Talmudic pages

Gittin 78

She must know what's happening.

Does the woman need to fully comprehend that she is receiving a bill of divorce in order for the divorce to take effect? According to the Torah, the woman does not need to consent to a divorce, but perhaps some acknowledgement or at least understanding of the situation is necessary? The mishnah on our daf reads:

If he said to her, “Take this promissory note,” or she found it behind him, and if she reads it and it is her bill of divorce — it is not a valid bill of divorce until he says, “This is your bill of divorce.”

If he gave it to her while she was sleeping, and he woke her, and she read it and it is her bill of divorce — it is not a valid bill of divorce until he says, “This is your bill of divorce.”

The mishnah presents two scenarios. In the first, the woman is told falsely, whether in trickery or in jest, that the document she is being given is a promissory note. Only when she reads it herself does she discover that it is a get. In the second scenario, she is asleep and therefore not aware that anything has occurred (or perhaps, again, it is a trick to get her to accept the get). In both cases, the mishnah states that the husband must declare the true nature of the document, aloud. Many commentators on this mishnah ask: If a woman does not need to consent to the divorce, why does the husband need to state it?

The Ra’avad suggests that the man’s initial misstatement about the nature of the document, that it is a promissory note, nullifies the get. The Rambam clarifies that, indeed, a get needs to be given with the intent to divorce, and the man doesn’t seem to have this intent if he calls it a promissory note. While the Ra’avad seems to think that mischaracterizing the document nullifies it altogether, the Rashba suggests that the getitself is not nullified when called a promissory note, but it must be given again with a clearer statement in order to take effect. In each of these interpretations, the bottom line is that the interaction remains unclear, and until it is clear, the divorce is not valid.

Tosafot suggest another way to think about these scenarios: The woman must know the concrete implications of the document she is receiving. While she may eventually read the document and then understand the intent, the mishnah wants to make sure there is no doubt from the moment she receives it. Otherwise, she might be in possession of a get, but not realize that she is divorced.

These competing interpretations are important, because the chosen interpretation has implications for what happens next. According to the Ra’avad, the man would need to write and give a new document; according to the Rashba and Tosafot, the document can still be used but the encounter conferring divorced status must be repeated. What the commentators are debating here, it seems, is how framing a situation can change the situation itself. If an encounter that is meant to end in a divorce is instead framed as a loan exchange, the intent of those involved is no longer clear. Even if the action is the same in both framings — giving the divorce document to the woman — the way it is given can change the action itself. Like many scenarios where the rabbis and commentators feel compelled to clarify the details of a statement in the Talmud (see, for example what I wrote on Ketubot 55), intentions matter, and they can change the outcome of an event even if the concrete actions remain the same.

Read all of Gittin 78 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 2nd, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

Gittin 2

Welcome to Tractate Gittin.

Gittin 65

An eruv made of figs and dates.