Talmud pages

Gittin 20

Are all divorces invalid?

We’re now a decent way into Tractate Gittin and exploring the nuances of divorce decrees. Today, our daf explores the language in Deuteronomy 24:1“He writes her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house.” The literal language of “hands it to her” is “gives it to her hand,” with implications we’ll look at below.

To start off our sugya, Rav Hisda makes a bold claim:

Rav Hisda said: I am able to invalidate all the bills of divorce in the world. 

Whoa! He can invalidate each and every divorce? Rava is understandably a bit skeptical:

Rava said to him: What is the reason that you could invalidate them? 

A fair question. The Gemara considers — and discards — a first possibility:

If we say: Most bills of divorce are invalid because it is written in the Torah: “And he writes her a scroll of severance” (Deuteronomy 24:1), and here, in the case of most bills of divorce, she writes it for him, as it is customary for a woman to pay a scribe to write the bill of divorce. But then perhaps it could be maintained that the sages transferred the ownership of the bill of divorce to him and it is considered as if he wrote it.

Deuteronomy 24:1’s exact language dictates that the husband write (or have someone write) the bill of divorce. However, as laid out in Tractate Bava Batra, the rabbis amended this to have the wife pay so the husband wouldn’t raise financial objections to this particular expense and delay the divorce on that account. Since these days women pay, even though the Torah says otherwise, perhaps all divorce documents are invalid.

But no, the Gemara says, that’s not it. If this were Rav Hisda’s claim, the rabbis could reject it by saying that the husband got the bill from the scribe to give to his wife, thus satisfying this particular condition. So what’s the rationale?

Rather, you might say that it is because it is written: “And gives” (Deuteronomy 24:1), (which is usually understood to mean that the item given must have some monetary value) and here he doesn’t give her anything of value. Perhaps the mere giving of the bill of divorce (is the giving mentioned in the Torah, even if it does not have any monetary value). Know that the sages sent this message from there (the land of Israel): If he wrote a bill of divorce on items from which benefit is forbidden, then (although the bill of divorce is completely lacking monetary value) the bill of divorce is valid.

Ah, so, we need to unpack the word “gives.” As Rashi explains, giving typically requires conferring something of value (worth at least a prutah, a coin of small denomination). Most divorce decrees — just words on a piece of material — have little to no monetary value in and of themselves, and if this is the case, according to Rav Hisda’s argument, there’s nothing actually “given.”

But the Gemara rejects this argument as well. The text refers to another rabbinic holding, one from the land of Israel, that even divorce decrees written on items from which benefit is entirely prohibited are valid. As our next sugya explains, even an olive leaf, which is almost worthless, can still be the material on which a get is inscribed. In the 16th century, there’s still a little bit of controversy over this between the Shulchan Aruch and the Mapa, but in general, the rabbis reject Rav Hisda’s assertion and decline to invalidate all the divorces in the world. Whew.

Read all of Gittin 20 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on June 5th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

Gittin 81

Rumor has it.

Gittin 80

Who's in charge?

Gittin 87

Bilingual get.