We are reaching the end of Masechet Gittin, so naturally the Gemara is finally getting around to talking about the actual manuscript of the get. We learn about languages it can be written in (Gittin 87b), dates that are legitimate and those that are not (Gittin 80a) and also about the type of document. We hear mentioned in various places (81, 87 and others) about three types of documents: a “simple” one גט פשוט, a “tied” one גט מקושר, and a “bald” one גט קרח. To understand these terms we need to look at the Mishnah in Bava Batra:
MISHNA: “In an simple document, its witnesses are to sign inside it. In a tied document, its witnesses are to sign on the back of it.” (Bava Batra 160b)
And what about the bald one? That is explained in our masechet:
“And what is a bald document? It is any document where the number of its knots is more than the number of its witnesses.” (Gittin 81b)
OK, all clear now right? Well, maybe a few more words of explanation. First despite all we have been discussing for the last few months, the word “get” does not always mean a divorce document. It is most commonly used for divorce but can mean other kinds of documents, like a document for a loan or one that releases a slave. This document can be “simple,” a text with signatures at the bottom, or it can be more elaborate. This is where we get to the tied document. Here we have a text that is partly exposed and partly folded and sewn shut, to prevent forgery. Witnesses sign opposite the knots, and then it cannot be tampered with. The number of witnesses is usually greater with a tied document than a simple one. Simple gets need a minimum of two witnesses, tied need a minimum of three. No one needs more than that but with a tied document, the number of witnesses must correspond to the number of knots. If there are fewer witnesses your get is “bald.”
Why would you create this elaborate system? The rabbis in Bava Batra 160 b, came up with a great reason:
“There was a place where there were many priests, and they were very quick tempered, and they would seek to divorce their wives impetuously.” (Bava Batra 160b)
Since a priest cannot remarry his wife after he divorces her, the rabbis sought to make the divorce process more cumbersome and allow the priests time to reconsider. Hence the complicated tied get. But as we have seen you could have such a tied document for other purposes, not only for divorce. So why the knots and extra witnesses? To make the purchase or gift more official and less likely to be questioned, The Gemara brings a Biblical example of a tied get for a land purchase:
“I took the deed of purchase, the sealed text and the open one according to rule and law,” (Jeremiah 32:11)
So if so many documents used this method, have we found any tied gets? The answer is yes. In March 1960 Israel decided to do a special military/archaeological mission in the Judean Desert. Many antiquities had been showing up on the black market and Israel’s leading archaeologists understood that someone was looting sites and selling the artifacts. This terrible destruction of the past could not continue and so the decision was made to be proactive and find the sites before the thieves did, in the remote caves of the Judean Desert. The army was needed to reach the inaccessible sites. The mission covered the region from Ein Gedi south to Masada (north of Ein Gedi was under Jordanian control) and it was divided into four sections, each one to be excavated by a team led by one of Israel’s top archaeologists. The northernmost section went to Yigael Yadin.
Cave of Letters
רשות העתיקות של ישראל Israel Antiquities Authority, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Yadin was privileged to discover many incredible things, including letters signed by “Shimon the President of Israel,” i.e., Shimon Bar Koziba, the leader of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans in the second century CE. Among the caves excavated was one that became known as the Cave of Letters. This cave, like many others, was a refuge for Jews fleeing to the desert during the Bar Kokhba revolt. They took with them precious objects from home, among them dishes and house keys. But one object stood out. It was a carefully protected leather pouch that had been wrapped in sacks and tied up with ropes to keep it safe. When it was painstakingly opened, Yadin and his team discovered that it was the “filing cabinet” of a woman named Babata bat Shimon. Babata brought all her significant documents with her when she fled to the cave and they are a treasure trove for archaeologists and scholars of the Mishnaic time period.
Bundle of documents
Chamberi, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Babata’s archive contained thirty-five documents, detailing her complicated personal and financial history. Of the thirty-five, twenty-three of the documents took the form of a tied get as it is described in the Gemara. Before we get to what they looked like, it is also fascinating to note the variety of languages and dates that the documents display. Seventeen were written in Greek, six in Nabatean, three in Aramaic and nine in Greek with signatures in Aramaic or Nabatean. Babata lived in a very cosmopolitan world. In addition, we have dates according to the Roman emperor (Hadrian), according to the Roman civil year and month and according to the years of the Arabian Provinces.
What were all these documents about? We have Babata’s ketubah, where she receives one hundred maneh since it is her second marriage. We have sales of property and gifts, including gifts where the giver could continue to receive income even though he had signed over his property. There are many parallels (and some differences) to the types of contracts we hear about in the Gemara.
And what of the tied get? It looks just like the rabbis describe. The top part contains the contents of the contract. That is rolled up and “tied,” i.e., sewn closed with a number of knots. Then the bottom part of the document is a repeat of the text, that is rolled as well but not tied. Finally, on the opposite side of the document, the witnesses sign by each knot, at right angles to the inner text, as Rav Yirmiya bar Abba says in Bava Batra 160b. The number of witnesses must equal the number of knots or the get is “bald.”
Babata’s complicated marital and financial dealings have long passed from the world. She probably never went home and died in the cave during the Revolt. But her meticulous records provide us with a window into our ancient legal system.
One of Babata’s documents after it was opened
en:User:Nadav1, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons