Daf 20a-b - Drafting a Get through Engraving

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

A)        Gittin 20a-b, "Gufa shalchu mi-tam… mei-aberai"
            Rashi (20a), s.v. Ha (2nd one), s.v. Ha ba'ina
            Rambam, Geirushin 4:6
B)        Shabbat 104b, "Tana higi'ah...reish."
            Ran (37b, pages of the Rif), "Garsinan ba-gmara lanu"
c)         Rashi (20a), s.v. Ve-ilu hakha
            Tosafot Ha-rosh (ibid.), s.v. Ve-hakha
1)         Why is chak tokhot invalid for composing a get?  How does the Rambam's version differ from the terminology of the Ran in Shabbat?
2)         What is the dispute between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam about the fashioning of the Tzitz?  See Shemot 28:9-12, 36-38; 39:30.
3)         How may this debate reflect the nature of the chak tokhot disqualification?
Having digressed to discuss the signing of a get, the gemara returns to the issue of composing the get.  The gemara derives from the phrase "Ve-khatav lah," "And he must write for her" (Devarim 25:1, 3), that the text must be written rather than cut.  After issuing a general disqualification for carved text, the gemara cites a beraita which validates a shtar shichrur (document to emancipate a slave) which was carved upon a slate.  To answer the contradiction, the Gemara differentiates between two forms of carving, "chak tokhot" and "chak yereikhot."  In the former instance, the actual letters are not carved; rather, the surrounding stone is chiseled out so that the letters (which were left untouched) ultimately protrude.  This form of carving is not valid.  The beraita which validated engraved text refers to a situation in which the letters themselves were engraved.  This form – known as chak yereikhot (literally, carving the bodies of the letters) - is considered valid text and can be employed to draft a get or shtar shichrur
The simple understanding of the chak tokhot invalidation is that by not directly fashioning the letter parts a person has not performed an act of ketiva.  The Torah demands, "Ve-khatav lah," that the husband – or his appointed agent – actively write a get.  Just as we witnessed that ktav al gabbei ktav may not be considered a viable act of writing, we may disqualify chak tokhot on similar grounds.  Rashi (s.v. Ha de-chak yereikhot) suggests as much when he contrasts chak tokhot with chak yereikhot, positing that the latter is considered an act of ketiva; this approach implies that Rashi believes that chak tokhot does not comprise a halakhic act of writing.  By contrast, when the Rambam cites the chak tokhot clause, he asserts that the products of this type of manufacture are not considered ktav, halakhic text: even though from a cognitive standpoint the very same text is created, that text does not entail any newly formed or changed product.  The block was carved around the letters such that the text emerges; as the text is not new matter, it is halakhically insignificant. 
We may be able to understand the chak tokhot issue better by analyzing the application of this halakha to the engraving of the Tzitz, the gold plate which the High Priest would wear on his forehead, and on which the words "kodesh la-shem" appeared.  Why should chak tokhot be invalid for putting this phrase on the Tzitz?  Rashi (20b, s.v. Ha) cites the phrase "pituchei chotam," a phrase which is found in Shemot 28:36, a verse which never mentions an act of writing; instead, the verb used in this pasuk to describe the engraving is "u-fitachta," an intensive form of "li-fto'ach," to open.  Should we therefore conclude that chak tokhot does indeed not represent halakhic ktav and is therefore invalid even when a formal act of writing is NOT necessary?  Interestingly enough, another pasuk (Shemot 39:30) describes the actual production of the Tzitz's text with the word "Va-yikhtevu" - literally, "and they wrote" — suggesting that the Tzitz may indeed have required some degree of a formal writing process.
