Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Abarbanel:Understanding Marriage through Divorce

Abarbanel (Devarim 21, 24)[see post of Chinuch]  The 12th question is how is it possible that G‑d’s Torah agrees that marriage can be dissolved by divorce. It would seem to be wrong that a man and woman who were  united before G‑d should be able to separate from each other  and that the woman be allowed to have sexual relations with another man and that the man should marry a different woman. It would seem that those things which are done as mitzvos should not be subject to regret and reversal. And surely this would apply to divorce which can be done without significant justification. The Torah simply says, “If she does not find favor in his eyes because he found in her something unseemly (ervas davar) then he should write a document of divorce and give it to her and send her away.” This is especially problematic according to the view  that divorce can result even if he doesn’t like the way she makes his meals. Concerning marriage the Torah says (Bereishis 2:24), Therefore a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife and they should be one flesh.” This is a general lesson concerning the nature of man and how human relations change. So how is it possible that this natural process be reversed?
 
Answer: There is no question that the actions of man in this world are in order to achieve one of five goals. 1) Acquiring wealth, 2) love of honor  3) physical pleasures 4) spiritual perfection or 5) welfare of one’s children. The joining together of a man and his wife in marriage can bring about all 5 of these goals. Marriage can provide good financial benefits because man is not like other creatures who obtain their clothing through nature as well as their food. In contrast man must acquire clothing and food through work which requires much preparations in order to obtain these things. A wife can be very helpful in acquiring material objects as well as food and clothing. Marriage is also inherently helpful in obtaining honor and respect since a single man finds it difficult to obtain honor because true glory goes to one who has a household. Marriage also provides physical pleasures especially since she obviates the need for prostitutes. There are also additional physical benefits in that she can help him with his tasks and work as well as taking care of his bodily needs and pleasures. Marriage also is helpful in spiritual perfection  - not only by keeping him from sin and pursing his lusts - also in the fulfilling of the mitzva of having children aside from the mitzvos that are available to him as married man. In fact marriage is also beneficial for the woman in that she has children. She is the cause of their existence and she raises and educates them as our Sages said in Yevamos (63), It is sufficient for a wife if she simply raises the children and saves her husband from sin. That is why G‑d’s Torah commands us concerning marriage because G‑d saw that it was not good for man to be alone. He also commanded the woman  not to commit adultery and that the man was obligated in providing her food, clothing and conjugal duties.

However all these benefits of marriage do not automatically exist and come about simply by getting married. Rather these benefits are conditional on there being a compatibility between the couple regarding their natures and personality to the maximum degree possible. This compatibility also causes love and tranquility between them as it says that Gd made her an ezer kenego. In other words an ezer kenegdo means that she is an ezer (help) if she is like him (kenegdo) and agrees with him in all matters.

The importance of this compatibility can be seen from the fact that G‑d brought all the animals and birds to Adam in order to that he determine the name of each creature. In other words he was to observe each creature to see whether there was one which had the appropriate temperament and was compatible with his personality and his nature. That is why the Torah notes that after examining every creature Adam had not found his ezer kenedgo (his compatible mate). In other words even though he found those creatures which would be ezer (be of help) to him but none which were kenegdo (compatible and complementary to his nature). Because compatibility can not be based solely on the fact that a creature is female. Therefore it was necessary to do something different in order to create the proper compatibility and love. G‑d took one of Adam’s ribs and cloned a woman from it and then brought her to Adam - in order that she have his personality and nature. All of this was done to ensure the proper match and complementarity of the personality and attributes between a man and his wife and that it was inherent from her creation. That is because if it were the opposite then there would be no actual compatibility and thus there would be no basis for a successful household and not one of the five goals we mentioned would be accomplished. If there was no compatibility with the woman then it would be better for the man to remain alone and not join with that vile serpent – the bad wife. This is stated by Shlomo (Koheles 7), I find the woman more bitter than death...Similarly in Mishlei (25), It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a roomy house. Another source is Yevamos (63a), If he merits she is a helper (ezer) and if not she is his opponent (kenegdo). What this gemora is saying is that there is no middle neutral position regarding a man and woman. In fact the wife is either a help or an opponent since it is totally dependent upon the compatibility or incompatibility of their natures. How can there be a middle position in being compatible or incompatible? Consequently G‑d has commanded that when a man finds that his nature and personality are not compatible with that of his wife as expressed by the verse, “And if she doesn’t find favor in his eyes because he found in her ervas davar (an unseemly thing) - that their incompatible natures are the reason that he should divorce her. That is because it is better that they get divorced than have increasing hatred,  fights and bickering between them. 


