Rabbinic literature offers us a diversity of opinions on a wide range of topics. The term scholars often use is “multivocal,” meaning that it presents multiple voices without explicitly privileging one over another. And while this multivocality is one of the most exciting intellectual features of the Mishnah and the Talmud, it can sometimes be frustrating. After all, sometimes we just want to know who is right and what the halakhah actually is.
This frustration is not simply a modern one. The rabbis of the Talmud felt it too. We’ve already seen the rabbis develop a principle for determining who is right when it comes to disputes between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. And today we get another such principle about Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel.
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel was a leader of the early rabbis in the land of Israel. He is quoted extensively in the Mishnah offering opinions on a wide range of topics, including in a mishnah on yesterday’s daf about conditional divorces. But is he right? Today’s daf offers us one attempt to figure that out:
Rabba bar bar Hana says Rabbi Yohanan says: In every place where Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel taught in our Mishnah, the halakhah is in accordance with him, except for a guarantor, Tzaidan, and the final evidence.
Fabulous! A clear principle on which to determine the correct halakhah. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is always right except for three cases — a guarantor, Tzaidan and the final evidence. But what on earth do these three terms mean? The Talmud just moves on without explaining, as if of course we should know what it is referring to.
But on the off chance that we don’t, here’s one way to understand these three terms.
Tzaidan is the easiest. It refers to the mishnah on yesterday’s daf, which described a case in which a man who lived in the city of Tzaidan attempted to divorce his wife on the condition that she return his coat. She didn’t, and Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel ruled that the divorce is invalid. The rabbis insisted that the woman can reimburse her husband for the cost of the coat and be divorced.
The other two terms come from talmudic discussions we have not yet encountered in our journey through Daf Yomi. The case of the guarantor is found in Tractate Bava Batra 173b, where the Talmud discusses who a lender can collect from if at the moment of lending, they specified that they could collect it from either the borrower or their guarantor.
If the borrower and the guarantor both have the money, can the lender choose who to collect from? Or must they collect from the original borrower? Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says the lender must collect it from the borrower, but the rabbis say that they can collect it from either party.
As for the final evidence, according to Rashi, this refers to a case found in Tractate Sanhedrin 31a, where the court tells a man to bring any evidence he has to support his claim within 30 days. In this case, the man says that he has no evidence to bring and so the court offers its ruling. But then the man does come to court with evidence. Should the court accept evidence and change its ruling? Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says yes, and the rabbis say no.
The principle that the Talmud offers testifies to the desire for more clarity about who wins out in various legal debates. And the explanations of Rashi testify to the continued desire for more clarity in the face of the Talmud’s overambitious assumption of holistic knowledge. So if you are reading the daf and think, gosh, I wish things were more clear, know that you are not alone. Jews have been continuously searching for more clarity about these traditions for almost two thousand years.
Read all of Gittin 75 on Sefaria.