In Gen 1.28 we have the command to “Be fruitful and multiply” and so we are going to begin by talking about procreation. This injunction falls solely on the man because he is the one who takes the initiative in establishing a marriage. It would be unfair to charge the woman with a duty over which she has no control. She could not just go out and “get a husband.” The school of Shammai said this command is fulfilled with two sons, while the school of Hillel said that it is fulfilled with a son and a daughter. In this way, according to Hillel, the needs of the future generations are met. A “mitzvah (good work) was when you had more than two.
Now, let’s talk briefly about what is called a Levirate marriage. No, its not when you marry a Levite, it is a law concerning brother in law. The word “levir” is Latin for brother in law, and the Hebrew word is “yavam.” Deut 25.5-10 tells us that if a man has a brother who dies, and he has no children, he is to raise up an heir with his sister in law. This was the underlying reason Tamar had relations with her father in law Judah. She was married to two of Judah’s sons who died. A third was too you to have children, so she went to Judah (Gen 38 1.11). This law was put in place to perpetuate the name and estate of the deceased within the family, if he died with no issue. But, there is an eschatological meaning to this law as well. We are to “raise up children” in the name of our dead brother Yeshua (John 20.17; 1 Cor 1.12). If he chooses not to fulfill this duty, he chooses to enter into a ceremony called “halitzah” meaning the “removing of the shoe” (Deut 25.7-10). This is a picture of a person who is an unbeliever who does not want to raise up children in the name of Yeshua, and his feet are not shod with the Basar (gospel). The widow disgraces the brother in law in public by removing the shoe from his right foot and spitting in his face, or on the ground, showing contempt. By the first century the emphasis was to get out of it, and only if he couldn’t, then marry the widow. This was wrong, but the first century “Judaisms” didn’t obey the Torah in many ways, and that is why many did not recognize the Messiah when he came.
In the case of divorce, a wife could not initiate a divorce because she did not “take” the husband. Therefore, she could not give him up. This would change in time (Exo 21.10; 1 Cor 7.13). A husband can divorce his wife against her will, and still can, or refuse to divorce her. If he “disappears” she becomes what is called an “agunah” or “bound woman” and cannot marry again. The Ketubah (wedding contract) is a binding financial statement against hasty divorces. Now, we are going to do some application. In Deut 24.1 it says when a man takes a wife (betrothal) and marries her (“ba’al” means “master), we have the two stages mentioned here. But if he finds an indecency in her, which means anything that makes their life together impossible because this can lead to cruelty and abuse, he must meet three qualifications. First, he must write out a bill of divorce. Second, he must put it in her hands and third he sends her out. This indecency is not any of the uncleanness mentioned in Lev 18 or adultery, because those were punishable by death, so a divorce was not needed. This word in Hebrew “ervah” has to do with improper behavior.
Now, if she leaves and marries someone else, and then divorces him, she cannot remarry the first husband. If the second husband of the woman dies, the first husband cannot remarry her either. This plays out eschatologically because Israel and the Lord are only in the betrothal stage, not he full marriage of Deut 24.1. If you did not want to get married, you had to divorce each other in the betrothal stage (Matt 1.18-19). If you then married others, and that didn’t work out, you could come back and marry each other because you had not reached the full marriage. It is the same with the Lord and Israel. They are only in the betrothal stage, not the full marriage. That doesn’t take place till Rosh ha Shannah, year 6001 and the Natzal.
The concept of divorce was a hotly contested issue in the first century. The two phrases “found some indecency” in verse 1 and “the latter husband turns against her” in verse 4 are the main arguments. Yeshua defined halachah in this verse for us in Matt 5.32 and 19.1-6. Yeshua is freeing Deut 24,1-4 from all the false interpretations of the Pharisees. There is no cause for divorce in the case of sexual sin because that was the death penalty, so when it translates “adultery” it is not a correct rendering of the Hebrew “ervah.” In Mark 10.11 and Luke 16.17 he is talking about a person who does not obtain a divorce and marries another. Exo 21.10 gives some other reasons for a divorce, and 1 Cor 7 10-15 says that if you have a spouse that leaves because of your faith in Yeshua, then let them leave (divorce) because that is seen as spiritual uncleanness. Rabbi Akiva around 135 AD allowed divorce when the marriage did not provide a base for happiness. A woman could get a court to force him to divorce her, since she did not have the power to divorce. They would apply “coercive” measures. By the second century, there were grounds for a woman to divorce her husband. These included physical defects, an undesirable trade, chronic bad breath, he obtained a second wife or the husband was found to be the reason she is childless.
In the post-Mishnaic era (200-600 AD) the wife paid the fee for the scribe to write a bill of divorce. In Deut 24.1, this was seen as the obligation of the husband, but some refused their wife’s demand for a bill of divorce because it must be the property of the husband to give her, but this regulation changed that. In the later Medieval period, a divorce required the consent of the wife. Also, physical abuse of the wife and his intolerable attitude toward her were added to the list of reasons to divorce. With the rise of Reform Judaism (18th-19th century), Rabbi’s could no longer compel husbands to divorce because there was a breakdown in the communities being able to regulate themselves, because rabbinic courts were not recognized. Today, courts in Israel recognize the “agunah” (a husband who disappears).
A bill of divorce is called a “Get” which is a Talmudic term. The reason it is called a “get” is because the letters gimmel and tav are never together in the Torah and it is related to the word “gitah” which is a stone that erodes and disintegrates any stone close to it. In the Torah, it was called the “sefer karitut” which means a “writing of cutting off” (Deut 24.1). While a marriage is impregnable (Gen 2.24) it is not undissolvable (Deut 24.1-4; Exo 21.10). The bill of divorce must be written, be put into the hands of the other, and there must be a separation. The document must clearly identify each party, and their residence. It must be dated and bear the signatures or attesting witnesses. These customs teach us about the role of the Messiah and his death, burial and resurrection.
In Part 8, we will begin with the customs of visiting the sick and then move on to death and mourning observances.