Tuesday, December 21, 2010

DovBear walks a very fine line

In his post "Jewish Family Values say Partilla and Riddel were right to leave their families DovBear seems to argue that Judaism would encourage one to leave his family wife were he infatuated with another woman.

"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."

Lets start off where Dovbear is correct, since his mistake is shocking, especially considering DovBear is smarter then the average bear. Dovbear is basing his  "wrong to criticize the new couple for choosing happiness" on  Rabbi Akiva. In a Talmudic discourse, Rabbi Akiva is quoted as saying that one can leave his wife for any reason, including "even if he found someone more appealing".  However DovBear is mixing up the hallachic bottom line, with moral guidance. Rabbi Akiva was certainly not stating one Should leave his wife after finding someone more appealing, he was merely giving his opinion that Halachically a man may leave his wife, for whatever reason he wants. What is halachically kosher is not necessarily morally correct. There is a big big difference between stating the technical Halachic priniciples and stating your opinions on what is morally acceptable. I am sure that Rabbi Akiva would be the first to tell you that leaving your family is not a step that should be taken lightly. The moral outrage and "Jewish" moral outrage over a couple who broke up their marriage for an infatuation is more then backed up (see the full and original Dovbear story in the link above). 

I'll add one more thought. The last line of DovBear's post is what irked me. Judaism is the religion of tough laws that permeate our lives. It is certainly not a whishy-washy religion that places happiness as its highest value. It is a religion that admits the complexity of human life, and the need for tough choices and sacrifices. I don't know anything about the specific case involved (and hence I'm not giving an opinion whether the couple acted correctly or not) however as a generalization I would say that your own personal happiness is not the deciding factor one should consider before choosing a step that is going to leave children and other adults devastated. 

Side note: Rabbi Akiva's comment is interesting since different sources have Rabbi Akiva married to at least 3 separate women. After his famous marriage to Rachel, Rabbi Akiva is credited in a midrash with marrying the wife of the Roman commander of Judea (after her conversion – See ר"ן נדרים נ: . I don't think anyone has ever connected Rabbi Akiva's comment on marriage quoted above, to his own history. I'll point out that in that story, the Roman Commander's wife first meets Akiva while she is married.  

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