Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Till Death Do Us Part

" Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' "But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except fornication (greek: pornea - premarital loss of virginity) causes her to commit adultery (greek: moikah'yo - extramarital relations); and whoever marries this [same] woman who was divorced [for illegitimate reasons] commits adultery."  (Matthew 5:31-32) 

Y'shua cited the "exception clause" in his above Torah teaching: "except 'pornea'" (premarital relations, discovered on the wedding night).  What did He mean by it?  Do the same conditions exist in today's non-Jewish marriages which existed in His day?  Because of an increasing divide between Y'shua's time and ours, His language and ours, His culture and ours, His audience and us, this passage has been misunderstood, quoted and abused over the centuries to provide a faulty rationale and a moral quagmire from which to commit great evil.

After more than twenty years of serving as a rabbi of a small community, I have lost count of the number of times this passage has been used (usually by professing Christians) to justify divorce.  I have even heard learned ministers extend the definition of "fornication" (KJV), "unchastity" (NASB), "marital unfaithfulness" (NIV), or "sexual immorality" (best layperson's guess) to include all kinds of immorality (i.e. physical abuse, pornography, drunkenness, impure thoughts, etc.) as a basis for which a divorce may be sought.  Yet one more example of approaching a text, written from within an Eastern and Hebrew context, with an understanding that is heavily influenced by Greek and Western culture and thought.

There are at least two things to consider as we move forward: (1) How a traditional Jewish marriage was established prior to and during the Second Temple Period and (2) How most marriages today are generally established in Western and Western Christian culture i.e. upon what basis.

It is also important that what was written in later years also squared with what Y'shua taught in Matthew 5.  Rav Sha'ul (Paul) wrote:

Now to the married I command, yet not I but the L-rd: A wife is not to depart from her husband.  But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.  And that husband is not to divorce his wife.  (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)

The sense of the Greek is that if she has already departed, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.   This understanding effectively precludes her from ever considering it an option for her to separate in the first place.  Her only choice in this situation (after she has already departed) is to either reconcile with her husband from whom she departed or remain unmarried (i.e. not marry another man other than her husband).

An important point to note here is that although Rav Sha'ul speaks of a woman departing (separating), it does not say that she possesses the power to divorce, or to grant some moral justification for leaving in the first place.  Remember, no new laws or permissions are being granted under some "new" dispensation than before.  (Matthew 5:17-19)

This complicates what appears to be a simple reading of a very straightforward text.  In 1 Corinthians, if a woman separates from her husband in spite of being commanded by G-d not to do so, and she is able (by secular laws, not Torah laws) to reckon herself "unmarried", as women in our modern society do, it doesn't change the man's responsibility to refuse her a Jewish "get", as this kind of divorce does not line up with the one reason that Y'shua explained from the Torah.  Don't forget, Rav Sha'ul's audience is comprised primarily of a group of Corinthian Westerners to boot!

This elucidation of Torah law reinforces the importance of understanding how a Jewish marriage was conducted in Y'shua's day in contrast to how most marriages are conducted today in the West.

There were (and still are) basically two stages to a Jewish wedding: betrothal and consummation.  The period of time between the two stages of marriage could even be years long.  In the modern Jewish wedding, both stages take place in a single day.  The betrothal happens at the beginning of their big day, and consummation takes place at the first "yichud" (alone time) during the reception while other guests are eating and celebrating at the main gathering.

It is important to realize that once a Jewish man and a Jewish woman were betrothed to one another, they were considered married.  Many people think that a biblical betrothal is similar to what we in the West would loosely call an 'engagement', but the two states are not even remotely similar.  In every sense, (economically, religiously and socially) the marriage was legally binding.

It is also important to note that when I use the term "legally binding", neither its definition, nor its authority is derived from secular governments or the laws of marriage which a secular government currently defines and permits.  Rather, in the same way that a government may base its authority on pre-existing laws, ("self-evident truths" of G-d, such as are enumerated in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights), true marriage is established by G-d and not by earthly governments.  Any marriage license which a government issues simply reflects and recognizes "that which G-d has joined together", but it does not create a marriage, nor may it dissolve one.

