Jewish Ethics And Divorce/Rabbi Dr. Reuven Bulka

Posted on February 10, 2014


(The thoughts of Rabbi Dr. Bulka on divorce have appeared in this blog before. Below Rabbi Bulka applies the teachings of Pirke Avot to the divorce situation. MR)

“Ethics of the Elders,” what is popularly known as Pirkay Avot, contains timeless ethical instruction for all contingencies of life.

Since divorce is one of life’s contingencies, it would be useful to extract from Ethics of the Elders appropriate ethical instruction that can be used as a guide in the divorce process.

What follows are some guidelines for a Jewish Divorce Ethic, consistent with the ideas presented in this volume, and which are suggested in Pirkay Avot.

Make for yourself a guide:
Choose a person with wisdom and insight, to guide you through the difficult travail of the divorce process.

Keep far away from a bad neighbor:
Do not let the undesirable behavior of your spouse influence you to behave in a like manner. Your behavior should be beyond reproach at all times.

Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace: Obviously, loving peace and pursuing peace should help in keeping a marriage intact. However, even if the marriage has reached the point of being beyond repair, your love of peace and pursuit of peace should continue unabated, so that the divorce process is as tranquil as possible.

One who seeks a name loses one’s name:
If you enter into the divorce process trying to justify yourself, to maintain your honor, and to heap dishonor on your marital partner, you will lose your honor and your name.

If I am for my own self only, what am I?
If you are for yourself only, then this may be at the root of the marriage’s failure. However, do not carry that failure over into divorce. When divorcing, make sure that the welfare of others, including your spouse and children, are utmost in your mind.

Greet all people with a cheerful countenance:
This across-the-board ethical imperative should include those people about whom you may not feel so cheery, including the mate that you are divorcing.

I have found nothing better for the body than silence — Especially when you hear insulting and degrading words from the former partner whom you have divorced, do not counter-attack and start a war. The best thing to do is to keep quiet. Maybe the verbal invective will disappear from the dialogue between you.

The world is preserved through three things: truth, justice, and peace — You should be able to accept the truth, the fact that after all has been attempted, the marriage is doomed to failure. As a next step, you should accept the verdict of the court, as it wades through the mass of details in order to hammer out a settlement of outstanding issues. And finally, having accepted the judgment, you should live with it, at peace with yourself, and committed to making the best of it for all others involved.

Which is the right path that a person should choose? That which is an honor to the one who does it and which also brings honor from humankind — If your behavior in the trying, traumatic process of divorce is ethically above board, it will enable you to look in the mirror with a clear conscience. It will also bring you the approbation of others, who will see your absolute commitment to uprightness even in the most trying times as a true model of what a human being should be.