כִּֽי־יִקַּ֥ח אִ֛ישׁ אִשָּׁ֖ה וּבְעָלָ֑הּ וְהָיָ֞ה אִם־לֹ֧א תִמְצָא־חֵ֣ן בְּעֵינָ֗יו כִּי־מָ֤צָא בָהּ֙ עֶרְוַ֣ת דָּבָ֔ר וְכָ֨תַב לָ֜הּ סֵ֤פֶר כְּרִיתֻת֙ וְנָתַ֣ן בְּיָדָ֔הּ וְשִׁלְּחָ֖הּ מִבֵּיתֽוֹ:
When a man takes a wife and is intimate with her, and it happens that she does not find favor in his eyes because he discovers in her an unseemly [moral] matter, and he writes for her a bill of divorce and places it into her hand, and sends her away from his house.Deuteronomy 24:1
בֵּית שַׁמַּאי אוֹמְרִים, לֹא יְגָרֵשׁ אָדָם אֶת אִשְׁתּוֹ אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן מָצָא בָהּ דְּבַר עֶרְוָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים כד), כִּי מָצָא בָהּ עֶרְוַת דָּבָר. וּבֵית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים, אֲפִלּוּ הִקְדִּיחָה תַבְשִׁילוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שם), כִּי מָצָא בָהּ עֶרְוַת דָּבָר. רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אוֹמֵר, אֲפִלּוּ מָצָא אַחֶרֶת נָאָה הֵימֶנָּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שם), וְהָיָה אִם לֹא תִמְצָא חֵן בְּעֵינָיו:
Beit Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he finds out about her having engaged in a matter of forbidden sexual intercourse [devar erva], i.e., she committed adultery or is suspected of doing so, as it is stated: “Because he has found some unseemly matter [ervat davar] in her, and he writes her a scroll of severance” (Deuteronomy 24:1). And Beit Hillel say: He may divorce her even due to a minor issue, e.g., because she burned or over-salted his dish, as it is stated: “Because he has found some unseemly matter in her,” meaning that he found any type of shortcoming in her. Rabbi Akiva says: He may divorce her even if he found another woman who is better looking than her and wishes to marry her, as it is stated in that verse: “And it comes to pass, if she finds no favor in his eyes”(Deuteronomy 24:1). Mishna Gittin 9:10
They said to him, “Then why did Moshe give the commandment that a man should hand his wife a get and divorce her?” He answered, “Moshe allowed you to divorce your wives because your hearts are so hardened. But this is not how it was at the beginning. Now what I say to you is that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery!”Matthew 19:7-9
This week’s Torah portion contains 74 mitzvot. Among them is the procedure for divorce. Divorce is often misunderstood in Yeshua-believing circles because of Yeshua’s statements recorded for us in Matthew chapter 19. However, Yeshua’s statements must be understood in the context of the oral Mesorah of the time.
Yeshua states very clearly that divorce is only valid in the case of adultery. That no other reason is sufficient for granting a divorce. That a remarriage of someone who is divorced for any reason other than adultery is in itself adultery. But, Yeshua made his statement knowing the listeners were fully aware of the famous debate between Hillel and Shammai that had been included in the oral Mesorah.
Mishnah Gittin ends with this famous debate. Shammai says adultery may only be granted in the case of adultery. Hillel says divorce may be granted even if she burns dinner. And then, Mishnah Gittin ends. There is no resolution to the debate, and the fact that there is no resolution is intentional. What is Shammai’s point? Shammai’s point is very simple, divorce is not something that can be taken lightly. Divorce is something that is a last resort and may not be done frivolously. What is Hillel’s point? Hillel’s point is also simple. In cases of divorce there are lots and lots of extenuating circumstances. Cases involved in divorce court are many times horrific and vary greatly. Allowance in the court must be made for this variation in individual cases. The Mishnah does not bring resolution to this debate for a very important reason, both points of view are absolutely correct. Divorce is not something that can be taken lightly. There are many, many extenuating circumstances involved in divorce cases that have direct bearing on whether a divorce should be granted or not. These extenuating circumstances must be taken into account in each case, and no general rule can be made.
The context of Yeshua’s statement is clear. The point he is making is identical to Shammai’s point, that is, divorce may not be taken lightly. Divorce is a last resort. In order to make this point, Yeshua brings up Shammai’s position. This in no way invalidates Hillel’s position. The people hearing the discussion understand this. There are many extenuating circumstances that may cause a divorce, but that is not Yeshua’s point. Yeshua is making the statement that divorce is not to be taken lightly. He is not addressing the extenuating circumstances such as abuse, substance addiction, financial misconduct, etc. In no way is Yeshua making a general law against divorcing, except in the case of adultery. The Oral Mesorah makes it clear this is impossible to do justly. Hillel’s position stands, it is simply not the point that Yeshua is trying to make at this time, in this argument.
Divorce is an exceedingly difficult and horrific event. We are commanded simply to love those involved and help them through this difficult time as best we can. Shabbat shalom.