Sunday, July 16, 2023

Introduction to new book on the Jewish understanding of marriage and gender issues

When I started this work I thought it would be relatively easy. After all Jews are known for good and stable marriages. However it soon became apparent that there is a significant gap between common understanding and traditional sources. In addition there have been changes. Not only in the general society but also within our community and in halacha. A further problem is that as Rav Lichtenstein has pointed out, there is not simply one unique Torah or Jewish model of marriage. In addition the various models have evolved through the ages. Consequently I have focused on showing the essential building blocks, the components, that are highly regarded by Judaism – rather than a final finished model of marriage. In this regard it is important to know that my Rosh haYeshiva – Rabbi Friefeld told me not to read anything about marriage before I got married, but rather rely on him to inform me what I needed to know prior to the wedding. His actual advise was “Don’t do anything that is disgusting” There are multiple models of marriage to be found. Rabbi Akiva an ignorant shepherd who became one of the leading Sages as the result of falling in love. But he spent his much of his married life separate from his wife in the study hall. Yakov also fell in love with Rachel but she betrayed him to prevent her sister from being shamed. Yitzchok had an arranged marriage. According to the Netziv his wife viewed him with such awe that they could not have a normal conversation. Rava had a horrible marriage and didn’t want to get divorced because of financial reasons. Abraham and Sarah seemed to have a good marriage and remained affectionate even after death according to the gemora. However it seems that G-d was so concerned for their domestic tranquility, that He misled Avraham about what Sarah said about him. Rav Meir apparently brought about his wife’s suicide. At the other extreme Ben Azzai never married and there is the familiar story of Rav Aryeh Levine who tells his wife’s doctor “her foot is hurting us”. In addition both the  Rambam’s son and the Chasam Sofer’s son indicate that marriage is inherently incompatible with spiritual greatness or being a successful leader.  Aside from not physically or verbally abusing one’s wife there doesn’t seem to be clear advice given. Lying is not only permitted but seems recommended to maintain peace. Additionally, there are clearly negative statements regarding women in general as well as a number of positive ones. None of this fits in smoothly with the modern concepts of women or marriage. Halacha clearly is oriented to the male. Thus the male marries the woman and only he has the right to divorce. I present the sources as is with no attempts at apologetics or political correctness. The assumption is that Torah is from G-d and it doesn’t change because of the latest intellectual or social fad. I do present Rav Moshe’s tshuva about the feminist movement. In an enlightening secular book “All or nothing Marriage” the changing nature of marriage is described. Initially marriage was primarily a pragmatic institution both for the man and woman and their children and the welfare of society. Apparently as the result of the industrial Revolution and the improvement of society there was a gradual change in the 1800’s to Romantic love as the basis for marriage. This  standard has been changed in recent years to self-fulfillment. Thus marriage and divorce happen now not because of love but rather whether there are feelings of having a fulfilling relationship. “I can do better with a different spouse that helps me bring out my best”  All three models are supported by traditional sources. In addition the validity of the concept of having a predestined spouse (bashert) is also discussed as are the issues of adultery, pleasure and gender and other related topics. I cite traditional sources and generally ignore academic or non-Jewish sources. While some will voice disappointment at the lack of clear guidelines, the reality is that each marriage is unique and most be tailored to fit that couple. Some will prefer a marriage of the husband as king and master while others prefer a more equal relationship. The Pele Yoetz even seems to recommend having a bad marriage as an opportunity for spiritual and personal growth.  What is clear is that there is no assumption that you will marry based primarily on falling madly in love with some one predestined and that this leads to years of bliss and tranquility and good with the love undiminished. People change over time and the spouse you marry will transform many times during the marriage as will you. It is best according to Rav Wolbe to focus on commitment to the other as well as sensitivity to each other’s needs, to have basic principles and to receive advice and guidance from others. As a great tzadik once told me, “my wife is a saintly woman but sometimes she gets on my nerves.” Disagreements are an inherent part of any relationship and should not be viewed as proof of failure. It is more important to disagree in a sensitive way than to pretend everything is perfect. Similarly while disagreements should be expected, physical and verbal abuse is not acceptable. It is also important to realize that not every rabbi or therapist will be helpful and in some cases will make things worse. This is also true for advice from family and friends. As noted below Rav Yakov Kaminetsky claimed ignorance of dealing with marriage problems. Rav Moshe Feinstein had the practice of going to his apartment for lunch every day, where is wife prepared the single hot meal he got during the day. Once while he was eating lunch, he got an urgent phone call from a couple who were having a major fight. He stopped eating to try and resolve the problem. All the time he was on the phone, his wife was urging him to hang up and eat his meal. Finally at the end he resolved the issue and hung up the phone but there was no time to finish his meal before returning to the yeshiva. The young men who accompanied him as him asked. “Why was the domestic tranquility of the couple on the phone more important than his own? He answered that on the phone two people were fighting but in regarding his wife it was only one person.”  There was a certain rosh yeshiva who had a very bad marriage and went to Rav Moshe for advice. Rav Moshe told him not to get divorced. This continued for five years and it got so bad he ended divorcing her. He told friends that he had lost 5 years because he listened to Rav Moshe.


  1. Considering the extremely high divorce rate in the non-Jewish world, it is fair to assume their modern version of marriage is very frequently (mostly) not successful.

