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Principles of Uncertainty – Gefet 31

The mishna on daf 24b discusses a situation where there is a suspicion that a man had forbidden relations with a woman, and now he wants to marry her:

הנטען על השפחה ונשתחררה, או על העובדת כוכבים ונתגיירה – הרי זה לא יכנוס, ואם כנס – אין מוציאין מידו. הנטען על אשת איש והוציאוה מתחת ידו, אף על פי שכנס – יוציא. 


The mishna distinguishes between a suspicion about a man who had forbidden relations with a Canaanite maidservant or a non-Jewish woman, in which case it is forbidden for him to marry her even if she is freed or converts, and a suspicion that he had forbidden relations with a married woman, in which case the law is stricter, and the mishna determines that even if she was removed from her husband as a result of this incident and then married this man, she must be removed from him as well. 


In the gemara, Rav determines that the mishna is talking about a situation where there were witnesses to the adultery, in which case the woman is forbidden to her husband as well as to the man with whom she committed adultery. The gemara deliberates whether or not Rav’s statement that in order to definitively determine that she is forbidden to her husband and to the other man there must be witnesses, is only in a situation where she has children, in which case the slander regarding her adultery also slanders her children who may have been conceived as a result. Alternatively, it is possible that he thinks that in all cases, in order to forbid her there must be witnesses, and the rumor and suspicion alone is not enough. The sugiya attempts to determine that Rav thinks that the need for witnesses is only in the case where there are children in the background, where the ramifications of the claim against her are worse. The sugiya brings a braita from which it seems that there is no need for witnesses in order to forbid the woman: 

דתניא: הנטען על אשת איש והוציאוה על ידו, ונתגרשה מתחת ידי אחר, אם כנס – לא יוציא; ה”ד? אי דאיכא עדים, כי אתא אחר ואפסקיה לקלא מאי הוי? אלא לאו דליכא עדים, וטעמא דאתא אחר ואפסקיה לקלא, הא לאו הכי מפקינן! 


In order to solve the contradiction between the braita and the opinion of Rav, the sugiya suggests that only when there are children in the background does Rav require witnesses. After this solution, the sugiya suggests establishing the words of Rav according to their simple meaning, and understanding that he thinks that in all circumstances, it is only through witnesses that it is possible to forbid the woman, while the braita follows the opinion of Rebbi who thinks differently:

ואי בעית אימא: הני מתנייתא – רבי היא; דתניא: רוכל יוצא ואשה חוגרת בסינר, אמר רבי: הואיל ומכוער הדבר – תצא; רוק למעלה מן הכילה, אמר רבי: הואיל ומכוער הדבר – תצא;  מנעלים הפוכים תחת המטה, אמר רבי: הואיל ומכוער הדבר – תצא 


This braita brings the opinion of Rebbi, who clearly thinks that she should leave the husband in a case where there there isn’t testimony of two witnesses, but it appears to be an “ugly matter”, meaning that there is circumstantial evidence which definitely points to something  inappropriate that took place, even without definite proof from two witnesses to testify that there were actual forbidden relations. 


Rashi, on the beginning of the second understanding in the sugiya, establishes the opinion of Rav as understanding that only through witnesses is it ever possible to forbid the woman, and that the braita which thinks differently is of the opinion of Rav who says the following words:

בלא בנים לא נפקא בלא עדים והני מתניתא דאמרי נפקא ר’ אמרינהו דמפיק אשה מבעלה בקול כל דהו.


In the Vilna printed edition of the Talmud, next to Rashi and Tosfot appears an additional commentary from the world of the Rishonim. In some of the masechtot it is Rabbeinu Chananel, in some, Rabbeinu Gershom Me’or Ha’gola, and in some it is the Tosfot Rid. In Masechet Yevamot, it is a rishon by the name of “תוספות חד מקמאי”, and he writes the following:

נראה מפירוש רש”י ז”ל דבדבר מכוער מפקינן לה מבעלה והרב אלפס כתב כל דהוא נטען מפקינן מיניה בדבר מכוער אבל מבעל לא מפקינן אלא בעדים ומסתברא כוותיה דהא גמרינן דבר דבר מממון מה להלן דבר ברור ולא באמתלא אף כאן דבר ברור ולא באמתלא ולא בדבר מכוער


