The Dispute Between Rashi and Tosfot – Can a Person Send Written Testimony to the Beit Din?
The mishna on daf 30b discusses situations where there is uncertain betrothal or uncertain divorce. Situations of uncertainty will require chalitza and not yibbum. We do not do yibbum, since there is an uncertainty, however, the woman is not exempt entirely, and therefore must do chalitza.
מתני’. וכולן שהיו בהן קדושין או גרושין בספק, הרי אלו הצרות חולצות ולא מתייבמות. כיצד ספק קדושין? זרק לה קדושין ספק קרוב לו ספק קרוב לה – זהו ספק קדושין. ספק גרושין? כתב בכתב ידו ואין עליו עדים, יש עליו עדים ואין בו זמן, יש בו זמן ואין בו אלא עד אחד – זהו ספק גרושין.
The second part of the mishna brings a list of situations where there are uncertainties – this list turns into a point for further study in the sugiya which comes out of this mishna, one case of uncertain betrothal, and three cases of uncertain divorce.
- Uncertain betrothal: the husband throws the betrothal object to her, but it is uncertain whether it lands close enough to her. 2. Uncertain divorce: a. the get is written by the husband but does not have signatures of witnesses. b. a get with signatures of witnesses, but missing the time. c. a get where the time is written, but there is only one witness signature.
The gemara asks why the first case is specifically about betrothal? Also in the case of divorce there could be the same type of uncertainty, whether the get is close enough to her or not. There are two solutions brought to this problem, the first by Raba, and the second by Abayei. We will focus on the second. The gemara on daf 31b says:
“אלא אמר אביי: יגיד עליו ריעו, תנא בקידושין וה”ה לגירושין, תנא בגירושין וה”ה לקידושין.”
Abayei suggests that the uncertainty presented in the mishna is not only regarding betrothal, but rather also comes to teach about divorce. Therefore, there is exactly the same uncertainty when a man throws a get to his wife – maybe it does not land close enough. Rava raises a challenge to Abayei from the language of the mishna:
“?א”ל רבא: אי יגיד עליו ריעו, מאי זהו דקתני”
The mishna says “כיצד ספק קדושין? זרק לה קדושין ספק קרוב לו ספק קרוב לה – זהו ספק קדושין”. The word “זהו” indicates intentionality in the wording, not an expansion beyond this case. Therefore, Rava suggests an improvement to Abeyei’s suggestion:
“אלא אמר רבא: כל שיש בקידושין יש בגירושין, ויש בגירושין מה שאין בקידושין, וזהו דגירושין לאו דוקא, אלא משום דתנא זהו בקידושין, תנא נמי זהו בגירושין. וזהו דקידושין למעוטי מאי? למעוטי זמן, דליכא בקידושין.”
Rava suggests making a partial comparison between the lists. While each disqualification which exists in betrothal also exists regarding divorce, there is one disqualification in divorce which does not exist regarding betrothal – disqualification due to the missing time. A get which is missing the time is invalid, however a betrothal document missing the time is valid. The following lines in the gemara are complicated, as they quote from a number of different sugiyot:
ומפני מה לא תקנו זמן בקידושין? הניחא למ”ד משום פירי, ארוסה לית לה פירי, אלא למ”ד משום בת אחותו, ליתקין זמן!
In order to understand these lines of the gemara, we must look at a sugiya in Masechet Gittin (17a) which brings a dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish regarding the reason for requiring the time to be written on a get:
איתמר: מפני מה תיקנו זמן בגיטין? רבי יוחנן אמר: משום בת אחותו, ריש לקיש אמר: משום פירות.
Our gemara claims that the fact that the rabbis did not make a parallel enactment regarding betrothal is a proof for the opinion of Reish Lakish who thinks that the reason for the enactment is “because of the fruits”. Rashi on our sugiya helps us understand the claim. Reish Lakish understands that the requirement of writing the time on the get is connected to the eating of fruits. We will explain: a man has the right to eat from the fruits of his wife’s usufruct property, but this is only during the time that they are married. It does not apply to when she is betrothed, and also not in the case where he decided to divorce her and wrote her a get, but has yet to give it to her and so she is not actually divorced. Therefore, the time on the betrothal document, even if it is earlier than when it actually happened, does not give the husband rights to the fruits, as only the chuppah gives him this right. In contrast, the date written on the get is what determines his losing his right to eat the fruits. Therefore, it is understandable why only with regards to divorce do we require writing the time, but not for betrothal. In divorce, the time is significant, but not in betrothal. However, Rabbi Yochanan thinks that this enactment is not connected to eating of the fruits, but rather to the husband’s desire to conceal his wife’s adultery, thereby saving her from the death penalty (in this case, when he is married to his neice). In order to do this, he will want to change the date of the betrothal document and push it off so that the testimony as to her adultery will be from before they were even married. Therefore, it is not clear why this enactment was not made regarding betrothal as well.