  2. What do you consider the modern version?

  3. You briefly describe it in your article above.

  4. In my latest SCOTUS petition (for public view) I write:
    Utter nonsense Susan/Rothbart/Rigler/Pesce that Yemima is my partner and Susan is my wife and so my children from Yemima are illegitimate. I quote:
    “And if a man commits adultery with a married woman, committing adultery with another man's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10).
    Hertz Chumash p. 507 (edited): “commits adultery. The repetition of the phrase and the substitution of another man's wife for a married woman stress the heinousness of the offense. Marriage is not merely a 'contract'; it is a consecration, and adultery is far more than merely an offense against one of the parties to a contract. It is an offense against the Divine Command proclaimed at Sinai, and constitutes the annihilation of holiness in marriage (Z. Frankel).”

  5. you mean self fulfillment. Yes people are constantly changing what they need for fulfillment

  6. All I'm opining is that the modern version of marriage is far far less successful than the traditional version. As demonstrated by the modern divorce rate.

  7. Top Quality PlumbingMay 24, 2021 at 3:22 PM

    That's like saying ," The fact that people used to drive cars for 25 years before junking them is proof that the old cars were of higher quality". The truth is our world and especially our community didn't view divorce kindly and it was a very scary idea to divorce, even in the most peaceful of circumstances. At least now there's an opportunity for honest guidance and discussion, which can help people resolve their issues and live a higher quality of life together, or to conclude together with guidance that they should divorce and try to at least have the opportunity to live a good life afterwards.

  8. Divorce rightfully should be viewed unkindly. At least as much we'd view amputation with horror. Does that mean amputation isn't medically necessary sometimes? Of course not. But we'd certainly exhaust nearly every other conceivable possibility before resorting to amputating a limb.

    Most unfortunately divorce today is no longer viewed as a last resort. The husband and I don't see eye to eye, divorce. The wife is cranky and complaining most days and doesn't appreciate my hard work, divorce.

    I'd venture to say that the vast vast majority of divorces that occur could have been avoided.

  9. Torah thought בהעלתך
    “At the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the Lord they encamped: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle they remained encamped. And when the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord, and journeyed not. And sometimes the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle; according to the commandment of the Lord they remained encamped, and according to the commandment of the Lord they journeyed. And sometimes the cloud was from evening until morning; and when the cloud was taken up in the morning, they journeyed; or if it continued by day and by night, when the cloud was taken up, they journeyed. Whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, abiding thereon, the children of Israel remained encamped, and journeyed not; but when it was taken up, they journeyed. At the commandment of the Lord they encamped, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed; they kept the charge of the Lord, at the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses.” (Numbers 9:18-23)
    מלבי"ם במדבר פרשת בהעלותך פרק ט פסוק כא
    ויש אשר יהיה, עתה יספר ענין אחר להראות צדקת העם ואמונתם בה' ובמשה עבדו כמ"ש זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך וכו' לכתך אחרי במדבר, ספר בזה איך עמדו בזה בכמה נסיונות, שיש אשר יהיה הענן מערב ועד בקר, שלא עמדו במק"א רק לילה אחד, ואז בודאי לא הקימו את המשכן שבלילה אין מקימין אותו כמ"ש וביום הקים את המשכן ולא בלילה כמ"ש בשבועות (דף טו), ובזה היה להם להתרעם שלא יתן להם מנוחה אף יום אחד ותמול בואם והיום יניעם ללכת ובכ"ז כשנעלה הענן בבקר ונסעו, או יומם ולילה ואז הקימו את המשכן, אבל העם לא גמרו להקים אהליהן ביום אחד, והיה להם להתלונן על טרחם הקצתי הזה שהיה בחנם:
    במדבר פרשת בהעלותך פרק ט פסוק כג
    עַל פִּי יְקֹוָק יַחֲנוּ וְעַל פִּי יְקֹוָק יִסָּעוּ אֶת מִשְׁמֶרֶת יְקֹוָק שָׁמָרוּ עַל פִּי יְקֹוָק בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה:
    רש"ר הירש במדבר פרשת בהעלותך פרק ט פסוק כג
    על - פי ה' ביד משה. הם חנו ונסעו על פי דבר ה', שגילה את רצונו על ידי הענן; אך משה היה המתווך: הוא שדרש מהם לשמוע בקול ה', כל אימת שהודיע את רצונו בענן. ודבר זה יתבאר מיד בפסוקים הבאים.
    Patience patience. God’s runs the world. Trust in God. Do your best. In the Wilderness the Jews had clear proof, and to the world, of God’s involvement.
    My new number at SCOTUS just came out: 20-8096, thank you God

  10. Top Quality PlumbingMay 28, 2021 at 2:15 PM

    I don't disagree with you on this. People aren't driven to uncover every stone before divorcing. And that leads to many impulsive divorces. Which in turn may lead to yet more divorces and children prone to divorce. All of this is sad and regrettable. My focus is on the idea that now we can salvage lives stuck in toxic marriages with no actual hope for success. Now we have the forums to entertain the idea of spousal abuse both ways. Now we can utilize the tool of divorce as just that: a tool. It's not necessary for a surgeon to be distraught about having to do an amputation. He knows when it's necessary and does it with the mindset that he's losing a battle and winning the war. Divorce is a tool that wasn't accessible as long as the people got emotionally triggered by the idea and pushed people to stay in the worst marriages and possibly sin as a result, for the sake of " avoiding divorce".

  11. seems from this into that you are breaking apart all the classical models as having flaws. Maybe human nature is so - consider Adam and Chava.

  12. If everyone is a unique individual, then every couple is also unique. How can any generic advice work for such a model?

  13. The answer is obvious that there are basic principles which apply to all

  14. That's like saying that everyone needs oxygen. Well yes, but some need more, some can tolerate lower levels, etc.


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