Gittin 26

Fill-in-the-blank divorce.

Think back to the last form letter you encountered. It might have been an appointment reminder, a snack assignment for your child’s class, or something more consequential such as a do-it-yourself will. In the days before mail merge, scribes often wrote out the text of common documents, leaving blank spaces for particular names and dates, to have them ready in the event that they were needed quickly. 

Today’s daf explores whether it’s kosher to create a fillable form for various items, including bills of divorce. A mishnah states:

A scribe who writes the standard part of bills of divorce (in advance) must leave empty the place for the name of the man, the name of the woman and the date.

The mishnah goes on to list other form documents that can be created for loans, sales and the like, and then concludes with a difference of opinion: 

Rabbi Yehuda invalidates all (form documents written in advance).

Rabbi Elazar deems all of them valid except for bills of divorce, as it is stated in the Torah: “And he writes for her” (Deuteronomy 24:1), indicating that he must write the bill of divorce for her sake. 

In contrast to the general opinion of the sages noted at the beginning of our mishnah, Rabbi Yehuda believes that all form documents are forbidden while Rabbi Elazar invalidates only bills of divorce, citing the Torah verse that says each get must be written individually for that particular woman. The Gemara will now parse out these opinions to get to the bottom of the disagreement and come to a conclusion about whether one can use a boilerplate get, filling in the names retroactively.

First, the Gemara notes:

The unattributed opinion of the mishnah is the opinion of Rabbi Elazar, who says: Witnesses of the transmission of the get effect the divorce, and we require the writing to be for her sake.

Here, the Gemara discards (or, perhaps, revises) the plain meaning of Rabbi Elazar’s named statement in the mishnah and says that the opinion of the sages and Rabbi Elazar are the same: The standard portions of a get can be pre-written, because what really effects the get are the signatures of the witnesses. Therefore, if it is signed just for her, it fulfills the Torah’s requirement of it being written for her.

Next, the Gemara notes that form documents for divorces are allowed “due to the ordinance.” It then poses the logical question:

To what ordinance is the mishnah referring? Rabbi Yonatan says: Due to the ordinance for the benefit of a scribe. 

Although one might think that the standard part of a get should be written uniquely for each divorce, Rabbi Yonatan reminds us that a fill-in-the-blank form is permitted so as not to unduly inconvenience the scribes.

But are we sure that “the ordinance” refers to scribes? There might be an even more compelling possibility.

Rabbi Shabbetai says that Hizkiyya says: The ordinance was instituted to prevent a quarrel.

Maybe the ordinance isn’t about scribes at all. Maybe it’s to protect the couple from a fight. If the woman hears about a pre-written get, she may be (understandably) hurt and angry. Therefore, the sages prevent the scribe from writing in any specifics in advance. There is also a concern that if a man has a get on hand with everything filled in, he might have a fight with his wife and hand her the get in a rage, rashly ending his marriage. Allowing scribes to write the standard pieces and not the specific pieces in advance prevents this outcome.

And there is a third possibility:

Rav Hisda said that Avimi said: The ordinance is to provide a remedy for deserted wives. 

A deserted wife, or agunah, is a woman whose husband disappears (or deserts her intentionally) without having divorced her, leaving her “chained” to her dead marriage and unable to remarry. Imagine a man has to go overseas quickly. Normally, in this situation, a man would write a get for his wife so that if he disappeared, she would not be left as an agunah. But now imagine he can’t find a scribe on short notice. Allowing the bulk of the get to be written in advance mitigates against the concern that he would end up leaving without writing her a get. 

In all these cases, a woman can be confident that even if a get starts out as a form letter, as long as the particulars and signatures are completed just for her, it’s still kosher.

Read all of Gittin 26 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on June 11th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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