Once betrothed, a Jewish wife now took on new responsibilities, within a new social circle of other married women, being included in community activities which give her the right to act on behalf of her new family, and to build relationships within the greater Torah community.  She represented her husband's interests (Prov. 31) and her "apprentice" style mentoring covered all aspects of her married life; the senior "matriarchs" would take her under their wing so that her transition into married life would be a smooth one. 

Titus 2:3-5 "Older women likewise are to behave in a way which demonstrates being consecrated and set apart, not slandering gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teachers of good things, so that they may encourage the young women to be moderate and sober minded, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, pure in modesty, keepers at home, good natured, to be obedient to their own husbands, in order that the word of God may not be dishonored."

During this same time period, the Jewish man would be working to prepare a home for his wife.  Until all things were ready, they would not be physically intimate during this time.  They would consummate their marriage once the bridegroom had made everything ready for his bride.

Is She a Virgin or Not?

There were a couple of possibilities in which wrinkles to this perfect plan might occur:  On one hand, a man may have been betrothed to a girl whose past was checkered, but he was unaware of it.  If she was truly not a virgin when she claimed to be, entering into the betrothal fraudulently, G-d allowed for the husband to enact the severest penalty upon discovering that she was not a virgin, because of her deception.  He permitted it, but He did not demand that the husband do so.  He also permitted a lesser consequence to be levied against her.

Assuming that all she had lied about was "fornication" (pre-betrothal relations) and not "adultery" (post-betrothal relations), he had two options:

1) The Divorce Option:  He had the legal right to divorce her.  Deuteronomy 24:1 "When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a 'certificate of divorce', puts it into her hand, and sends her out of his household . . ."

Divorce was a three step process* (see Deuteronomy 24:1 and 24:3).  In order for the divorce to be finalized, each step needed to be followed… or else she still had the right to be considered his wife, even if not living in his home.  On occasion, a woman was shown a certificate of divorce, also known as a "get", but it was not given into her hand.  She would return to her father's home, sharing no intimacy with her husband, but her identity was still "the wife of…".  Since no time requirement was mandated for her husband to present her with his "get", stories are known of women living in a state of uncertainty, even asking the community's leaders to intervene and force her husband to grant her a "get".

If she entered into another marriage having been "partially divorced", it was considered by G-d to be adultery.  (1 Corinthians 7:10,11, Matthew 5:31,32)  A legitimate divorce (Matthew 5:32) permitted a woman to remarry (Deuteronomy 24:1,2).

2) The Stoning Option:  He could disbelieve her claim that she had committed "fornication" and not "adultery", and demand that she be stoned.  As her husband, it was his right when he discovered this betrayal.  The logic was that if she had already concealed her true state from him regarding her body (a matter of immorality), then she likely also was lying about the timing of her loss of virginity and was trying to introduce a secret double life into his marriage even before he brought her into his house.  Deuteronomy 22:13-21 outlines this sad occurrence in great detail.  This option was not mandatory.  The passage only makes provision for him to do this if he feels like the betrayal is because of adultery.

It was equally possible, however, that during this period of betrothal, that the Jewish woman may behave unfaithfully by engaging in sexual relations with another man.  This was committing adultery, even though she and her husband had not yet consummated their marriage, and if a wife was caught committing adultery, she was to be stoned to death by the witnesses who found her, those judges who presided over her trial and by her community (in that order).
Deuteronomy 17:6,7 "By the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he who is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.  The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you."

According to G-d then, the goal of capital punishment, is to remove evil from society.  A husband who chose Option 1, did so because of the possibility that she was innocent.

