Love and Divorce, Part 1

Today’s daf discusses a case of one who is forbidden to divorce his wife.

Sh’lom bayis is a very complex area which requires much finesse and understanding. One must be very deft with a couple facing challenges in their marriage. Teaching each spouse to understand the other’s point of view and how to explain his or her own perspective without making judgments is essential when trying to establish good sh’lom bayis.

Although the Sichos HaRan, zt”l, writes that, in general, one should not divorce his wife unless compelled to by the halachah, there are certainly exceptions to this rule. Some people—even those with experience working with couples—believe that every rift in a marriage can be healed. According to that view, if a couple did not make their marriage work it must have been that one or both were unwilling to work hard enough to build their relationship. Although this is true in the vast majority of cases, there are times when the best option does seem to be divorce.

A certain ben Torah worked with a husband and wife who had many areas of conflict, and tried his best to heal their relationship. When his efforts turned out to be of no avail, he brought them to the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, for assistance. After they had explained all of their many issues, the Chofetz Chaim suggested that they get a divorce. The astounded ben Torah could not contain himself. “How could it be that you won’t even try to make peace between them?”

The Chofetz Chaim explained. “If you are correct that in every situation divorce is avoidable, why did God give the parshah of voluntary divorce in the Torah? Clearly the Torah provided the halachos of gittin because sometimes the only way to bring peace to this couple is to allow them to divorce and go their separate ways!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Parshah of Gittin”
Temurah 5-1

The subject of divorce can be pretty touchy in the community of Christ. On the one hand, it is generally believed that there is no valid reason for divorce except for adultery. On the other hand, the available statistics seem to indicate that the rate of divorce in the church is no different than in the secular world, with about 50% of all marriages breaking up resulting in shattered hearts and devastated families. But before proceeding, let’s review the scripture you are all probably thinking about right now.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” –Matthew 19:3-9 (ESV)

This teaching of the Master is sometimes used to give Jews a hard time regarding divorce, but as we see from the daf, the desire to make peace among a feuding husband and wife is extremely strong in Judaism. In fact, our example showed us how the ben Torah working with the couple in dispute was shocked when the Chofetz Chaim actually recommended that the couple divorce as the only way to bring peace between them. Also, as I mentioned before, since the divorce rate in the church mirrors the secular divorce rate, we don’t have a lot of room to criticize Judaism, either in ancient or modern times, for allowing divorces.

But what’s wrong? As Christians, on our wedding day, we take a vow before God to love, honor, and cherish our spouse under all circumstances. It’s virtually the only vow the church maintains formally in the 21st century, especially given the Master’s teaching about not taking vows in Matthew 5:36-37. Why do we divorce so much?

I suppose I should say at this point that I am not literally including myself in “we” since my wife and I have been married for almost 30 years. My parents have been married for almost 60 years. I can’t speak for my parents, but I do know my own marriage hasn’t been without without it’s “rocks in the road” and I claim no special abilities on my part that resulted in my wife and I remaining united. I think marriage is always difficult at times and perhaps many “happily married” couples have considered divorce at one point or another. Troubles in the marriage are to be expected. It’s how you react that makes the difference.

But I’m not here to lecture and I’m certainly not here to hold myself up as some sort of example (if I tried that, my wife could easily chime in and lay out all of the details regarding my many faults). I’m here to talk about the humanity of marriage and divorce. Sometimes break ups are necessary…they just shouldn’t be so common.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. –Ephesians 5:22-24 (ESV)

I’m sure you’ve heard examples of how certain “primitive” Christian (so called) men have used this passage to justify making their wives jump through all sorts of hoops because God told her to “submit”. I’m no Bible expert and I don’t read the New Testament in Greek, but I’m still going to say, “Oh brother” to these fellows. Remember that the Bible also says this.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. –Ephesians 5:25-30(ESV)

Husbands, if you are supposed to be loving your wife like Christ loves the church, consider for a minute just what the love of Jesus Christ means. The number one way we know that Jesus loves us is because he voluntarily surrendered his life for the sake of our eternal relationship with God. Not only that, but it was completely unfair in that he did not deserve to die at all. Add to that the fact that it was a long, lingering, painful, and shameful death. If you Christian husbands love your wives in the same way, I suppose you should be putting up with a lot from her, even the stuff you don’t deserve. Remember, Christ died for us while we were still his “enemies” (Romans 5:8). He didn’t wait until we turned to him in love in order to die. If he had, we’d have no chance at redemption or salvation at all.

