כ׳ באדר א׳ ה׳תשע״ו (February 29, 2016)

Gittin 78a-b: This is Your Bill of Divorce

How aware does the woman need to be that she is receiving a bill of divorce? Since, according to the Torah, a woman can be divorced even against her will (a law that has not been in practice since the enactments of Rebbeinu Gershom Me’or ha-Golah in the 10th century), is it necessary for the husband to inform his wife of the divorce, or can he hide the true significance of the paper until it is already in her possession?

The Mishna on our daf teaches that a man cannot say to his wife “hold this promissory note for me” and hand a geṭ to her; similarly he cannot slip it into her hands while she is sleeping. The geṭ will not be valid until it is given to her together with the statement “here is your divorce.”

The question that the rishonim raise is why this would be essential, given the fact that – at least according to the letter of the law – we do not need the wife’s agreement to the divorce?

The Ra’avad suggests that the problem in this case is that by referring to the geṭ as a promissory note, we are concerned that the husband has negated the validity of the document, with regard to which, as we have learned, proper intent is a crucial factor.

According to the Rambam, we see from this ruling that the geṭ must be handed to the wife with proper intent of divorce. The statement at the moment of the divorce seems to run counter to that intent, which nullifies the proceedings.

Tosafot sees a practical problem in this case. Ordinarily a geṭ can only be given if the wife understands that with this document’s transfer, their marriage has ended, and she knows that she can no longer continue to live with her husband. If a clear statement does not accompany the geṭ, it is possible that she will not understand this, at least for some period of time.