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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Gittin

Folio 36a

— We assume that the vow is taken by him in the presence of a company. This is a valid reason for one who holds that a vow which has been taken in the presence of a company cannot be annulled. But what are we to say to one who holds that it can be annulled? — We must say that the vow is imposed on the authority1  of the company. For Amemar has said: The law is that even according to those who hold that a vow made in the presence of a company cannot be annulled, one made on the authority of a company cannot be annulled. This, however, is the case only with a vow relating to some optional action, but if it interferes with a religious duty, it can be annulled. A case in point is that of the teacher of children whom R. Aha bound by a vow on the authority of a company [to give up teaching], because he maltreated the children, but Rabina reinstated him because no other teacher could be found as thorough as he was.

WITNESSES SIGN A GET TO PREVENT ABUSES. [Is this rule only] to prevent abuses?2  It derives from the Scripture, does it not, since it is written, And subscribe the deeds and seal them?3  — Rabbah said: [All the same this reason] is necessary on the view of R. Eleazar, who said that the witnesses to delivery make [the Get] effective. The Rabbis nevertheless ordained that there should be witnesses to sign [as well], to prevent abuses, since sometimes the witnesses [to delivery] may die or go abroad. R. Joseph said: You may even say [that this reason is necessary] on the view of R. Meir,4  [and what] they ordained was that the witnesses should subscribe their names in full,5  to prevent abuses, as it has been taught: At first the witness used simply to write, 'I, So-and-so,6  subscribe as witness. 'If then his writing could be found on other documents,7  the Get was valid, but if not, it was invalid. Said Rabban Gamaliel: A most important regulation was laid down [by the Rabbis], that the witnesses should write their names in full in a Get, to prevent abuses.8  But is not a mark enough? Did not Rab [sign by] drawing a fish and R. Hanina by drawing a palm-branch, R. Hisda with a Samek,9  R. Hoshaia with an Ayin, and Rabbah son of R. Huna by drawing a sail?10  — The Rabbis are different, because their marks are well known. How did they make these signs known to begin with? — On letters.11

HILLEL INSTITUTED THE PROSBUL. We have learnt elsewhere: A prosbul prevents the remission of debts [in the Sabbatical year]. This is one of the regulations made by Hillel the Elder. For he saw that people were unwilling to lend money to one another and disregarded the precept laid down in the Torah, Beware that there he not a base thought in thine heart saying, etc.12  He therefore decided to institute the prosbul. The text of the prosbul is as follows: 'I hand over to you, So-and-so, the judges in such-and-such a place, [my bonds], so that I may be able to recover any money owing to me from So-and-so at any time I shall desire';13  and the prosbul was to be signed by the judges or witnesses.14

But is it possible that where according to the Torah the seventh year releases Hillel should ordain that it should not release? — Abaye said: He was dealing with the Sabbatical year in our time,15  and he went on the principle laid down by Rabbi, as it has been taught: Rabbi says: [It is written], Now this is the matter of the release; [every creditor] shall release.16  The text indicates here two kinds of release,17  one the release of land18  and the other the release of money. When the release of land is in operation the release of money is to be operative, and when the release of land is not operative the release of money is not to be operative.19

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Lit., 'by the knowledge' or 'will of'; i.e., they say to him, 'We administer this vow to you on our responsibility.'
  2. And so of Rabbinical sanction only.
  3. Jer. XXXII, 44.
  4. That the witnesses who sign the Get make it effective.
  5. I.e., their name and that of their father, e.g., Reuben ben Jacob, and not merely their own name, which would be sufficient from the point of view of the Torah. [V. Strashun and cf. following note].
  6. [Without specifying his name (Rashi). The term 'So-and-so' however, hardly bears this interpretation. Tosef. Git, VII omits 'So-and-so' and reads simply 'I am witness'; cf. previous note].
  7. Through which his identity could be established.
  8. Because now it would be possible to find witnesses who recognised their signatures.
  9. One letter of his Hebrew name.
  10. Al. 'boat'; al. 'mast'.
  11. [G] 'discs', 'tablets', 'official letters'.
  12. Deut. XV, 9. The verse proceeds, The seventh year is at hand, and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother and give him nought.
  13. Even after the Sabbatical year.
  14. Sheb. x, 3. [The principle underlying the prosbul is founded on the passage 'that which is thine with thy brother thine hand shall release' (Deut. XV, 2). From this there had been derived the law that the operation of the year of release did not affect debts of which the bonds had been delivered to the Court before the intervention of the year of release (v. Sifre. a.l. and infra p. 38), such debts being regarded as virtually exacted' and hence not coming under the prohibition 'he shall not exact'. By a slight extension of this precedents the prosbul was instituted, which in effect amounted to entrusting the Court with the collection of the debt. Without actually handing over the bond to the court, as required by the existing law, the creditor could secure his debt against forfeiture by appearing in person before the Beth din and making the prescribed declaration. For a fuller examination of the nature and legal effect of the prosbul as well as a survey of the proposed derivations of the term, v. Blau, L. Prosbul im Lichte der Griechischen Papyri und der Rechtsgeschichte.]
  15. After the destruction of the first Temple.
  16. Deut. XV, 2.
  17. By the juxtaposition of the two words, [H] ('release') and [H] ('shall release').
  18. At the Jubilee. V. Lev. XXV, 13.
  19. The Jubilee was not operative in the time of the Second Temple because the land was not fully occupied by Israel. But v. Tosaf. s.v. [H].
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Gittin 36b