This member of the Tosfot understands from Rashi’s interpretation that the braita with the words of Rebbi deals with the question of whether or not a woman is permitted to her husband when he sees “something ugly”, like the examples that are brought there. He brings the opinion of the Rif who understands that the braita deals with the question of whether or not a woman is permitted to a peddler when there is circumstantial evidence that they acted in an inappropriate way when she was married to another man. To the Rif it is clear that we do not remove a woman from her husband on the basis of “something ugly” when there aren’t clear proofs, as all evidence needs to be clear. 


The opinion of the Rif can also be found in the words of Tosfot on this daf, in ד”ה “אמר”:


אר”ת דתצא מן הרוכל אם נשאת לו דכל הסוגיא איירי בנטען 

  • דאין לומר תצא מן הבעל דאין האשה נאסרת על בעלה אלא על ידי קנוי וסתירה או שיראו דרך מנאפין 
  • ועוד דלגבי בעל הוי קלא דבתר נשואין דאמר בהאשה רבה (לקמן דף צב. ושם) דלקלא דלבתר נשואין לא חיישינן ורוק למעלה בגג הכילה לא עדיף מקלא דלא פסיק דהא בסמוך אמר דלרבי מפקינן אפי’ בקלא דפסיק מכח הך ברייתא 

אלא ודאי תצא מן הרוכל אם נשאה דרוק למעלה בגג הכילה הוי קלא דקמי נישואי רוכל וכן פר”ח 


Rabbeinu Tam understands like the Rif that the words of Rebbi did not deal with removing a woman from her husband, but rather with removing her from her new marriage, after she got divorced from the peddler with whom it seems that she committed adultery. There are two proofs for the words of Rabbeinu Tam from within the world of halacha:

  1. While it is true that a woman is forbidden to her husband even when there isn’t complete certainty (as opposed to the proof brought for the Rif by the בעל תוספות קמאי), this happens when there is _________ or contradiction, or when there were witnesses as to the encounter which looks like adultery, as this is stronger than the “ugly thing” described in the braita. 
  2. Rumors are significant, and even have power in the legal plane, however, only in situations where there isn’t any kind of chazaka standing against them. Therefore, in our context, it can’t be that the “ugly thing” which is weaker than the rumor can harm an existing marriage, when the  “ugly thing” came after. 


The Ri accepts the interpretation of the Rif and Rabbeinu Tam, and bases it on the psak halacha appearing on the next page which determines that the beit din only removes a woman if there are witnesses, from which it seems that she is only removed from her husband if there were witnesses. 


וכן נראה לר”י דמתוך ההלכה משמע דאין מוציאין ע”י קול מבעלה דקאמר ובית דין בעדים הוא דמפקי משמע דדבר פשוט הוא דמבעל לא מפקי’ אלא בעדים אף על גב דמנטען קתני בברייתא דמפקי בקול אף דקתני הוציאוה הדר רב נחמן דבסמוך הוציאה תנן דמשמע על ידי בעלה אפ”ה מבעלה לא מפקינן על ידי קול באין בנים מן הראשון 


At the end of their words, Tosfot challenge their base assumption that in order to forbid a woman from her husband an ugly act is not enough, from a sugiya in Nedarim where the gemara says:

ההוא גברא דהוה מהרזיק בביתא הוא ואינתתא, על אתא מריה דביתא, פרטיה נואף להוצא וערק; אמר רבא: איתתא שריא, אם איתא דעבד איסורא, ארכוסי הוה מירכס. 


Rava thinks that this woman is not forbidden to her husband, because otherwise, the man would hide and not run away.  The description which arises from the story is at least as severe as the description of the ugly things in the braita of Rebbi.


