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

Whose Fault Divorce?

Some have pointed out the seemingly one-sided nature of the power in biblical divorce proceedings, placing the ability to divorce only in the hands of the husband, leaving wives without biblical recourse to divorce.  Let me put that notion to rest:  It is not "seeminglyone-sided", it is very much intentionally one-sided.  Nowhere in the Bible, from cover to cover, is a woman ever given the moral right, legal power or spiritual justification to enact a divorce, for any reason.  

While this has been labelled, "patriarchic", "chauvinistic" or "misogynistic" by the Bible's critics, it cannot be argued that any woman today has biblical permission to divorce.  Modern notions of property inheritance and disposition, the "power of the purse", division of assets, etc. are just that:  Very modern notions.  Strictly within the biblical paradigm, modern society's ideas about marriage and divorce are untenable and unsupportable.  What's good for the gander is not good for the goose.

As an aside, those people who are in a marriage relationship with G-d should take great comfort in the inability of a wife to divorce her husband.  Israel has played the harlot many times, and today's Israeli society is still running after "another man", begging for acceptance from the nations through alliances, treaties, peace talks and concessions.  Rather than trusting in her Husband to protect and provide for her, she still believes that she may spurn her wedding ketubah (covenant) and not follow Torah.  Nevertheless, the certainty of her marriage is not in her hands.  Stray as she will, the Holy One (blessed be He) will not release her from His household.

In light of the fact that the family unit makes up the strength (or weakness) of a nation, and when marriages (even bad ones) remain intact, a nation is strong, ask yourself several questions:  How many divorces would happen today if women could not initiate them?  Current statistics record a full 70% of divorces are granted to (and thereby initiated by) women.  Conversely, how many marriages would be saved, and how many more men would be forced to take responsibility if divorce was only permitted to men, and only when premarital relations were discovered on their wedding night?

Wouldn't this result in many people being "trapped" in loveless, horrible marriages?  If initiated today, as a new standard - at first, the answer is absolutely… as long as there are sinful human beings, you'll find some of the worst relationships.  However, people would begin living in a radically different way than they are today.  When considering marriage, more would center around goals and character (think Isaac and Rebecca) than around "true love", happiness, keeping the "spark" alive, etc.  If the Disney criteria for marriage was reversed, "first comes marriage, then comes love", more people would discover what "true love" is.  

Those who weather the storms and crises of marriage, and grit their teeth and go on; the people who grow old together and whose marriages have survived the greatest of tests… they will tell you that it was worth it, that they have discovered what was intended by G-d all along: that their marriage was intended to be a testimony to others - a testimony of the transformative power of G-d to redeem, salvage, renovate and transform.  They will tell you that most of the world does not know the definition of real love, but they have learned it.

A friend of mine described to me how his father required siblings who argued with each other to remain in the same room together until the argument was resolved and harmony again reigned.  

They were forced to work it out, to compromise, to show deference to the other, to demonstrate love.  Notice that I did not say, "feel love".  A society which requires married couples to get along and does not provide an escape hatch will be stronger for it, will be far tougher and more resilient, resistant to adversity in other areas: economically, militarily, politically and morally.

Seventy percent of all Christian marriages will end in divorce today.  Statistically this number is actually higher within the church than in secular society, where that number is sixty five percent.  Why?  Perhaps it's because when people share a religious basis for their actions, their expectations are higher of each other than those whose "moral compass" is flexible, and everyone knows it.  Nobody accuses a secularist or an atheist of hypocrisy, only those who are not living up to a high moral standard they claim to embrace and practice.

The truth is that when a bride and groom today vow to G-d and each other, "for better or worse", they are really only thinking, "better".  When they vow, "for richer or poorer", they are really only thinking, "richer".  When they vow, "in sickness and in health", they are really only thinking, "health".  When they vow, "as long as we both shall live", they are really only thinking of bliss-and-nothing-else for life.  The reality is that they don't really anticipate that they will ever need to remain faithful to their spouses "for worse, for poorer and in sickness, as long as we both shall live".

If faced with only those things as certainties, and absolutely none of the good stuff, they would rather remain single.  Their expectation is that only "better, richer and health" will be theirs for the rest of their days because they possess a very powerful feeling, an emotion that they call "love", which they are convinced will be all that is necessary to overcome every obstacle and make their marriage the greatest that has ever been.