Another interesting debate about the manufacture of the Tzitz may reflect the varying approaches to the chak tokhot disqualification.  The Gemara itself mentions that the Tzitz was not written as embedded text, but rather as a protruding text similar to gold coins.  Subsequently, the Gemara asks: is the general the process of minting not chak tokhot?  The Gemara explains that unlike the words on coins, the text of the Tzitz was fashioned by performing some act on the actual letters and not just pressing the material surrounding the actual image or text, allowing the remaining area to remain raised.  The Gemara does not, however, describe the actual process of fashioning this text.  Rashi elaborates that the gold of the Tzitz was thin and soft (presumably by being heated) and the artist 'pressed out' the letters on the front of the Tzitz by pushing them from behind.  The Tosafot Ha-rosh cites in the name of Rabbeinu Tam that this process would not be sufficient to be regarded as an act of ketiva; he therefore claims that the artisans used tweezers to literally pull out the letters from the gold on the face of the Tzitz.  Perhaps this debate evolved from two differing perspectives of the chak tokhot invalidation.  Rabbeinu Tam may view chak tokhot as an absence of ketiva; it applies to the Tzitz because for some reason an actual process of ketiva is necessary for the Tzitz.  Hence, the letters had to be pulled out in order for a ketiva to occur; simply pushing the letters out from behind would not have been ketiva.  On the other hand, Rashi views chak tokhot as a defect in the actual text: by simply carving around the ultimate image or text, or by erasing the surrounding ink and allowing the text to emerge, no NEW entity has been generated and no halakhic ktav exists.  To avoid this problem, something new must be generated, regardless of the actual manner by which this new substance is formed.  By pressing out the letters from behind, the artist has created a new entity (protruding material) and chak tokhot would not apply.  Conceivably, Rashi's position may be based upon viewing chak tokhot as an absence of ktav.  Of course, this would conflict with our prior reading of Rashi that chak tokhot is an absence of an act of ketiva; we would be forced - at least within the context of Rashi's position - to alter our understanding of his position about the Tzitz or possibly our inference that chak tokhot is a problem of ketiva.
A second gemara in which the specter of chak tokhot arises is Shabbat 104).  The Gemara concludes that if a person is repairing a text and forms two letters zayin by erasing the roof of a letter chet, he has violated Shabbat by performing the melakha (labor) of ketiva (because he has formed two letters, the minimum shiur of ketiva).  The Rishonim are puzzled by the Gemara's conclusion, as these letters were produced by erasure: if erasure is a case of chak tokhot, then the issur ketiva has not been perpetrated!  Though several answers are suggested, the Ran's response is especially relevant to our discussion.  He claims that although chak tokhot is not regarded as ketiva (and is therefore invalid for the composition of a get), a melekhet Shabbat has been performed.  Melekhet Shabbat is defined as anything involving melekhet machshevet (purposeful labor; see, for example, Beitza 13b or Bava Kama 26b).  Hence, the Ran believes that anything constructive violates Shabbat, even if the act does not conform to the formal strictures of other areas of Halakha.  Even though chak tokhot is not a formal act of writing, since new text (two letters zayin) has been created, melekhet Shabbat has been committed.  It would appear that the Ran views chak tokhot as a disqualification of ketiva.  Hence, although one cannot compose a get through this process, Shabbat will be violated even in the absence of a formal act of ketiva.  Were chak tokhot to comprise an absence of ktav, the Ran may not view it as a melakha at all. 
Sources and questions for the next shiur:
Topic: Partially Withholding Delivery of a Get
1)         Gittin 20b, "Ba'a mineih… di-mureh"
            Rashi, s.v. Einah megureshet
            Rashi (20a), s.v. Andokhteri
            Gittin 15a, "Tanu rabbanan… mei-akhshav dami"
            Rashi, s.v. Ha-neyar
2)         Rashba, s.v. Ba'i
            Rambam, Geirushin 8:14
            Rashba, s.v. Amar leih
3)         Gittin 86b, Mishna, Gemara, "…ba'i"
4)         Gittin 21a, "Al he-aleh shel zayit ...  venetina"
1)         How do Rashi and the Rashba differ in their explanation of the disqualification of "neyar she-li"?
2)         How does the Rambam's understanding differ?
3)         Does the Gemara's discussion about a get written on a gold plate better accord with Rashi’s view or with the Rambam’s?
4)         Does the question of "bein shita le-shita" better accord with Rashi's view or with the Rambam’s?
5)         According to Rashi, why can the man not write the get on the horn of an animal and transfer the horn's title to the woman?