Talmud pages

Gittin 87

Bilingual get.

Reading the Talmud, one might be forgiven for imagining the society in which the rabbis lived as fairly insular. We know, however, that the authors of the Mishnah living in the land of Israel were steeped in a diverse community made up of not only Jews following a variety of practices but also members of many different ethnic and national groups. In Babylonia, where the Talmud was codified, Jews similarly lived in cities and towns that were home to diverse populations that were speaking, writing and conducting business in many languages. 

In light of this multilingual world inhabited by the rabbis, today we consider whether a get signed in two different languages is valid. Here’s the mishnah:

With regard to two bills of divorce that a scribe wrote on the same paper, one next to the other, and the signatures of two Hebrew witnesses extend from underneath this bill of divorce on the right to underneath that bill of divorce on the left, and the signatures of two Greek witnesses extend from underneath that bill of divorce on the left to underneath this bill of divorce on the right — the one with which the names of the first two witnesses are read is valid. 

In this scenario, the mishnah invites us to picture two gets that are written side-by-side on one piece of paper with space for the witnesses to sign underneath each one. The get on the right is signed by two witnesses in Hebrew, writing from right to left. Their signatures are so long that they encroach on the space left for the Greek witnesses to sign the get on the left side of the page. Therefore, that get is signed further down, so the Greek signatures (which are written left to right and also extend past the midpoint of the paper) have enough room to run. In this case, the get on the right is valid, because the witnesses’ signatures are not separated from the text of the get and clearly belong to that document. The get on the left is invalid because the signatures are further down — leaving it unclear which witnesses signed that particular get. 

The mishnah continues:

If one witness signed in Hebrew and one witness signed beneath him in Greek, and underneath that signature one witness signed in Hebrew, and beneath him one witness signed in Greek, with the signatures extending from underneath this bill of divorce to underneath that bill of divorce, both bills of divorce are invalid.

This scenario describes the same page with two bills of divorce in two different columns. In this case, however, the witnesses sign in alternating languages: Hebrew, Greek, Hebrew, Greek. Because all the signatures encroach upon the space for the opposite side’s bill of divorce, and neither bill of divorce is followed immediately by its respective signatures, both documents are nullified.

Interestingly, whether the get is valid or not does not depend on the language of signing; rather, it depends on whether we can tell which witnesses signed which get. Underscoring this point, further down our daf, we read the following: 

With regard to a bill of divorce that was written in Hebrew and its witnesses signed in Greek, or that was written in Greek and its witnesses signed in Hebrew, or in which one witness signed in Hebrew and one witness signed in Greek, or if a bill of divorce has the writing of a scribe, and the scribe identifies his handwriting, and one witness verifies his signature, it is valid.

Not only can the signatures be written in any language, the document itself can be written in another tongue as well — as long as the certificate and its signatures are clearly matched. 

Why might a get be written or signed in Greek? Two possibilities come to mind. One logical explanation could be that the signatory is not Jewish (Gittin 10 confirms that a non-Jew can sign a get). Or, perhaps the signatory is Jewish, but doesn’t know Hebrew well — something that surely resonates with many of us living in the Diaspora today.

These days, most gets are written in Aramaic and signed in Hebrew. But that’s not a requirement; then as now, one could write and sign a get in any language.

Read all of Gittin 87 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 11th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

Gittin 26

Fill-in-the-blank divorce.

Gittin 79

Which kingdom is more legitimate?

Gittin 80

Who's in charge?