The Bible Says What? Can a man really divorce his wife if she is ‘displeasing’?

The Bible Says What? Can a man really divorce his wife if she is ‘displeasing’?

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner grapples with a controversial Jewish issue for modern times

Thank God for halacha (Jewish law). Without the continual evolution of halacha, Jews would live only according to the literal meaning of Torah. Thousands of years of questions, answers and ideas about the meaning of Torah enable us to live authentically Jewish lives unfolding in parallel with new situations.

A perfect example of how halacha has immense inbuilt flexibility is the Torah law that a man can divorce his wife “if she is displeasing in his eyes” (Deut 24:1). Originally, this was a good starting place. If a couple are not suited, Judaism recognises that divorce is not only possible but sometimes preferable. We can remarry after divorce and this realistic
approach to relationships is excellent.

The clearly sexist bias in this Torah verse has been assuaged over the centuries by a series of halachic developments, which have slowed and rebalanced the divorce process.

However, we are still not there. We are still not at the point of complete legal equality between the genders around divorce.

We know there is an inexplicable hesitation by some rabbis to equalise the balance around giving a divorce document, a get. We know there is the horrendous situation of an agunah, an anchored or chained woman who cannot remarry if her husband will not give her a get.

This lies within the power of rabbinic courts to solve as the halachic framework is there to make this possible. There are lenient, compassionate options within halacha.

There are possibilities that can be and are made by rabbinic courts, as it is inexcusable for women to be tossed aside, to be prevented from marrying again owing to the whim or meanness of her husband.

Halacha has developed since the Torah to protect both women and men. We just have to use it properly.

Laura Janner-Klausner is the senior rabbi of Reform Judaism



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