Monday, October 09, 2006

Learning more about divorce

In light of the Sunday gospel reading (Mark 10:2-9) in which Jesus rules out divorce, I thought I might post recent things I've read about the subject.

First, I heard Dennis Prager talking about Jewish divorce and I knew this gospel reading was coming up, so I wanted to learn more about the Jewish practice. It seems the basic problem Jesus addressed has not changed much since biblical times. According to the Law of Moses, a Jewish Marriage is ended by death or by a bill of divorce, called a get. As Wikipedia explains:

A get is the Hebrew word for a divorce document, which is presented by a husband to his wife on the occasion of their divorce. The essential text of the get is quite short: "You are hereby permitted to all men," i.e. you are no longer a married woman, and the laws of adultery no longer apply. The get also returns to the wife the legal rights which a husband holds in regard to his wife in a Jewish marriage.

The get must be written by a religious scribe (sofer), with the explicit and free-willed approval of the husband, and with the specific intention that it is to be used by a certain man and woman.

The laws of gittin only provide for a divorce initiated by the husband. However, the wife has the right to sue for divorce in a rabbinical court. The court, finding just cause, will require the husband to divorce his wife.

Historically, a husband who refused the court's demand that he divorce his wife would be subjected to various penalties in order to pressure him into granting a divorce. . . . Sometimes a man will completely refuse to grant a divorce. This leaves his wife with no recourse, and no possibility of remarriage. Such an unfortunate woman is called an agunah (literally a "chained" or "anchored" wife).

A man who refuses to give his wife a get is frequently spurned by the community, and excluded from communal religious activities. It is hoped that this pressure will encourage him to grant the divorce. A similar but rarer situation, in which the wife refuses to accept a get, similarly prevents the husband from remarrying.

A similar but rarer situation, in which the wife refuses to accept a get, similarly prevents the husband from remarrying. Some marriages in Conservative Judaism have recently included pre-nuptial agreements to prevent extortion in giving or receiving the get in the case of a desired divorce. Of course, Jesus reminds us, "in the beginning it was not so."

The second interesting tidbit of information came from the working out of Christian marriage law following the Counter-Reformation period. It comes from a book I'm currently reading called The Old Catholic Movement: Its Origins and History, by C. B. Moss.

Archbishop van Neercassel was the last and greatest of the Archbishops of Utrecht who died in full communion with Rome. He succeeded in solving an important problem of marriage for the whole Roman Communion. The Council of Trent, in order to prevent secret marriages, had decreed that no marriage should be recognized as valid without the presence of a priest. This was interpreted as meaning that all Protestant marriages were invalid; that a married person, on joining the Roman Communion, must leave his or her spouse until they should be remarried; and that if the other spouse refused to repeat the marriage, the Roman Catholic spouse might then marry any other person.

Archbishop van Neercassel, on the other hand, taught that marriages between persons not in communion with Rome were by natural law valid and indissoluble; and that if such persons afterwards joined the Roman Communion, their previous marriage only required the Church's blessing to make it sacramental. This view was accepted by the Roman Penitentiary in 1671, and was made the law of the Church by Pope Benedict XIV in I74I.

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