I could go on and on, but I want you guys to savor the example Christ gave to us as husbands (I’ve never been a wife, so I’m not going to try and speak from that perspective). The next time you get angry at your wife, feel annoyed because she makes some unreasonable request, or otherwise contemplate how much easier your existence would be if she weren’t around, think about Jesus and what he did for us. Imagine how much we sin, even after we have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. Don’t you think he should have the right to be annoyed with us for our “unfaithfulness?” Yet he hasn’t abandoned us, though he probably should in some cases. Where do we get off abandoning our wives either physically or emotionally when the going gets tough?

So is it ever acceptable to get a divorce? I’ll express my opinions on that next time in Love and Divorce, Part 2.

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”

-Robert Frost, American poet

2 thoughts on “Love and Divorce, Part 1”

  1. People have interpreted what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage in two main ways (although there are many others):
    1. There are two valid grounds for divorce, but remarriage is not allowed unless one of the former spouses has died.
    2. There are no grounds for divorce or even for separation.
    The first interpretation is given by most established Christian Churches. They conclude that Yeshua (Jesus) and Paul both taught that there was one valid ground for divorce (although these were different). Yeshua allowed the divorce of someone who had an adulterous partner, and Paul allowed the divorce of someone whose non-believing partner had deserted them. The interpretation goes on to say that neither Yeshua nor Paul allowed remarriage unless one of the couple had died, because in some sense a marriage remains valid until it is ended by death. The main problem with this interpretation is that it is illogical: why do Yeshua and Paul identify these two grounds for divorce but then not allow divorce for physical abuse and other harmful situations?
    The second main interpretation – which doesn’t allow divorce for any reason – is more logical. It says that Yeshua’s ground of adultery applied only to the Jews of His day, because according to their laws, adultery led to compulsory divorce. It then says that Paul’s ground of desertion by a non-Christian partner was, similarly, just for Romans of his day, because under Roman law desertion was equivalent to compulsory divorce. This interpretation tells modern believers that divorce is not allowed unless you are divorced against your will and that remarriage is not allowed unless you are widowed. Although this interpretation is more logical than the first, it is even less practical, because it means that someone can continue to commit adultery or physical abuse in the knowledge that their partner cannot end the marriage.
    When you consider Matthew 19:6
    KJV: What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
    Good News Bible: No human must separate, then, what God has joined together.
    If in fact, Yeshua had said “no one can separate” it would mean that divorce is impossible, since once a couple is married, they will always be married in God’s eyes. In other words, if God has joined a couple in marriage, no one can “unjoin” them.
    The words that Yeshua did say were: “Let no one separate” that does not mean” it’s not possible to separate” – they mean ” it is possible to separate, but you should not”.
    Taken from:
    The perception of divorce been like the blasphemy of the Ruach (Holy Spirit) has caused people to stay in an “un-holy” alliance with abusive partners and those who also have neglected and/or abandoned the marriage in the first place.
    There is much resource which liberating in this manner, as some people without knowing God have gotten divorced and then re-married and then wanted to divorce the second partner because they feel that they are living in adultery and thereby go on to destroy the second marriage and more children and lives – because they do not understand and have not studied the Scriptures – two links that were totally liberating for me to understand and also to help others to understand were:
    and also

    Too many people walk under a heavy burden in the light of misunderstanding culture and the true meaning of Scriptures as they do not have a Hebrew though process and they also do not understand the culture and idioms of those days.
    I hope that this will help others to walk in the light and not be in bondage if they are being abused or neglected in their marriages or feel that they cannot go on and be married again because they are waiting for their “ex” partner to die.
    Blessings and Shalom Rav

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