Within the halachic codes and responsa literature we find an ongoing debate about whether כתיבה כדיבור דמי – ‘writing is like speech’ – meaning that if you write something down, is it considered as if you have said those words?
For example, Rabbi Akiva Eiger discusses (see Responsa Rabbi Akiva Eiger No. 29) whether, if you write the day of the Omer, is it considered as if you have counted the Omer? Similarly, Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg examines (Seridei Eish Choshen Mishpat No. 136 section 3) whether, if you write an oath, is it considered as if you have made that oath? And similarly, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch considers (Teshuvot VeHanhagot Vol. 2 No. 40) whether, if you write something at a time when you are not supposed to interrupt your prayers with speech, is it considered to be an interruption?
And how is this relevant to today’s daf (Ketubot 102b)? Because it is here where we find a discussion of a previously recorded Mishna (Ketubot 9:1, 83a) which addresses a situation of, ‘if a man writes (הכותב) to his wife that I have neither claim nor argument to your property’ which, we are told, is understood by Rabbi Chiya in a Beraita to actually mean that ‘if a man says (האומר) to his wife…’. Based on this interpretation of Rabbi Chiya, our Gemara derives that קרי ליה לאמירה כתיבה – ‘there are times when our Sages refer to “writing” but they mean “speaking”’.
However, looking beyond the technical question of whether כתיבה כדיבור דמי and the particular instances ‘when we say “writing” but we mean “speaking”’, it is worthwhile noting that one of the most important lessons that we all learn over time is when it is best to write something to someone, and when it is best to say something because, while it may be true according to halacha that when we write certain things it is as if we have said them, this doesn’t change the fact that the experience of receiving words as written is often very different from the experience of receiving words as spoken.
As we know, words as written – though often benefitting from the time it takes to write something as opposed to immediately react with the spoken word – can often lack the subtlety of the use of different tones and inflections that the spoken word provides. As such, written messages can often leave readers confused because they hear the words differently to how they were intended to be heard. At the same time, there are instances that the thoughtfulness of a written communication far outweighs the brief exchange of ideas between two people who may not be giving each other their full attention. Alongside this, there are occasions when it is more advisable for someone to ensure that certain conversations have a written record, and other occasions when, for the exact same reason, it is best for people to avoid putting things in print. Ultimately, while writing may be like speech, writing and speaking are not exactly the same.
Given all this, as we approach the celebration of Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah, it is important to remember that while we should all do what we can to learn how to read and comprehend the ‘written words’ of the Torah, we are also tasked – as individuals – to listen to the Torah. This is because the Torah doesn’t just contain written words; it speaks to us as well. And it wasn’t just given to us in writing; it was spoken to us too.
So this Simchat Torah let us celebrate not just the written words of Torah, but also the conversations we have with the Torah and about Torah; let us not just celebrate the כתיבה, but also the דיבור דמי.