July 5, 2022

Yevamot 112

Today’s daf (Yevamot 112a) quotes a Mishna from Massechet Nedarim (11:12) that uses a very powerful phrase. Specifically, in the context of discussing cases where women could seek Jewish divorces even against their husbands will, the Mishna describes a case where a woman states to her husband שָׁמַיִם בֵּינִי לְבֵינָךְ – ‘that heaven is between me and you’ (or, as retold in our daf, הַשָּׁמַיִם בֵּינִי לְבֵינָךְ – ‘that the heaven is between me and you’).

In terms of what this means, Rashi explains that ‘it is revealed and known to God that you are not drawn to me like the manner of most people (i.e. the man is impotent) but there is no witness to prove that this is how things are between us’. However, this statement may also be understood more generally as a vow expressing the emotional distance that the wife feels exists between her husband and herself (see Mishnat Eretz Yisrael on Nedarim 11:12 based on the Yerushalmi).

Nevertheless, the Mishna then states that the Sages revised their position concerning this and two other cases, whereby ״[הַ]שָּׁמַיִם בֵּינִי לְבֵינָךְ״ יַעֲשׂוּ דֶּרֶךְ בַּקָּשָׁה – ‘[where a woman states] “that ]the[ heaven is between men and you”, then [the court] deals with the matter by way of a request (בקשה)’, meaning that rather than the husband being divorced against his will, the court tries to help the couple reach a compromise which, nowadays, may involve them instructing the husband to undergo medical tests and treatment (or, as some suggest, the word בקשה also relates to prayer – see Mishnat Eretz Yisrael ibid.). Still, if the outcome is that their problem is irresolvable, the court would then instruct the husband to grant a ‘get’ (see for example Rav Eliyashiv’s Kovetz Teshuvot Vol. 2 No. 118).

Significantly, this Mishna points to a shift from accepting and acknowledging the claim of שָׁמַיִם בֵּינִי לְבֵינָךְ to wishing to try and solve it. Yet the point made by Rashi should not be forgotten which is that there are situations when it is hard – if not impossible – for outside parties to get the full picture of a situation that occurs behind closed doors, and that there are things that are revealed and known only to God. And this is why, when a woman makes a statement ‘that heaven is between me and you’, it should be sufficient.

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