One of my favorite moments from the iconic television show Happy Days occurs in an episode in which Arthur Fonzarelli, aka the Fonz, played by the incomparable Henry Winkler, attempts to apologize to Ralph Malph for telling him to join the Marines. The only problem is, the Fonz can’t get the word “wrong” to come out of his mouth.
Repeatedly, he tries and fails, ultimately telling Malph that he was “not right,” to which Malph incredulously exclaims, “You mean you were wrong?!?!” When it comes to apologizing, the Fonz has it all wrong.
On today’s daf, we encounter a situation in which one of the sages responds quite differently.
The rabbis are in the midst of a complex discussion about what happens when an enslaved person is jointly owned by two people and one of them emancipates their portion of the enslaved person. This gives rise to a complicated situation in which the person is now half-free and half-enslaved. On today’s daf, the rabbis consider the implications of this unusual status on betrothal. In trying to figure out whether a half-enslaved woman can be betrothed, the rabbis invoke a case from Tractate Kiddushin (7a), in which a man betroths “half a woman.”
Why would a man do this? We get a clue from the passage in Kiddushin, which says that when a man declares to a woman that she should be betrothed to “half of me,” he is essentially telling her that he intends to marry to another woman. Seemingly then, a man who intends to marry two women might use this formula to be on the level with them before they become betrothed, alerting them to his intent to take more than one wife. The Talmud allows a man to do this, but it prohibits betrothing just “half a woman.”
In this context, the Gemara records this teaching from Rabba bar Rav Huna:
Just as the halakhah is that one who betroths half a woman, she is not betrothed, so too, a half-enslaved and half-free woman who was betrothed, then her betrothal is not valid.
Rabba bar Rav Huna invokes the precedent from Kiddushin that a half-betrothed woman is not betrothed. Likewise, he rules, since betrothal requires a complete woman, betrothing a half-enslaved woman should also be forbidden. But Rav Hisda objects:
Rav Hisda asked: Are they comparable? There, he leaves (a portion of the woman) out of his acquisition. Here, he did not leave (a portion of the woman) out of his acquisition.
Rav Hisda says the two cases are not comparable. The difference is that in the Kiddushin case, both “halves” of the woman are eligible for betrothal, while in the case on our daf they are not. As Rashi explains, Rav Hisda is suggesting that the betrothal should be valid in this case because all the parts of the woman (i.e., the free “parts”) that can be betrothed were betrothed. This is different from a case where a man betroths half a woman at his discretion.
After considering Rav Hisda’s teaching, Rabba bar Rav Huna reconsiders his position. Not only does he change his mind, but the manner in which he publicly retracts his original ruling is stunning in its strength and scope.
Rabba bar Rav Huna went back and placed an interpreter before him, and he interpreted a verse homiletically: “And let this stumbling-block be under your hand” (Isaiah 3:6). A person does not understand statements of Torah unless he stumbles in them. Although the sages said one who betroths half a woman, she is not betrothed, however a half-enslaved, half-free woman who was betrothed, her betrothal is a valid betrothal.
What is the reason for the distinction? There, he left (a portion of the woman) out of his acquisition; here, he did not leave (a portion of the woman) out of his acquisition.
Rabba bar Rav Huna acknowledges that sometimes it takes several tries and the consideration of multiple opinions to understand the halakha. Here, he employs a translator to make sure that his retraction is understood and acknowledged by everyone who has heard his first erroneous opinion. Unlike the Fonz, Rabba bar Rav Huna’s apology is forceful, public and complete.
The moral of the story? When it comes to admitting you’re wrong, be like Rabba bar Rav Huna (and not the Fonz).
Read all of Gittin 42 on Sefaria.