In the opening mishnah of this tractate, we learned that if an agent brings a Jewish bill of divorce from overseas, they must declare that the bill was written and signed in his presence. Why is this necessary? On today’s daf, we get two answers.
According to Rava, it’s to confirm the authenticity of the signatures and avoid any disingenuous claim by the husband that the bill is a forgery. But according to Rabbah, it’s because many diaspora communities were not expert in rendering Jewish divorces. Consequently, by making this declaration, the witness testifies that the divorce was written according to the strict demands of Jewish law and for the sake of this particular woman — or what is referred to as lishma.
We may justifiably find it strange that the demand for the witness to testify about the get’s authenticity was established primarily as a safeguard for sloppy halakhic practices in the diaspora. However, a survey of the Talmud demonstrates that this concern was often raised by the sages.
For example, we frequently find that the rabbis presumed a certain measure of halakhic ignorance among Jews in the Galilee (see Mishnah Nedarim 2:4, Mishnah Pesachim 4:5, Pesachim 112b, Eruvin 53b and Chagigah 25a). This is because the Galilee is geographically distant from the hub of rabbinic Judaism which was, at that time, in Judea and subsequently in Yavneh. Clearly, if the rabbis were concerned about Jews in Galilee, all the more so they would have been concerned about Jews living outside of Israel.
Yet, the mishnah does not distinguish between Jews living close to the center of rabbinic Judaism and those living farther away. If so, we might presume that those living near the rabbinic centers of learning in Babylonia might also be exempt from the mishnah’s requirement. But the line drawn in the mishnah is between those living within Israel (b’eretz yisrael) and those living outside. Why would this be so, given the general presumption of halakhic ignorance of those in the Galilee? Surely, it should depend where in the land of Israel the get is being brought from?
There are various ways to answer this question. But one way is to consider the possibility of textual variants in the Mishnah. As Rabbi Meyer Feldblum, a 20th century Talmud scholar, explains in his Peirushim u’Mehkarim BaTalmud, there are manuscripts of the Gemara which render the mishnah slightly differently, ruling that an agent does not need to testify about a get’s authenticity if it was brought from the land of Israel (m’eretz yisrael). According to this version of the mishnah, we only suspend the testimony requirement when bringing a get from Israel (where most, though not all, communities are expert in these laws) to the diaspora (where it is presumed that most are not).
As Feldblum explains, this term m’eretz yisrael (from the land of Israel) — as opposed to b’eretz yisrael (within the land of Israel) — is used in the Tosefta. And it parallels the earlier line of the mishnah, which speaks of an agent who brings a get from overseas (m’midinat hayam).
Understood this way, the theories posited by both Rava and Rabbah are fully aligned not only with the text of the mishnah, but also with other teachings in the Talmud about the halakhic reliability of those in communities both inside Israel and beyond.
Read all of Gittin 4 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 20th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.