Gittin 11

A man named Hurmiz.

Can a non-Jew write a valid get, a bill of divorce, for a Jewish couple? The mishnah on yesterday’s daf taught us: 

All documents produced in gentile courts, even though they are signed by gentiles, are valid — except for bills of divorce and bills of manumission.

Rabbi Shimon says: Even these are valid, and mentioned (as forbidden) only when they are prepared by a common person (and not a qualified judge).

While the first opinion insists that only a bill of divorce written in a Jewish court and signed by Jewish witnesses is valid to dissolve the marriage of two Jews, Rabbi Shimon argues that a qualified non-Jewish judge can in fact write a valid (for Jews) bill of divorce. The Gemara explains that Rabbi Shimon thinks that the get would still need valid Jewish witnesses — but that these witnesses are needed not when the get is written and signed, only when it is transferred to the woman. So if a non-Jewish judge writes the bill of divorce, and non-Jews witness the writing and sign it, that’s all valid because delivery is the key moment of the ritual — not the writing or the signing.

But now we have another problem. We need valid Jewish witnesses for contracts in case a dispute emerges in the future. Should the get be challenged in court, if the witnesses who signed the bill of divorce are not Jewish, the court would need to find the valid Jewish witnesses to the get’s transmission to testify to its validity. But how can we actually know if the witnesses to the bill of divorce written by a non-Jewish judge are or aren’t Jewish themselves?! Presumably, they sign their name and do not make a note of their religion.

Today’s daf notes that sometimes the name is a large clue to the religion of the person who signed: 

What are the circumstances of unambiguous (gentile) names? Rav Pappa said: Such as Hurmiz, and Abbudina, bar Shibbetai, and bar Kidri, and Bati, and Nakim Una.

Hurmiz is the Aramaic spelling of the Pahlavi name Ohrzmad, the name of a Zoroastrian god. Just as we can today assume that someone named Jesus is probably Christian, so too someone named Hurmiz was likely Zoroastrian. The other names are less obviously non-Jewish to me, but not to Rav Pappa. According to him, a divorce document signed by people with these names would be valid, but it would be obvious that the signatories aren’t Jewish and any rabbinic court seeking to validate the get would need to seek out the (Jewish) witnesses to its transmission. 

Continuing to comment on this mishnah, the Gemara is next going to discuss whether a bill of divorce prepared by any non-Jewish person, not just a non-Jewish judge, is valid. But before we move on, it’s worth pausing for a moment on the question of names. 

In her famous balcony scene, Juliet declares: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.” But with apologies to Shakespeare, names actually do matter. They can function as a marker not just of personal identity but communal identity. They can tell the world which gods we worship and who we worship with. And as today’s daf teaches us, they can even be crucial to determining the validity of a legal document.

Read all of Gittin 11 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 27th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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