Talmud pages

Gittin 10

Divorce and matzah.

We learn in a mishnah:

Any document that has a Samaritan witness signed is invalid, except for bills of divorce and bills of manumission. 

Living alongside the rabbinic community were the Samaritans, a community that followed the Torah but did not accept the rabbinic interpretations of the laws found therein. And while they were neighbors and has some rituals and practices in common, they were not always trusted by the rabbis regarding matters of ritual or legal practice.

Today we learn that while, in general, a Samaritan signature disqualifies a legal document, this is not the case for bills of divorce and documents that give slaves their freedom.

Before it begins its discussion of the content of the mishnah, the Gemara inquires about its source. It considers three possible authors of the rule based on what they have to say in the following beraita about whether Samaritan-made matzah is permitted on Passover:

The matzah of a Samaritan is permitted on Passover and a person fulfills his obligation to eat matzah on the first night of Passover with it. 

Rabbi Elazar prohibits the consumption of the matzah of a Samaritan because the Samaritans are not well-versed in the details of mitzvot

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel (or RaShBaG, for shortsays: Any mitzvah that the Samaritans embraced they are more exacting in its observance than the Jews.

The Gemara quickly rules out the first sources in this beraita as possible authors of our mishnah. The tanna kamma (the anonymous first opinion) of the beraita holds that Samaritan matzah is fit for use. If so, it would be reasonable to assume they also think that a Samaritan signature is valid, regardless of the type of document on which it is found. And Rabbi Elazar, who questions the Samaritans’ knowledge of the details of halakhah, would likely declare any document that a Samaritan had signed invalid, even a bill of divorce. 

So then, the Gemara reasons, it must be Rashbag who authored this opinion in the mishnah. This makes sense, as his statement seems to be in line with the mishnah: Just as the Samaritans are meticulous about matzah, they are meticulous about bills of divorce, so we accept a Samaritan signature in this case. But, on other documents, they are not meticulous – i.e., their views do not align with rabbinic views — so a Samaritan’s signature invalidates the document.

Now the Gemara questions its own logic. If this were indeed the case, Rashbag should also accept a bill of divorce witnessed by two Samaritans. If they are trustworthy, then they are trustworthy. But a close read of the mishnah reveals that it is only talking about a case where one of the witnesses is a Samaritan. So, the Gemara concludes, it can’t be Rashbag who authored this mishnah after all.

Now the Gemara returns to the possibility, previously rejected, that the author is Rabbi Elazar who, as we learned in the beraita, doesn’t trust Samaritans in matters of ritual and halakhah. And the Gemara suggests that his reasoning might be as follows: If only one witness is a Samaritan and the other is a rabbinic Jew, we can rely on the rabbinic Jew’s signature as affirmation that the particular Samaritan who signed the document is well-versed in the law. Samaritans in general we do not trust, but this one has been vouched for.

And the reasons Samaritans signatures are accepted on divorce and manumission documents, the Gemara reasons further, is that witnesses must sign at the same time. On other documents, we have no guarantee that they were signed together and the rabbinic signature cannot be used to vouch for the Samaritan. And so, concludes the Gemara, Rabbi Elazar is the author of this opinion in the mishnah.

Many legal positions stated in the Mishnah are attributed, many others are not. Some of the time, the Gemara leaves this be. On occasion, it reminds us of the rabbinnic tradition that anonymous mishnahs are in the opinion of Rabbi Meir. Other times, like today, it goes on a hunt to find a matching opinion found in another source. Is the Gemara’s claim that today’s mishnah is the opinion of Rabbi Elazar definitive? I would not argue that it is.

What’s interesting here is not the conclusion, but the process. In searching for an answer to its question, the Gemara connects two sources, one about Passover and one about divorce, which speak about the legal standing of Samaritans in the rabbinic community. It seeks to line up the opinions between the two, as if to create a unified legal theory about Samaritans. 

As a reader of Daf Yomi, I am on the lookout for recurring themes and topics that are of interest to me. I have Post-Its at the ready, a digital journal, and Sefaria’s search engine to help me keep a record of what I find. When my seven year journey through the Talmud is done, I hope to turn my attention away from what is interesting about each particular page and toward what becomes interesting when we connect texts from different pages to each other. Today, I am reminded that this approach is as old as the Talmud itself.

Read all of Gittin 10 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 26th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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