LAWS OF DIVORCE

"When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that … he has found some uncleanness in her, then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it into her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and gives it into her hand and sends her out of his house … then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife." D’varim (Deuteronomy) 24:1-4.

DIVORCE ("Get")
Richard "Aharon" Chaimberlin

As we see in the above Scripture passage, the Torah given to us by Moshe permits divorce. This passage from Deuteronomy is not a law instituting divorce. This is merely a law providing some protection for women lacking in other Oriental societies of that day, and still lacking today! In Islamic societies, a man can divorce his wife by merely saying, "I divorce you" three times. The woman can then be cast out immediately with only the clothes on her back and her jewelry. For this reason, many Islamic women wear their jewelry all the time, "just in case" the husband says those words instituting the divorce. It is sort of like alimony in advance.

However, although we know that divorce is permitted, we also know from the testimony of the Tanakh (O.T.) that divorce is not pleasing to God. "Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you deal not treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce," says YHWH, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong."

Thousands of years ago, it would have been difficult for a woman to survive without a husband to support her. Even today, divorced women, particularly those with children, constitute many of those in the most abject poverty today. Divorce has had tremendous effect on the breakdown of both families and society today. Families today are under attack as perhaps never before. It is easy to see why our Creator hates divorce. Plus the difficulties of remarriage or single parenthood cause untold grief and trauma to those who are divorced and to the innocent children brought up under such circumstances.

In Korea they have a very interesting divorce law. In the event of divorce, the wife is not entitled to any alimony, thus removing the financial incentive for divorce. Also, the husband gets custody of the children, thus removing his incentive to go for a divorce. Although divorce can be obtained with relative ease, because of the above restrictions, the Korean divorce rate is very low. It is to the advantage of both partners to try to work things out instead of running to the lawyer each time there is an argument.

Likewise, in Judaism the rabbis tried to make divorce much less likely to occur. It wasn’t always this way. Two thousand years ago, Judaism was broken up into two main schools of thought. The School of Shammai interpreted the reference to "uncleanness" in Deuteronomy 24:1 as referring only to adultery, which would be the only reason a man could divorce his wife. The School of Hillel, meanwhile, interpreted "uncleanness" as anything that might disrupt domestic harmony. If the wife was a bad cook, the husband might divorce her. Today’s Judaism tries to discourage divorce as much as possible, but isn’t quite as strict as Shammai.

Today if an observant Jewish man wants to divorce his wife, he must take the case to a bet din (a panel of 3 dayyanim, or "judges," often rabbis or others well versed in Jewish law). A scribe writes the bill of divorcement, called the get. This is written in Hebrew. The writing and delivery of the get must take place on the same day. However, until this time, the dayyanim do all that is in their power to discourage the divorce and to try to reconcile the couple. According to Talmud, "If a man divorces his first wife, the very altar weeps. He who sends his wife away is a hateful person. When a divorced man marries a divorced woman, there are four minds in bed."

Although the written Torah seems to give the privilege of divorce to the husband, Judaism allows the wife to sue for divorce in Jewish courts for certain causes, such as her husband’s loathsome occupation or even disease. Rabbenu Gershom in 1000 CE (AD) wrote, "If a woman says, ‘My husband is repulsive to me, and I cannot live with him,’ the husband is compelled to divorce her, because she is not like a captive woman, that she should be forced to consort with a man whom she hates." In the Ketubah ("marriage contract") that newly married couples sign, it is even stated that a man cannot divorce his wife without her permission! (Rabbenu Gershom also wrote an edict which forbids a Jew to have more than one wife. However, this edict only pertains to Ashkenazi Jews. Also, this edict was set to last only 1,000 years, and expires in the year 2000. It will be interesting to see what happens then.)

DIVORCE AS TAUGHT BY THE SCRIPTURES AND RABBI YESHUA

The verses we read from Deuteronomy 24 tell us that God permits divorce, although perhaps reluctantly. "The sum of Thy word is truth, and every one of Thy righteous ordinances endures forever." I presume that this includes the ordinance permitting divorce. Yeshua said, "Think not that I have come to abolish the Torah (Law) or the prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle shall pass from the Law until all be fulfilled." Again, I presume that the ordinance permitting divorce remains, according to the statement from Yeshua.

Yet Malachi 2 tells us that God hates divorce. Also, Yeshua said, "I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her … commits adultery." He also said that divorce was permitted "because of your hardness of heart." Also, "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman, commits adultery." I believe that Yeshua was coming out against the liberal view of divorce as taught by Rabbi Hillel mentioned earlier.

Yeshua used very strong language to get his point across about how strongly He felt about divorce. Another example of inordinately strong language is Yeshua’s statement, "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, he cannot be my disciple." In other words, our love for Yeshua should exceed the love we have for our relatives. He is not asking us to literally hate them.

Also, Yeshua said, "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it away, for it is better that one part of your body should perish than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it away, for it is better for you that one part of your body perish than that your whole body go into hell." If we were to take these verses literally, it be very easy for folks to recognize our congregation. We would be the assembly of people who all had only one eye and one hand. Yeshua never taught against the Torah of Moses (Mat. 5:17-19), so He would not come against Moshe’s legal prescription for divorce. However, Yeshua used very strong language, a literary form of speech called a hyperbole ("exaggeration") in order to let people know how strongly He felt about divorce.

R. Shaul wrote, "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you should marry, you have not sinned. Nevertheless, such shall have trouble in this life, and I am seeking to spare you." The Greek word for released or loosed is lusis. The literal meaning of this word is divorced. In other words, it wasn’t a sin for divorced people to remarry, but it would probably result in many problems for those who do.

Israel’s relationship with God is compared in the Scriptures to YHWH’s eternal love for Israel as a husband to a wife, as demonstrated by the prophet Hosea. In like manner, Messiah’s eternal love for the Assembly ("Church") is compared to the love that the bridegroom has for the bride in Revelations 19:7-9. Divorce ruins this beautiful picture of eternal love. This is one more reason why our Heavenly Father hates divorce, despite the fact that it isn’t prohibited.

You have heard the clichÈ, "The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence." Unhappy people often feel, "If only I had a different car or wife or if only I lived in other state…" The list goes on and on. Those who seek happiness through external circumstances, or running away from current circumstances, are probably doomed to unhappiness. They would be much better off dealing with their problems or adjusting to their circumstances instead of trying to run away from them.

Those who seek happiness through divorce usually bring the same or similar problems into the new relationship that they had in the old one, plus the additional problems that result from divorce and remarriage. In most cases, it is better to work out the problems in a marriage rather than run to the divorce courts. However, I would never counsel a woman who is living in physical danger from her husband on a continual basis to stay with such a man. Other extenuating circumstances might also be "solved" through divorce, although in most cases, I believe it is best to work through the problems, and for both partners to recognize that neither is perfect, and be willing to live with the imperfections.
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1. Malachi 2:15-16 (2:16-17 in Jewish Bibles)
2. Gittin 9:10, Pesahim 112a, quoted from THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF JEWISH
CONCEPTS, Philip Birnbaum, Hebrew Publishing Company.
3. Psalm 119:160.
4. Matthew 5:17-18.
5. Matthew 5:32.
6. Matthew 19:8.
7. Matthew 19:9.
8. Luke 14:26.
9. Matthew 5:29-30.
10. 1 Cor. 7:27-28.

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