Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Segulah of Divorce Then Marriage

DafNotes has an interesting post of a practical halachic question involving a segulah for a childless couple:
A couple who did not merit having children came to Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein with the following inquiry: Should they get divorced and then remarried, for they had heard that this is a segulah for having children? The woman, however, was refusing because getting divorced was degrading to her. What should they do?

He cited proof from our Gemora {Kesuvos 81b} that a divorce, even just for a few moments is degrading and therefore, the wife has grounds to refuse the divorce.


The Steipler Gaon, when asked the same question, said that a childless couple may try to divorce and remarry (and the husband need not be concerned that after the divorce, the wife will refuse to remarry); however, he personally never heard that this is a valid segulah and he has no opinion regarding its veracity.
I excerpted the post, so check out the rest of it over there.

Personally, I think that they should not do it for many reasons, foremost that (a) segulah-ism in general is bad, and (b) this is a mean thing to do to one's wife, to divorce, and any feeling that it is degrading to her is based on her personal feelings, which have validity, rather than any question of whether the degradation has valid halachic status.

Furthermore, in putting this segulah into practice in this instance, one hits against a technical violation of the Cherem deRabbenu Gershom, which forbids divorcing one's wife against her will. For even if the conclusion is that it is not halachically degrading, for her it is so, and so her feeling is that she does not wish to get divorced.

The Steipler's response about whether one must worry that the wife will refuse to remarry seems off to the question of whether it is degrading. I wonder if it was a separate couple who asked him this, or the same couple.

What of the origin of this segulah? I have my strong suspicions that it is rooted in Ketubot, in the halacha, no longer enforced, that if a man is married to a woman for ten years and they do not have children, they must get divorced. As we write there (translation from my Rif blog):
{Ketubot 77a}
א"ר יהודה א"ר אשי אין מעשין אלא לפסולות
כי אמריתה קמיה דשמואל אמר כגון אלמנה לכהן גדול גרושה וחלוצה לכהן הדיוט ממזרת ונתינה לישראל בת ישראל לממזר ולנתין אבל נשא אשה ושהה עמה עשר שנים ולא ילדה אין כופין אותו
(ורב תחליפא בר אבימי אמר שמואל אפילו נשא אשה ושהה עמה עשר שנים ולא ילדה כופין אותו להוציא)
וכולהו בין הני דרבנן דתנן במתני' שכופין אותן להוציא ובין הני דאורייתא כגון אלמנה לכה"ג גרושה וחלוצה לכהן הדיוט כולהו היו כייפינן להו בשוטים דבדברים לא יוסר עבד
וכל הני דמדרבנן אי אמרה הוינא בהדיה שבקינן לה בר ממוכה שחין ומי שנשא אשה ושהה עמה עשר שנים ולא ילדה
מוכה שחין אי אמרה דיירנא בהדיה בסהדי שבקינן לה
ומי שנשא אשה ושהה עמה עשר שנים ולא ילדה אע"ג דאמרה דיירנא בהדיה בסהדיה לא שבקינן לה אלא יוציא ויתן כתובה ומותרת לינשא לאחר אע"פ שאין לו בנים
כדגרסי' בפ' הבא על יבמתו
ת"ר נשאת לראשון ולא היו לו בנים לשני ולא היו לו בנים לשלישי לא תנשא אלא למי שיש לו בנים ואם נשאת למי שאין לו בנים תצא בלא כתובה:
Rav Yehuda cited Rav Ashi {this makes no chronological sense; emend to our gemara's Rav Assi, or to Rosh's Rav}: We do not force {divorce} except to invalid {/tainted} women.
When this was stated before Shmuel, he said: Such as a widow to a kohen gadol, a divorcee or chalutza to a regular kohen, a bastardess and female descendant of Gibeonites to an Israel, the daughter of an Israelite to a bastard or to a descendant of Gibeonites. However, if he married a woman and remained with her for 10 years and she did not bear children, we do not force him.

