Gittin 85

False conditions.

We have already learned that a man cannot place conditions on his wife’s remarriage prospects when he gives her a get. Divorce severs his right to dictate her life and any conditions put on her invalidate the divorce. 

But what if the conditions are superfluous? The mishnah on today’s daf imagines a scenario in which a divorcing husband appends this condition to a get: 

You are hereby permitted to any man, except to my father or to your father, to my brother or to your brother, to a slave or to a gentile, or to anyone she cannot be betrothed, (the divorce is) valid. 

Some of these potential relationships are biblically forbidden (her immediate family and his) such that the marriage could not take effect. Others (enslaved people and non-Jews) are prohibited because their status means that rabbinic legal processes around marriage and divorce simply don’t work for them. So if a man tries to prohibit his soon-to-be-ex-wife to marry someone who she already cannot marry, the divorce is nevertheless valid.

I don’t know why a man would want to tack this kind of condition onto his document of divorce. If he’s being serious, he really doesn’t understand rabbinic marriage laws. And if he thinks he’s being funny, he isn’t — especially in a world where a woman is dependent on her husband to end the marriage. That’s no joking matter. But regardless of his reasoning, if he does make avoiding these relationships a condition of the divorce, it has no legal effect on the document and the woman is divorced. 

Weirdly enough, for the rabbis there are some relationships that, while religiously forbidden, are still legally possible. As a result, conditions regarding this kind of relationship are treated differently. The mishnah continues:

You are hereby permitted to any man, except for (when doing so violates the following): a widow to a High Priest; a divorcee or a yevama who performed halitzah to a common priest; a mamzeret or a Gibeonite woman to an Israelite man; an Israelite woman to a mamzer or to a Gibeonite; or to anyone she can betrothed, even if a transgression, it is invalid. 

In these cases, a woman could in fact marry one of these forbidden men and the marriage would work, though there would be consequences. If a priest marries a divorcee, for example, their children are not considered priests themselves but Israelites. The special status is lost when the priest marries someone biblically prohibited to him, but the marriage still works. So if a husband tried to make his divorce conditional on his wife not marrying one of these men, it would in fact limit her marital options and therefore invalidate the get. 

The Talmud adds to our discussion of shady conditions one more possibility. What if the husband makes the divorce conditional on his wife not marrying someone who is ineligible for marriage, but might not be in the future? For example, someone not yet born, a minor boy who will grow up, or a non-Jew who might convert. In these cases, is the condition considered impossible and so the divorce is valid? Or does the possibility that it might be fulfilled at some point in the future invalidate the giving of the get now. 

Frustratingly, the Gemara’s answer to all of these questions is teiku, it is unresolved. By leaving these cases unresolved, the Gemara essentially leaves these marriages unresolved, with a woman trapped in a marriage that is clearly not healthy. Ultimately, the Gemara leaves it to the courts to ensure that men don’t attach frivolous or future-oriented conditions on their divorces. May the courts be worthy of that responsibility. 

Read all of Gittin 85 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 9th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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