Gittin 82 - 88
Which Witnesses Count
A get divorce document which does not have two witnesses signed upon it but is delivered to the woman in the presence of witnesses is valid according to the view of Rabbi Elazar. Rabbi Elazar's interpretation of the Torah directive to "write" a get is limited to the writing of the text alone; it does not refer to the signing of witnesses. Rabbi Meyer, by contrast, considers a get without witnesses signed upon it as invalid even if it is relayed before witnesses.
The gemara concludes that we rule like Rabbi Elazar who states in the mishna that the witnesses of the delivery make the get valid; the only reason the Sages instituted that the witnesses sign the get, continues the gemara, is to protect the woman: If her husband eventually challenges the divorce and the witnesses to the delivery are not alive or unavailable to testify to its validity, the signatures can be used to validate the get.
Rabbi Yitzchak Alfasi (Rif) initiated a lively debate amongst the early commentaries by declaring that if there are no witnesses to the delivery, only witnesses signed upon the get, it is valid even according to Rabbi Elazar. One of his proofs is the above-mentioned rabbinical enactment to have witnesses sign so that their signatures would serve as proof of the get's validity in case delivery witnesses were unavailable. If such witnesses are not sufficient, he asks, what is the value of the decree?
His position is challenged by a disciple of his, Rabbi Ephraim, whose view (and that of the Tosefists) is that since Rabbi Elazar always states that delivery witnesses are what counts and he never explicitly adds that signed witnesses are sufficient, we must conclude that without delivery witnesses, the get is invalid. The rabbinical decree to have witnesses sign, explains Rabbi Ephraim, is a safeguard to indicate that there were indeed witnesses to the delivery since we assume that witnesses would not have signed on a get unless they saw that there were witnesses to the delivery. But if we know that there were no such witnesses to the delivery the get will be invalid.
Rabbeinu Nissim (Ran) elaborates in his defense of the Rif's position and offers a revolutionary explanation for signed witnesses being effective even when we know there were no delivery witnesses. Since they saw the writing of the get and now see it in the hands of the woman, we consider it as if they saw the actual delivery. Since there is no other plausible explanation for how it got to her, we view the conclusion the witnesses reach as an extension of what they actually saw.
(At the end of his long discussion on his position, Rif quotes one of the Geonim who disagrees with him, explaining that "even though his words contradict mine I chose to quote them, because they represent heavenly labor.")
A Not So Bad King
On the list of the kings of the Kingdom of Israel, which was composed of the ten tribes that had seceded from the Kingdom of Yehuda during the reign of Rechavam, is Hoshea ben Eilah. He is described (Melachim II 17:2) as "doing what was evil in the eyes of Hashem, but not like the kings of Israel before him." This would seem to indicate a radical change in the pattern of idol worship set by his predecessors. Yet the very next passage reports that his kingdom was punished by an invasion from the Assyrian king who made Hoshea subservient to him. Why would he, more righteous than the preceding kings, be thus subjugated while they were not?
The gemara's explanation of this paradox returns us to the founder of the Kingdom of Israel, Yerovam ben Nevat. Fearful that if his followers were to make their regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices in the Beit Hamikdash which was under the control of his rival, Rechavam, they would eventually desert him and rejoin the Kingdom of Yehuda, ruled by David's descendants. He therefore established two golden calves which he placed in Bet El and Dan as alternative objects of worship and he installed sentries along the roads to prevent pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
This pattern of worshipping idols and preventing Jews from going to the Beit Hamikdash was continued by succeeding kings of Israel, who are described as following in the evil ways of Yerovam. Hoshea was also an idol worshipper but when he saw that Yerovam's golden calves were exiled by a foreign power he decided to do away with the sentries and to allow his subjects the choice of going to Jerusalem or worshipping the local idols. This is what is meant by his being evil but not like those before him.
Once the Jews in his kingdom had the opportunity of making pilgrimage to Jerusalem and yet failed to do so, Hashem decreed that they would go into exile for all those years they did not go up to Jerusalem. This is the connection to the next passage describing the beginning of that exile.
A serious problem is raised by Maharsha (Mesechta Bava Batra 121a). The Sage Ulla states that the 15th day of the Month of Av is a holiday for Jews because it was on that date that Hoshea removed the sentries. Why is this a cause for celebration, he asks, if it was this un-utilized opportunity which served as the catalyst for exile? Maharsha remarks that there is a resolution for this problem, but he does not spell it out. It has been suggested that the opportunity was utilized by some righteous Jews, which made it a day to be annually remembered, but that the majority clinging to idolatry despite their new religious freedom brought about their exile.