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The Babylonian Talmud in Selection, by Leo Auerbach, [1944], at

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(Tractate Gittin)

ALL documents that have a Cuthean as a witness are invalid, except writs of divorce and bills of emancipation. There was a case of a writ of divorce that was brought before Rabban Gamaliel at Kfar Othnai. The witnesses were Cutheans. He declared it valid. All documents that are executed in the courts of the foreigners, though the witnesses be foreigners, are valid, except the writs of divorce and bills of slave emancipation. Rabbi Simon says: These, too, are valid. They are not to be honored only if they were executed by unauthorized persons.



IF A man sent a writ of divorce to his wife and then overtook the messenger or sent another messenger to him and declared: The writ I gave to thee is void; it becomes void.

Witnesses sign a document as a precaution, for the general good.

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If a man had pledged his slave as security and then set him free, the law declared that the slave is not liable for anything, but as a precaution the new master is compelled to give him a bill of emancipation, and the slave executes a bill of indebtedness for his value. Rabban Gamaliel says: He executes no document whatsoever. The one that set him free is liable. If a man is half slave and half free, he works one day for his master and one day for himself. This is according to the House of Hillel, but the House of Shamai said to them: This is well for the master, but not so for the man. He may not marry a slave, since he is half free, and he can not marry a free woman because he is half slave. Shall he remain unmarried forever? Was not the world made for fruition and increase? As was said: (Isaiah xlv, 18) He created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited. For the general good, the master is compelled to set the half slave free, and the man gives him a pledge for a half of his value. The House of Hillel changed their view and taught according to the decision of the House of Shamai.

If a man sold his slave to a foreigner or beyond the borders of the Land of Israel, the slave must be set free.

Captives should not be ransomed for more than their worth, to prevent abuses. For the same reason captives are not aided in their escape. Rabban Simon ben Gamaliel said: This is a precaution for the good of the captives. One does not buy scrolls of the Torah, phylacteries or mezuzoth for more than their value, to prevent abuses.

If a man sent away his wife because of her bad reputation, he may not take her back.

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If a man sent away his wife because she is barren, Rabbi Yehuda says: He may not take her back. But the sages said: He may take her back.


MANY procedures were laid down as a precaution for the general good. A priest is called to read the Torah first, then a Levite and then an Israelite, for the sake of peace. A pit nearest the water-channel is filled in first, for the sake of peace. The taking of animals from their traps and fish from their nets is considered somewhat like theft, for the sake of peace. Rabbi Yosi says: This is outright theft.

The things found by a deaf-mute or an imbecile, or a minor, are looked upon as belonging to them; and taking them away is somewhat like theft—for the sake of peace. Rabbi Yosi says: This is outright theft. If a poor man shakes the top of an olive tree, what is found beneath it is considered like theft, for the sake of peace. Rabbi Yosi says: Outright theft. One does not prevent the poor of the foreigner from gathering gleanings, the forgotten sheaf, and grain from the corner of fields, for the sake of peace. A woman may lend to her neighbor a sieve, a handmill, or an oven, though the neighbor is suspected of transgressing the Sabbatical year, for the sake of peace.

One may lend a hand in the field to a foreigner in the Sabbatical year, but not to an Israelite.

One extends greetings to a foreigner, all for the sake of peace.


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THREE kinds of writ of divorce are not valid, but, if the woman remarried, the children are legitimate. If a man wrote the writ in his own hand, but there are no witnesses to it; there is no date on it, but there are witnesses; there is a date, but only one witness. Those are the three kinds of writ of divorce that are not valid, but, if the woman remarried, the children are legitimate. Rabbi Eliezer says: Though there are no signatures of witnesses on the writ, but it was given to the woman before two witnesses; it is valid, and she may collect her marriage allotment from mortgaged property, because the witnesses sign only as a precaution.

The House of Shamai says: A man must not divorce his wife unless he has found her unfaithful. As was said: (Deuteronomy xxiv, 1) Because he hath found some uncleanness in her. The House of Hillel says: He may divorce her if she only spoiled a dish for him because it was said: Uncleanness in anything. Rabbi Akiba says: He may divorce her if he found another that is more beautiful than his wife, because it was said: (Deut. xxiv, 1) If it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes.



WHEN Rab Papa was confronted with a Persian document that was made in a foreign court, he would call in two foreigners, and without one knowing of the other, let them read the document. If they both agreed as to its contents, he would honor the document and, even, collect money on mortgaged property by such a document.

Rab Yehuda would take pains to read every document submitted to him. But Ula once said to him: You need not go to this trouble, for Rabbi Eliezer, who was

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the Head of the Land of Israel, had the documents read to him, and then he signed them. Rabbi Nachman would let the court scribes read the document to him, and then he would sign.

Rabbi Shaman ben Aba said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: If a slave escapes from prison, he becomes free, and furthermore his master is compelled to give him a bill of emancipation. But Rab Simon ben Gamaliel taught that he returns to slavery. Rabbi bar Hanah said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan that whenever Rab Simon ben Gamaliel makes a statement in the Mishna, the law is followed according to his decision. There is the story of a woman slave of Mar Samuel that was captured. She was ransomed and was returned to the Rabbi with a message: We are of the opinion of Rabbi Simon ben Gamaliel, but even if you follow the decision of the Rabbis you may take her back, because we ransomed her as a slave. But as he had given up all hope of ever recovering her, he would not take her back as a slave, and she was not even required to get a bill of emancipation.

Rabbi Zera said in the name of Rabbi Hanina, who quoted Rabbi Ashi: The Rabbi said: When a slave marries a free woman in the presence of his master, he becomes free. Rabbi Yohana asked him: Do you know that to be the ruling? I learned that according to Rabbi Meir, if a man write a contract of betrothal for his female slave, she becomes betrothed, and the Sages said that she is not betrothed. The explanation is like the one of Rabbi ben Shila who ruled in an analogous case: When the master puts the phylacteries on him. So is the

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ruling, here. The slave becomes free, as the master himself gives him the wife.

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: When a slave puts on phylacteries in the presence of his master, he is free. If the master borrows money from his slave, or appoints him overseer of his estate, or if the slave puts on phylacteries or reads three passages from the Torah, in the house of worship, in the presence of his master, does he become free thereby? No, answered Rabbi ben Shila: only when the master, himself, puts the phylacteries on the slave.

When Rabbi Dime came he quoted Rabbi Yohanan as saying: If a man said; just before he died, My female slave so and so should be set free, his heirs are bound to give her a bill of emancipation.

Rabbi Samuel ben Yehuda quoted Rabbi Yohanan: If a man said at his death bed, my woman slave so and so has been very kind to me, I want some kindness to be done for her, the heirs are bound to do a deed of kindness for her. It is a duty to execute the will of the dead.

There was once a slave owned by two masters. One set him free as to his half. The other bethought himself: If the Rabbis hear of it, they will compel me to set him free. So he transferred him to his minor son. Rab Joseph took this case to Rab Papa. He retorted: (Obadiah i, 15) As thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: Thy reward shall return upon thine head. We all are aware that a child likes to play with coins. We shall appoint a guardian for the child. He will jingle some coins before him, and then the guardian will write a bill of emancipation in the child's name.


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