והא דאיצטרי’ בהנהו עובדי דסוף נדרים (דף צא:) להנהו טעמי דאיתתא שריא דאם איתא דעבד איסורא אירכוסי הוי מירכס ואם איתא דעבד איסורא ניחא ליה דליכול נראה לר”י דהתם באומרת טמאה אני כי מתני’ דהתם דעלה קאי ואפ”ה שריא מהנהו טעמי אבל באומרת טהורה אני שריא בלאו הנהו טעמי דהתם 


The Ri asks why Rava needed to rely the explanation of “ארכוסי הוה מירכס” in order to permit the woman, as in any case, according to the opinion of Rav, a woman is forbidden to her husband only if there were witnesses, and here this is definitely missing. Ri answers that the difference between the opinion of Rava, which holds that a woman is forbidden to her husband only through witnesses and the one which arises from the description in Rava’s psak in Nedarim that a woman can become forbidden to her husband even without witnesses – is tied to the question of what the woman says. When the woman admits that she has transgressed, she is supposed to become forbidden even without witnesses, and this is the scenario described in the sugiya in Nedarim. Rava wishes to overcome the words of the woman and not only regarding the description of the reality of a married woman hiding with a man in her home. Our sugiya deals with a case where there are pieces of evidence which point to an ugly act, however the woman claims that she did not sin, and in this case, she is not forbidden without testimony of witnesses. 


The solution of Ri creates an additional complication, as when a woman says she is impure, she seemingly becomes forbidden according to the law: ” שוויה נפשיא חתיכה דאיסורא” . This is a sort of oath which creates a prohibition, disconnected from the question of the truth in reality.


ואין לתמוה אמאי שריא כיון שאומרת טמאה הא שויתה לנפשה חתיכה דאיסורא דלפי שראו חכמים שנתקלקלו הנשים ליתן עיניהם באחר ורוב האומרות כן משקרות לכך נראה להם להתירן.


Tosfot’s solution is that the principle of “שוייא” is correct and has legal significance unless there is a good reason not to be believe the one who says it. In this situation, the rabbis saw that there are women who are looking to be forbidden to their husbands as they are interested in another man, and use the trick of saying they have become impure in order to get out of their marriages. When we will get to Masechet Ketubot, we will discuss the meaning and power of the term “שוייא”, but the claim of the Tosfot here is interesting as it still seeks a connection between the words of the woman and reality in order for “שוייא” to have legal power. 


We can summarize the dispute between Rashi and Tosfot regarding the interpretive question of whether the braita and mishna are dealing with the ability of the woman to continue to live with her husband, as Rashi believes, or, like the Tosfot and Rif, the question of the ability of the woman to begin to live with the man about whom there are rumors and pieces of evidence which raise a suspicion that she committed adultery with him. This dispute is a halachic dispute about whether a married woman can become forbidden to her husband through something which is far from definite proof, and this is the opinion of Rashi who seems to establish the bar for forbidding a woman from her husband and preserving the martial covenant, in a different place from proof needed in other areas of halacha. It is likely that the source for Rashi’s words is the chapter of the sotah woman, where suspicion based on proof of seclusion, but not of relations is enough in order to forbid the woman. In contrast, the Tosfot and Rif think that the bar for proof which will cause the legal system to act and forbid a woman from her husband needs to be similar or close to those in the world of marital relations.


As Rashi on the mishna points out, our sugiya is built upon the legal principle “אסורה לבעל ואסורה לבועל”. We should notice that Rashi keeps to the same wording throughout the sugiya: whenever she is forbidden to her husband, she will also be forbidden to the man with whom she committed adultery, and vice versa. The opinion of Tosfot and the Rif creates a situation where there is a woman who is forbidden to the man with whom she committed adultery, but not to her husband. When there is an ugly act without witnesses, according to the opinion of the Tosfot, the woman will be permitted to her husband, even according to the opinion of Rebbi, but not to the man with whom she committed adultery. 

Rabbanit Yael Shimoni

Rabbanit Shimoni has learned at Migdal Oz, Matan, and the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership at Midreshet Lindenbaum. She holds a BFA from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and a BEd in Torah Shebe’al Peh and Jewish Thought from Herzog College. She is currently studying towards an MA in Jewish Thought Education at Herzog College. Rabbanit Shimoni taught gemara and halakha at Pelech High School and served as a ramit for shana bet at Migdal Oz. She directs Meshivat Nefesh, the online responsa program of the rabbaniyot of Beit Hillel. She is also a plastic artist and member of “A Studio of Her Own.
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