Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jewish Family Values say Partilla and Riddel were right to leave their families

Did these two do something wrong?
John Partilla and Carol Anne Riddell fell in love about two years ago and were recently married. To celebrate the occasion, they did what many couples do and submitted the story of their relationship to the New York Times for publication in The Vows, a regular feature.

Only one problem.

Partilla and Riddel were married to other people when they met, and though they insist that no adultery was committed, the article does describe some of the devastation left in their wake, including wounded children and angry ex-spouses.

Predictably, some Defenders of Family Values are in an uproar -- "They broke up two families for an infatuation!" said one of my FaceBook friends -- but as I reviewed the facts of the case, I found myself asking: What exactly did they do wrong?

Ancient Jewish tradition has two very different views on divorce, both of which are based on Deut 24:1 and both of which were enshrined in the Mishna
בית שמאי אומרין, לא יגרש אדם את אשתו אלא אם כן מצא בה דבר ערווה, שנאמר "כי מצא בה ערוות דבר" (דברים כד,א); בית הלל אומרין, אפילו הקדיחה תבשילו, שנאמר "דבר = The School of Shammai says "no man may divorce his wife unless she commits some act of sexual immorality as it says "he found in her an indecent "thing". [Deut 24:1] The School of Hillel says [he may divorce her] even if she burned the stew, as it says "[any]thing". [Deut 24:1]
Hillel and Shammai lived during the 1st century BCE. The end of their lives coincided with the birth of Jesus. Though its hard to imagine this now, the very first Christians thought of themselves as full-fledged Jews. Like Jews of that time, they created drashot to promote or defend their beliefs, and they seem to have also inherited certain early Rabbinic teachings. For instance, the Gospel of Mathew [5:31-32] seems to have accepted the teaching of Shammai:
It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’[=Deut 24:1] But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Rabbinic Judaism, on the other hand, seems to have completely discarded the teaching of Shammai in favor of full and complete acceptance of Hillel's perspective. As the Mishna quoted above continues: רבי עקיבה אומר, אפילו מצא אחרת נאה ממנה, שנאמר "והיה אם לא תמצא חן בעיני =Rabbi Akiva (ca.50–ca.135 CE) said [He may divorce her] even if he found someone more appealing, as it says "and it turns out she doesn't find favor in his eyes." [Deut 24:1]

So while Christian Defenders of Family value may be right to criticize Partilla and Riddel, Jews need not join in. Instead, we might quite correctly rely on Hillel and Akiva, and wish the happy couple sincere congratulations. Unlike Christians, and, um.... Shammai, we don't require couples to stay together forever, barring extenuating circumstances. We permit divorce for any reason, including "infatuation." Two people, per Hillel and Akiva, are never chained together for eternity, the husband is always free to move on [Sorry ladies, but that's (unfortunately) the authentic, undiluted, Torah True Tradition].

Though its certainly correct to sympathize with the ex-spouses and children, it seems wrong to criticize the new couple for choosing happiness.

PS: The best part of this is how some of the very same people who say we must not ever second guess chazal are cheerfully second guessing R. Akiva! Double standard much Chazal-worshipers?

See the original Vows article here and the New York Post's criticism here 

Search for more information about other ways Jewish and Cristian values do not coincide  at 4torah.com.


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