Kiddushin 44

Fresh fish.

Today’s daf continues a discussion about the power of a father to act as an agent on behalf of his daughter to betroth her and to accept her divorce papers

Mishnah Gittin 6:2 says a betrothed minor girl can receive divorce papers herself (as can her father on her behalf). But on our daf Rabbi Yehuda disagrees:

Rabbi Yehuda said: Two hands do not have the right to acquire an item as one. Rather, her father alone receives her bill of divorce (on her behalf).

Rabbi Yehuda asserts that only one person can receive divorce papers — the minor’s father and not the daughter.

Until now, there was one debate between Rabbi Yehuda and the tanna kamma (first opinion) of the mishnah in Gittin concerning the father’s ability to act as an agent in the case of divorce, but then Reish Lakish complicates this discussion by arguing that there is a similar debate about betrothal: One who holds that a minor can receive her divorce papers will also argue that she can assent to a betrothal.

Rabbi Yohanan, Reish Laskish’s famous interlocutor and friend, strongly disagrees. He says there is indeed a disagreement about who can accept the divorce papers; but everyone agrees that betrothal of a minor can only be enacted by her father. 

Through several investigations the Gemara subtly lends support for Rabbi Yohanan’s view: A minor girl cannot enact her own betrothal because this requires independence from her father, personal agency and developed intellectual maturity — elements that are less necessary in the case of divorce. For contracting a marriage, a minor daughter will always be under her father’s aegis. 

Alongside the Gemara’s subtle conceptual support for Rabbi Yohanan, we get a story that gives us the decisive vote of approval: 

One day Rabbi Asi did not go to the study hall. He found Rabbi Zeira and said to him: What was said today in the study hall?

Rabbi Zeira said to him: I too did not go, but Rabbi Avin is the one who went, and he said: The entire coterie sided with the opinion of Rabbi Yohanan. And Reish Lakish screamed at them like a crane: The verse states: And she departs out of his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife. (Deuteronomy 24:2) But no one paid any attention to him.

Rabbi Asi said to him: Is Rabbi Avin reliable?

Rabbi Zeira said to him: Yes, since the elapsed time was only like the interval between catching a fish from the sea and bringing it to a frying pan.

The main point of the story is that everyone in the beit midrash, the house of study, agrees with Rabbi Yohanan’s position, even though Reish Lakish adamantly points out that Deuteronomy 24:2 juxtaposes betrothal with divorce, suggesting that if a minor girl can accept her divorce papers, she must also be able to accept a betrothal. But Reish Lakish’s scriptural argument is simply ignored, not even given the respect of a good debate or any refutations. 

The frame of the story — the rabbi who heard what happened from another rabbi who heard what happened that day in the study hall — may seem irrelevant to the ultimate outcome of the debate, perhaps just some color to illustrate the rabbinic world behind the sometimes dry legal discussions. However, the story tells us about the fundamental processes of the rabbinic world, and reminds us how central relaying information orally is to the rabbinic project. And it is always worthwhile to ask: Is the intermediary reliable? 

In the larger context of this chapter, we have been discussing betrothal and divorce enacted through an intermediary. Can a father accept marriage or divorce on behalf of a daughter? Can the woman or her father or the groom appoint an emissary, not only to pass on information, but to enact legal processes? With all the pitfalls of messengers we have discussed, the answer is nonetheless yes. The messenger can be trusted. Especially when the news is fresh, like a fish headed straight from net to frying pan.

Read all of Kiddushin 44 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 26th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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