Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
April 4, 2005 – Number 5765-26
Judaism and Divorce
Deuteronomy 24:1 clearly states that divorce is possible under Jewish Law. It states simply “When a man takes a wife and possesses her. She fails to please him because he finds something obnoxious about her, and he writes her a bill of divorcement , hands it to her and sends her away from his house.” Here we have the rough form of what Divorce is all about in Judaism. These verses are also very difficult to understand. They leave many questions. “Does there have to be a reason for the man to divorce his wife? What is a “bill of Divorcement”? What does it say? What happens if the husband can’t write the document? Can someone else write it for him? What if the wife is not present, can someone accept it for her? Can either side be forced to participate in the get? Jewish Law tries to answer these questions and to dispel some myths about Jewish Divorce as well.
Deuteronomy sets the procedure as needing to come from the husband and end up with the wife. This is in keeping with ancient marriage practices where the husband “acquires” a wife. Now he will have to “unacquire” her through Divorce. The first myth is that only a man can initiate a divorce. Either party can initiate a divorce in Judaism that is, either side can ask for and end to the marriage. In order to end the marriage, the bill of divorcement must travel from husband to wife. This makes divorce, in Judaism, “no fault” While civil laws may determine if there are grounds for divorce, Jewish law only follows the law of the land. Either party can petition for a divorce and give no reason other than they no longer want to live together.
Divorce is not a sin in Judaism, but it is no great honor either. Judaism has a bias toward marriage and tries to get couples to reconcile. In modern times, when there is secular divorce, this reconciliation counseling is no longer needed. If the couple have divorced under secular law, There is no longer a reason to attempt the bring the couple together again. Since the marriage had a religious ceremony, then that ceremony must be reversed in a religious divorce ceremony. A secular divorce is not enough to permit remarriage in Jewish law.
Divorce in Judaism is a subset of Jewish Law that demands experts to oversee the process. Any rabbi can perform a marriage, but only a specially trained Rabbi can oversee a get. The reason is that if a Rabbi makes an error in a wedding, so the couple will be remarried and everything will be OK. In the case of divorce, if an error is made, the couple are still married, and if one party has remarried another person, they are guilt of adultery and if they have children, the children would be subject to “mamzerut” (a topic for a different time) Therefore the entire procedure is very formal so that there will be little the can go wrong.
The second Myth is that only the woman needs the get. In fact, a Rabbi will not perform a marriage to either a man or a woman who do not have a get terminating all previous marriages. The time to take care of the get is immediately after the civil divorce is final. It is possible to arrange for a get even years after the civil divorce is final, but it is often harder and can reopen old wounds. Many try and address issues where they feel they have been “wronged” by the civil courts and demand money and property before they will agree to the get. This is pure blackmail and the Rabbinic courts frown on this. The reason a get is written and delivered after the civil divorce is final is to prevent these financial issues from causing delays. To this end, many couples write into the civil agreement that withing a set time after the divorce is final in the civil courts, the couple must finish a Jewish Divorce as well. This may allow the civil courts from enforcing the participation in the Jewish Divorce since it is a stipulation in the civil divorce decree. It is best to consult a lawyer about this practice.
Once a divorce is final, and the parties remarry, if both parties should then divorce a second time, they are forbidden to remarry each other. Some authorities see this law as a way to prevent a husband from using his wife for prostitution.
When a Jew marries a non-Jew or a close relative who is forbidden to him by Jewish law, no get is necessary, the marriage is forbidden from the beginning and has no validity at all in Jewish Law. If a Jew marries a woman who has converted either before or after the wedding, or who lives with a Jewish woman without marriage but introduces the woman as “his wife”, these marriages are valid and do require a get.
Next week: Judaism and Divorce II: The Procedure of Divorce.
Brenda Horowitz comments about HMS 5765-23: You might want to comment on the following points about conversion:
Naming — Many parents who adopt and convert infants use the adoptive parents’ names, rather than Abraham/Sarah. That is, the child is X ben/bat adoptive dad v’ adoptive mom
Special naming issues when either adoptive parent is a Cohan or Levi — How do you state the child’s name in a way that makes it clear that the child is not a Cohen/Levi, but the adoptive parent is? Are there any special considerations when the family also includes biological children, who DO inherit the Cohen/Levi tribal status?
Finalizing the conversion — We are allowed to convert a child under the assumption that it is in his/her best interest; however, since it was done without his/her consent, it is considered conditional until the child formally accepts it upon/by becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
Perceptions of adoption and conversion in the Jewish community, especially in the case of interracial adoptions.
I respond: Brenda is correct about names, we try and use the names of Jewish parents when naming children who must be converted to Judaism. As for her other questions: There is no way to differentiate between the adoptive and non-adopted children of a Cohen or Levi. The child can only be informed that the title can not pass down to him or her. One can not convert anyone to Judaism without his or her consent. This would require a child to be legal age before the conversion would be finished. We make sure that circumcision (for boys) and immersion is performed as early as possible and we arrange for a proper Jewish education. At legal age (the time of Bar/Bat Mitzvah) the child does have the choice to continue as a Jew or “opt out” of our religion. Since Judaism does not recognize conversion out of Judaism, we can not put someone into Judaism without their consent and knowledge, even a child. The declaration to remain does not have to be formal. If the child were to have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah that would be evidence that they intend to remain Jewish and the conversion would be valid from the time of the immersion.
Finally, a Jew who converts to Judaism is a Jew. He or she is not a “convert” or anything less than a Jew. Racial, gender or any other issues have no bearing on this. Anyone who would comment on the background of any Jew who converted is guilty of a great sin, public embarrassment, and should be censored.