ז׳ באדר א׳ ה׳תשע״ו (February 16, 2016)

Gittin 65a-b: The Language of Divorce

The Mishna on our daf is concerned with the language that is used by the husband when he instructs a messenger to write and deliver a geṭ. The examples that the Mishna gives of statements that are easily understood to mean that a divorce is to be written and delivered are things like “write a geṭ and deliver it to my wife” or “divorce her.” Statements that are not understood to be an instruction to write and deliver a divorce include patruha – “release her” or parnasuha – “provide for her.” The Ra’avad points out that this is true even though the husband had been discussing the possibility of divorce. Even so, these expressions are not clear enough to conclude that his intention was to divorce his wife.

Our Gemara quotes a baraita where we find that Rabbi Natan distinguishes between two similar cases. According to the reading that appears in our Gemara – which is Rashi’s reading – if the husband says patruha he is saying in Aramaic “release her,” which is clearly understood to mean that she is to be divorced, while saying pitruha, a Hebrew word, would mean that he wants her to be freed, but that might mean from other obligations, and not from her marriage. It is likely that Rashi suggests this explanation because the Gemara says that Rabbi Natan was from Bavel and was more careful with his use of language. Since it is unlikely that the Babylonian was more careful with his use of Hebrew than were his Israeli peers, Rashi interprets this to mean that one of the expressions was in Aramaic, a language better understood by Rabbi Natan. Other rishonim suggest an alternative reading in the Gemara, where Rabbi Natan rules that pitruha is a command to “free” the woman, i.e. to divorce her, while patruha is in the past tense and in this context is a word with no meaning.

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