The philosopher (Aristotle) has already mentioned this idea in relationship to the conduct of society. He has noted that because of this question of compatibility, men have agreed that there should be a period of engagement (eirusin) prior to marriage in order that they have a trial period to see how compatible they are. Only if they experience the love and tranquility that are the indicators of compatibility will they get married. That is because it is better to divorce her while she is still a virgin then a married non-virgin. This is a very solid reason for divorce besides the reason given by the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:49). However if they did get married and do not experience the indicators of compatibility in any way, the Torah says that they should get divorced which is the lesser of evils. Because perhaps he will marry a different woman who is compatible to his nature and personality and she will marry someone who is like her. This is preferable to them living their lives in suffering and torment and even worse perhaps killing or adultery and other serious evils. Therefore the Torah said, When a man takes a woman for a wife and has sexual intercourse with her. This means that even though she had intercourse with him which you might think make it wrong to get divorced since he has tormented her – nevertheless if she doesn’t find favor in his eyes or he hates her ... then he has the choice of divorcing her. Nevertheless the Torah doesn’t want her divorced by simply telling her that she is divorced or by giving her money or by sending her from his house. That is to ensure that divorce is not easy to do which would result in a woman being divorced multiple times from her husband – because he was in a bad mood. Another negative consequence of easy divorce would be that she could go and falsely tell people that she was divorced in order to commit adultery with another man. Therefore in order to remove all these pitfalls from divorce, G‑d commanded that a man can only divorce his wife with a written document which requires many conditions to be valid as well as witnesses. All of these serve the purpose of making it not so easy for the husband to get divorced. Consequently if the husband wants to divorce his wife when he is in a state of anger and outrage, this will form a difficult barrier to overcome and he will calm down. This complicated procedure also serves to prevent her from falsely declaring that she is divorced – as the Rambam says in Moreh Nevuchim.... 

19 comments:

  1. In English, in a nutshell?

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    1. Working on the translation - should be finished soon

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  2. the title makes sense actually, although I will have to read this tiny print first, to see if it means what i think it does!

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  3. "as our Sages said in Yevamos (63), It is sufficient for a wife if she simply raises the children and saves her husband from sin." So the minimum does not include anointing him with oil.

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    1. Interesting point. Not sure that that is the accepted view. However there is no question that a man can divorce a wife who does this minimum. Apparently the other obligation are ways to reduce the likelihood of the husband divorcing her.

      Apparently if she does not do the minimum it is appropriate for friends and community to suggest to him to get divorced and perhaps help him pay the kesuba.

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    2. This is an interesting point, and it marks a difference between some other world views. Xtianity saw this bond of marriage as unbreakable, hence ignoring the explicit clause in the Torah which allows divorce. The Karaites, who rejected the oral law, were in some ways guilty of making up some new laws, hence they claimed that the "one flesh" created by marriage, makes in-laws legally like siblings, hence prohibiting marriage, eg of 2 brothers and 2 sisters. This is even after a divorce. This innovation was so damaging that it prevented many karaites from being able to find spouses, and had to be eventually repealed.

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  4. Recipients and PublicityNovember 8, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    Is that really a true portrait of the "Abarbanel" up to the left? It's from one of those illustrated kiddie story books.

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    1. It is the standard image of the Abarbanel

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  5. 1) he also says that divorce is better than on-going fights. the idea that marriage is simply about bringing children to the world doesn't fit with this model.

    2) the abarbanel holds that a man has to work and finance the family, not just get involved in spiritual matters.

    3) ימצאו שניהם האהבה והשלום: sounds pretty modern to me.

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    1. Not quite - all the good things in marriage are the result of an inherent compatiblity. If the good things don't happen that means that they weren't compatible.

      Missing from this [and every others source I have gone through] is the idea that compatiblity might be learned or developed through effort or therapy. It seems a variation of beshert except modern people think that one can have fights with a beshert.

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    2. What does 'beshert' really mean?

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    3. (cont'd) What is the source of 'beshert'? What are it's practical ramifications, if any?

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    4. This is an important topic - hope to have a post soon on the topic.

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    5. "It seems a variation of beshert except modern people think that one can have fights with a beshert."

      why not? yaacov fought with rachel. his reply to her was a sin (according to the ramban) but her yelling at him was not. was she not his beshert? even from the netziv that you posted it is clear that yitzhak should have had some arguments with revkah and the fact that she didn't feel able to be open with him was not good, not the ideal and not what others should aim for (even if it was hashgacha for yitzhak). an argument over someone's esav is definitely better than silence.

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  6. A constant message I heard about marriage at yeshiva (for Anglos, largely for BTs, which may be relevant) was that if done right, marriage is the ultimate middos developing program. The idea was that even with the most compatible of matches, there are differences that must be worked out, and a major goal of marriage was to develop one's self through learning to make an integrated unit out of two disparate people through compromise, being other-directed, and controlling one's ego. Therefore, working on oneself (with Rabbinical guidance, if not a therapist) in order to to improve the husband-wife relationship is not only possible, but it embodies the entire point of marriage.

    It's funny, b/c from what you've shown, these ideas appear to be nonexistent in the classical sources.

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  7. In terms of developing middos through marriage as well as consciously developing a successful marriage relationship, Kuntres Hachesed of the Michtav M’Eliyahu figured strongly in many of the shmuzes and classes about marriage Needless to say, Michtav M’Eliyahu is a pretty late source.

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  8. Abarbanel clearly views that compatiblity is innate and not learned

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  9. I don't see any s'tirah. Abarbanel is saying that there has to be a way to void a marriage in cases of extreme, irresolvable conflict and total incompatibility. He's not saying that any conflict proves inherent incompatibility.

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