There have been people whose lives were forever changed by a car accident while on their honeymoon, whose dreams were shattered by crippling illness hours after their vows were said, a wife who discovered the man she married only married her to acquire citizenship and was a practicing homosexual with no interest in beginning a family with her, "discovering" this when she came home from work unexpectedly.  

What then?  If we make room "in our hearts" for any avenue of escape, then we never meant those vows.  Biblically speaking, provision is made for each of those things, but our society is so set against the Laws of G-d that they would never submit to His plan, not without Him coming down here and establishing it Himself.

If we followed the gospel according to Disney, we'd all "follow our hearts" from one person to another, whoever was currently making us feel "extra special", we'd "wish upon a star" that they would forever make us feel the exact same way so that we could "all live happily ever after".


  1. Both posts are well articulated.

    I'm in agreement with the spirit and conclusions.

    Question: I did a brief search, but could not find evidence for an alternate rendering I was taught of Deut . 22:15. According to that teaching the girls father had the option of taking the daughter before the elders at the city gate and physically examined prior to the marriage. Do you have any thoughts or references for this line of thinking?

    Of course if the father suspected that this was going to be a problem and that the future son in law would reject the girl on those grounds, it begs the question of why bother going through with the wedding.

  2. Seventy percent of all Christian marriages will end in divorce today.

    Far too many do, but I don't think it is that high.

  3. Giraffe,

    They get that statistic by compiling all instances of divorce, and comparing it to professed religious affiliation. It's not a metric measuring first time marriages. So if a women who claims to be a Christian gets married and divorced 5 times she tilts the percentage higher.

    I didn't check out Pew or Barna research for the latest numbers, but I suspect that the 70% probably holds as a realistic number. I also suspect that since the reporting is based on personally reported "faith" that more women would self select as "Christian" than men. Along the same lines, how many people start going to church after they have a major life event like a divorce?

    A more accurate picture of divorce in the church would be a study in which both partners were professing/participating Christians when they married vs divorce rates. It would be interesting to compare that data against a study subset where the virginity of the women was known on the wedding night. I suspect that Christian virgins who marry divorce less frequently than the norm.

  4. "Do you have any thoughts or references for this line of thinking?"

    Every translation I could find says roughly the same thing.

    You may have heard from some who thought that a father would have his daughter expose herself to the men of the city. However, this flies in the face of all moral laws and taharas hamishpocha (laws of family purity). If what you're suggesting (taking the daughter before the elders at the city gate to be physically examined by them prior to the marriage) were true, this would be the ruin of every leader of Torah and the cause of rampant immorality.

    The “proofs” of virginity are offered by the father after she has been slandered, after she has been betrothed, some time after the consummation. This would have been the bedchamber sheet upon which her blood was spilled at the loss of her virginity, given to the father of the bride the next day as his right to own, in the event that a man begins to make slanderous accusations against her.

    Evidence of her innocence was in the blood on the cloth, as it says in verse 17.

  5. What you've explained is the majority view as I understand it. Thanks.

  6. No offense, but anyone who suggests that a woman would expose herself to strangers - like western women do today before a doctor (without a shred of decency or shame as they ought) - knows nothing about Jews or the great lengths they go to in order to create tznius (privacy / modesty). Taharas hamishpocha (family purity laws) are of utmost importance to the marriage bed remaining undefiled. No man (leader or otherwise) may EVER gaze upon the nakedness of someone who is not his wife.

    I remember a well known Christian Israel tour leader who tried to claim that because of the construction of homes in Israel centuries ago, there would have been no privacy and that children would have grown up watching their parents engage in sexual intercourse. Frankly, as G-d forbids uncovering nakedness so thoroughly in Torah (Gen.9, Ex.20, Lev.18), this is disgusting lashon hara (evil tongue slander) and a complete fabrication.

    Halachah (both Gemara - talmudic commentary on the Mishnah, and Shulchan Aruch - the Code of Jewish Law) which was followed back then (as well as today) dictates that husbands would guard "hirhur" (thoughts) by avoiding "histaklut" (gazing) at their own wife's nether regions. Most vocal on this point are two sources: Aven HaEzer and Darkei Tahara (230:4 and 22:3,4 respectively)

    Most people practically speaking follow the general voice, wherein the Rambam elucidates that there is no forbidden act in marriage when it is consensual, except for spilling seed in vain.

    However, this does not change the fact that when G-d was giving us laws for a pure society and is addressing the potential for a marriage's destruction, that He would NEVER then tell fathers to go and show their daughters to a bunch of men meeting at the gates of the city to make sure she can enter a pure, kosher marriage.

    What an idea!