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"GET MESUDAR": A TUTORIAL
(I am most indebted to my friends and colleagues Rabbi Shalom Bronstein of Jerusalem and Ury Link of Amsterdam for informing me about the book "Get Mesudar", encouraging me to examine the book in detail, and aiding me to understand what the book contains.)
Author Elazar Mintz wrote "Get Mesudar" at the beginning of the 20th century as a guide for rabbinic writers of Gitin who recorded the legal given names of the parties to a Get contract. It was not intended to help evaluate what to do with an existing Get which might be defective, although it would be helpful in solving this problem. Rabbi Mintz produced a very logically-structured book which is easy to read, considering its legal nature and density.
The book has turned out to be a remarkable summary of two aspects of given names: which ones were linked to one another, and how one wrote them in a Get in accord with standard rabbinic divorce law as it developed during nearly one thousand years in Europe. In an orderly way, the book includes most of the polemics of opposing opinions and how to resolve them. It is a valuable source of the rules of Hilchot Gitin reasoning as well as a valuable source of the rabbinic law itself, as it has evolved. Even today, this book (nearly one-hundred years old) is still widely consulted by modern rabbis in many countries and has been re-printed.
Today, this book may be considered to be the official summary of the development and legal decision-making of Ashkenazi rabbis concerning given names and how to write them in a Get, as this developed over the nine centuries of analysis and law-making in Europe. As it has turned out, this book is the epitaph of European rabbinic law on given names in preparing a Get.
Accordingly, it was the Hilchot Gitin book of choice for our purpose of providing an example of this genre and of making available five searchable data bases based on the book's contents:
Never the less, it should be remembered that its main applicability is to the areas of Germany, Poland, and Hungary, with some mention of names appropriate to other European countries.
The fundamental legal definitions of the rabbis are presented below, as extracted from the "Get Mesudar".
"GET MESUDAR": BOOK STRUCTURE
The "Get Mesudar" was written in Hebrew and is divided into six sections:
There are six approbations by prominent rabbis who read pre-publication copies: Yaakov David Ridbaz (Upper Galil), Moshe Bobad (Lvov), David Tsvi Hoffman (Berlin), Leyb Rubin (Vilkomir, Lithuania), Shalom Shakhne Tsherniak (Motsiv), and Tsvi Yechezkel Michelsohn (Warsaw).
As with all books of Jewish law, each of the pages in the four "List/Commentaries" sections is divided into three partitions: Interior Text in the center, and two sets of commentaries surrounding it on both sides, Interpretation, and Examination:
The book "Ohaley Sheym" by Salomon Ganzfried (a Hungarian rabbi) is one of the more important source books for the Law and is frequently referenced by Rabbi Mintz in the Interior Text section.
The two commentaries contain much important name information, such as name spelling or pronunciation variations in different countries. The critical importance of the commentary sections in all Hilchot Gitin books has not been sufficiently understood by many given names researchers who used these books in their Theoretical Approach, and therefor they have been puzzled and led astray by some of the conclusions to which the rabbis came. Being Jewish legal treatises, the books of Hilchot Gitin are dense and must be read deeply and in their entirety, rather than using only the summaries of the Interior Text section.
DEFINITIONS OF BASIC NAME TYPES
In the next three sections is presented an interpretive translation of a few parts of the book "Get Mesudar". The intent is to provide an elementary understanding of the methodology used by the rabbis in setting Jewish law with respect to the writing of people's names in a Get.
The name categories recognized by the European rabbis who wrote the Hilchot Gitin books, and which were the basic names for all of those books, are summarized by Rabbi Mintz in "Get Mesudar" in the following three name pairs:
Hebrew Name: Names which are written in "Lashon Kodesh" (Hebrew) such as Binyamin and Esteyr, are called Hebrew names. Aramaic names (e.g., Aqiva) are also considered to be Hebrew names, so all the names which appear in the Tanakh and Gemara are called Hebrew names. There are a few additional non-Aramaic, non-Hebrew names also to be found in the Gemara, like Aleksander, of Greek origin. But since all these names in the Tanakh and Gemara were commonly used by Jews during the extended period in which Aramaic was freely spoken by them, and because they were written in Hebrew characters in books written by Jewish religious persons, they were and are accepted today as Hebrew names. And even the name Todrus, a name that was used by Jews on holy days and during the week, but has no definition in Lashon Kodesh and is not found in the Tanakh or Gemara, is still considered a distinctive Hebrew name, like Aleksander.