The gemara suggests a way to explain Rabbi Yochanan’s opinion – why despite the fact that there is the same problem, the rabbis did not enact a requirement of writing the time on the betrothal document: משום דאיכא דמקדש בכספא ואיכא דמקדש בשטרא, לא תקון רבנן זמן.
Since there are a number of ways to betroth a woman, the rabbis did not enact any kind of change in the betrothal document. The gemara raises a difficulty with this solution from the release document of a slave, where the rabbis enacted the requirement to write the time:
א”ל רב אחא בריה דרב יוסף לרב אשי: והא עבדא, דאיכא דקני בכספא ואיכא בשטרא, ותקון רבנן זמן!
The gemara brings two answers to this difficulty:
- התם רובא בשטרא, הכא רובא בכספא.
- אב”א: משום דלא אפשר, היכי ליעביד? לינחה גבי דידה. מחקה ליה, לינחה גבי דידיה – זמנין דבת אחותו היא ומחפה עלה, לינחה גבי עדים – אי דזכירי ליתו ליסהוד, ואי לא – זמנין דחזו מכתבא ואתו מסהדי, ורחמנא אמר: מפיהם ולא מפי כתבם
The sugiya ends with a question about the second understanding – according to the second understanding, there is a technical problem with this enactment, as anyone who keeps the document, the man or the woman can change the time that is written there. If we would put the document in an objective place, the hands of the witnesses, this will create a problem in the laws of witnesses. The witnesses are likely to forget when the betrothal happened, and so will look at the date on the document to remember, and then their testimony will be invalid, as they are not allowed to testify from something written, but rather must remember the content of their testimony. This the גזרת כתוב of “מפיהם ולא מפי כתבם”. This problem leads to many discussions among the rishonim, and we will soon turn to an important Tosfot on our daf. However, in light of this technical problem in the second solution, we can ask how can the time be established on a get? Also there somebody can erase it and change the time, and also there we have the problem of witnesses testifying from something written? The gemara asks and answers: אי הכי, בגירושין נמי נימא הכי! התם להצלה דידה קאתי, הכא לחובה דידה קאתי. We will turn to Rashi to help us understand. Rashi explains that betrothal is a case where the document comes to remove the woman from her chazaka of being single, and gives her the status of a married woman. Therefore, if the betrothal document will be problematic, the woman will remain with the chazaka of being single, and so anyway, testimony as to adultery won’t affect her, as we are uncertain whether she is even betrothed. However, a get is meant to remove the woman from her chazaka as a married woman, and therefore, if the time on the get is cut off, the get will be problematic, and so she will remain a married woman, in which case the testimony as to her adultery will be significant.
Tosfot’s Approach to the Law of מפיהם ולא מפי כתבם
By way of our sugiya, a fascinating law regarding the validity of witnesses is mentioned. Witnesses must testify from their own mouths, and not from something written. This law led to lively discussions among the rishionim, and Rabbeinu Tam has a unique approach as to the interpretation of this law. We will examine Tosfot on our daf to become familiar with this approach. We will open with the question which bothered the rishonim, and in its specific formulation by Ri of the Tosfot:
דחזו בכתבא ואתו ומסהדי כו’ – קשה לר”י דבהגוזל קמא (ב”ק דף צח. ושם:) גבי השורף שטרותיו של חבירו פריך ואי דאיכא סהדי דידעי ליכתבו ליה שטרא אחרינא ואמאי הא אמר הכא דמפיהם ולא מפי כתבם .
Ri asks – there seems to be a contradiction between sugiyot. In Masechet Bava Kamma, it seems that there is no problem of פיהם ולא מפי כתבם, as witnesses can reconstruct a document. In other words, the witness testifies from something written! Other rishonim formulate the question a little differently. If we say מפיהם ולא מפי כתבם, how can it be that documents are valid according to the Torah – documents are written testimony! We will notice that here, Ri doesn’t ask about the writing of the document itself. His approach regarding the validity of documents will be clarified very soon. Ri’s question is more specific. If there was a valid document which was destroyed, seemingly, in order to recreate the document, all of the sides and the witnesses would need to gather again in order to rewrite the document in the presence of all of them. Yet, in Bava Kamma it says that the witnesses can recreate the document on their own, without recreating the event. This contradicts our sugiya which has the law of מפיהם ולא מפי כתבם.
