Gittin 23

Voice recognition.

A mishnah on today’s daf states:

Anyone is fit (to serve as an agent) to bring a bill of divorce except for a deaf-mute, an insane person, or a minor, or a blind person, or a gentile.

The mishnah goes on to explain that if the person’s status changes between the time they are given the get and the time of delivery — for example, if the minor becomes an adult or the gentile converts — they are still disqualified as witnesses. The same is not true, however, of the other categories. If someone able to hear received a get, then became deaf, and then regained their hearing, they remain fit to serve as an agent for a get. The mishnah sums up by noting:

This is the principle: Anyone who is competent in the beginning and in the end is fit.

But what is it about these specific types of people that render them unfit to bring a woman her get? 

The Gemara explains that a non-Jewish person is disqualified because they are not subject to Jewish law, while a deaf-mute, an insane person and a minor are disqualified from serving as get agents because they are not considered competent under Jewish law. At the time of the Talmud, and indeed into the early modern period, a deaf-mute was presumed to be mentally incompetent due to their inability to communicate. We now know this is not true, but the rabbis of the Talmud did not, and so lumped in the deaf-mute person with someone who is insane and therefore not competent to act as an agent. 

But what about the blind Jewish adult? Such a person is subject to Jewish law and is considered competent. The Gemara records a dispute on this point. 

Rav Sheshet says: Because he does not know from whom he takes it and to whom he gives it.

Rav Yosef objects to this: How is a blind man permitted to his wife? And how are all people permitted to have sexual relations with their wives at night? Rather, through voice recognition. Here too, through voice recognition.

As we learned in the very first mishnah of this tractate, if a person delivers a get from abroad, they must testify that they saw it written and signed. Rav Sheshet argues that a blind person can’t serve as an agent for a get because they cannot have seen the get signed and written. 

But Rav Yosef says this can’t be the reason. A blind person is allowed to have sex with their spouse, even though they can’t see to be sure the person they are sleeping with is actually their spouse. And even sighted people are permitted to their spouses at night when it’s dark and they can’t see them. In both situations, it’s allowed because the partners can recognize each others’ voices. Similarly, Rav Yosef argues, a blind person can still tell who is writing and signing a get even if they can’t see it. After all, they’re presumably in the same room for some time with the participants while the document is being written and signed.  

Supporting the view that blind people are competent is the fact that there are several blind rabbis quoted in the Talmud including, ironically, Rav Sheshet who argued against a blind person delivering a get. (Elsewhere, on Berakhot 58a, we saw him demonstrate that blindness is far less limiting than many sighted people assume.) On Yevamot 16a we also met the blind Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas who is so old he no longer attends the beit midrash, but he can still recognize the voices of his colleagues when they come to visit him. 

While the Gemara stands by the ruling that a person must be sighted while receiving and delivering a get (even if they become temporarily blind in the interim), by the time of the later law codes, we see a change. Maimonides, writing in the 12th century, lists those who are barred from serving as an agent with respect to a divorce: a gentile, a servant, a deaf mute, a mentally incompetent individual and a minor. The blind person is no longer mentioned.

Read all of Gittin 23 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on June 8th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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