In Judaism, divorce is viewed as a great tragedy, but a sometimes 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."831 At least one Jewish source compares divorce to an amputation.833
However, "Judaism generally maintains that it is better for a couple to divorce than to remain together in a state of constant bitterness and strife"832 and allowances for divorce have always been a part of Jewish law.
Divorce in Jewish Law
Historically, Jewish divorce has been the prerogative of the husband only. The Talmud allows a husband to divorce his wife for any reason without her consent and the husband must be the one to initiate the divorce.832
The Talmud also established several circumstances under which a husband can be required to divorce his wife, with or without his consent:
- if the wife commits a sexual transgression;
- 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 Jewish Divorce Process
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.
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 nonvalid divorce is considered illegitimate. However, this is not true of an Orthodox man who remarries after a nonvalid 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.
- Robinson, George, Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs & Rituals (Atria Books, 2001) 170.
- Rich, Tracey R. Judaism 101.
- “Divorce in Judaism.” Chabad.org.
- Netter, Rabbi Perry, Divorce Is a Mitzvah: A Practical Guide to Finding Wholeness and Holiness When Your Marriage Dies .
- Katch, Elise, The Get: A Spiritual Memoir of Divorce .