Successful Divorce/Rabbi Dr. Reuven Bulka

Posted on September 12, 2010


As a general rule, human beings have a unique capacity to be quite perceptive when it comes to recognizing the faults of others, but are almost totally blind when it comes to seeing their own faults. All blemishes one is able to see, except one’s own (variation on a statement in Talmud, Nega’im, 2:5).

One of the partners may have started the down cycle, but the other one finished. Who is to say that the one who initiated the problem is more guilty than the one who carried the problem to its ultimate, unfortunate end? How does one gauge whether the initiating of a problem, or the negative reaction thereto, comprises 25, 45, or 80 percent of the blame for the situation. Assessing relative blame is literally a no-win enterprise. At the same time, it is also an enterprise with no scientific precision attached to it. No one can know for certain, not even the parties involved. It is therefore best to avoid altogether the blaming of the other.

If the situation is untenable, and not correctable, trying to pinpoint blame is an exercise in futility. With the marital situation being hopeless, the best the couple can do is to make sure the divorce situation is not as hopeless and as frustrating as the marriage.
Successful Divorce

The couple should take the attitude that if their marriage failed for whatever reason or reasons, then at the very least they should try to make their divorce a success. Yes, it is possible to speak in terms of successful divorce.

What is a successful divorce? A successful divorce is a divorce in which both husband and wife detach from one another according to the basic prescriptions of Jewish law, and with a view towards terminating the marriage in as decent and humane a manner as possible. Bitter feelings may reside within the pit of each one’s innards, but this does not mean that such bitterness must be translated into loud-mouthed invective. Recriminations may be harbored, but this does not mean that such feelings must be lambasted at each other.

It can be readily assumed that each one of the marital partners does have some negative feelings for the other spouse, no matter how amiable the divorce may be. Each one of the spouses should not live with the delusion that the overtly calm and friendly behavior of the other implies that the other is perfectly at ease with what is unfolding. On the contrary, each should assume that the other is uncomfortable and uneasy about what is happening. But in the divorce there is a shared uneasiness, a shared swallowing of pride, for the purpose of getting on with life in as manageable a form as is possible.

Thus the general guideline, with regard to the divorce process, is that those involved, including the husband, the wife, the Rabbinical tribunal, and the lawyers, be of one mind in their resolve that the divorce be handled in the humane, delicate and sensitive manner that it by right ought to be.

To the contention that may be leveled at this suggestion; namely — how can one expect a divorce to go smoothly if the couple is bitter towards one another and would like to be vengeful, vindictive, and spiteful? — the theoretical answer is very simple. It is no trick to be nice when things are going well. The general overall Judaic obligation to do that which is upright and good (Deuteronomy, 6:18), to go in the way of goodness, is an ethical imperative, and a challenge that is truly fulfilled in trying times, in times when one would want to do the very opposite.

That is the theory. Is it too much to ask that this profound theory be carried out in practice?

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Bulka is a pulpit rabbi, author and lecturer. He has written extensively on the issue of Jewish divorce.