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published: 4/15/04
updated: 7/1/13

Divorce in Judaism



What does Judaism teach about divorce?

In Judaism, divorce is viewed as a tragedy, but sometimes a necessary one. In the Torah, the prophet Malachi declared, "I hate divorce, says Adonai, the God of Israel." According to the Talmud, "When a man puts aside the wife of his youth, even the very altar weeps." {2} Yet allowances for divorce have always been a part of Jewish law.

In Jewish history, divorce has been the prerogative of the husband only, although the Talmud established several circumstances under which a husband could be compelled to divorce his wife: if the marriage was childless after ten years; if the husband refused to have sex with his wife; if the husband beat his wife; or if the husband contracted a "loathsome" disease. Around the year 1000 CE, rabbinical law stated that a wife could not be divorced without her consent.




The process of divorce

Traditionally, Jewish divorce is granted by a rabbinical court (bet din, "house of judgment") in addition to the civil court. This is now voluntary everywhere except Israel, where the rabbinate still controls matters of marriage and divorce. The bet din is made up of three rabbis knowledgeable in the laws related to marriage and divorce. A scribe and two disinterested witnesses should also be present.

The husband and wife are interviewed by the bet din to ensure their mutual consent, and financial matters and grounds will be inquired into if a civil court has not already done so. If the divorce is granted, a get (divorce decree) is drawn up in hand-lettered Hebrew. The wife is prohibited from marrying for 90 days, to ensure that if she quickly remarries and becomes pregnant there will be no questions of paternity.

Divorce in Jewish denominations

In the Orthodox tradition, a divorced person must obtain a get granted by an Orthodox bet din in order to remarry. A child born of a woman's remarriage after a non valid divorce is considered illegitimate. However, this is not true of an Orthodox man who remarries after a non valid divorce, since technically under Jewish law he could have more than one wife. On the other end of the spectrum, the Reform movement considers all civil divorces valid.

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Sources
  1. Mishnah Kiddushin 1:1.
  2. Quoted in Robinson, Essential Judaism, p. 170.