One should have no part with a person who is not learned of both Torah and the ways of the land. Such a person is not worthy of association.
Wow. Just wow! Congratulations on completing what I’m pretty sure is the longest chapter in the Talmud. We began this chapter way back in November. It surely contains some fascinating and difficult material, both intellectually and emotionally. I hope you have enjoyed learning it, that you feel that you have grown Jewishly, that your understanding of Jewish law and text has grown, and that you’re ready to move on next week to chapter two!
The second chapter opens with a discussion concerning the ability to appoint an agent to perform an act on one’s behalf.
A man can betroth a woman through an agent. This would mean that the man gives money to an agent to use in betrothing a certain woman. This probably would have been a common means of doing betrothal if the couple lived far apart from one another and was matched by others, as was nearly always the case. Similarly, a woman may appoint an agent to receive her betrothal money.
A father has the right to marry off his daughter while she is still a young girl (na’arah). This is defined as a girl between the ages of 12 and 12 1/2 who has already reached puberty. He may also marry her off at a younger age, but not when she is past that age. When marrying her off, he may use an agent to accept her betrothal money. Basically, the father takes her place in matters of betrothal.
I should note that while a father had the legal right to marry off his daughter and not his son, and this right extends only until she reaches 12 1/2, in practice the father played a very large role in arranging matches for both sons and daughters no matter what age they were when they married. The idea that a 12 1/2 year old girl became totally independent of her father was probably as strange of an idea in the mishnaic period as it would be today.
While one may use an agent to betroth a woman, it is a greater mitzvah to betroth on one’s own, without an intermediary. This is illustrated by two sages who would prepare their own food on Shabbat, even though it could have been done by others.
Others say that it is actually prohibited to betroth a woman through an agent. While one who betroths a woman in that matter is betrothed (i.e. the betrothal is legally effective), the act is still prohibited. The problem with the act is that a man must see his wife before he marries her, otherwise he might see her and decide he does not want to be married to her. Seems like a reasonable request to me.
According to this version, R. Joseph’s statement was made in reference to the woman, not the man. It is preferable for her to see her husband before she is betrothed. However, it is not forbidden for her to be betrothed through her agent. The (highly gendered) assumption is that a woman would prefer to be married to anyone rather than remain unmarried. Therefore there is less of a risk that she will see something unseeming in him and not want to be married.
The mishnah states that a man may marry off his daughter when she is a na’arah (has reached the age of puberty, but is not yet an adult). From here the Talmud concludes that he may not marry her off when she is minor, until she is old enough to say that she wants a certain man. While we have a tough time imagining a 12 year old girl making such a statement, it seems that in their society this was not so outlandish.
This section begins a longer discussion on where the rabbis derive the notion that a person can appoint an agent who can perform acts of legal consequence on his/her behalf.
The rabbis use the verb “send her” in the verse concerning divorce to prove that one may appoint an agent. The “simple” meaning of this verse is that the man sends his wife out of his house. The first level of midrash is based on the choice of verb—“veshilah.” Since this is the same word used for an agent, the midrash takes it as a hint that a man may appoint an agent. The second level of the midrash is based on the “heh” at the end of the verb. In its literal meaning, the heh means “her” as in “he sends her.” But read another way, it could mean “she sends” which alludes to her ability to appoint an agent. Finally, the word is also used to derive the idea that an agent can appoint another agent. This final halakhah would allow for agents to pass their agency along, rather than travel long distances.
The Talmud now wants to know how we know that agency works not only in divorce, but also in betrothal. This cannot be derived directly from divorce because divorce differs in that a woman can be divorced against her will. She cannot, however, be married against her will.
The sequence of verbs in the verse about divorce is read as implying that the same means of contracting divorce can be used to contract marriage. Thus just as an agent may be used for divorce, one may be used for marriage.
Note that since the verse implies that marriage and divorce are to be treated the same, this is not considered deriving the rule from divorce, which we stated above cannot be done. Rather, it is a case of simply reading the dictates of the verse.
The Talmud now begins to examine other cases in which the Mishnah refers to appointing an agent. How do we know that agency works in these cases as well? The first case cited is from Mishnah Terumot 4:4.
The mishnah allows one to appoint an agent to give terumah on his behalf. How do we know that such an act is valid and that such produce is actually considered terumah?