Mishnah Gittin: Tikkun Olam--What is It?

(א) הַשּׁוֹלֵחַ גֵּט לְאִשְׁתּוֹ וְהִגִּיעַ בַּשָּׁלִיחַ, אוֹ שֶׁשָּׁלַח אַחֲרָיו שָׁלִיחַ וְאָמַר לוֹ, גֵּט שֶׁנָּתַתִּי לְךָ בָּטֵל הוּא, הֲרֵי זֶה בָטֵל. קָדַם אֵצֶל אִשְׁתּוֹ אוֹ שֶׁשָּׁלַח אֶצְלָהּ שָׁלִיחַ וְאָמַר לָהּ, גֵּט שֶׁשָּׁלַחְתִּי לִיךְ בָּטֵל הוּא, הֲרֵי זֶה בָטֵל. אִם מִשֶּׁהִגִּיעַ גֵּט לְיָדָהּ, שׁוּב אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְבַטְּלוֹ:

(ב) בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה הָיָה עוֹשֶׂה בֵית דִּין בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר וּמְבַטְּלוֹ.

הִתְקִין רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הַזָּקֵן שֶׁלֹּא יְהוּ עוֹשִׂין כֵּן, מִפְּנֵי תִקּוּן הָעוֹלָם.

What is the "glitch" that was designed into this system? Why do you think it was there? Beyond the particulars of this issue, what overall statement do you think the Mishnah is making about the nature of law?

בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה הָיָה מְשַׁנֶּה שְׁמוֹ וּשְׁמָהּ, שֵׁם עִירוֹ וְשֵׁם עִירָהּ. וְהִתְקִין רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הַזָּקֵן שֶׁיְּהֵא כוֹתֵב, אִישׁ פְּלוֹנִי וְכָל שֵׁם שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ, אִשָּׁה פְלוֹנִית וְכָל שׁוּם שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהּ, מִפְּנֵי תִקּוּן הָעוֹלָם:

What is the historical background to the problem being described here? How does Rabban Gamaliel remedy the problem? What is he trying to accomplish?

(ג) אֵין אַלְמָנָה נִפְרַעַת מִנִּכְסֵי יְתוֹמִים אֶלָּא בִשְׁבוּעָה. נִמְנְעוּ מִלְּהַשְׁבִּיעָהּ, הִתְקִין רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הַזָּקֵן שֶׁתְּהֵא נוֹדֶרֶת לַיְתוֹמִים כָּל מַה שֶּׁיִּרְצוּ, וְגוֹבָה כְתֻבָּתָהּ.

מנכסי יתומים, אלא בשבועה. שלא נתקבלה כלום:

נמנעו מלהשביעה. שמפני שהיא טורחת לפני היתומים מורה התירא לעצמה לישבע שלא לקחה כלום. ואף על פי שלקחה דבר מועט סבורה שבשכר טרחה נוטלתו ואינו מפרעון כתובתה. ולפיכך נמנעו מלהשביעה והיתה מפסדת כתובתה:

התקין ר״ג שתהא נודרת ליתומים כל מה שירצו. כגון קונם מיני מזונות עלי אם נהניתי מכתובתי:

What is the nature of the problem here? How does Rabban Gamaliel fix it?

הָעֵדִים חוֹתְמִין עַל הַגֵּט, מִפְּנֵי תִקּוּן הָעוֹלָם.

What is the tikkun olam here?

הִלֵּל הִתְקִין פְּרוֹזְבּוּל מִפְּנֵּי תִקּוּן הָעוֹלָם:

The following is from Reconstructing the Talmud, by Joshua Kulp and Jason Rogoff

The Greek Roots of the Prosbul

The word prosbul is from the Greek prosbole, a combination of two words: It1) before (pros); 2) the assembly of counselors (bole). Nearly a century ago, Ludwig Blau was the first to note that in Greek papyri found in Egypt the term prosbul refers to the transfer of debt obligation by court order. According to its usage in these documents, if a borrower defaults on a loan when a prosbul is in place, the court has the right to publicly auction off his assets and then use the profit to pay back the creditor. Most subsequent scholars have accepted Blau's identification of the rabbinic prosbul with the Greek prosbul.

