Talmud pages

Gittin 77


From the Torah’s description of divorce in Deuteronomy, we learn that a man must place a bill of divorcein her hand” for it to take effect. But does the Torah mean that literally — that it must be grasped by the woman’s hand? That’s the question addressed on today’s daf, starting with this mishnah:

One who throws a bill of divorce to his wife, and she is in her house or in her courtyard, she is divorced. If he threw it to her in his house or in his courtyard, even if it is with her in the bed, she is not divorced. If (he threw it) into her lap, or into her basket, she is divorced.

The mishnah takes an expansive view of “in her hand,” understanding it to mean the document must be placed in her possession. A woman’s house and courtyard are viewed as extensions of her person, so if a man throws the get into those spaces, it’s considered as if she has received it into her hand. This is not the case if she is in her husband’s space, unless the get is tossed into her personal space, such as her lap or her basket. (Although we might view legal separation as a modern invention, it seems that the couple described on our daf are living in different houses, even if she ends up in her husband’s bed on occasion.)

The Gemara continues:

From where are these matters derived? The sages taught: The verse states: “And gives it in her hand” (Deuteronomy 24:1), from which I have derived that she is divorced only if he actually places it in her hand. But from where (do I derive that she is divorced even if he places it on) her roof, in her courtyard, or in her enclosure? The verse states: “And gives it,” indicating in any case.

The Gemara says that the mishnah’s more expansive read derives not from a broad understanding of “in her hand,” but from the preceding part of the verse: “and he gives.” A plain reading of the verse in Deuteronomy might indicate that the divorce is valid only if the man places the document directly in his wife’s hand, but the rabbis read the verb “give” to mean that as long as it is transferred into her personal domain it is valid. 

The rabbis find further support for this idea in a beraita (early rabbinic text):

And that is also taught with regard to a thief: “If the theft be found in his hand” (Exodus 22:3). I have derived (that one is liable for theft) only when the stolen item was found in his hand. But from where do I derive on his roof, in his courtyard, or in his enclosure? The verse states: “If the theft be found,” indicating in any case.

Through the methodology of gezerah shavah, comparing the same phrase found in different places in the Torah, the rabbis interpret the verse in Deuteronomy in light of the same phrase in Exodus (“in his hand”) concerning theft. From that verse, which concerns stolen livestock, we come to understand that saying a sheep or an ox is in a thief’s hand also means grazing on his property or hidden amongst the flock. Likewise, the Talmud concludes that if the get is delivered to the wife’s property, it is valid. 

We typically think of Jewish divorce as rather formal: The husband gives the get either directly to his wife or to an agent who delivers it on his behalf. A man throwing a get at his wife, as if to say “catch!” shows a profound lack of respect that might explain why they’re getting divorced in the first place. Tricking the wife into receiving the get in the manner of a process server sneakily delivering a subpoena is not the way it ought to be. And yet, until the ruling of Rabbeinu Gershom in the 10th century that women could not be divorced against their will, this was deemed a valid way to do it. 

Perhaps the Talmud compares these two verses in order to highlight that, like an actual theft, a man who divorces his wife by throwing a get at her is no more honorable than a common thief — even if the rabbis rule that such a divorce is valid. 

Read all of Gittin 77 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 1st, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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