ו׳ בטבת ה׳תשע״ו (December 18, 2015)

Gittin 5a-b: Stringency and Bills of Divorce

Our Gemara continues the discussion of the need for a messenger who travels from another country to the land of Israel to deliver a divorce to attest that it was written and signed in his presence. The story is related that when a man named bar Hadaya was asked to deliver a geṭ, Rabbi Ahai who was the memunah a-gitay – the individual in charge of divorces – instructed him to pay close attention as each and every letter of the geṭ was written so that he would be able to testify at the time of delivery. When he asked Rav Ami and Rav Asi about this, they told him that he was not obligated to do so, and, in fact, that he should not do it even as a stringency, “She-lo le-hozi la’az al gittin ha-rishonim,”  lest people question whether earlier giṭṭin that were not written this way are valid.

Several of the commentaries ask whether the idea of she-lo le-hozi la’az al gittin ha-rishonim limits our ability to add any clarifications or other changes when writing a geṭ lest doing so casts aspersions on earlier divorces. Given the fact that Rabbeinu Tam and other rishonim did make such changes, this seems most unlikely. One answer offered is that the very requirement of having the messenger attest to the validity of the geṭ is itself a stringency, so nothing should be added to it. The Rema suggests that we distinguish between situations where we are clarifying something that is unclear, which is permissible, and simply adding additional stringencies, which would be forbidden.

The concept of a memunah a-gitay stems from the fact that writing a geṭ involves many specific details with regard to which much care must be taken, since an error that appears to be small may very well disqualify the geṭ. Given the gravity of issues of marriage and divorce, together with the severity of a situation of a woman remarrying based on an invalid geṭ, in organized communities a specific individual was appointed who specialized in such matters. This remained the case throughout the generations, where only special batei din dealt with issues of divorce.

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