(*And Rav Tachlifa bar Avimi cited Shmuel: Even if he married a woman and remained with her for 10 years and she did not bear children, we force him to divorce. *)

And all of them, whether the Rabbinic ones which we taught in the Mishna that we force them to divorce, and whether the Biblical ones, such as a widow to a kohen gadol, a divorcee or chalutza to a normal kohen, all of them they force them with whips, for {Mishlei 29:19}:
יט בִּדְבָרִים, לֹא-יִוָּסֶר עָבֶד: כִּי-יָבִין, וְאֵין מַעֲנֶה. 19 A servant will not be corrected by words; for though he understand, there will be no response.
{Ketubot 77b}
And all the Rabbinic ones, if she said "I wish to be with him," we leave her, with the exception of one afflicted with boils, and one who married a woman and remained with her 10 years, and she did not bear children.
One {= a man} afflicted with boils, if she says "I will dwell with him with witnesses," we leave her. And one who married a woman and remained with her ten years, and she did not bear children, even though she says "I will dwell with him with witnesses," we do not leave her, but rather he divorces and grants the ketuba. And she is permitted to marry another, even though he does not have children, and we learn in perek haba al yevimto: The Sages learnt {in a brayta}: If she was married to the first one and he did not have children, to the second and he did not have children, then to the third one she should not marry, except to one who already has children. And if she marries one who does not have children, she goes out {of the marriage} without a ketuba.
Now, nowadays we do not force such a divorce. But back then, they forced a divorce. But she could marry another person, even one who did not have children, because perhaps the lack of potency came from his side rather than hers. After three such tries, she may only marry someone who already had children.

My guess would be that though this divorce was not being enforced nor put into practice, some folks thought they would be clever and divorce and then remarry. This would be for one of two reasons. Either (a) they thought that this would restart the clock of ten years, or (b) they thought that they would thus fulfill the Talmudic obligation to divorce, though undoing the ill effects immediately thereafter.

I lean towards reason (b). However, note that the Talmudic formulation is ומותרת לינשא לאחר אע"פ שאין לו בנים, with a stress I would place on the word לאחר. The idea, and hope, is that perhaps with someone else she would be able to have children. But to the same man, it has already been established sufficiently that this union will likely not produce children. As such, I think the plain meaning of the gemara is that she is permitted to marry another, but of course she cannot remarry him.

Perhaps many couples in some area and time pulled this unnecessary formalism/trick, and a few of them finally conceived. And then, this practice was established as a segulah for having children, especially since ignorant people would not know the reason for the formalism.

At any rate, I would suggest that, at least for couples married a minimum of ten years without a child, not only is this segulah nonsense, but it may present halachic problems. It is not neutral but negative. For it is one thing to disregard the Talmudic instruction to divorce, and to remain in the marriage. This has an element of shev veAl taaseh, and has parallels in other cases where if the woman is married in a halachically troublesome scenario, we permit her to remain in the marriage. However, once they are divorced, it is no longer a shev veAl taaseh. The remarriage to someone to whom is is forbidden is a violation via a kum veAseh.

For the sake of a segulah, people are putting themselves into possibly questionable halachic territory. But alas, this is true of quite a number of segulot.


Soccer Dad said...

There is a halachik problem that you allude to, but don't specifically mention: A Kohen cannot remarry hiw own ex-wife.

Avromi said...

I am not a strong proponent of chasing segulos, but why do you say that "it is bad"? Segulos can be traced way back in our heritage!

Also, they were two different incidents. The Steipler's case is brought in Pninei Rabbeinu Kehilos Yaakov p. 60.

joshwaxman said...

There are indeed precedents way back in our heritage. And Judaism has always flirted with the two sides, of mysticism and rationalism.

My problem with many segulot, IMHO, is that they often (though not always) come into being as pop-religion, often as misunderstanding of the underlying principles or halachot. And with no basis, or theologically questionable basis, they approach or even reach the level of darkei emori -- in many a situation. And often they supplant the main intent/reason for doing things. It is hard to go into without concrete examples.

One example I intend to touch on soon is making a seuda on the night of the brit "lemazal hatinnok."

Avromi said...

In other words, you are really saying that one should be careful with certain segulos.

Let me know please when you post regarding the seudah before the bris. thanks

joshwaxman said...

I'll try to remember.

My issue is that segulot at large are not governed as closely as halacha is, and so *any* segula is free to develop wildly. And since it is already mystical, the direction it takes when unguided by the theologically sophisticated, is often not just silly but also theologically or halachically problematic.

A concrete example is shlugging kapparot, which developed the practice of demanding specifically a white chicken.


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