, who reported Jewish rebellion to the emperor.   The was was so fierce that the blood in Beitar flowed to the sea.  

Speaking about the destruction of the first Temple, the Gemara teaches that Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard of King Nebuchadnezzar, killed 2,110,000 people.  In Jerusalem alone he killed 940,000 people on one stone until the blood flowed and touched the blood of Zechariah.  He then found the blood of Zechariah still bubbling up from the grave after being dead for years - it would not settle.  He forced people to explain, and they said that he was a prophet not appeased.  Nebuzaradan then attempted to settle Zechariah by killing others - great Sages, lesser Sages, even school children.  He then realized that if one Jew was not appeased by the killing of others, how might he be punished for killing so many?  He fled and was said to eventually convert to Judaism.  The Sages then teach about the descendants of Haman and others learning Torah in Bnai Brak.

The Gemara wonders whether four million or forty million people were killed in Beitar.  They speak about the descendants of Esau and the children of Edom.  A story is told of four hundred children who were captured to be sexual slaves.  The children wondered aloud if they would see the world to come if they were to commit suicide.  The eldest quoted a verse from Psalms that would allow such an act, and first the girls and then the boys jumped off of a cliff to their deaths.   Another story tells of a woman whose seven sons each refused to worship an idol at the command of the emperor, quoting different verses, and were killed one by one.  The mother watched all of this and then told her youngest son (as a parting kiss) to tell Abraham that he bound only one son but that she bound seven. She then died after falling from a building.  A Divine voice was said to call out, "A joyful mother of children" upon her death.  This is because she raised such devout children.

The Gemara ends with the beginning of a conversation about self-harm in the name of Torah.

It seems that today's daf holds the tension between glorifying righteous people's deaths and rebuking Jews who take customs too seriously and end up at war.  We have a great deal to learn from this today, where we continue to glorify 'victory' in war that upholds Torah law.  However, we also continue to take customs so seriously that we are willing to kill others and be killed for the sake of those customs.  Part of the difficulty today, I believe, is the possibility of reinterpreting Torah law so that fewer mitzvot are actually worth dying for. 

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Gittin 56: War Stories; Extremism as a Problem

Yesterday's daf ended with the beginning of a story about how the second Temple was destroyed.  This Gemara continues (following a new Mishna regarding the Sicari and how land might be stolen and transferred rather than inherited) with the incredible tale of two Kamtzas: a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Ben Kamtza.  

A wealthy man intended that his servant invite, Kamtza a good friend, to his feast but the servant invited Bar Kamtza instead.  Realizing that the wrong Kamtza was at his party, the host refused three times to allow Bar Kamtza to stay and avoid humiliation.  Bar Kamtza offered to pay for his own meal, and then for half of the feast, and then for all of the feast.  When he was ignored and thrown out, humiliated, he took revenge by going to the emperor to say that the Jews were planning to revolt against the Romans.

The emperor asked that his animal be sacrificed at the Temple to check on Bar Kamtza's claim.  That animal was blemished either on the lip or the eyelid along the journey.  Such a blemish made the animal disqualified for sacrifice for Jews while it was still worthy of sacrifice by Gentiles.  The Sages considered their options: turn away the offering and insult the government or sacrifice the offering and set a president regarding blemished animals.  Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkolas convinced the Sages to worry more about influencing the Jewish people than alienating the government.  

The government then sent Nero Ceasar against the Jews.  He was afraid, and shot arrows to the  four different differing directions as a test.  Each landed in Jerusalem.  He then asked a schoolchild which verse was studied that day.  The child quoted a verse that suggested a Jewish attack.  We are told that Nero Ceasar fled, eventually converting to Judaism.  

Following this, Vespasian Ceasar was sent against Jerusalem, which began the three year siege on Jerusalem.  The Jews were saved because of three rich people who provided basic food items and wood for cooking.  While the Sages wished to make peace with the Romans, some zealots would not allow this, opting for violent retaliation instead. In the end, they burned the Jewish storehouses of food and supplies, causing a great famine.

We are told of Marta Bat Baitos, one of the wealthiest and most powerful women of her time, who sent her servant out to find flour - first fine flour, then regular flour, then coarse flour, and then barley flour.  Each time he returned, telling her that that flour had already been sold.  She had taken off her shoes and did not endeavour to put them back on before going outside to find food for herself.  One tale suggests that she stepped in dung which stuck to her foot; she died of disgust.  Another suggests that she was poisoned by a date that had already been sucked dry by Rabbi Tzadok.  Rabbi Tzadok was fasting for decades for the sake of Jerusalem and was unable to digest solid food.

The leader of the zealots was Abba Sikkara, the nephew of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai.  Rabban Yochanan met with Abba Sikkara secretly.  Abba explained that he could not change the ways of the zealots, for he would be killed. Instead, he helped his uncle escape by having him pose as a corpse.  After posing as sick and then using a rotting item to demonstrate that he was decomposing, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua carried Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai out of his home.  At the gates of the city, the guards - zealots - wished to ensure he was dead by piercing him with a sword or pushing him.  Abba Sikkara told them that Romans should not be encouraged to think that Jews treated their teachers with such disrespect.  In this way Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was able to speak with Vespasian Ceasar.

The two had a disagreement immediately - first about Vespasian's title (I'm not yet the king!) and then about whether or not to destroy Jerusalem.  Shouldn't we destroy the barrel containing honey in order to kill the snake wrapped around the barrel, he asked.  Rabban Yochanan was quick, but not quick enough - this is the first time that Isaiah 44:25 is used to describe him: "... Who turns wise men backward and makes their knowledge foolish."