However, even if scholars have successfully recovered the Greek origins of the word prosbul, there remains a significant problem--the Greek prosbul seems to work differently from the prosbul enacted by Hillel. According to the Mishnah, the lender transfers all outstanding loans to the court, thereby allowing the lender himself to collect at any time. In the Greek version, should a single borrower default on a loan, the court sells off the borrower’s assets in order to pay back the lender. The difference between the two mechanisms led scholars to provide various suggestions as to how Hillel modified the Greek prosbul in order to respond to the problem of sabbatical loan remission. The general consensus was that Hillel relied on the Greek precedent. But unlike the Greek prosbul in which the court takes an active role in the collection by actually selling off the debtor's assets, the rabbinic mechanism is merely a legal fiction specifically enacted in order to avoid the consequences of the sabbatical year. The lender symbolically transfers his outstanding loans to the jurisdiction of the court. This transforms the collection of the loan into an act of the court, like a fine, which is not subject to the laws of sabbatical year remission. But in reality the lender would collect the loan himself without the involvement of the court.

Hillel’s Prosbul

Recently, David Bigman argued that Hillel’s original takkanah was identical to the Greek prosbul. Lenders were refraining from lending because borrowers were simply defaulting. This social problem was unrelatedto the sabbatical year. In response to the problem of loan default, Hillel instituted the Greek prosbul, which allowed the courts to auction off the borrower’s property in order to repay the loan. This takkanah encouraged lenders to lend to the poor by offering them a guarantee that they would be able to recover their money. This is quite a revolutionary understanding of Hillel's takkanah. According to Bigman, Hillel's prosbul was not a legal fiction; it was a real legal institution, patterned directly after its Greek parallel. That is, rather than a fictitious means by which to circumvent the Torah's laws, it was an extra-Toraitic legal way of allowing for more effective loan collection, thereby encouraging lending. Furthermore, the prosbul would only be necessary in certain circumstances—when the borrower defaulted on his loan. There was no need for a prosbul to accompany every loan document. As we shall see below, it was only later tannaim who proposed that the prosbul could be instituted more generally as a means to avoid remission in the sabbatical year.

Bigman provides three types of evidence from various tannaitic sources to support his theory. First, chapter ten of mishnah Sheviit describes the effect (or lack thereof) of the sabbatical year on certain monetary arrangements and debts. These include a debt to a store owner or a debt of wages (mishnah one), an arrangement for the division of slaughtered meat (mishnah two), and legal fines (mishnah two). These arrangements and debts are normal occurrences that did not arise specifically in connection with the sabbatical year. Since the mishnah lists the prosbul as another example of a type of debt which is not remitted by the sabbatical year, it too should be understood as an institution that exists independently of the sabbatical year. Furthermore, the language used by the Mishnah, “a prosbul is not cancelled,” mirrors the language used to describe other cases in the chapter, all types of arrangements which were not created in response to the sabbatical year.

Second, some tannaitic sources describe the prosbul as an agreement between a specific borrower and a lender, thereby limiting its scope. Unlike Mishnah Sheviit, which portrays the prosbul as a mechanism which lumps together all of the lender’s outstanding loans, Tosefta Sheviit 8:9 describes the prosbul as applicable to a single loan:

(1) If the borrower owns land and the lender does not own land, a prosbul may be written.

(2) If the lender owns land and the borrower does not own land, a prosbul may not be written.

(3) If he [the borrower] does not own land but his guarantors or debtors own land, a prosbul may be written.

(1) ללוה קרקע ולמלוה אין קרקע כותבין עליו פרוזבול.

(2)למלוה קרקע וללוה אין קרקע אין כותבין עליו פרוזבול.

