Does Halachah Permit Annulments for Marriage?

The principle of annulment for failed marriages has been used throughout Jewish history since the days of Late Antiquity.

In one Responsa of the Rashbam, he writes:

The correct rationale for all Talmudic statements that “the Rabbis annul this marriage” is that the court has the authority to expropriate the money used to effect the marriage, since the law recognizes the principle of hefker bet din hefker (i.e., the court has the right to declare privately-owned money or property ownerless). This being so, the money does not belong to him [the groom]—and thus he did not marry her with his money, and she is not married at all.

If so, we may expand this principle to cover a communal enactment, since the community may expropriate the property of any of its members, and all courts in every generation have the power to expropriate private property because “Jephthah in his generation is equal to Samuel in his generation.” …

Consequently, a community that adopts an enactment to the effect that any marriage not having the consent of the communal leaders is invalid has thereby taken the property away from the man and transferred it to the woman on condition that the man shall have no right to it. Since it did not belong to him, he gave her nothing of his own; what she obtained from him was ownerless property that had been taken away from him. She is [therefore] not married at all.

The community may do this as a protective measure to prevent an unworthy man from coming forward to entice a girl from a distinguished family and marry her in secret. If it is an earlier enactment [before the man moved into the town], then everyone implicitly consented to it, and the matter is even simpler.

(Cited from Jewish Law : History, Sources, Principles = Ha-mishpat ha-Ivri, p. 840.)

Unfortunately, the Orthodox and Haredi communities refuse to utilize such a measure because it involves a biblical issur. However, the loophole exists and this issue needs to be reappraised. Rav Moshe Feinstein utilized numerous Halachic arguments to annul marriages that occurred on a variety of different issues, e.g., the failure to disclose vital personal history, and so on. It is obvious that under normal circumstances a get would be required, but  the Halacha sanctions a more extraordinary approach–when the situation calls for it, i.e., when the woman is subject to the threat of extortion from an estranged husband. Ultimately, today’s modern leaders will have to eventually answer God for their stubbornness and stupidity in World of Eternity. Such rabbinic corruption and anarchy must be confronted.

The Divine Feminine—The Theology of Immanence

The Divine Feminine—The Theology of Immanence

History has shown us time and time again how God-images impact the way a religious culture treats its female members. Cultures ruled by a misogynistic conception of the Divine, cannot help but treat its women in a barbarous manner. Indeed, a society that hates its women becomes incapable of loving anything else. Conversely, a religious culture that respects and values the maternal aspects of the Divine Feminine produces a community of believers where life becomes sacred and holy. The reverence for life—across the ideological spectrum—becomes the basis for all societal evolution and development.

Indeed, the new feminist theological movement offers to liberate men and woman from the shackles of a pure masculine anthropomorphic spirituality while expanding their theological horizons about the mysterious nature of the Divine that conceives, carries, and gives birth to all life-forms. Every metaphor of God in the Tanakh paints its own unique picture for how the divine interrelates with the world. The metaphor of God as Mother reveals relationships that in some ways go beyond the limitations of paternal imagery. Continue reading “The Divine Feminine—The Theology of Immanence”

Bringing Civility Back to Religion . . .

What we can we do to bring civility back to faith, and remove its thorn of toxicity? Decades ahead of his time, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber argued that one of the great spiritual challenges of our time is the process of purging our faith of all imagery that portrays the Divine as either vindictive or abusive. In his short but insightful autobiographical book, Meetings, Buber describes a meeting he had with a very pious and learned observant Jew. They had a conversation about the biblical story of King Saul and the war of genocide waged against Israel’s ancient enemy, Amalek. After Saul captures King Agag of Amalek, Saul does not kill him. The prophet Samuel becomes enraged at Saul, who places the onus of the blame on the people rather than himself. Perhaps he cannot kill his enemies with such reckless abandon, but Samuel will not hear of it; he personally hacks Agag to death. Afterward Samuel tells Saul to abdicate the throne, but Saul refuses. Buber tells the man sitting opposite him, that as a child, he always found this story horrifying. Buber recounts:

I told him how already at that time it horrified me to read or to remember how the heathen king went to the prophet with the words on his lips, “Surely the bitterness of death is past,” and was hewn to pieces by him. I said to my partner: “I have never been able to believe that this is a message of God. I do not believe it.” With wrinkled forehead and contracted brows, the man sat opposite me and his glance flamed into my eyes. He remained silent, began to speak, and became silent again. “So?” he broke forth at last, “so? You do not believe it?” “No,” I answered, “I do not believe it.” “So? so?” he repeated almost threateningly. “You do not believe it?” And once again: “No.”