La'az Name: Names which come from the vernacular languages of the nations (including Yiddish) are called La'az names. Examples are Hirsh, Pesl, and Adolf.
Birth Name: Names that were given to a person at the time of birth are called Birth names. Names that come to a person afterwards are called Non-Birth names. For example, if a woman was called Esteyr at birth, then Esteyr is her Birth name. However, for Esteyr HaMalka (Queen Esther) who at birth was called Hadasa, Esteyr was her Non-Birth name.
Sheym Etsem and Kinui: A name that by itself, without another accompanying name, could in accord with the normal customs of people be given to him at his time of birth, is called a Sheym Etsem (i.e., Stand-Alone name). But a name that people would never give alone but would always be given together with another name, is called a Kinui. It was customary to give to a new-born boy a Hebrew name, such as Binyamin, and sometimes he would be given a Hebrew name combined with a La'az name, Binyamin Volf, but the La'az name Volf would never be given alone to a man at the time of birth. According to this, the name Binyamin is a Sheym Etsem, and the name Volf is a Kinui. However, a woman could be given even at her time of birth a La'az name alone, such as Pesl or Reyzl. Therefor, for a woman a La'az name is also a Sheym Etsem. From this, Hebrew names of men and all names of women, whether Hebrew names or La'az names, are Shemot Etsem, and La'az names of men are Kinuim.
Kinuim as defined above must be written in the Get and were of three types:
Some kinuim have a linkage to and are possessed by a Sheym Etsem: Binyamin Wolf, Yehuda Leyb, Yehoshua Falk, Eliezer Lipe. Sometimes the kinui is a matter of copying the name from Hebrew to the La'az name; this is the case with Ze'ev Wolf, Arye Leyb, Yehuda Leyb -- such kinuim are called "Kinuim derived from the Hebrew name". Normally, however, one does not know why people chose to link a certain kinui to a certain Sheym Etsem; such kinuim are called "Kinuim belonging to the Hebrew name".
WHEN DOES ONE WRITE "HAMECHUNE" & WHEN, "DEMITKARI"
In the case of legal double names (Legal names -- those which must be written in a Get), the first name is called the Primary name (Sheym Ikar), and the second, the Subsidiary name (Sheym Tafeyl). Usually, the Primary name is a Hebrew name, while the Subsidiary name is a Yiddish or accepted secular name. However, there were cases when a couple gave their newborn opposite sequences of names, e.g., a Yiddish name as Primary, and a Hebrew name as Subsidiary. The definitions of which is Primary and which is Subsidiary is always the prerogative of the rabbi by using the Hilchot Gitin book as a guide, not of the parties to the divorce. Among other factors, he uses the aliya, signature, and called names of the persons to determine which is Primary, which Subsidiary.
We present here only a few of the cases treated by Rabbi Mintz in the "Get Mesudar". "Get Mesudar" presents the following summaries of the Law regarding when one writes in a Get for the Subsidiary name "hamechune", and when, "demitkari":
Examples: Yehuda hamechune Leyb, Aryey hamechune Leyb, Yehoshua hamechune Falk; Avraham demitkari Yitschak, Hinde demitkarya Pesl, Pesl demitkarya Sara
And for a La'az kinui one writes "hamechune" even if the kinui does not belong to the Hebrew name. For example, if his name is Yehuda and he is called Hirsh (a kinui which does not belong to Yehuda), one writes Yehuda hamechune Hirsh. And also if his name is Yehuda and he is called Alter (which means "old man", does not belong to any specific Hebrew name, and was given to extend the life of a sick male), one writes Yehuda hamechune Alter.