(3) לו אין קרקע ולערבין לו קרקע ולחייבין לו קרקע כותבין עליו פרוזבול.

The Tosefta (and Mishnah Sheviit 10:6) requires the borrower (or his guarantors/debtors) to own land in order for a prosbul to be written. Traditional commentators explain that land is necessary because the lien placed on the borrower's land by the debt makes it as if the debt has theoretically already been paid back at the time of the loan. Possession of land demonstrates that the borrower has the means to repay the loan, such that even if he has not yet done so, it may be considered paid off. This traditional explanation further supports the notion of the prosbul as legal fiction: When the lender goes to collect the loan on behalf of the court after the sabbatical year, it is as if he is collecting a loan that was already collected before the sabbatical year. But this explanation is difficult because it adds an additional legal fiction to the process. Furthermore, it is not clear why a prosbul would be necessary if a loan using land as security is considered as already having been repaid.

According to Bigman's understanding that the prosbul was a general means through which the lender could collect his debt, the Tosefta’s halakhah makes considerably more sense. The Tosefta requires the borrower to own land so that the court will have property to auction off in the event he defaults on his loan. Additionally, the Tosefta passage describes the prosbul as a document written for a single lender and a single borrower. The prosbul is written for each individual loan; the lender does not group all of his outstanding loans under one prosbul, as the Mishnah describes. Thus, according to Bigman's reconstruction, Hillel’s original takkanah was simply an adoption of the Greek prosbul into rabbinic halakhah. It allowed the lender to collect his debts more effectively, and it had nothing to do with the sabbatical year's remission of loans.

(ד) עֶבֶד שֶׁנִּשְׁבָּה וּפְדָאוּהוּ, אִם לְשׁוּם עֶבֶד, יִשְׁתַּעְבֵּד. אִם לְשׁוּם בֶּן חוֹרִין, לֹא יִשְׁתַּעְבֵּד. רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, בֵּין כָּךְ וּבֵין כָּךְ יִשְׁתַּעְבֵּד.

This mishnah does not mention tikkun olam, but because it is included in this chapter, we should assume that there is an element of tikkun olam here. What might it be? Read the parallel in the Tosefta:

תוספתא מסכת גיטין (ליברמן) פרק ג הלכה ד

עבד שנשבה ופדאוהו לשום עבד ישתעבד ורבו נותן דמיו. לשם בן חורין לא ישתעבד ואין רבו נותן דמיו.

רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומ' בין כך ובין כך ישתעבד ורבו נותן דמיו כשם שמצויין ישראל לפדות את בן חורין כך מצוין לפדות עבדיהן

עֶבֶד שֶׁעֲשָׂאוֹ רַבּוֹ אַפּוֹתִיקִי לַאֲחֵרִים וְשִׁחְרְרוֹ, שׁוּרַת הַדִּין, אֵין הָעֶבֶד חַיָּב כְּלוּם. אֶלָּא מִפְּנֵי תִקּוּן הָעוֹלָם, כּוֹפִין אֶת רַבּוֹ וְעוֹשֶׂה אוֹתוֹ בֶן חוֹרִין, וְכוֹתֵב שְׁטָר עַל דָּמָיו. רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, אֵינוֹ כוֹתֵב אֶלָּא מְשַׁחְרֵר:

אפותיקי means that he used him as collateral.

אלא מפני תקון העולם. שמא ימצאנו רבו שני בשוק ויאמר לו עבדי אתה ויוציא לעז על בניו:

כופין את רבו. שני, ועושהו בן חורין. וכותב לו העבד שט״ח על דמיו, כלומר כפי מה שהוא שוה לימכר בשוק, לא כפי החוב אם היה החוב יתר על דמיו:,רשב״ג אמר אין העבד כותב. שטר חוב, שהוא אינו חייב כלום. אלא רבו ראשון שהזיק שעבודו של זה, הוא שצריך לשלם לו דמיו, שהמזיק שעבודו של חברו חייב. והלכה כרשב״ג:

(ה) מִי שֶׁחֶצְיוֹ עֶבֶד וְחֶצְיוֹ בֶן חוֹרִין, עוֹבֵד אֶת רַבּוֹ יוֹם אֶחָד וְאֶת עַצְמוֹ יוֹם אֶחָד, דִּבְרֵי בֵית הִלֵּל. אָמְרוּ לָהֶם בֵּית שַׁמַּאי, תִּקַּנְתֶּם אֶת רַבּוֹ, וְאֶת עַצְמוֹ לֹא תִקַּנְתֶּם. לִשָּׂא שִׁפְחָה אִי אֶפְשָׁר, שֶׁכְּבָר חֶצְיוֹ בֶן חוֹרִין. בַּת חוֹרִין אִי אֶפְשָׁר, שֶׁכְּבָר חֶצְיוֹ עָבֶד. יִבָּטֵל, וַהֲלֹא לֹא נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם אֶלָּא לִפְרִיָּה וְלִרְבִיָּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ישעיה מה) לֹא תֹהוּ בְרָאָהּ, לָשֶׁבֶת יְצָרָהּ. אֶלָּא מִפְּנֵי תִקּוּן הָעוֹלָם, כּוֹפִין אֶת רַבּוֹ וְעוֹשֶׂה אוֹתוֹ בֶן חוֹרִין, וְכוֹתֵב שְׁטָר עַל חֲצִי דָמָיו. וְחָזְרוּ בֵית הִלֵּל לְהוֹרוֹת כְּדִבְרֵי בֵית שַׁמָּאי:

(ו) הַמּוֹכֵר עַבְדּוֹ לְגוֹי אוֹ לְחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ, יָצָא בֶן חוֹרִין.

יצא בן חורין. אם ברח מן הנכרי, או שקנסו אותו ב״ד לפדותו מן הנכרים, כדאמרינן כופין אותו לפדותו ואחר שפדאו לא ישתעבד בו. וקנס חכמים הוא, לפי שהפקיעו מן המצות. וכן לחו״ל יצא לחירות לפי שהוציאו מא״י:

אֵין פּוֹדִין אֶת הַשְּׁבוּיִים יוֹתֵר עַל כְּדֵי דְמֵיהֶן, מִפְּנֵי תִקּוּן הָעוֹלָם. וְאֵין מַבְרִיחִין אֶת הַשְּׁבוּיִין, מִפְּנֵי תִקּוּן הָעוֹלָם. רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, מִפְּנֵי תַקָּנַת הַשְּׁבוּיִין. וְאֵין לוֹקְחִים סְפָרִים, תְּפִלִּין וּמְזוּזוֹת מִן הַגּוֹיִם יוֹתֵר עַל כְּדֵי דְמֵיהֶן, מִפְּנֵי תִקּוּן הָעוֹלָם:

(ט) הַמּוֹכֵר אֶת עַצְמוֹ וְאֶת בָּנָיו לְגוֹי, אֵין פּוֹדִין אוֹתוֹ, אֲבָל פּוֹדִין אֶת הַבָּנִים לְאַחַר מִיתַת אֲבִיהֶן.

(1) [With regard to] one who sends a bill of divorce to his wife [via a messenger], and then catches up with the messenger, or sent [another] messenger after the first, and said, "The bill of divorce that I gave to you is cancelled," then it is cancelled. If the husband preceded the messenger [in getting] to the woman, or if he sent [a second] messenger, and he said to her, "The bill of divorce that I sent you is cancelled," then it is cancelled. If [he makes this statement] from, [i.e., after,] the moment that the bill of divorce reached her hands, he can no longer cancel it.

(2) At first, a man [who had already sent his wife a bill of divorce by means of a messenger] would set up a religious court in a different place [from where the wife lived] and cancel [the bill of divorce]. Rabban Gamliel the Elder enacted that they not be able to do this, due to [the need for] repairing the world [Tikkun HaOlam]. At first, a man could change his name and her name, the name of his city, or the name of her city. Rabban Gamliel the Elder enacted that one would write: "The man, So-and-so, and any other name that he has, and the woman, So-and-so, and any other name that she has," due to Tikkun HaOlam.

