Gittin 71

Verbal confirmation.

mishnah on today’s daf states:

If people said to the husband: “Shall we write a bill of divorce for your wife?” And he said to them: “Write it,” and those people told the scribe to write it, and he wrote it and instructed the witnesses to sign it, and they signed it — even if they wrote it and signed it and gave it to him and he then gave it to his wife, the bill of divorce is void unless he himself says to the scribe: “Write the document,” and he himself says to the witnesses: “Sign the document.”

According to this mishnah, a get must be ordered by the husband personally. Telling others to order a scribe to write the get, or to tell witnesses to sign it, doesn’t result in a valid get.

But why does this matter? After all, we know that husbands intent on divorce regularly engage other people to write and deliver the documents, and they are valid. Indeed, in the Gemara, we see at least one voice expressing this view:

But if he (the husband) said to them: “Give a bill of divorce to my wife,” (and they told the scribe to write the document and the witnesses to sign it), those people give the document to his wife and it is valid. In accordance with whose opinion is this statement? It is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Meir, who says: “Verbal directives can be delegated to an agent.” 

According to Rabbi Meir, not only can an agent be appointed to deliver a get, they can also be appointed to give instructions about writing and signing the get. But now, another rabbi weighs in:

In the latter clause of the mishnah, we arrive at the opinion of Rabbi Yosei, who said: “Verbal directives cannot be delegated to an agent.”

The Gemara states that the ruling in the mishnah isn’t anonymous after all; it’s the opinion of Rabbi Yosei, who is in conflict with Rabbi Meir over whether or not a verbal directive can be delegated to an agent to fulfill. Rabbi Meir says yes; the mishnah and Rabbi Yosei say no. 

Ultimately, Maimonides rules that the opinion of the mishnah and Rabbi Yosei stand, and that the husband must personally commission the scribe and witnesses in order for the get to be valid. 

The first part of the mishnah is itself curious, though. Why on earth would people ask a husband if he wanted them to write a get for his wife in the first place? And why would he agree?

In his commentary on our daf, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (relying on Rashi) suggests that the mishnah is discussing a case where a man who is ill or is about to leave on a trip is asked whether he would like a conditional geṭ written for his wife. Such a suggestion could stem not from a nosy assumption that the couple is not functioning well, but from either of two concerns that we have seen addressed elsewhere: First, the concern that if the husband goes missing, his wife might be left as an agunah (trapped in her marriage) if he never returns from his trip. Second, if the couple has no children, a divorce would free her from the possibility of yibbum (having to marry her husband’s brother and raise up a child in his name). 

This mishnah assures that well-meaning (or, perhaps, malicious) community members do not act because of something someone said. The husband himself must issue the request to the scribe to write the get, and to the witnesses to sign it. And more broadly, it sets a precedent: Legal documents can’t be drawn up based on hearsay; the individual who orders the document must do so personally. 

Read all of Gittin 71 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on July 26th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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