“When a man takes a wife and engages in intercourse with her, it shall be that if she does not find favour in his eyes, because he found in her an indecent matter, and he wrote her a bill of divorce, and he placed it in her hand, and he sent her from his house.” (Devarim 24:1)

The above verse serves as an important starting point for the Talmud’s discussion of marriage and divorce. The relationship between husband and wife is a vast area of Jewish law and philosophy that takes up one sixth of the Mishna and Talmud, known as Seder Nashim, “The Order of Women.” In the Daf Yomi (daily folio) cycle of Talmud learning, we have been occupied with this section since 9 March 2022 (6 Adar II 5782) when we began to study tractate Yevamot. The Daf Yomi cycle of Seder Nashim will conclude on 3 November 2023 (19 Cheshvan 5784) with the final page of tractate Kiddushin. This amounts to about twenty months of learning. There are seven tractates in this section of the Talmud and they cover a wide range of topics. Some of the subjects covered are: the prohibited relationships (arayot); the levirate marriage (yibum, see our parsha, Devarim 25:5-10); the monetary obligations outlined in the ketubah; a wife suspected of adultery; the nazirite; laws of oaths and vows and their particular application to women; the writing, signing and delivery of a get (bill of divorce); the predicament of a woman whose husband has disappeared; how a Jewish marriage is effected; the prohibition of being alone with a member of the opposite sex (yichud); marriage laws that are unique to cohanim; the wedding service; how a man must treat his wife and vice versa, and many other related and tangential subjects. Together with the next part of the Talmud, Seder Nezikim (“The Order of Damages”), which discusses monetary law and jurisprudence, Seder Nashim makes up the central curriculum of most yeshivot. This is because these two sections of the Talmud contain complex and intricate discussions that help to hone the mind of a budding Torah scholar. Indeed, a good part of my years at yeshiva were spent studying the tractates of Seder Nashim in depth.

I would like to say that by the time I got married, six days after my twenty fifth birthday, I had learned a great deal about marriage. Even though there was (and is) so much more to learn, I had a good foundation as I approached my nuptials. I had studied many passages about how a husband is meant to behave, the duties of husband to wife and how best to create shalom bayit, harmony in the home. I heard many lectures from my Rosh Yeshiva about marriage, its centrality in Judaism and the importance of finding the proper spouse. Was I properly prepared for all the challenges of marriage? No. But I had a good start. This is not the case for most people marrying today, including Jews. Despite the fact that marriage is one of the most important undertakings a person will make in his or her life, most are woefully unprepared.  There is far too much of a preoccupation with preparing for the wedding rather than the marriage. This is counterproductive because a wedding lasts but for a few hours but marriage is for life. So where does your modern couple learn about marriage, if at all? During their twelve or thirteen years of schooling, children in the western world will study mathematics, science, chemistry, language, economics, accounting, computer science and several other subjects. These are vital disciplines for one’s career but how much time is allotted for preparing for life? Where do children learn how to be ethical people? When do they study the dynamics of human relationships? How will they learn how to be good husbands and wives, fathers and mothers? If they are lucky, they will have parents to serve as role models but as the traditional nuclear family continues to dissolve, this will be the exception and not the rule. True, there is the subject Life Orientation (LO) that forms part of the curriculum but this a tiny fraction of the matric syllabus and I am yet to meet a learner who takes it seriously.

Where there is a scarcity of information about these important areas of human life, people inevitably turn to the media and internet for advice. Although there most certainly is excellent information about marriage online, the problem is where to find it. The internet, in general, and social media, in particular, are unfiltered, uncensored, unmediated and completely lacking in standards and boundaries. Social media like Facebook is often full of toxic opinions, hate, misinformation, gossip and slander. And then there is Hollywood. Far too many people cultivate an understanding of marriage based on what they see in films and TV series. Films are not going to portray good, solid marriages because they make for boring viewing. Far more appealing are abusive marriages, infidelities and far-fetched relationships between people who would never be married in real life. After watching several episodes of a hospital drama with my wife, I commented  that not one character in the show had a normal personal life. Those who had been married were divorced. Those who were single were promiscuous. And some had zero interest in marriage as a concept. And then there are the actors who star in the films and televisions series. To say that the lives and families of celebrities are dysfunctional is an understatement. Very few human beings can remain grounded when they possess vast wealth, impossibly good looks and are in the constant limelight. No wonder the average Hollywood marriage fails within the first five years.

We cannot allow the media and the internet to educate our children about marriage. Too much is at stake. Judaism has a highly developed system of law and philosophy on the subject. Let’s make sure that we use it.   

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Liebenberg

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha: https://youtu.be/OiCYqVUW5x8





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