Aramaic Literature – Part 9 – The Mishnah

The sixth treatise of Nashim is Gittin. This deals with the issue of divorce, with the discussion springing from the text in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 that seems to authorize divorce, and which also came up for discussion in Jesus’ debates with the legal scholars of his own day. Though divorce is obviously an emotional issue, the discussion in Gittin has a dual focus. First, it lays out the requirements for a properly written bill of divorcement. Second, it works to clarify and specify the legal status of those in the process of divorce, with the intent that they not remain in an uncertain legal state any longer than necessary. [I should note at this point that the order of treatises in the Babylonian Talmud and the Palestinian Talmud differ. I am following the order of the Palestinian Talmud.]

The seventh treatise is Kiddushin. Perhaps since Gittin raises the issue of marriage, Kiddushin follows by dealing with betrothals. This material has virtually nothing in the way of direct Biblical precedent. It specifies how and under what conditions a legal marriage may be contracted. In this matter, the Jewish discussion has much in common with the later Christian discussions of the same issue. Since the Bible does not lay out specific laws for how a marriage is to be entered into, principles must be drawn from other areas, and from the examples of marriages given in the Bible. As a result, this is one of the most discussed treatises of the Mishnah, as the issues relating to marriage have received a great deal of discussion in Christian circles.

The fourth order of the Mishnah is called Nezikin (injuries) and contains ten treatises. This order provides much of the basis for both Jewish civil and Jewish criminal law. The first treatise is called Baba Kamma (first gate), and deals with injuries and compensation for damages (and you thought trial lawyers, or litigation attorneys were a twentieth century development). The second treatise is called Baba Mezi’a (middle gate). The third treatise is called BabaBatra (last gate). These three treatises together work to provide a clear context for business arrangements, without giving preference to either party. In other words, the discussions essentially conclude in such a way that a level playing field is created for the conducting of business. For example, “If one sells wine to another and it sours, the seller is not liable [and is therefore not required to refund the buyer’s money], but if the seller knew that the wine would soon sour, this is considered a purchase made in error [and the seller is required to pay the buyer back].” The seller is responsible if he knows about weaknesses or difficulties with what he is selling, but he is not responsible for what might be considered “normal wear and tear” on what he has sold after he has sold it. In addition to such matters as that just quoted, these first three treatises also regulate lending and borrowing money, renting and leasing property, how joint ownership of property is supposed to work, and labor laws.

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