There is another example recorded in Matthew:

Now the birth of Y'shua the Messiah was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.  Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately.  (Matthew 1:18-19)

There are several things to note here.  First, Miriam was betrothed to Joseph, which means that she was in the fullest sense, his wife; second, she was discovered to be with child before they came together; third, Joseph was a just or a righteous man.  According to the Torah, Joseph was permitted to end the marriage at this juncture due to the uncleanness (lack of virginity, due to an unknown relationship) he thought he had discovered in his wife Miriam.  (Only divine intervention would convince him otherwise, cf. Matthew 1:20).

This example is helpful in illustrating how a Jewish marriage was consummated.  And so the 'exception' that Y'shua cites in Matthew is to be understood within this context and also within the context of what was written in the Torah.  In fact, Y'shua will later tell us that this provision is not the ideal, but is due to sin and the hardness of men's hearts.

In the case where a man takes advantage of a young virgin, the Torah also describes how this is to be handled. Barring any objection from the father of the young woman who has been violated, the man is required to marry the young woman and never divorce her all of his days.

Today, I would venture to guess that the vast majority of marriages, are not going to be conducted within these parameters of Jewish law or the Torah.  These marriages, although not Jewish in form, are based on another concept that is no less important:  vows i.e. words we say to G-d and before witnesses.

In sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse . . . UNTIL DEATH DO US PART.   We made a commitment with our words before G-d and before men, words with which we pledged to remain faithful, come what may, until circumstances beyond our control (i.e. death) would separate us.

The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"  And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,'  "and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?  "So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what G-d has joined together, let not man separate." 

They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"  He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries this [same] woman who was divorced  [for illegitimate reasons] commits adultery." (Matthew 19:3-9)

In a culture of easy divorce and especially no-fault divorce, Y'shua's instructions here and the L-rd's instructions communicated by Rav Sha'ul to the Corinthians are both well nigh impossible for most everyone.

Am I saying that a woman may not divorce her husband if he sleeps around?**  Yes.  Am I saying she may not divorce him if he beats on her?   Yes.   Am I saying that she may not divorce him if she discovers he is a homosexual?  Yes.  Am I saying that she may not divorce him if . . . yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  She must remain faithful to the words she spoke to G-d and suffer well if that happens to be the case.

But actually, it is not I who am saying this.  I am not saying anything that G-d hasn't already said.  Why?  Because G-d hates divorce, and so should we.  We should abhor, despise, hold repugnant, find repulsive, detest and disavow divorce just as much as He does.   Just because someone else was not faithful to their vows and words they said to G-d, does not excuse the other party from remaining faithful to the commitment they made when they uttered similar words to G-d.   It is better not to vow at all, than to make a vow and fail to keep it.

Nowhere does G-d ever adapt His standards in order to accommodate our weaknesses.  The second set of tablets that Moses gave to the Israelites were not modified to brook any one of our idolatrous tendencies or proclivities.  We have never been promised an easy time in this life, in fact, very much the opposite is what we have been promised.

So if, in spite of what G-d says, you go ahead and get that divorce you have been longing for so that you can finally be happy or safe  Just be sure to leave G-d's name out of it and please stop trying to convince yourself and everyone else around you that G-d spoke to you and that it was somehow His will that you departed from your husband or that you divorced your wife.   And please, for G-d's sake and all our sakes, stop perverting the word of G-d and using it as a license to do things He has clearly disapproved of in His Word.  You don't know better than he does, that's why you're not Him.

"Therefore what G-d has joined together, let not man separate." 

It's really not a difficult concept at the end of the day, and G-d doesn't really care how exceptional or unique you may think your particular circumstances are.  Just finish what your lips started and always remember:

"But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.  "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37) 

After all, when our words don't mean anything any more, how much longer do we think the fabric of a society is going to hold together?

*I am indebted to my dear friend, colleague, and mentor, Rabbi Dani'el T, for graciously sharpening my thinking on this very important and oft misunderstood topic and for his help with various revisions.  

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