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Love and Divorce, Part 2

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.

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

But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”Malachi 2:14-16 (ESV)

So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”Matthew 19:6 (ESV)

In yesterday’s morning meditation, I asked “is it ever acceptable to get a divorce?” According to a strict New Testament interpretation, there is only one acceptable reason:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” –Matthew 19:9 (ESV)

That seems pretty plain. Unless sexual immorality is involved, there is no Biblical grounds for divorce. That tends to be translated as one spouse “cheating” on another. So does that mean a man can beat his wife and children, abuse drugs and alcohol, refuse to work and support his family, or emotionally terrorize his family, all for the purpose of supporting his own emotional desires? Common sense would say “no”, but what about the Bible?

Actually, read Matthew 19:9 again. It doesn’t say you can’t divorce for other reasons, it just says that you can’t remarry. The footnotes for this verse state “some manuscripts add and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery; other manuscripts except for sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

That still seems a little harsh. If a woman divorces a man who is physically abusive to her and the children but where no sexual immorality is involved, she is right to divorce him but can never be remarried?

Let’s take a wider view of the issue of divorce:

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. –Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (ESV)

In Matthew 19, Jesus was talking about how Moses permitted divorce but it was not God’s intention to permit it for reasons of hard heartedness. In Malachi 2, the prophet says that God hates divorce, but seems to lay the responsibility for the matter at the feet of the faithless husband. Neither of these verses seem to forbid divorce out of hand or specify only the issue of sexual immorality, but rather, they state that God seems to hate divorces that are seemingly frivolous or merely for the purpose of finding “greener pastures”. Maybe I’m reading more into the scriptures than is really there, but I don’t think I can accept that God would force a person to remain in a marriage that was completely intolerable due to emotional and/or physical abuse by the other party. In the above-referenced section of Deuteronomy, the matter of sin seems to come up when you divorce a woman, she remarries another man, divorces him, and then remarries her original husband. I see this as being tied to sending her away. Once done, it cannot be undone if she subsequently “becomes one flesh” with another man.

I’ve been participating in a discussion related to this topic in a private forum. One of the members, who is well educated in Torah and the Apostolic Scriptures said this:

It depends upon what you call “Grounds.” If “grounds” requires a proof text, then perhaps not. But when you are in real ministry, with real people, things get interesting. When a woman is married to a man who beats her, or a man who pulled a gun on her during sex, is that still a marriage? Are there not behaviors that are so out of bounds that they void the marriage? And is it “Righteous” to tell such a woman, “Look Norma dear (not a real name), you married him in the sight of God, and you must remain in the marriage to please the Lord.” That kind of stuff doesn’t work for me, proof text or no proof text. In other words, when does a marriage stop being a marriage, and when it has stopped being a marriage and cannot or will not be reversed, is there virtue in keeping up appearances, and evil in naming the marriage a dead?

I don’t know if there’s a direct proof text about not being able to leave an abusive or toxic marriage, but then again, there’s no proof text that directly says you must stay, either. Perhaps the “clue” is in the a scripture I quoted yesterday:

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)

I also said this:

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.

If a husband’s love for his wife is supposed to closely mirror the love of the Master for the community of faith, then perhaps we can infer a few things. Was the Master abusive or toxic toward the church? Did he put his needs or wants ahead of others? Did he physically, emotionally, or spiritually harm those who followed him? I don’t believe so. The only thing you could say is that he put his foot down, on occasion, to demand moral and right behavior from his followers, but he never, ever hurt them and he was never ever selfish. In fact, he was obedient, “even unto death” for the sake of those who professed him as Lord then and everyone who has done so since.

I suppose that may not be satisfying for some people reading this blog post, especially if you are a very literal person (I tend to be, at times), but in this matter, if I’m going to make a mistake, I’d prefer to err on the side of compassion. I don’t think divorce is justified because you want a younger, prettier wife, or because your husband never ended up making a million dollars a year, but there are times, beyond sexual misconduct, when it is justified to leave your spouse and end your marital relationship. If marriage is sanctified by God, how holy is a union where the man beats his wife and puts his children in the hospital because he can’t control his temper? How holy is a marriage where the wife habitually abuses drugs and leaves her young children alone when her husband is working, so she can get loaded or sleep off her high?

I’m probably not going to hear any complements about this particular “morning meditation”, but my conscious won’t let me write anything else. Like the Chofetz Chaim, I believe there are times when the only way to bring peace to a couple “is to allow them to divorce and go their separate ways!”

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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