Tosefta Gittin 6:3

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The inclusion of Roman dates on Jewish divorce documents: technical detail or acknowledgment of Roman authority?
Date: 
200 CE to 220 CE
Place: 
Syria Palaestina
Language: 
Hebrew
Category: 
Jewish
Literary genre: 
Legal text
Reference: 
Tosefta Gittin 6:3
Commentary: 

This passage from Tosefta Gittin, which also appears in Tosefta Eduyyot 2:4, details the appropriate formulae for the dates on divorce documents; it is often read in relation to Mishnah Gittin 8:5 (for background, see the commentary on that source). Saul Lieberman understood this tosefta as an explanation of that mishnah, which prohibits dating divorce documents according to an “unbefitting kingdom” (Tosefta Ki-Feshutah, vol. 1, p. 8, p. 890). Conversely, Mishnah Gittin 8:5 may articulate a general rule for this complex tosefta; according to that reading, the Tosefta neither explains nor expounds on this mishnah (for possible relationships between legal material in the Mishnah and the Tosefta, see Friedman, “The Primacy of Tosefta”). Viewed from either perspective, this discussion of the dating that opened legal documents, including divorce writs, is compatible with Roman legal standards from that period.

In contrast to Mishnah Gittin 8:5, which focuses on the features that render a divorce writ void, Section A of this tosefta discusses three acceptable dating systems for such a document:

1) The years of the province (heprakhin, from the Greek eparcheia); however, it has also been suggested that this word is derived from the Greek uparchos,a provincial governor.

 2) The years of rulers or city magistrates, possibly Roman governors or consuls (horkhninot, from the Greek archōn). According to Lawrence H. Schiffman, in this passage, horkhninot refers to consuls (“Reflection,” p. 189).

3) The years of kings (in this context, Roman emperors). This tosefta mentions the scenario of two emperors who reigned simultaneously, upholding the validity of a writ of divorce whose dating names only one of them (see Lieberman, Tosefta Ki-Feshutah, vol. 8, p. 891 for emperors who ruled in tandem during the second- and early third centuries).

This tosefta does not specify how many of these dating formulae are sufficient, whether one, two or all three are needed (see P. Yadin 7, in Yadin et. al. The Documents. p. 80, for an Aramaic papyrus that features a deed of gifts which incorporates these three elements in its dating). For Lawrence H. Schiffman: “From the formulation [of this tosefta], it is clear that the acceptance of any one of these dating formulas is only post facto and that the correct dating procedure would have been to include all three. Indeed, from the documents at our disposal, it appears that date of the province, the consuls, and the emperor was the norm” (Lawrence H. Schiffman, “Reflection,” p. 189).

Section B of this tosefta has been interpreted in two ways: First, as the translation above suggests, it extends the discussion of dating according to emperors, ruling that a writ is valid if its dating follows the reign of the current emperor’s grandfather but is void if dated according to the founder of the dynasty, unless the ruling emperor (and, perhaps all emperors in this line) bears his name. However, as suggested by Saul Lieberman, this section may be separate from Section A; from that perspective, rather than discussing the emperor or dating, this passage offers guidance for writing the name of a man who divorces his wife (Tosefta Ki-Feshutah, vol. 8, p. 891). If read independently, Section B does not pertain to this project.

Even without the inclusion of Section B, it is interesting to compare the three components of dating in Section A with Jewish legal documents from the second century CE. The dating in Greek marriage contracts found in the Judean Desert, that were composed in Arabia approximately two decades after that region had become a Roman province, mentions both the consuls and the years from its establishment as a province (Lewis, The Documents, p. 80, 131-132). In the Aramaic ketubbah (marriage contract) of Babatha (who lived in the Dead Sea region), four words from its two opening lines remain visible, which seemingly detail the date and location of its composition: “[on] the [thi]rd of Adar in the consulship of…” This phrase demonstrates that Jews in this area had adopted the Roman counting of years alongside the Babylonian months that Jews had previously adopted (Yadin et. al. The Documents, p. 126-130). This evidence affirms that Aramaic marriage documents, not only Greek marriage documents, followed Roman norms for marking the years, at least to some extent (for a recent discussion of these documents, see Czajkowski, Localized Law, p. 38-48; on Roman dating formulae in Aramaic documents, p. 109-112). Thus, within two decades of becoming a province, Jewish marriage documents from Arabia already referred to the Roman dating system, even in legal documents that did not otherwise relate to Roman legal standards. The only documents from this period that lack Roman dating formulae were written during the Great Revolt of 66 CE and the Bar Kokhba Revolt, which were dated from the start of each Revolt (Yardeni, Textbook, vol. 1, p. 134, vol. 2, p. 57; Yardeni, Judean Desert, p. 54-60). This phenomenon does not seem technical in nature; rather, it suggests a link between rebelling against Rome and replacing its dating.

On the whole, this evidence shows that the selection of dating formulae in legal documents were among the earliest administrative elements to be incorporated from a new regime. Babatha’s ketubbah exemplifies this pattern, with its acknowledgment of and adjustment to Roman rule. However, it is unclear whether such adaptations are limited to scribal conventions or if they were composed with an awareness that these legal documents might be subject to Roman authorities, including in Roman courts.
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Tosefta Gittin 6:3
Author(s) of this publication: Yael Wilfand
Publishing date: Mon, 07/15/2019 - 09:31
URL: https://www.judaism-and-rome.org/tosefta-gittin-63
Visited: Fri, 04/16/2021 - 18:39

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