In any place where the Primary name is Hebrew and the Subsidiary name is La'az, one writes "hamechune", even if the La'az name is not a kinui but rather a Sheym Etsem. For example, if most people call a woman Sara and a minority call her Pesl, one writes Sara hamechuna Pesl. But still, there is a difference between a kinui La'az and a Sheym Etsem La'az, since for a Sheym Etsem La'az one writes "hamechune" only if the name was not given to her at birth, but if it was given at birth, one writes "demitkarya". For example, if she was called at birth Pesl or Sara Pesl and now most people call her Sara and only a minority call her Pesl, then one writes Sara demitkarya Pesl.
But for a kinui, one writes "hamechune" even if given to a man at birth. Even if at birth he was given the name Yehuda Leyb, one writes for Leyb, if it is a Sheym Tafeyl (for example, if he is called to the Tora in an aliya as Yehuda but is otherwise called Leyb by people), "hamechune" and not "demitkari".
"Get Mesudar" also presents the Law for cases where a person had two La'az kinuim (e.g., Leyb and Lev). And when the Subsidiary name was a kinui La'az (Leyb) which was also part of the Primary name (a Hebrew name plus the same kinui La'az (Aryey Leyb) (for example, he was called to the Tora in an aliya as Aryey Leyb but people called him Leyb), one writes in a Get, Aryey Leyb demitkari Leyb. Even if everyone called him by diminutives of Leyb (Leybl, Leybush, etc.), these would be written as "demitkari".
RABBINIC GIVEN-NAMES METHODOLOGY
We can now use Rabbi Mintz's detailed description to summarize the approach and methodology developed by the rabbis since the 11th century, in preparing the legal laws for writing the names of the two divorce parties in a Get.
Rabbinic methodology was Empirical -- it was based on the collection of the actual names used by many partners to divorces during certain periods, in specific regions in Europe. The combinations of names collected were analyzed to create legal descriptions of the rules used by individuals and groups of Jews to choose their set of given names, to link them together, and then how the legal names must be written in the Get. The new laws also took into account prior Jewish law and practice. The resulting snapshot of Jewish divorce law as it applied to given names in a specific region and during a certain period was presented in authoritative law books which listed linked sets of given names and how they must be spelled in Hebrew characters.
Prior Jewish practice considered all names appearing in the Tanach (Five books of Moshe, Prophets, and Writings) to be Hebrew names, that is, holy names (like Avraham, Moshe, Aharon) which must never be spelled or written other than as they were in the Tanach. To these Hebrew names were subsequently added all of the names appearing in the Talmud (Mishna and Gemara), including Talmudic Aramaic, Greek, and Roman names like Akiva and Alexander. A few other names were also included, and all of these were then defined as Shemot HaKodesh (Holy Names) which must always be treated just like the original Hebrew names.
Each Sheym HaKodesh was then defined by the rabbis to be a Sheym Ikar (Primary Name), possessing primacy over all other names which an individual might have (except under certain special circumstances). Any other name of the person which must also be written in a Get was called a Sheym Tafeyl (Subsidiary Name). Additional names which the person might have, but which would not ordinarily be written in the Get, were put into other categories such as names of endearment, diminutives, nicknames, childhood names, abandoned names, and others. An example of a legal double name with a Primary and Subsidiary (in this case, Yiddish) name is Yitschak Zelig. An example of a diminutive which is linked to the Yiddish Subsidiary name Zelig is Zeligl; Zeligl would not be written in the Get.
For names which must be written in the Get, the decision as to which name was Primary and which Subsidiary took into account a number of factors, such as:
In general, the names listed in Hilchot Gitin books like "Get Mesudar" include:
In the better-written books of Hilchot Gitin, the category of names is clearly stated.
The above definitions dealt mainly with the names of men, who were always given a Hebrew name at birth, plus Yiddish and other vernacular names. Since women were not called to the Tora in an Aliya, they did not need a Hebrew name and many women were never given a Hebrew name, but only a Yiddish and/or secular name. Accordingly, the above discussion must be modified appropriately. A female newborn might be given only the Yiddish name Pese, to be followed later on by the diminutive name Pesl and perhaps other names as well; only Pese would be written in the Get.