Gittin 22

Who can write a get?

We’ve spent a lot of time so far learning about who can serve as a witness to the writing and transmission of get. Today we move back a step and ask: Who can actually (physically) write the thing? 

The mishnah on today’s daf explains: 

Anyone is qualified to write a bill of divorce, even a deaf person, one who is incompetent, or a minor. A woman may write her bill of divorceAnd a man may write his receipt.

The mishnah lists categories of people who are not halakhically permitted to serve as witnesses to the get due to age, sex or ability. The rabbis treat these groups differently in numerous legal categories, but here insist that if they are literate they can scribe a bill of divorce. 

This means that a woman — who, let’s remember, cannot initiate a divorce — can write her own get and give it to her husband, in order that he give it to her and initiate the divorce proceedings. And a husband, who in theory should receive a receipt from his (now-ex) wife that she has received the get, can draft the receipt himself, give it to his wife and have her give it to him upon receiving of the get. 

Why can anyone write a get? The mishnah continues: 

The ratification of a bill of divorce is only through its signatories.

Essentially, the anonymous voice of the mishnah permits anyone to physically write this legal document because the writing doesn’t actually matter when it comes to formalizing the divorce. What matters are the signatures.  

The Gemara is going to spend the next few pages unpacking this mishnah. After all, if the rabbis assume that the most likely writer would be an adult, able-bodied Jewish man, then these are interesting categories to think with. But I want to take our time today to read the mishnah not as a rabbinic thought experiment about edge cases but literally. 

Because the mishnah describes cases where an able-bodied man would not be able to write a get — but his wife, child, or enslaved person could. When non-specialists think about the ancient world, they often assume that, because they were in other ways marginalized, women, people with disabilities and enslaved people did not have access to education (and, therefore, certainly could not have written a get). But historians emphasize that this simply wasn’t the case. And today’s mishnah agrees with them. 

Whether the mishnah is meant to think theoretically about edge cases or is describing cases that actually happened, it invites us to picture a world where women, minors, deaf people and those who are otherwise legally incompetent (according to the rabbis) could often write —– even when, as perhaps in the case of the woman writing the get for her husband —– some men could not.

Legal authority (to serve as witnesses and initiate a divorce) does not derive from competence and skills. And what might that mean for a community? For a marriage (even one that is ending?) What does it mean for a community or a family if only a man can initiate a divorce but perhaps only his wife can write it out? The mishnah doesn’t answer these questions, but taking the text seriously invites us to explore these possibilities.

Read all of Gittin 22 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on June 6th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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