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Ki Tetse -If a man takes a wife

“If a man takes a wife…and it comes to pass that she does not find favor in his eyes because he discovers in her a promiscuous matter – he should write her a writ of divorce.”

In this week’s parsha (portion of the week) we are introduced to the laws of divorce. The Torah specifies the way to end a Jewish marriage. The last Mishnah in Massechet Gittin [90a] cites a difference of opinion as to justifiable grounds for divorce: Beit Shammai rules that a person should not divorce his wife UNLESS HE FOUND HER GUILTY OF SOME UNSEEMLY BEHAVIOR (‘ervat davar’ i.e. – adultery). Short of that, a person is not allowed to divorce his wife. Beit Hillel rules that a man may divorce his wife EVEN IF SHE HAS MERELY SPOILT HIS FOOD, i.e. should she burn his dinner. It is usually understood that in the debates between these two schools of ( Shammai and Hillel), the school of Shammai tends to be more stringent, while the school of Hillel tends to be more lenient. If so, why does the school of Hillel (their opinion became the ruling halachah) maintain that a man can divorce his wife for such a trivial reason?

Why did Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel take positions seemingly contrary to their usual methods (Beit Shammai was usually strict and Beit Hillel was usually lenient)?

How would divorced women be looked upon if Beit Shammai’s opinion would have been accepted as halachah?

If the only permitted ground for divorce was adultery, a divorced

woman would never have been able to remarry, as she would be branded an adulteress, regardless of any acts of teshuva (repentance) on her part. Every divorced woman would be the subject of derision and shame. By allowing a husband to give a divorce for more mundane reasons, the woman can no longer be labeled an adulteress and she stands a better chance of remarrying since the general public will not assume that she has committed any terrible act. As such, Beit Hillel’s actions protect the woman’s dignity and are more lenient than Beit Shammai.

We may see from the ruling of Hillel how careful we must be of other people’s dignity even that of a sinner and this idea is frequently stated by Chazal in heir interpretations of the Mitzvoth.

In last week’s parsha, the Torah discusses the exemptions from army service when the army is engaged in a milchemet reshut (voluntary war) (a voluntary war, was not for self-defense or immediate protection): The exemptions include a man who has built a new house but has not begun to live in it, a man who has just planted a vineyard but has not yet used the fruit thereof or a man who has recently become engaged. The final exemption listed is for a man who is afraid of battle. After the above exemptions have been read to the group of recruits, those with an excuse were released from service (Devarim 20:5-8).

The Mishna in Sotah 44a discusses a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yosi Haglili in relation to the “fear” exemption. Rabbi Akiva stated that the fear exemption is for one who is scared of going to war. Rabbi Yosi Haglili said that the exemption is for one who is afraid of potentially being killed in battle as a punishment for the sins he had committed. Rabbi Yosi further explained that the reason for the other exceptions was solely to protect this type of person from embarrassment. Indeed, there is seemingly no logical explanation for the draft exemption status of one of who built a new house or planted a new vineyard. As Rabbi Yosi explains that the Torah added these categories in order to protect the dignity of the man who was afraid of punishment so that it will not be obvious to observers why he is not going to battle.

We should learn a lesson from these two scenarios and should always be constantly mindful of other people’s dignity

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