Judaism on Divorce

In Judaism, divorce is not a good or bad thing, but sometimes necessary. Judaism regards marriage as the ultimate union of two people and goes to every length to ensure that it is holy, sexy, and loving. When two people who choose each other and marry, they intend on being happy- but it doesn’t always work out. The Talmud says that God’s holy altar weeps for every couple who divorce. But, Judaism also understands that at times a marriage needs to end and a divorce is completely permissible. A husband and wife will never be forced to stay together in an unhappy marriage, but there is a process to getting a divorce.

The biblical origin for divorce proceedings is Deuteronomy 24:1, where it states that a man whose  wife “find no favor in his eyes” can “write her a bill of divorce and give it in her hand” which sets the law requiring a “get” or written document to be given when releasing the couple from their marriage. The “get” must be written by an expert scribe (traditionally in Aramaic), tailored to the specific couple, dated, overseen and signed by two witnesses.

Though today couples are required to get civilly divorced as well and follow “the law of the land,” they are not formally divorced and independent of one another until the “get” has been given and accepted by both parties before a Jewish court. In ancient times, a woman could go to the court and request a divorce but had no choice but to accept when divorce was initiated by her husband. In such cases, the wife would receive compensation (alimony) from the husband in accordance with their marriage contract, unless she violated the marriage.

However, about 1000 years ago, a decree was established that is now law in Judaism, prohibiting a man from dissolving their marriage without his wife’s consent. The courts also instituted a complex process to ensure that a divorce is not taken lightly and is thought through. In Judaism, a divorce can be granted with no fault or blame. There does have to be claim and one cannot just walk out of a marriage, but just citing incompatibility can be reason enough.

Also, though the wife cannot present a get, a Jewish court can force a husband to give his wife a divorce on the grounds of infidelity, abuse, excessive control, lack of attraction and when he fails to provide for her, including his sexual obligations. The Talmud even mentions that a man who has sex with his clothes on, although attempting to be modest, can be basis for his wife to divorce him. A woman can ask to divorce her husband on the grounds that she has “become repulsed by him” or if he refuses to allow her to work- and she will still receive compensation from her marriage contract.

In Judaism, marriage is not a prison. When a couple gets married, they sign a contractual agreement that is primarily there to ensure that a woman is taken care of during the marriage and in the case of divorce. Both members can leave the marriage if and when they choose to, but only by means of a “get.”

*There is the troubling and terribly painful issue of when a man refuses to give his wife a “get” and grant a divorce, rendering his wife an “agunah” or chained woman. This is an extremely sensitive and complex topic and will be addressed at a later time.

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