Shabbat Ki-Teitzei 5783
It may be enshrined in Hollywood, but nowhere in Judaism do we find marriage vows, and certainly none that include “till death do us part.” Divorce is established as an authentic possibility as early as the Biblical era, as we find in this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Teitzei: When a marriage goes sour, “he writes her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house” (Deuteronomy 24:1). Interestingly, that’s not even the Torah’s novel lesson. The main point of this section is that the couple can only reconcile and remarry if the wife was not subsequently married to another man in the interim. The concept of divorce is taken by the Torah as a given reality, totally within the bounds of law. One can easily frame Judaism’s approach to divorce as a protection for women, who cannot be discarded and left financially vulnerable. That’s why the ketuvah, the traditional Jewish marriage contract, includes financial terms–the husband couldn’t walk away without it costing something,
And yet, the legal mechanisms of Jewish divorce have, throughout history, created serious problems for many women. The verse in the Torah says beyond the possibility of reinterpretation that a bill of divorce begins in the hands of the husband, who has the sole power to give it to the wife. As per centuries-old halakhah, only the husband can initiate the Get process. And he cannot give a Get under duress; he must do so of his own free will and volition. This has occasionally led to the problem of the agunah, the chained woman, who is unable to force the hand of her recalcitrant ex.
Rabbinic Judaism has long acknowledged this potential bug in the system and has used a variety of strategies to solve the problem. Some rabbinic authorities have been more courageous than others. For nearly a century, the Conservative rabbinate has worked within the tradition to fight the injustice faced by agunot. On Shabbat morning, I’ll talk about these methods and how they fit into our larger approach to Judaism and justice.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 7:20 PM
Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10