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What’s the secret to a successful marriage?

November 8, 2011

Our question for today is the following: who is right – the Talmud or the Atlantic magazine? Rabbi Rackman or Rabbi Soloveitchik? The answer has serious ramifications for countless people.

Let me provide the setting. A serious problem in Jewish society is the problem of the Agunah – the “chained woman.” This refers to a woman whose husband refuses to give her a “get” – a Jewish divorce. According to the Torah, the husband’s agreement is necessary for divorce to take place. What if he refuses? She is “chained” … she is stuck. Now, in times gone by, this was not such a serious problem given the insular shtetl life in which most Jews found
themselves. The husband who refused to give his wife a “get” was either beaten up by her relatives, or had such a social stigma put on him that he finally would agree. But in modern times such solutions were no longer possible, and women were being forced to give in to their husbands demands – financial and custody rights – just to get the husband to agree to give the “get.”

In the 1970’s Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, of blessed memory, a leading Modern Orthodox rabbi, proposed a solution to this problem. He pointed out that Jewish law speaks of a mekach taos – a mistaken sale. What does that mean? If I purchase something from you and the item turns out to be flawed, I have the right to demand a cancellation of the sale. Similarly, argued Rabbi Rackman, if a woman gets married and then discovers her husband is an abusive person, she should have the right to annul the marriage, claiming it was a mistaken purchase. In Rabbi Rackman’s words, “Concealing an important fact in selling a piece of property can justify the annulment of the sale. The same argument can be applied with regard to a marriage.” There was only one problem with this halachic initiative. In the Talmud, quoting Resh Lakish, it says, “It is preferable to live as two than to dwell in widowhood,” which means that a woman would rather have any sort of husband than no husband. That even if the woman had known that the man was abusive, she still would have married him, because from her perspective … “something” is better than “nothing.” A woman would rather be married … no matter what! READ MORE

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