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Gittin 67

Temporary insanity.

On Gittin 23, we learned that people suffering from various impairments, including mental illness, are prohibited from witnessing or delivering a get. Surprisingly, it isn’t until today’s daf that we discover that a husband who is mentally impaired is similarly prohibited from ordering a get to be written for his wife. 

Here’s the mishnah:

One who was afflicted with kordeyakos and said: “Write a bill of divorce for my wife,” — he has said nothing.

If he said: “Write a bill of divorce for my wife,” when he was lucid, and was then afflicted with kordeyakos and he retracted his previous statement and said: “Do not write it,” — his latter statement is considered nothing.

Just like a mentally impaired witness or a messenger, a husband afflicted with something called kordeyakos (a type of temporary insanity) cannot effect a get. If he orders the get when he is lucid, and then tries to cancel it while beset by kordeyakos, the cancellation is invalid.

The Gemara immediately asks the relevant question: 

What is kordeyakos? Shmuel said: One who was afflicted by new wine directly from the winepress. 

According to Shmuel, kordeyakos is a mental affliction resulting from the consumption of undiluted wine. In talmudic times, all wine was diluted, so drinking wine directly from the press would have been an unusually strong drink, one which evidently could render someone temporarily insane. But if that’s the case, why didn’t the mishnah just say that directly? The Gemara continues:

And let the mishnah teach explicitly: One who was afflicted by new wine. The Gemara answers: This teaches that the name of the demon (that causes this impairment) is Kordeyakos. 

This is hardly the end of the possibilities for what this word could mean. The Jerusalem Talmud (Gittin 7:1) describes a person with kordeyakos as exhibiting improper behavior, such as sleeping overnight in a cemetery, tearing his clothing and destroying objects. In his commentary on this mishnah, Maimonides defines kordeyakos as a type of epileptic seizure that renders a person incoherent.

Modern sources suggest additional alternate meanings for kordeyakos. Marcus Jastrow, in his essential Dictionary of the Talmud (1926), defines kordeyakos as delirium or “one who is at times sane and at times insane.” And Dr. Harvey Babitch, speaking at Yeshiva University in 2016, notes that kordeyakos may refer to a sugar-related disease similar to diabetes that could be brought on by consuming the quantity of sugar that would be found in undiluted wine. 

And what’s the cure for kordeyakos? The Gemara teaches:

(The afflicted person should eat) red meat (roasted) over coals and diluted wine.

One of the amazing things about this whole subject is that there is no shame or blame assigned by any of these explanations to the person afflicted by kordeyakos. Today, we are very cognizant of the stigma associated with mental illness. Many groups are dedicated to eradicating this stigma entirely. But here on our daf, kordeyakos is considered without any value judgment whatsoever. Whether it’s caused by alcohol, a demon, epilepsy or some other set of factors, the Talmud is not interested in judging the person affected by it, but only its bearing on a point of halakhah and how to cure it. 

It’s tempting sometimes to look at a page of Talmud and be charmed by the idiosyncrasies of the ancient world (demons — how quaint!). Perhaps we should also be focused on the rabbis’ understanding — seemingly before their time — that mental illness, like physical illness, might simply affect what a person can or cannot do at a particular time in their lives. No judgment needed. 

Read all of Gittin 67 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on July 22nd, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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