Talmud Tips

For the week ending 26 December 2015 / 14 Tevet 5776

Gittin 16 - 22

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

“A get may be written on anything: on an olive leaf; on the horn of a cow, and then he must give her the cow (for the divorce to be valid)…”

This teaching in the mishna does not mention that he must give his wife the entire olive tree, despite it teaching immediately afterwards that he must give her the entire cow, even though he wrote the get only on its horn. This seems to imply that he wrote the get on the leaf after it was detached from the tree, and not while it was still connected, which is consistent with the Rashi’s commentary. One reason offered by the commentaries is that the get must be written on an object that is fit to be given to her “from hand to hand”. The basis for this is in understanding the wording of the verse in the Torah that mandates the procedure for divorce: “and he writes for her a bill of divorce and places it into her hand” (Devarim 24”). This wording implies that the get be an object that can be transferred from his hand to her hand, excluding a tree that is connected to the ground. (See the notes of the Rashash who suggests this explanation, and then proceeds to question it on the basis of other teachings, leaving the topic open for further study.)

  • Gittin 19a

Shmuel said. “If a man gave his wife a blank paper for divorce, she is divorced — since he may have written the get on the paper with (an ‘invisible ink’) called mei millin.”

The gemara challenges this halachic statement of Shmuel from a tosefta that teaches that the get must have writing on it for it to be valid. The answer provided by the gemara on behalf of Shmuel is that the “blank” paper was in fact checked with a certain substance (called maya d’nara), and the text of the get appeared. (This substance is a type of dye that is put on the paper and causes the “invisible” letters that were written and absorbed into the paper to now come to the surface and appear to the eye — Rashi. Tosefot cites Rabbeinu Chananel and the Aruch as teaching that this substance is made from the peel of a pomegranate.)

Even if the text appears in this manner, asks the gemara, it was not apparent when the get was given to the wife — so why should Shmuel say she is indeed divorced? The gemara clarifies and concludes that Shmuel really meant that she is in a state called “doubtfully divorced”, and may not marry a kohen. The doubt is regarding how well the letters written there were absorbed into the paper, and, depending on this factor, whether or not to consider it a kosher get. This halacha is codified in Shulchan Aruch Even Ha’ezer 135:4.

Tosefot adds a novel twist. According to this conclusion that the divorce is only doubtful, this doubt exists even if the paper was not checked with the “litmus test”. We still have a concern that he wrote the get with an ink that was absorbed into the paper. However, Tosefot adds, if the paper is indeed checked and no text is found, it can clearly be concluded that the get is not valid beyond any shadow of a doubt.

  • Gittin 19b

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