At that point in time, Vespasian was informed that Ceasar had died and that he was to be the new Ceasar.  Vespasian was unable to fit into one of his shoes and leave for Rome -- Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai twice instructed him how to heal his foot.  And instead of negotiating for the lives of the Jewish people, he asked for two things: to maintain Yavne and its Sages, and to have a doctor to heal Rabbi Tzadok.  Again, we are taught his description: "Who turns wise men backward and makes their knowledge foolish."

The Gemara details treatment for Rabbi Tzadok, which included one day of water with bran, one day of water with bran and flour, and one day of water with flour alone to very slowly ready his stomach for eating again.  My guess is that this is included here to demonstrate how simple was Rabban Yochana's request.  The rabbis suggest that Rabban Yochanan believe his larger wish, for the safety of the Jews, would not be granted.  Thus these simpler requests might be granted.

The Gemara then tells us about Titan and his siege, which replaced that of Vespasian's rule.  Titan was said to be young, promiscuous, and vengeful.  We are told that he brought a prostitute into the Holy of Holies and had sexual intercourse on an opened Torah scroll.  He cut into the curtain separating this holy place, and believe that he had killed G-d when blood poured from the curtain.  

We then learn about the death of Titus.  He was said to challenge G-d to kill him on land, for he noticed that G-d had killed other enemies of Israel in the sea.  G-d then told him about the creation of the gnat, described by Steinsaltz as having a place for food to enter but no place for food to be excreted.  A gnat was then said to enter Titus's brain through his ear, where it caused great pain and suffering for years.  For thirty days Titus found relief in by listening to hammering, which caused the gnat to stop moving.  But then the gnat became familiar with the hammering , and the pain continued.    It is said that when Titus died, his skull was cut open and a gnat was found of either the size of a sparrow or the size of a pigeon.

We end our daf with the start of the story of Onkelos, Titus's nephew.  Apparently Titus wished for his ashes to be spread far and wide so as to avoid the judgement of G-d.  Onkelos, however, wished to convert to Judaism.  He is said to have raised Titus from the dead to speak with him about the afterlife.  jews were now important people, he was told, and one should not become Jewish and try (and fail) to adhere to our commandments.  Instead, one should become a leader of the adversaries of the Jews so that their ashes might be scatters "across the seven seas" after their death.  

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Gittin 54: Intention and Consequences; Writing the Name of G-d Without Intention

We learn more about intentional and unintentional transgressions.  The rabbis offer a number of examples which suggest that an intentional transgression carries a greater consequence than an unintentional transgression.  Those examples include:

  • those who break Shabbat and those who break Shemita;
  • paying restitution with ritually pure, non-sacred produce and with ritually impure produce;
  • impure blood that is sprinkled on the altar,
  • consuming (on Shabbat) produce that has been tithed on Shabbat;
  • nullifying specific orla nuts that fell into a vat of many nuts where those nuts were then broken;
  • when a sapling that is orla is mixed in a large field of saplings
We learn that only rabbinical law suggests that a field be destroyed because of the presence of one sampling in less than 200 saplings.  Torah law teaches that a simple majority of permitted trees saves the entire field.  As Rabbi Yochanan says, "A person does not render his field forbidden for the sake of one sapling."

A new Mishna focuses on intention within the Temple.  If a person renders an offering impure in the Temple intentionally, he is liable to pay the owner the value of the offering.  The owner then has to purchase a new offering.

The Gemara begins by determining when we trust a person's statement regarding his intention.  Abaye says that as long as he is still able to do what he has said, he is deemed credible.  The rabbis seem to be concerned with what they can see - they mention watching a priest transgress through a small door and judging his intention in that way.  But how can we judge intention?

A wonderful story is shared regarding a person who tells Rabbi Ami that he wrote a Torah scroll without having the proper intention when writing G-d's name.  The scroll was now in the hand sof the buyer.  Rabbi Ami said that his wage should be forfeited but the Torah scroll is permitted.  The Gemara asks if he can't just rewrite those words with more ink while maintaining intention.  This is not accepted by the rabbis.  Even if it were possible to do so, they argue that the scroll would appear speckled, which is unacceptable.

This tradition continues.  Even though it is acceptable to write the name of G-d without the 'hyphen' when using a computer, it feels wrong to me to spell the name of G-d.  And that behaviour encourages reverence; something special or even Divine.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Gittin 53: Intentional and Unintentional Offences; Damages that Cannot Be Seen

Again, my very limited understanding of property law makes it very difficult to comprehend the different levels of meaning in today's daf.  The basics:

  • we learned a Mishna yesterday that one who causes a monetary loss by:
    • rendering another's food impure
    • mixing teruma with another's non-sacred produce
    • pouring another's wine as a libation in front of an idol
          is not liable to pay damages if these things were done unintentionally
          is liable to pay damages if these things were done intentionally

Some considerations:
  • how are these cases similar and different?

      are some of these circumstances uncommon and thus not punished?
    • does the action actually cause damage to one's property?
    • does Torah law rule that one pays the fine whether it is unintentional or intentional?
    • is the unintentional action/actor not penalized to ensure that he informs the other of the damage done?
    • Rabbi Yochanan: Torah law says that both actors are exempt from paying the fine for damages because there has been no damage; this will help people resist the urge to create impurities in each other's property when there is a dispute
    • are the rituals of priests who do damage unintentionally relevant to this discussion?
    • if the damage is not evident, should we say that the damage was unintentional?would these leniencies be mipnei tikun haolam, for the betterment of the world?
    • The Gemara shares cases of damages that have and have not been evident and then categorized intentional/unintentional transgressions
    It is interesting to note that the rabbis are so interested in intention.  We learn that in most cases, intention is not nearly as important as is action.  We can measure action, but intention is difficult to prove.  In these cases, the rabbis are eager to debate where to draw the line regarding intention and punishment.  Why?