“What. What”—he thrust the words before him one after the other—“What do you believe then?” “I believe,” without reflecting, “that Samuel has misunderstood God.” And he, again slowly, but more softly than before: “So? You believe that?” and I: “Yes.” Then we were both silent. But now something happened the like of which I have rarely seen before or since in this my long life. The angry countenance opposite me became transformed as if a hand had passed over it soothing it. It lightened, cleared, was now turned toward me bright and clear. “Well,” said the man with a positively gentle tender clarity, “I think so too.” And again we became silent, for a good while.[1]

Buber in the end of this anecdote mentioned how people often confuse the words of God with the words of man. To speak of God as “abusive,” is to speak of a man‑made caricature of God. Buber was well aware of the power such imagery has over people in the formation of their own personal relationships.

[1] Martin Buber, Meetings (Laselle, IL: Open Court, 1973), 52‑53.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob vs. The God of the Philosophers

As the 11th century Jewish philosopher Judah HaLevi observed in his Kuzari, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, is intimately concerned about the life of humankind.

When Moses first spoke to Pharaoh, he informed him: “The God of the Hebrews sent me unto you,” i.e., the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For Abraham was well known to the nations, who also knew that the divine spirit was in contact with the patriarchs, cared for them, and performed miracles for them. Moses never said to Pharaoh, “The God of heaven and earth,” nor did he refer to God as, “Our Creator sent me to you . . .” By the same token, when God gave the Israelites the Decalogue, the words of the Divine oracles began with the words, “I am the God (whom you worship,) Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt . . . ” Note that God did not say, “I am the Creator of the world and your Creator. . . .This is an appropriate answer to not only you, but also to the people Israel, who have long believed in such a faith based upon their self-authenticated personal experience. Moreover, this belief is something that has been confirmed through an uninterrupted tradition, which is no less significant . . .”

Many of the more theistic-minded Greek philosophers like Plato or Aristotle never had a personal name for the One God, whom they regarded as the Prime Mover of the cosmos. To the Greek imagination, it is inconceivable that God could have any interest in the affairs of mortals, much less have an ethical relationship with humankind.[1]

But for HaLevi, God is more than a Creator; He is also a Liberator  who takes interest in the needs of all His Creation. Although Maimonides tried to merge Greek and Judaic thought together much like Philo of Alexandria attempted to do in the 1st century, even Maimonides discovered that such a new symbiosis had its challenges. To his credit, Maimonides’s critique of God‑talk reveals that the mystery of God’s reality transcends all analogies. Furthermore, Maimonides stresses that when we construct a theology about God, we must be careful not to take our metaphors and categories of faith too literally. Maimonides himself did acknowledge the importance of analogical language and its importance as a model for emulating God’s ethical conduct (Imitatio Dei). Contemplation of the Divine can only reveal to us God’s behavior (but not His essence) and relationship to the world. Contemplation alone, however, only produces a flawed understanding of God. To know God is to follow God’s moral ways (Exod. 33:13). Maimonides observes:

We are commanded to follow these intermediate paths—and they are the good and decent paths alluded to in the Torah: “And you shall walk in His ways” (Deut. 28:9): The Sages define this precept in the following manner: Just as He is called “Gracious,” so shall you be gracious. Just as He is “Merciful,” so shall you be merciful. Just as He is called “Holy,” so shall you be holy. In a similar manner, the prophets called God by other titles: “Slow to anger,” “Abundant in kindness,” “Righteous,” “Just,” “Perfect,” “Almighty,” etc. These metaphors serve to inform us that these are good and worthy paths. A person is obligated to accustom himself to these paths and emulate Him to the extent of his ability.[2] Continue reading “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob vs. The God of the Philosophers”

The Book of Job as a Pastoral Parable

Rather than focus on the explosive religious issues of the day, I thought I would write about the importance of providing pastoral care. Often times, we hear that providing such care is usually the “job” of the professional clergy. Nothing can be farther from the truth! Mirroring God’s love and compassion is a responsibility we all share. I personally know of a number of clergy and non-clergy who find this particular precept difficult because it often forces us to  confront and face our own insecure sense of mortality. However, such a self-awareness is necessary if we are going to make our contribution toward bettering the world we live in. Like Abraham, we must learn to respond to the problem of human suffering with the word: hineni – Here I am. . . . How can I help? God calls upon us all to behave as shepherds toward one another.

According to rabbinic tradition, the entire book of Job is a parable about pastoral care. For many years, I have personally find this insight very illuminating—especially if we interpret the Jobian drama in light of the principles found in Psalm 23.

In terms of providing care that is pastoral, the story about Job’s suffering (or any human being), represents a spiritual challenge to the family, friends, and community. The Bible does not subscribe to a belief in fatalism. The existence of the poor and needy is a spiritual problem for any just community. The way we respond to suffering defines and reveals the depth of our own spirituality and faith. The imagery of Psalm 23 provides a spiritual way good people can respond to the problem of suffering in their communities. Here are several ways how the pastoral imagery of Psalm 23 might serve as a praxis for how helping caregivers can become shepherds to those who are experiencing loss and a sense of abandonment. In the Jobian story, the pastoral imagery of Psalm 23 was absent in the way Job’s caregivers related to him. Continue reading “The Book of Job as a Pastoral Parable”