(3) A widow may only collect [the debt owed from her ketubah, monetary settlement payable to a married woman upon divorce or the death of her husband] from the property of orphans by [taking] an oath. They stopped imposing an oath; Rabban Gamliel the Elder enacted that she may make a vow with regard to whatever they desire, and collects her ketubah. Witnesses sign on a bill of divorce, due to Tikkun HaOlam. Hillel instituted the pruzbul [a court-issued exemption from the Sabbatical year cancellation of a personal loan] due to Tikkun HaOlam.

(4) [With regard to] a slave who was kidnapped and they ransomed him, if [he was ransomed] in order to be a slave, he may be enslaved. If [he was ransomed] to be a free man, he may not be enslaved. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: "Either way he may be enslaved." [With regard to] a slave whose master mortgaged him to others, and then freed him, the baseline law is that the slave is not obligated at all. However, due to Tikkun HaOlam they force his [second] master to free him, and [the slave must] write a document [of debt] for his money's worth to him. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: "[The slave] does not write [a debt document], rather the [original] one who freed him [does]."

(5) One who is half slave and half free-man, serves his master one day and [works for] himself one day. These are the words of Beit Hillel. Beit Shammai said to them: "You have repaired [the situation] for his master, but for himself you have not repaired it. To marry a maidservant is impossible [i.e., forbidden], for he is half-free. [To marry] a free-woman is impossible, for he is half-slave. And was not the world created for the sake of reproduction, as it says (Isaiah 45:18) "Not for emptiness did He create it, but for settlement He formed it." Rather, due to Tikkun HaOlam, we force his master and he makes him a free-man, and [the slave] writes a document [of debt] for half his value. Beit Hillel retracted and ruled in accordance with the words of Beit Shammai.

(6) [With regard to] one who sells his slave to a non-Jew or to someone outside Eretz Yisrael, [the slave automatically] goes free. We do not ransom captives for more than they are worth, due to Tikkun HaOlam. We do not help captives escape, due to Tikkun HaOlam. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: "[It is] due to the enactment of the captives. We do not buy sefarim [books of the Tanach written in holiness, on parchment, and used for personal or public study, or for reading aloud in public. Sometimes the intent is specifically Torah scrolls], tefillin, and mezuzot from the non-Jews for more than their worth, due to Tikkun HaOlam.

(7) [With regard to] one who divorced his wife due to her bad reputation, he may not remarry her. If it was because of a vow [that she made], he may not remarry her. Rabbi Yehudah says, "[In the case of] any vow that was known to the public, he may not remarry her. [But for one] that was not known to the public, he may remarry her." Rabbi Meir says, "[In the case of] any vow that required the inspection of a Sage[to determine if it can be annulled], he may not remarry her. If it does not require inspection of a Sage, he may remarry her." Rabbi Eliezer said, "This one was only prohibited due to that one. Rabbi Yossi, son of Rabbi Yehudah, said, "There was an occurrence in Sidon with one man who said to his wife, "I take a vow if I do not divorce you, and he divorced her. The rabbis allowed them to remarry, due to Tikkun HaOlam.

(8) [With regard to] one who divorces his wife because she is an aiylonit [[a woman with arrested sexual development who cannot bear children], Rabbi Yehudah says, "He may not remarry her." The Sages say, "He may remarry her." If she married someone else, and she had children with him, and she demands her ketubah [from the first husband], Rabbi Yehudah says, "We say to her, 'Your silence is better than your speaking.'"

(9) [With regard to] one who sells himself and his children to a non-Jew, we do not redeem him. But we redeem the children after the death of their father. [With regard to] one who sells his field to a non-Jew, and a Jew buys it back from him, the buyer brings the first fruits from it, due to Tikkun HaOlam.