The Mishna (Ketubot 9:9) in today’s daf (Ketubot 89a) quotes a ruling of Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel who states that during a time of danger (סכנה), if a woman is divorced but does not have her ‘get’ (Jewish divorce bill) or any other documentation to prove this fact, she is nevertheless given the monies owed to her as if she is in physical possession of her ‘get’.
Here, Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel is referring to one of the most difficult periods of Jewish history in the years following the Bar Kochba revolt – when vicious decrees were made against the Jews at which time, as Rashi notes, women were fearful of keeping their gittin in their possession and they therefore took the decision to burn them.
Aside from what those women feared were they to keep their gittin in their possession, let us take a moment to consider this situation. Jews are being persecuted, and if Jews are seen to be observing religious practices then they are likely to be killed. In the midst of this crisis, with death and destruction all around, a husband and wife divorce. Perhaps the reasons for them doing so is due to ongoing issues that began at the start of their marriage. Or perhaps the stress and pressure of the situation has brought strife into their home – as we unfortunately similarly saw during the height of COVID. Still, they find a way to get divorced – which itself is often incredibly stressful. And then the woman looks at her ‘get’ – the one piece of evidence that she is now no longer married – and she realizes that for her safety she needs to burn this document.
However, at the same time, a further fear on her mind is whether, by doing so, this will be an impediment for her to receive the monies owed to her which are yet to be paid, and it is to this situation that Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel rules that she is given the monies owed to her as if she is in physical possession of her ‘get’.
Of course, we may consider this ruling to be ‘clear’ or ‘obvious’. But sometimes rulings need to be made not only to state the law, but also to provide reassurance to people at the most vulnerable moments in their lives. As such, through this ruling Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel is communicating that if such a situation arises, there will be support, there will be understanding, and there will be provision of what is due without further hassle.
Religious leaders can’t fix all challenges and problems, but they can – and should – be there for people experiencing challenges and problems, and while they can’t remove all life’s hurdles, they can – and should – remove as many as they possibly can. True, there are some situations that remain beyond our control. There are wars, floods and even pandemics. Still, what religious leaders need to remember is that kindness and reassurance shouldn’t just be expressed when speaking to a needy or vulnerable person, but also in their public talks when discussing matters of law – because rulings not only state the law, but they also provide reassurance to those listening at the most vulnerable moments in their lives.