Gittin 25

Blank get.

The mishnah on yesterday’s daf taught us that, in the case of a man in a polygamous marriage:

If he said to the scribe: “Write a get for whichever I will want and I will divorce her” — it is unfit for him to divorce with it.

According to the mishnah, it is not halakhically permissible to write a fill-in-the-blank get and then retroactively clarify which wife you meant. On today’s daf, the rabbis delve more deeply into the issue of retroactive clarification. 

Rav Hoshaya asked of Rav Yehuda: If he said to a scribe: “Write for whichever emerges from the entrance first” — what is the halakhah?

Where the mishnah assumed that the man knew which wife he wanted to divorce but just hadn’t given the scribe her name, Rav Hoshaya asks about a scenario in which the man bizarrely leaves the decision up to fate. (If this particular scenario intentionally evokes the story of Jephthah’s equally vague and ill-fated vow in Judges 11, it might be reminding us that this kind of conditional statement never ends well.) 

Rav Yehuda responds by citing yesterday’s mishnah, and concludes that there is no retroactive clarification. A man must first decide which wife to divorce, and then draw up the get with her name.

But Rav Hoshaya is not convinced. He turns to something ostensibly unrelated to divorce — the Passover sacrifice. Quoting a mishnah we first encountered on Pesachim 89a, he suggests that perhaps retroactive clarification is legal. 

One who says to his children: “I am slaughtering the paschal offering on behalf of whichever of you goes up first to Jerusalem” — once the first has entered with his head and the majority of his body into Jerusalem, he has acquired his portion and his brothers’ portions. 

The mishnah certainly seems to suggest that a father can establish a weird competition between his children in which the prize is the paschal offering. Or can he? Rav Yehuda explains that Rav Yohanan stated that the father only created this race “in order to galvanize them to mitzvot — to inspire them to hurry to Jerusalem for the sacrifice. But he was never intending to exclude the losing children from partaking in the sacrifice. In the end, it was offered on behalf of all of them.

But while modern parenting experts might frown on pitting siblings against one another, retroactive clarification was neither necessary nor operative in this case from Pesachim. We cannot extrapolate from this father’s unusual means of encouraging his children to do mitzvot to the permissibility of a man drawing up a get to divorce whichever wife leaves the house first.

Over the next two days, the Gemara is going to interrogate exactly when and why Rav Yehuda forbids retroactive clarification. (Spoiler alert: The rabbis of the Talmud don’t actually agree about what Rav Yehuda’s approach would be in a range of cases, though the discussion ends with Rava insisting that Rav Yehuda actually thinks retroactive clarification does work.) But in the face of all of this back and forth about retroactive clarification, perhaps one thing we can all agree on is that divorcing whichever wife exits the home first is a poor way to make a major life decision. 

Read all of Gittin 25 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on June 10th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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