Jewish Divorce Laws Essay, Research Paper
Although changes have been made to Jewish divorce laws, women are continually being mistreated when dealing with the issues of divorce. In biblical times, there were no assurances that women would be protected when faced with a man who wanted a divorce. Furthermore, women were not allowed to initiate the process by asking for one. As time went on, it was recognized that women needed to be somewhat shielded from actions that her husband could take, which she had no control over. Rabbinic law made four major changes to help the plight of women regarding divorce (Biale p.5).
First, the Halackah requires a Get (bill of divorcement), which limits the possibility of a rash, thoughtless divorce (Biale p.6). Second, the Talmud introduces a number of grounds where a woman can seek a divorce. She must appeal to a Beit Din to compel him to divorce her (B. p.6). Furthermore, post-biblical Halackah introduces the Ketubah, which gives financial assurances to women in case of a divorce (B. p.6). Finally, in the Middle ages, the ban of Rabbenu Gershom forbids divorcing a woman against her consent (B. p.6).
Although these assurances are made, it does not hinder the man’s ability to abuse his power when initiating a divorce. The Mishnah cites three opinions regarding legitimate grounds for divorce (B. p.74). In Deuteronomy 24:1, the passage reveals a lot about the practice of divorce. One clause states “and it comes to pass that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some matter of indecency in her”. There have been many debates about this clause because the appropriate grounds for divorce are unclear. Some believe that a man can divorce a woman merely because he likes another one better (B. p.74). There is no safeguard against this because it is up to the man’s judgment. The requirements of the Ketubah and the Get may not convince the man to stay married.
The fact remains that on the one hand; a wife could not initiate a divorce without appealing to a Beit Din, and on the other hand may be divorced without her consent. The Talmud states “A woman may be divorced with her consent or without it”(B. 81). Rabbenu Gershom made a ruling that banned the divorcement of a woman without her consent. Although this is a positive legislation, a Beit Din has the power to revoke it when they deem necessary.
The most problematic law is that while it is not always necessary for a woman to consent to a divorce, “a man can give a divorce with only his full consent” (Yevamot 112b) (B. 97). It is then up to the courts and the community to try to convince him to give his wife a divorce. Many women have faced this problem of being an Agunah (anchored wife), chained to her husband until he agrees to a divorce. This problem is even more apparent today while religious morals do not always prevail over greedy husbands who wish to bribe their wives for monetary gains. There are too many cases that show husbands refusing their wives a Get until they are recompensed in some way. Most men are immovable in their demands. Neither courts nor communities can sway their decision. In these cases, women are forced to wait or give in to their husband’s demands. There have been some measures to protect wives against these offenses. The Conservative movement has attempted to deal with this problem through the Ketubah (B.110). An addition that was proposed in 1954 had the couple mutually agree to submit to the authority of a Beit Din to determine the terms for the dissolution of the marriage when it deems this appropriate according to Halakhah (B. 110). Unfortunately, many Orthodox authorities deny these procedures due to technical Halakhic laws. Some women turn to civil courts, posing another problem. Firstly, although it may be solved civilly, Halakhic laws will always prevail. Secondly, the American Constitution forbids any interference in religious matters. Although many suggestions have been made, almost all of them have been rejected by the Halakhic community (B. 111). Furthermore, if there are no preemptive measures made before the marriage, it is almost impossible Halackically to better the plight of the Agunah. Unless there are revolutionary changes to Halackic laws, there is no way to ease this situation (B. 111). Unfortunately, there are always devout Halackic authorities who reject change of any kind to these laws.
Perhaps the only immediate solution for women today is to abandon their religion, values and morals. The only thing stopping them from being free is their religious beliefs. This too is a difficult task to endure, but some believe that it is better than being chained for an unknown amount of time. There have been civil laws passed in North America to try to help these women. In Canada article 21.1 has been passed that states a husband will be unable to get a civil divorce until he removes the religious barriers on his wife (class). Still the archaic Halackic laws are intact, impeding the freedom of thousands of women. Jewish divorce is quite relevant when interpreting Judaism’s view of women. It is well known that these laws are unjust and they can be changed. Although not being a small feat, if the Halackic authorities all believe that women deserve all the rights that men enjoy, these laws can change. When and if this will happen is unknown, until that time, women will be forced to endure the spiteful actions of men who wish to exploit them.