Talmud pages

Gittin 80

Who's in charge?

Yesterday’s mishnah dictated that a get (divorce document) must be dated in a specific way:  

If he wrote the date on the bill of divorce using a calendrical system that counts years in the name of a kingdom that is not legitimate, or in the name of the kingdom of Medea, or in the name of the Greek Empire, to the building of the Temple, or to the destruction of the Temple — the bill of divorce is not valid.

As we discussed, the general rule is that one must date the getusing the dating system of the current government, and not a previous ruling power. And what’s particularly interesting is that even an internal Jewish dating system, for example “x number of years from the destruction of the Temple,” is not permissible for the get.

From these examples it becomes clear that the dating of the get is not simply a marker of time, meant to set a clear record of when the divorce took place. If this was the sole purpose, any widely known calendar would suffice. And certainly the destruction of the Temple — which was seared into the Jewish people’s communal memory — would logically serve as a communally recognized chronological marker in that community. But the rabbis required a date pegged to the ruling power because that makes the document potentially legally valid in a non-Jewish court as well. The system of dating helps lend a more universally recognized official status to the document.

The Gemara asks why an (often) oppressive gentile government should have so much sway over the composition of Jewish contracts, which were often handled internally to the community. The answer:

Ulla said: For what reason did the sages institute that the date should be written according to the years of the local kingdom in bills of divorce? Due to the need to maintain peaceful relations with the kingdom.

Ulla’s answer to this uncomfortable capitulation to the authorities, who were often feared or despised, is that it is a necessary concession to maintain peaceful relations. 

But still: Why be so stringent about it? There are significant consequences to invalidating a get, and one would not want to do so lightly. Suppose, for instance, a man gives his wife a get with the wrong dating system and then she remarries and has a child. Should the child of her new marriage be declared illegitimate (mamzer) simply because the date on her get was written according to the wrong calendar, invalidating the divorce? Even if it’s a calendar enough people know and understand? The Talmud answers unequivocally:

As Rav Hamnuna says in the name of Ulla: Rabbi Meir would say that anyone deviating from the formula coined by the sages for bills of divorce, the offspring is a mamzer.

If this seems harsh, it behooves us to ask why. Perhaps there is more at stake than making sure the document would hold up in a non-Jewish courtroom, or making peace with the powerful. In taking a strong stance on dating gets, the rabbis declare that it is they, and not some gentile empire, who decide the procedures for and legitimacy of a divorce document. It is the rabbis themselves who are in power over Jewish legal matters — even if they decide to date contracts according to the non-Jewish ruling government’s calendar largely in order to gain their recognition and keep the peace.

Read all of Gittin 80 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 4th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

Gittin 78

She must know what's happening.

Gittin 26

Fill-in-the-blank divorce.

Gittin 32

Second thoughts.