By Rabbi Yisroel Newman
We frequently hear of high-profile divorce cases that receive mass media attention due mainly to the exorbitant amounts of money and property divided between a couple.
Here in America it’s quite common. How does Judaism view divorce? The 90-page tractate of Talmud legislating the Jewish laws concludes: “Whenever anyone divorces his first wife, even the Temple Altar sheds tears. Why? Because God has borne witness between you and the wife of your youth that you have betrayed her, though she is your companion and the wife of your covenant.”
Divorce, in the Jewish perspective, may at times be a necessity, but is profoundly painful. When two souls fused in marriage are severed, something holy and special is destroyed. Marriage is a divine institution and the recreation of the divine image here on earth.
When a marriage is severed, the world becomes a smaller place; the part of us that is sensitive to the godliness of life cries. Marriage, the Bible is telling us, is not merely a choice; it is a covenant, a commitment to be there for each other. The declaration of marriage does not mean you are husband and wife as long as you find each other attractive or compatible; as long as your hearts are aglow with passion and romance; as long as you don’t meet someone else more attractive, or as long as you don’t get into a major conflict about life’s dilemmas. Marriage is the pledge to share a life together, come what may. It is, in the words of the sages, “an eternal edifice”.
This commitment does not stem from passive resignation, fuelled by fear or social pressure. On the contrary, it stems from the mature choice of two human beings who see enough of each other to know their souls belong together. Once they recognise this, they make an unwavering commitment to each other that nothing will ever in the way of their loyalty to each other.
Of course, they know the future may bring unexpected situations that might warrant divorce; tragic circumstances may necessitate the dissolution of the marriage, which is why the Torah sanctions divorce. Yet in their present state, the commitment is timeless and unbreakable. This is why the Talmudic tractate dealing with divorce precedes the tractate on marriage.
You need to examine your attitude, instinctive and philosophical, to divorce before you’re ready for marriage; and that of your partner to divorce. The moment you are ready to marry a person, divorce should not be an option anymore. What the future will bring nobody knows; yet separation must never be part of the marriage equation.