Monday, October 6, 2008

Daf: Gittin 65-70 – Demonology, Rabbi Akiva, Talmudic medicine, More Demonology

Another installment of notes on Daf Yomi, falling farther and farther (further and further?) behind… If this isn’t your thing, check back later; I expect to post my thoughts on an interesting Unity Kollel concept.

Gittin 65b
The mishnah said that if a woman who is married to a kohen tells someone, “Receive my get in Location X,” she may eat terumah, as a fully married woman, until her agent arrives in Location X. In discussing the case, the gemara asks what would happen if the agent received the get in some other location, and ends up discussing a case in which she tells her agent, “Receive the get wherever you can, but it won’t be a get until you arrive in Location X.” This is problematic, though – for we require a specific act of transfer to validate the get, and the transfer into her possession doesn’t take place in Location X!
Tosafot גיטא suggests the somewhat convoluted explanation that she told her agent to tell the husband to appoint him as a delivery agent for the husband until he arrives in Location X, and then in Location X he will become the wife’s receiving agent. Alternatively, he acts as a receiving agent for an extended act of receiving, through the duration of that trip to Location X.

Gittin 66a

How are we to understand the demonology in the gemara's question here (“Should I be concerned that the voice in the pit saying ‘Divorce my wife for me’ is that of a demon?”), affecting this most practical area of law? Theoretically one could understand it as a matter of hallucination, and the gemara’s concern is that the passerby hallucinates seeing an outline in a pit and imagines hearing voices. However, this is hard to fit into the general framework of talmudic demonology.

Gittin 66b

Presumably, in the middle of the page, it should be משום רבי and not אמר רבי – Shemuel did not study under Rebbe, but could have cited things he learned in Rebbe’s name.

Gittin 67a
The gemara comments that Rabbi Akiva was like an אוצר בלום, a storehouse in which all items are stored in proper compartments (see Rashi on אוצר בלום). Rashi notes the division of R’ Akiva’s learning into the different bodies of midrash: Sifri, Sifra, etc.
It is worth noting that Rabbi Akiva’s students (the latter set, after the plague) ended up being the ones to record these bodies of midrash. There are a few different versions of the list of R’ Akiva’s students, but all versions include at least some of the names listed in Sanhedrin 86 as editors of those bodies of midrash: Rabbi Meir (teacher of Rebbe who edited the mishnah, and author of unattributed mishnayot), Rabbi Shimon (editor of Sifri), Rabbi Yehudah (editor of Sifra), Rabbi Nechemyah (editor of Tosefta) and Rabbi Yosi (editor of Seder Olam).

Gittin 67b

The gemara now begins a long record of medicines and therapies. Note Rav Hai Gaon’s teshuvah to students who wanted to implement these medicines; he strongly forbade it, saying that the sages were recording the medicine of their day, and it should not be used. I could discuss this much more, but some other time.

Some of the medicines and therapies we see here look very odd to us, but recall the gemara in Shabbat, regarding amulets: They only trusted treatments which they had seen work three times in a row, without an intervening failure. They were using classic empirical methods.

Gittin 68a
Here we get into some serious demonology. Note that Rav Hai Gaon - in a teshuvah – attributes talmudic demonology, which is more prevalent in the Babylonian Talmud than in the Talmud Yerushalmi, to influence of other cultures. He explains its relative sparseness in Yerushalmi as a result of being farther from Persian society.

Tosafot וכתיב notes that we have a speaker in the day of Shlomo haMelech quoting a pasuk which won’t appear for centuries, until the time of Hosheia! But he explains that the concept of the pasuk was knownlong before the prophecy in which it was recorded.

Gittin 70b
Tosafot וניחוש at the bottom of the page clearly indicates that our assumption, in handling agunah cases, must be on the side that will result in freeing an agunah. Note that he takes Rashi's definition of "agunah," that the husband is known and present but is not living with her in the manner of husband and wife (over Rashba's explanation that an agunah is a woman who is unsure whether or not she is married).


  1. On 66a: it seems pretty clear from other places that the Gemara views demons as real creatures - in halachic contexts too. See Eruvin 43a (bottom), for example, where it is suggested that "Yosef the Demon" may have reported the discussions in Sura, on a Shabbos, to the scholars of Pumbedisa the same day (because as a demon, he doesn't have to observe Shabbos, and so could travel the distance).

  2. Agreed, Alex; that's why I said I don't think it fits into the overall framework of the gemara's demonology.

    The question, then, is what do we do with these sheidim...