Gittin 26 - 32
Another Kind of Agunah
The term agunah -- a woman restrained from the freedom to remarry -- is classically used in Talmudic and rabbinic literature in regard to a woman whose husband has disappeared and there is no reliable testimony or evidence that he is dead. In our own times it is commonly applied as well to those tragic cases in which a husband refuses to divorce with a get unless his demands are met.
In our gemara we are introduced to a different category of agunah. The mishna tells us that a scribe who prepares standard forms for get documents must leave blank the spaces reserved for the names of husband and wife and the date of the divorce. The reason given for these instructions to the scribe is that it is a "takanah" -- a rabbinical decree to set things right. One explanation of this is that our gemara is in accordance with the view of Rabbi Elazar who insists that the vital information of a get -- the "toref"-- must be written "lishmah" -- specifically for the purpose of this divorce and not prepared in advance to have on hand. Even though this Torah requirement applies only to the names, dates and the phrase "you are permitted to every man" which make up the "toref," there seems to be a good reason for the sages extending it as well to the "tofes" -- the standard text which makes up the rest of the get -- in order to eliminate the danger that once a scribe prepares one part he may forget himself and prepare it all. The reason that the sages did not forbid this preparation of the tofes is that of the takanah of agunah. A situation may arise in which the husband who wishes to divorce his wife is in a rush to go abroad and if he doesn't find a scribe with a prepared standard text he will leave without granting her freedom to remarry, never to return.
Here we have an agunah whose husband has not vanished and who is ready to divorce her but circumstances could cause her to be prevented from remarrying. Our sages made the takanah of allowing pre-written standard texts in order to eliminate such a problem.
Tosefot (Gittin 33a) draws a parallel from this gemara to the takanah which the Sage Reish Lakish said that the older Rabban Gamliel instituted. He made it difficult for a husband to nullify the get he has sent his wife through an agent by denying him the opportunity to do so before the beit din of three without himself or his agent personally nullifying it before her or before the agent delivering the get. Even though it is assumed that she will hear about the nullification and refrain from remarrying, this is termed an agunah consideration because it results in her not being able to gain the freedom she desires.
- Gittin 26b
Downplaying the Dissenter
Rabbi Huna and Rabbi Chisda were sitting together when a Torah scholar named Ganeva passed by. One of these sages turned to the other and suggested that they stand up to show respect for him as a Torah scholar. "Stand up for a dissenter?" challenged the other.
Rashi supplies the background for the challenge on the basis of an earlier gemara (Mesechta Gittin 7a) where the same Ganeva is mentioned in regard to a later incident. He is there characterized as an argumentative dissenter who made a great deal of trouble for the head of the Beit Din rabbinical court, the Sage Mar Ukva. The latter was so distressed by his behavior that he even considered eliminating him by turning him over to the government. But when he consulted Rabbi Elazar he was told to refrain from such action. The problem of Ganeva and his followers eventually became intolerable to Mar Ukva and he turned in desperation to Rabbi Elazar for advice on what he could do for relief. His response, based on a passage in Tehillim (37:7), was to pray to Hashem Who would cause his enemies to collapse without any effort on Mar Ukva's part. No sooner had Rabbi Elazar thus spoken of the downfall of Mar Ukva's enemies than Ganeva was seized by the government and put in chains.
As to the dialogue in our gemara on whether to stand up for this dissenting scholar, an interesting point is made by Iyun Yaakov. The challenge against standing up for Ganeva was not just that there was no obligation to show respect for a scholar because of his failure to submit to rabbinical authority. It was an argument that it would actually be sinful to show him such respect because this would merely be a boost to his already exaggerated conceit which was the prime cause of his dissenting attitude.
Ganeva, in his self assuredness, could not even imagine that these two sages were not standing up for him as an expression of protest against his behavior. He therefore assumed that they were too engrossed in some subject of Torah to even notice him. This explains why he took the initiative of approaching them and asking them the nature of the Torah topic which so occupied them, and thus initiated a discussion about the winds.
- Gittin 31b