The Rabbis, however, ordained that it should be operative, in order to keep alive the memory of the Sabbatical year, and when Hillel saw that people refrained from lending money to one another, he decided to institute the prosbul.1

But is it possible that where according to the Torah the seventh year does not release, the Rabbis should ordain that it does release?2  — Abaye replied: It is a case of 'sit still and do nothing'.3  Raba, however, replied: The Rabbis have power to expropriate [for the benefit of the public]4  For R. Isaac has said: How do we know that the Rabbis have power to expropriate? Because it says, And that whosoever came not within three days according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the congregation of the captivity.5  R. Eleazar said: We derive it from here: These are the inheritances which Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers' houses etc.6  Now why is the word 'fathers' [here] put next to 'heads'?7  To show that just as fathers transmit to their children whatever property they wish, so the heads transmit to the public whatever they wish.

The question was raised: When Hillel instituted the prosbul, did he institute it for his own generation only or for future generations also? What is the practical bearing of this question?8  — [In case we should desire] to abolish it. If you say that Hillel instituted the prosbul only for his own generation, then we may abolish it, but if for future generations also, [this would not be easy] since one Beth din cannot annul the decisions of another unless it surpasses it in wisdom and in numbers.9  What [then is the answer]? — Come and hear, [since] Samuel has said: We do not make out a prosbul save either in the Beth din of Sura10  or in the Beth din of Nehardea.11  Now if you assume that Hillel instituted the prosbul for all generations, then it should be made out in any Beth din? — perhaps when Hillel instituted it for all generations, he meant it to be issued by a Beth din like his [Samuel's] or like that of R. Ammi and R. Assi, which are strong enough to enforce payment [where necessary], but not for the ordinary Beth din.

Come and hear: Samuel said: This prosbul is an assumption12  on the part of the judges; if I am ever in a position, I will abolish it.13  He abolish it? How so, seeing that one Beth din cannot annul the decision of another unless it is superior to it in wisdom and numbers? — What he meant was: If ever I am in a stronger position than Hillel, I will abolish it.14  R. Nahman, however, said: I would confirm it. Confirm it? Is it not already firmly established? — What he meant was: I will add a rule that even if it [the prosbul] is not actually written it shall be regarded as written.

The question was raised [in the Academy]: Does this word 'ulbana mean 'assumption' or 'convenience'?15  — Come and hear, for 'Ulla once exclaimed:16  O shameless ['alubah]17  bride, to be false under the very bridal canopy!18  Said R. Mari the son of Samuel's daughter [in reference to this]: What scriptural verse indicates this? The verse, While the king sat at his table my spikenard sent forth its fragrance.19  Rab said: The [sacred author] still shows his love for us by writing 'sent forth' and not 'made foul'.

Our Rabbis taught: 'They who suffer insults [ne'elabin]20  but do not inflict them, who hear themselves reviled and do not answer back, who perform [religious precepts] from love and rejoice in chastisement, of such the Scripture says, And they that love him are like the sun when he goeth forth in his might.'21

What is the meaning of the word 'prosbul'? — R. Hisda says: Pruz buli u-buti.22

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Which therefore meant rescinding only a regulation of the Rabbis, not a precept of the Torah.
  2. For by so doing they rob creditors of their just due.
  3. They do not tell the debtors to commit an actual trespass hut merely to refrain from paying debts.
  4. Lit., '(Anything declared) hefker (ownerless) by the Beth din is hefker'.
  5. Ezra, X, 8.
  6. Josh. XX, 51.
  7. It would have been sufficient to say, 'heads of the tribes'.
  8. In any case the regulation goes in till it is rescinded.
  9. A.Z. 36a.
  10. The Beth din of Rab.
  11. His own Beth din.
  12. Heb. 'ulbana. The meaning of this word is discussed later.
  13. Which shows that Hillel ordained it only for his own generation.
  14. Even without a superior Beth din.
  15. I.e., did Samuel mean that it was an assumption on the part of the judges to seize money wrongfully, or that it was a convenience for the judges that creditors did not ask them to secure payment of their debts for them before the seventh year.
  16. In reference to the making of the Golden Calf.
  17. This proves that the root 'alab means 'to be shameless' or 'arrogant'.
  18. I.e., shameless Israel, to be false to God while the Shechinah still hovered over them at Mount Sinai.
  19. Cant. I, 12.
  20. A further proof that the root 'alab means 'to insult'.
  21. Judg. V, 31.
  22. This seems to conceal the Greek [G] (before the Council).
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