Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Modern Jewish Attitudes Towards Divorce

Jewish views of divorce have remained constant over 2500 years. The website below goes as a far as to equate the ancient “Any Cause” (link 1, 2, 3, 4)) with the modern “No-Fault” divorce.

From Judaism 101:

  • Judaism recognized the concept of "no-fault" divorce thousands of years ago.
  • Under Jewish law, a man can divorce a woman for any reason or no reason. The Talmud specifically says that a man can divorce a woman because she spoiled his dinner or simply because he finds another woman more attractive, and the woman's consent to the divorce is not required.

This is a reference to the “Any Cause” divorce to which the Pharisees questioned Jesus in Matthew 19:3. The interpretation of the Hillel Pharisee was that any infraction is grounds for divorce. The Shammai Pharisee held to the stricter formulation of “sexual immorality” grounds only. This debate was one recorded in the Talmud over the meaning of “indecency” in Dt. 24:1.. Jesus preaches against the “Any Cause” divorce in verse 19 by affirming the Shammai position for sexual immorality only position. The Hillel Pharisees prevailed in post 70AD Judaism after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, thus the modern position that reflects the “Any Cause” divorce.

  • In fact, Jewish law requires divorce in some circumstances: when the wife commits a sexual transgression, a man must divorce her, even if he is inclined to forgive her.

In the bullet point above, Jesus rejects required divorce by reminding the Pharisees that forgiveness was and is always an option in verse 8 of Mt 19.

  • According to the Torah, divorce is accomplished simply by writing a bill of divorce, handing it to the wife, and sending her away. To prevent husbands from divorcing their wives recklessly or without proper consideration, the rabbis created complex rules regarding the process of writing the document, delivery, and acceptance. A competent rabbinical authority should be consulted for any divorce.

That bullet point above is in direct reference to Certificate of Divorce in Dt. 24:1.

The next passage taken from Judaism 101 is in reference to Ex. 21:10-11. In this situation a slave wife is set free in the case of neglect/abandonment.

  • a rabbinical court can compel a husband to divorce his wife under certain circumstances: …., when he violates or neglects his marital obligations (food, clothing and sexual intercourse)

Instone-Brewer makes reference to this verse, and further expounds that in 1st century AD many Jews reasoned what is good for the slave wife, is good for the free one, and thus good for the husband. This point was never in debate between the Hillels and Shammais over Dt. 24:1. It is highly unlikely that Jesus was commenting on Ex 21. Further evidence is offered in 1 Corinthians 7, St. Paul makes references to the causes of martial discourse and alludes to Ex 21 in verses 3-5 and 33-34. In verses 10-11 and 15-16 he addresses the issues of abandonment. To the Greco-Roman Corinthians this was a type of "No-Fault" divorce.

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