Gittin 13

Posthumous directives.

mishnah on today’s daf states:

One who says, “Give this bill of divorce to my wife,” or “Give this bill of emancipation to my slave,” and then dies — one does not give it after their death.

However, if the person said, “Give 100 dinars to so-and-so,” and then died — one does give after death.

Most of today’s daf deals with the latter scenario: A person issues a directive to pay 100 dinars to someone and then dies before the payment occurs. According to the mishnah, the advance directive stands and the payment is made. But why, and under what circumstances? 

The Gemara relates:

Rav Yitzhak bar Shmuel bar Marta says in the name of Rav: This ruling is only when (those dinars) are piled up and placed in a corner.

In the first of several opinions on this subject given in the name of Rav, Rav Yitzhak bar Shmuel bar Marta says that such a directive only takes effect when the money to be given is a specific pile of coins that all can see. After a discussion about whether the person directing the payment is on their deathbed or not, the Gemara shares another opinion attributed to Rav:

Rav Huna says that Rav says: If someone says: “I have 100 dinars in your possession; give it to so-and-so” in the presence of (all) three, the third person has acquired it. 

This type of transaction is known as ma’amad shlashtan, or “in the presence of all three.” In this case the three people are the person who owns the money, the intermediary holding the money and the person about to receive the money. In the presence of all three parties, the transaction can occur even after the death of the original owner. 

This allowance seems obvious, since we know that posthumous bequests occur as a matter of course. So why does the Gemara spend a fair amount of time discussing the matter? And why does the mishnah contrast posthumous monetary gifts with posthumous bills of divorce and emancipation? 

One reason could be that the status of money doesn’t change. Since coins are inanimate, transferring them from a deceased party to a living party doesn’t affect the money itself. In contrast, the status of a married woman changes from wife (when her husband is alive) to divorcee (if he is alive and gives her a get) to widow (if he dies prior to giving the get). In the case of an enslaved person, their status can change as well, from enslaved to emancipated once a bill of emancipation is received. 

Another reason is that all three matters deal, in the language of the Talmud, with acquisition. Money, slaves and wives are all acquired. The fact that enslaved people and women are living humans whose change of status can determine their fortunes surely informs the differences between how these three types of transactions are handled. 

Finally, we have this significant difference: In the case of a payment, the recipient acquires the money promised by means of the benefactor’s agent. In the case of a divorcee and an enslaved person, the result of the bill of divorce or emancipation means that once freed, these individuals acquire themselves. 

As we roll along in Tractate Gittin, we will see this tension arise again over the legitimacy of documents and money conveyed by third parties. Rulings on whether these transactions are kosher or not have long-lasting consequences, and the arguments in the Gemara are brought largely to make sure that once decided, they are solid and permanent. 

Read all of Gittin 13 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 29th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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