Sunday, September 4, 2011

Is a Divorce Ever Final?

As painful, messy and confusing as most divorcees find the process, they take solace in one thing: when it's over, it's over. When the Get (and in the Diaspora the civil divorce) comes through, each side can take a deep breath, enjoy the feeling of freedom, and look forward to a new beginning. It's over.
But is it?
If the marriage produced children, then it's obvious that while the partners have disconnected from each-other, they nonetheless continue to share in the responsibilities, burdens and joys of raising their children. This demands an ongoing interaction with the former spouse over an endless array of issues. From future Bar Mitzvah's to day school tuition to the naming of your grandchildren, a divorcee's former spouse will always be a part of his or her life.
But what if there were no children? At least then can we suppose that divorce represents a "final" separation between former husband and wife? Here again, a mitzvah in the Torah teaches us that while their bond may be small, even unnoticeable, a bond between husband and wife, even after divorce, remains nonetheless.
Among the many mitzvot listed in Ki Tetzei, we find the relatively obscured prohibition against מחזיר גרושתו – remarrying one's divorcee. Actually, that's not an accurate description of the prohibition. One can and should remarry his former wife, but only on the condition that she didn't marry someone else in the interim. If she did, then they may never marry each-other again. The Torah teaches us, )Devarim 24:1-4)
כִּי יִקַּח אִישׁ אִשָּׁה וּבְעָלָהּ וְהָיָה אִם לֹא תִמְצָא חֵן בְּעֵינָיו כִּי מָצָא בָהּ עֶרְוַת דָּבָר וְכָתַב לָהּ סֵפֶר כְּרִיתֻת וְנָתַן בְּיָדָהּ וְשִׁלְּחָהּ מִבֵּיתוֹ. וְיָצְאָה מִבֵּיתוֹ וְהָלְכָה וְהָיְתָה לְאִישׁ אַחֵר: וּשְׂנֵאָהּ הָאִישׁ הָאַחֲרוֹן וְכָתַב לָהּ סֵפֶר כְּרִיתֻת וְנָתַן בְּיָדָהּ וְשִׁלְּחָהּ מִבֵּיתוֹ אוֹ כִי יָמוּת הָאִישׁ הָאַחֲרוֹן אֲשֶׁר לְקָחָהּ לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה: לֹא יוּכַל בַּעְלָהּ הָרִאשׁוֹן אֲשֶׁר שִׁלְּחָהּ לָשׁוּב לְקַחְתָּהּ לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה אַחֲרֵי אֲשֶׁר הֻטַּמָּאָה כִּי תוֹעֵבָה הִוא לִפְנֵי ה' וְלֹא תַחֲטִיא אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה:
When a man taketh a wife, and marrieth her, then it cometh to pass, if she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some unseemly thing in her, that he writeth her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house, and she departeth out of his house, and goeth and becometh another man's wife, and the latter husband hateth her, and writeth her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, who took her to be his wife; her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD; and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD   thy God giveth thee for an inheritance
This commandment raises the obvious question: what's the difference whether she married someone else after she got divorced. Why can't her first husband decide to remarry his former wife after she divorces her second husband?
One of my jobs at Orot is editing the weekly sheet that we send out to our contacts (in Hebrew). Yes, there is some irony in the fact that I'm editing a Hebrew newsletter, but someone else checks the grammar after I'm done checking the content. In the d'var Torah for Ki Tetzei, Yishai Shavit, a student in Meretz Kollel in Mevaseret Zion raises this question, and arrives at a somewhat surprising conclusion.
The fact that halachah prohibits a couple from remarrying after the woman has married someone else in between indicates clearly that even after divorce, a couple remains connected in some way. In fact, the term used for the divorce itself represents a bond between husband and wife.
We know that when a couple divorces, the husband gives his wife a get. But the term get is a Mishnaic word that's really a generic word for "contract." The Torah tells us that the husband writes for his wife a "sefer" - which is the word we use for book. Shavit explains that the Hebrew root ס.פ.ר. always connotes a binding and connection. A Sefer - a book - is a binding of pages. לספור - to count - is to bring a group of items together into a single unit. סיפור - story - is a group of sentences bound together. A sefer, rather than separating, accomplishes precisely the opposite task. It binds. But this is a ספר כריתות - a book of divorce.
Moreover, the doesn't just give her the book. Rather, "he sends her from his house." He doesn't remove her from the house. In the words of the Torah, she is a שליחה - a messenger. She carries something of his, and like any שליח, she serves as his agent and representative in the world.
Shavit suggests that she takes with her "the root connection that they shared." In essence, once they married, he became a new person, someone different than he had been before they had joined together in matrimony. Now that they have decided to separate permanently, what is the man? Does he return to being the man he was before they married? That hardly seems plausible. But he can no longer be the man he was during the marriage either. He's not a husband, and now disconnected from his former wife, he undergoes yet another change. That chapter of his life lives on not in him - but in her, and in the "book" that he gives her representing the part of him that she will forever carry.