This is the last sugya about R. Meir’s requirement to use a double formulation when making a stipulation. Again, the Talmud searches for verses that either do or do not use such a double formula.
The oath administered to the sotah, the woman accused of adultery, does not use a double formulation. This accords with R. Hanina b. Gamaliel but not with R. Meir.
R. Tanhum resolves R. Meir by rereading the Hebrew word for “be free.” The word is hinnaki which could also be read “ḣinnaki” with a chet, which means “strangled.” Thus R. Meir can indeed read a double formulation into the verse.
But now we have the opposite difficulty—if the verse is a double formulation, then it is a difficulty against R. Hanina. Again, the Talmud resolves by noting that the verse needed to teach that she is totally free if she did not sleep with another man. Otherwise, we might have thought that she is guilty of a violation since, according to rabbinic interpretation, to become a sotah she had to have been isolated with another man.
The verse with regard to sprinkling the purificatory red heifer waters is expressed through a double formulation. This accords with R. Meir but seems to be a difficulty on R. Hanina b. Gamaliel. R. Hanina could respond that were it not for the continuation of the verse I might have thought that it would be sufficient to sprinkle on one of the days.
The Torah repeats the same instructions later in the chapter to let us know that the sprinkling must be performed on the third and seventh, not the third and eighth days.
Again, the Talmud enquires concerning what seems to be an extraneous verse—why do we need this verse. The answer is that this verse is needed to teach that both sprinklings are necessary in order for him to be pure enough to eat even terumah.
The first section of this mishnah teaches that if a man was mistaken about some part of a woman’s identity before he betrothed her but she wasn’t the one who mislead him into making that mistake, the betrothal is still valid.
The second two sections of the mishnah deal with a man who tries to betroth a woman who could not currently be betrothed to him. The question is whether the betrothal can become valid at a later point without its being performed again.
In this case the man made a mistake with regard to the woman’s identity, but she didn’t cause the mistake. The betrothal is therefore valid. After all, were these grounds to annul a betrothal a man could always annul his betrothal. He could always say that he thought something was true and it turned out to be untrue and there would be no way of falsifying his claim.
The general principle in this section and in the next is that if the betrothal is invalid now, it cannot become valid later on through an act performed now. There are five things that prevent the betrothal from being possible at this point.
1) Either the man or woman is not Jewish.
2) Either the man or woman is a slave.
3) The woman is married.
4) The man is married to the woman’s sister.
5) The woman is awaiting halitzah (release from levirate marriage).
In all of these cases, the betrothal cannot currently occur. Therefore, even if he says that the betrothal should only become valid when their statuses change such that betrothal would become possible, the current act of betrothal is invalid.
In this section too the man is attempting to betroth someone in the future to whom he could not be currently betrothed. Here he couldn’t betroth her now because she doesn’t even exist. She hasn’t even yet been conceived. This guy is really trying to get his bid in early! Again, the mishnah rules that his kiddushin are invalid.
The last section of the mishnah is an addition to the mishnah (meaning it is missing in mishnaic manuscripts). It is clause from the Talmud that somehow crept in and it changes the meaning of the mishnah, for here we have an example where kiddushin that could not currently occur can be currently contracted. According to this clause, as long as it is already recognized that the woman is pregnant, the betrothal is valid and if a girl is born she is betrothed to that man. In order to make this clause match the remainder of the mishnah, the Rambam explains that he must betroth her again when she is born.
The Talmud discusses a mishnah from elsewhere because our mishnah will be brought up as part of the discussion. Terumah cannot be separated from detached produce in order to exempt produce still attached to the ground. R. Assi then asks what if someone takes some detached produce and declares that the terumah he is separating will count as terumah for the attached produce when the attached produce becomes detached from the ground. R. Yohanan says that this works. Since he can detach the produce from the ground, we treat it as if it was already detached.
In most of these cases the kiddushin is not effective because it is not in his power to free her himself or to cause her husband or sister to die or to cause the yavam to perform halitzah for her. However, right now the Talmud assumes that he has the power to convert. Therefore, he should, according to R. Yohanan, be able to say “behold, you are betrothed to me after I convert.”
The Talmud answers that conversion also cannot be done by the man himself, for he needs a court to convert and it is not clear that he will find three to serve for him in such a capacity.
Conversion is a legal matter (see Leviticus 24:22).
I should note that in earlier rabbinic literature it seems that conversion was a self-administered process. A person just decides to become Jewish, goes through the proper ritual and thereby becomes Jewish. Only later in the Talmudic period do we hear of the necessity for a court. I wrote an article about this—you can find it on academia.com if you are interested. And let me know what you think!