Annulling a Get

Gittin (4:2) | Yisrael Bankier | 4 months ago

The Mishnayot this week list various laws introduced by the Chachamim which were motivated by tikkun olam – to avoid a negative consequence. The discussion is relevant to this masechet because the first of these takanot relates to the laws of gittin. Recall that a man can nominate a shaliach to deliver the get to his wife. The Mishnah (4:2) explains that initially, after the shaliach was sent but prior to the get reaching the wife, the husband was able to form a "Beit Din" and annul the shlichut. This would then prevent the divorce even if the get reached the wife. Rabban Gamliel however ended the practice. The Bartenura explains that this was because it would be possible that neither the wife or shaliach would be aware that the shlichut was annulled, and then wife would then remarry. Since however she would still be married to her first husband, the children from the second relationship would be mamzerim.

The Gemara (32b) records a debate regarding the initial practice. According to Rav Nachman the husband would only be required to annul the get in front of two people while Rav Sheshet explains that three people would be required. The Gemara (33a) connects this debate with the one regarding the Rabban Gamliel's motivation. R' Yochanan provides the explanation cited by the Bartenura above. The Gemara explains that this reason only makes sense according to Rav Nachman. According to Rav Sheshet who requires the dissolution to be before three people, the more public setting would mean that word would reach the wife and there would be no concern for mamzerut.1 Instead the Gemara explains that Rav Sheshet would align with Reish Lakish who explains that Rabban Gamliel was trying to prevent agunot. He was concerned that the practice would lead to women be stuck in wedlock. Consequently, to prevent that, if the husband wanted to annul the get, he would need to chase after the shaliach to do so, making annulling the get far more difficult.2

Prior to Rabban Gamiliel's decree why could the husband not annul the shlichut on his own? The Tosfot (32b, s.v. VeRav Nachman) explains that the two or three individuals are not acting in the capacity of a Beit Din and a Beit Din is not required. Nevertheless, out of concern for mamzerut the two or three witnesses were required. We find that according to the Tosfot, the requirement for two or three individuals, even from the outset, was rabbinic with Rabban Gamliel restricting it further based on heightened or additional concerns.

The Ramban however explains that dibur (speech) alone away from the shaliach is weaker than dibbur in front of the shaliach and there is unable to annul the shelichut. Consequently the annulment must be before in front of two or three people in order to have sufficient strength to be effective.

The Ramban also suggest that the requirement is based on the principle that with respect to matter relating to forbidden relationships we always require at least two witnesses. The Tosfot Yom Tov explains that Rav Nachman understands that when the Mishnah refers to these two people as a Beit Din and not simply witnesses, it is because they do not function like normal witnesses in order to clarify the matter if it is later contested. Instead for matters like this, they affect a change in status, like a Beit Din. The position of Rav Nachman that requires two, is therefore understood to be essential, similar to the other processes that effect marriage and divorce. The Ramban adds that Sheshet's requirement of an additional witness is due to the additional concern of mamzerut.


1 The Tosfot Yom Tov raises this as a difficulty on the Bartenura who also explains that initially the husband would annul the shlichut in front of three people.

2 The Tosfot explain that R' Yochanan agrees with R' Lakish that R' Gamiel was (also) concerned for Agunut otherwise it would have been sufficient to decree that in order to annul a get, three people would be required instead of two.

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