ואר”י דה”נ אם היו מעידים שכך ראו בשטר שפיר הוו עבדי דהרי הם כאילו מעידים ראינו עדות שנתקבל בב”ד דעדים החתומים על השטר נעשה כמי שנחקרה עדותן בב”ד אבל חיישינן שמא לא יעידו שכך ראו בשטר אלא שמא יעידו על המעשה עצמו כאילו הם זוכרים והם אינן זוכרין אלא על פי הכתב וכן הא דאמרינן בפ”ב דכתובות (דף כ.) כותב אדם עדותו על השטר ומעיד עליה אפילו אחר כמה שנים והוא שזוכרה מעצמו אבל אין זוכרה מעצמו לא התם נמי לא איירי במעיד שכך ראה כתוב אלא במעיד על מעשה עצמו ועוד דהתם לא הוה שטר אלא שכותב לזכרון דברים בעלמא ולא שייך למימר נעשה כמי שנחקרה עדותו בב”ד.
Ri limits the rule of מפיהם ולא מפי כתבם and explains that there are two cases in which writing can meet testimony:
- The first explanation reveals Ri’s approach as to the validity of the document: a signed document is valid as it has a special status. A signed document is like testimony which was heard in the beit din and was accepted. Therefore, although it is something written, it is considered testimony. Through this, we can understand the gemara in Bava Kamma. There, the witnesses can recreate the document since they are like witnesses who are testifying that certain testimony was accepted in beit din.
- The second explanation of Ri relates to an additional sugiya in Ketubot 20. In Ketubot, there is also a seeming contradiction with the rule of מפיהם ולא מפי כתבם which appears in our sugiya. There it says that a person can testify from something written! Ri explains that gemara in a different way, and says that writing can be a tool for remembering. The witnesses cannot testify if they don’t remember themselves, but they can use tools to help them remember.
The last part of our Tosfot is very well known, as Ri brings the approach of Rabbeinu Tam who greatly expands the ability to use written testimony, well beyond the laws of documents. We will examine his words.
ואר”י דשמע מר”ת שנוהגין עכשיו ששולחין העדים עדותן בכתב ידם לב”ד ולא קרינן ביה מפיהם ולא מפי כתבם כיון שהם זוכרין עדותן והא דתניא במי שאחזו (גיטין דף עא.) ואם לא יגיד פרט לאלם שאין יכול לדבר ופריך ואמאי והרי יכול לדבר מתוך הכתב שאני עדות דרחמנא אמר מפיהם ולא מפי כתבם שאני אלם שאין ראוי להגיד כדאמרינן (מנחות דף קג:) כל שאין ראוי לבילה כו’ אבל אחר מועיל כתב ידו כשזוכר העדות ומיהו בפירוש חומש (דברים יט) פרש”י ע”פ שנים עדים פרט שלא ישלחו כתבם לב”ד.
Ri brings a dispute between Rashi and Rabeinu Tam. Rashi on the Torah (דברים יט), writes in his explanation of the passuk ” על פי שנים עדים”, that testimony needs to be oral. However, Rabbeinu Tam writes that it is possible to accept written testimony in beit din. Rabbeinu Tam’s words are difficult, as we have the rule of מיפהם ולא מפי כתבם. Ri explains that Rabbeinu Tam understood this rule as meaning that a person who cannot speak cannot testify through writing. However, someone who can speak, can also send his testimony to the beit din. Much has been written about the approach of Rabbeinu Tam, and many rationales which have been suggested, and bring with them great practical implications for understanding his words. For our purposes, we will suffice with one rationale. As long as the beit din has the ability to question the witness, the witness can also send his testimony in written form. But if they do not have this ability, it cannot accept such testimony. Why is oral questioning so important? We will suggest that only through live conversation can we really understand the witness, and if he is telling the truth. It is enough that we have the ability to question, even if we do not actually use it. Since the witness knows that the beit din can call him for an interrogation, this is enough to validate his written testimony. We will note that there were those who understood Ri in a completely different way, however, this is not the place to go into it, and so we will leave it for another time.
In the pshat of the sugiya, we learned new and important topics regarding the dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish about the enactment of requiring the time to be written on the get.
In Tosfot, we saw that there is a large dispute among the rishonim regarding the extent of the rule of מיפהם ולא מפי כתבם. All of them of course agree that the document is valid, but they argue as to why. They also argue as to the question of whether witnesses can send written testimony to beit din. Rabbeinu Tam’s approach is surprising and far fetched – that witnesses can send written testimony as long as they are not mute, and the rule of מיפהם ולא מפי כתבם only applies to mute people. We suggested one rationale for this explanation, but this is the place to try and come up with and learn other rationales for his opinion.