The Weekly Daf

For the week ending 13 February 2016 / 4 Adar I 5776

Gittin 61 - 67

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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The Meaning of "Get"

What is the significance of the term "get" which is the subject of our entire mesechta? Even though we find this term used as a designation for documents in general -- as Rabbi Huna explains the meaning of "also in regard to gittin" (plural for get) as a reference to financial documents -- the usual use of the term is in regard to the divorce document. This is why if a man delegates an agent to write a get for his wife, the agent can write her a divorce document even though the husband did not use the Torah terminology of "a document of severance" (Gittin 65a). It also explains why the mesechta repeatedly refers to divorce documents with this term, as pointed out in the very first Tosefot of our mesechta.

That Tosefot cites two reasons for the custom of writing a get with twelve lines. Rabbeinu Tam's approach is that the gematria (numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters) of "get" is 12 (gimmel=3, tet=9). The Geonim Rabbeinu Hai and Rabbeinu Saadia are quoted as suggesting another explanation. Each one of the five chumashim of the Torah is separated from the other in the Torah scroll by four lines. Discounting the separation between Bamidbar and Devarim, because this last chumash is considered a review of the previous chumashim, we have three separations and a total of 12 lines separating them. Since the Torah refers to the divorce document as a "document of severance," the amount of lines in it is determined according to the number of lines serving as a separation in the major document -- the Torah.

Maharam Shiff cites an early source, Rabbi Avraham of Ostrakaima, who offers a fascinating explanation of the term get used in regard to divorce. The Jerusalem Talmud mentions an isolated island nation by the name of "Gitta" which drives away any neighbors who try to enter it. The name of that island of separation was therefore applied to a document whose purpose is separation.

Although this approach fails to explain why even financial documents are called by this term, we can readily understand that once a document explicitly mentioned in the Torah was given this appellation, it was only natural to extend its use to other documents as well.

  • Gittin 64a

Wise When He Wishes

A puzzling praise is given to the sage Rabbi Yehuda by the sage Issi ben Yehuda in his description of the scholarly qualities of a number of the leading sages of his generation. In contrast to Rabbi Meir who is described as "a wise man and a scribe," Rabbi Yehuda is characterized as being "a wise man when he wishes to be."

Rashi's explanation that Rabbi Yehuda was capable of being wise when he was patient and carefully considered the subject at hand is questioned by Maharsha as hardly constituting a praise. Tosefot, however, saw this description as a comparison between Rabbi Yehuda and his principle disputant in halachic matters, Rabbi Meir. While Rabbi Meir was perhaps more incisive and challenging, it was Rabbi Yehuda's strength to be more patient and conclusive. Tosefot's comparison of this distinction to the one made in Mesechta Horyot (14a) between the advantages of a sage characterized as "Sinai" and one who "uproots mountains" with his incisiveness is, however, somewhat too difficult to understand. The issue there, according to Rashi's explanation, was whether encyclopedic knowledge of the Torah (as if it was given at Sinai) better qualifies one for being head of the yeshiva than one who is less knowledgeable but more incisively analytical.

Maharsha refers us to the Sefer He'Aruch who sees this praise of Rabbi Yehuda as the special privilege he enjoyed (as a result of a Roman decree -- see Mesechta Shabbat 33b) of being the head speaker at every assembly (Mesechta Berachot 63b). His understanding is that whenever Rabbi Yehuda decided to publicly express his wisdom, he enjoyed priority status.

An entirely different approach is offered by Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Chayot. Almost everyone, he notes, is subject to situations and moods which prevent him from properly applying himself to the search for Torah wisdom. It was Rabbi Yehuda's unique power to completely overcome all of these distractions and obstructions and to "be wise" whenever he wished to delve into the depths of Torah.

  • Gittin 67a

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