Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
A new online course
Starting January 22nd
Register »
Contact Us

When to Get Divorced

When to Get Divorced


Several months ago I came across one of those self-evaluation "tests" with those little checkboxes. This one was to gauge your stress level. If you're undergoing a divorce and/or getting married, award yourself 30 points; changing jobs? 30 points; moving into a new home also gives you 30 points; the birth of a child, 20 points; and so on, all the way down to the little 5- and 3-point stresses. Then you're supposed to add up the points and consult a 0-100 scale that tells you the level of stress you're currently experiencing.

The reason that this particular piece of Americana caught my attention was that, at the time, I had changed jobs, moved into our new home, and welcomed our newborn daughter into our family—all within a six-week period. (I am happy to report, however, that this stressed-out writer and his patient spouse are still joined in blissful matrimony.) What also struck me at the time was the equation of divorce, on the one hand, with changes in employment and residence on the other.

The parallels are there. In your home and community is invested a piece of yourself; in your job lies a part of your identity. There is your relationship with your employer and co-workers, your neighbors and social circle; the goals you are commonly committed to, your mutual dependence upon each other. But there are also grievances and dissatisfactions. Perhaps you find yourself in situations that are emotionally distressing or ethically problematic. Perhaps you feel deprived of the opportunity to realize your true potential. Or perhaps there's just the promise—or hope—of a better job or living environment elsewhere. So you agonize: do these considerations justify abandoning the current commitments and breaking up the current relationship?

According to Chassidic teaching, the parallel runs deeper yet. The Chassidic masters taught that every soul is given its own "portion of the world." The fact that you live in a particular place and labor at a particular vocation is not by chance or fluke. The range of causes that brought you there—beginning with your inborn talents and inclinations all the way through the so-called "coincidences" that pepper every life—are guided by Divine Providence to bring you in contact with those particular "sparks of G‑dliness" which you are charged to redeem. These sparks of spiritual potential depend on you to actualize them, and you need them for your spiritual fulfillment. Just as Heaven assigns a body to every soul and a marriage partner to every man and woman, so is every individual assigned a piece of creation to develop and elevate.

But that's not the entire story. Our Creator has granted us the most precious and dangerous of gifts: freedom of choice. We have the power to improve on what we were given, and the power to destroy it. We can make such a mess of things that we may wake up one morning with the belief that our current relationship is unsalvageable and that the only feasible course of action is a new start somewhere else.


When is it time to get a divorce? The Talmud cites three opinions:

The School of Shammai rules: A man should not divorce his wife unless he discovers in her an immoral matter...

The School of Hillel holds: [He may divorce her] even if she burnt his meal.

Rabbi Akiva says: Even if he found another more beautiful than she.

(All three opinions derive from the same verse in the TorahDeuteronomy 24:1—in the section dealing with the laws of divorce, depending on how a key phrase in that verse is interpreted.)

The halachah (final legal ruling) follows the opinion of the sages of Hillel. But pious behavior (midat chassidut), which holds itself to a standard "beyond the letter of the law," is to accept the stricter criteria put forth by the disciples of Shammai.

In other words, a "divorce" is justified if there is actual damage to your well-being and deprivation of your needs. If you find yourself wed to a life that nightly burns your supper, fouling or depriving you of your material nourishment or spiritual nurture, the Torah understands and condones your decision to sever that relationship and seek a better "marriage."

That is the "letter of the law." But a more altruistic approach states that unless your current situation in life spells a violation of your ethical, moral and religious values (in which case even the sages of Shammai permit, indeed obligate, a dissolution of the marriage) the place to be is the place where you are. Your Creator has placed you there; He has also given you the resources and fortitude to make it work. Sticking it out is not a cop-out—it is to rise to the greater challenge of uncovering those resources and redeeming the "sparks of G‑dliness" entrusted to your care.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous Israel May 4, 2017

Sometimes we are placed in certain situations to see if we will try to do what Hashem wants from us.
All we need to do is ask for His help.
What father doesn't want to help his children ?
If we can work it out then we have tried and not given into despair which goes against life Reply

Maayan March 20, 2015

"the place to be is the place where you are"?
No way! we should strive to improve all the time.
So if there is abuse in the family the person abused should stay where he is because he is already in this mess and HaShem gave him/her the powers to cope?

I think Hillel and Shammai and rabi Akiva were trying to underline that the Tora does give an option of divorce. Catholics, for example, do not have it.

good luck with your marriage or alternatively with your divorce! Reply

Julie Smith Sydney March 20, 2015

oh, and if you're dead set on elevating sparks through abusive partnerships, maybe you could just work for highly exploitative and abusive employers. I must have repaired half the world doing that :-) Luckily I am no longer in that position, because it allows me to go confidently and happily to where I can really do some good in the world. Reply

Julie Smith Sydney March 19, 2015

The problem with striving for the 'altruistic' (really, altruistic?) path is that unless you are at a very high spiritual level you will end up being destroyed by the relationship, destroying others, or both. Being stuck in an bitter, unhappy marriage can lead to clinical depression and suicidal tendencies, which can then lead to substance abuse, gambling addition, sexual and physical abuse, men seeking fulfilment in highly risky behaviour like visiting prostitutes and addiction to pornography.

There is a holiest level of eating, a holiest level of intimacy, but then there are many steps below that are still permitted but just not the most elevated. I would say that it's not a good idea to aim for the highest level of one thing at the cost of everything else. Better that people get divorced than have men start molesting their children.

Let's hope that any community that imposed that path on people had a very well developed support program for them. Reply

JDV March 19, 2015

Divorce Divorce should be the last choice and these days, people use it as a first choice. There should be more publicity for people who have long marriages and how they did it. Reply

Leah Southern US February 18, 2014

Best advice given to me, " When you can stay, is when you can leave".
Also, eventually, the reverse becomes true -- "When you can leave, is when you can stay" Reply

Emunah New York, NY January 7, 2010

emotional abuse is worse Personally I think that emotional abuse is worse because it's harder to prove. Physical violence is so obvious, emotional scars heal longer and sometimes nobody can see them for a long, long time. Reply

tikva via May 11, 2009

re: agunah "And no, that abuse doesn't have to be constant, occasional is bad enough. Better to live as an agunah (abandoned woman) than to live in fear, constant or occasional. "

When living within the cycle of abuse it is always constant, even if the outbursts appear "occasional." Never knowing when "it" is going to happen again means "it" is always there: a pot of soup always at the ready; domestic violence most always simmering under the skin of those abuser and those beaten down, no matter which form of abuse is used.

Once the cycle of abuse begins (including the build-up) one is already living as an agunah. In my view, being married and being emotionally, physically or sexually abused equates to already living as an agunah. Reply

Sarah M MI/USA May 11, 2009

To Anon in Albany You are right; I should have said abuse, without specifying which kind. I stand corrected. Thank you.

And no, that abuse doesn't have to be constant, occasional is bad enough.
Better to live as an agunah (abandoned woman) than to live in fear, constant or occasional.

And having seen the reverse situation, gentlemen, if you are being abused, then divorce is necessary.

"It hurts to tell...It hurts more not to." Reply

Anonymous Albany, NY May 10, 2009

emotional abuse Neglecting to see the damage that emotional abuse does is ignorant. Yes, physical abuse is horrible, and should never be tolerated, ever. We can see the physical damage of that abuse, and it is frightening. Under no circumstance should a woman continue to live with a man that is hitting her, and she is certainly not doing her children any favors to stay, she is harming them as well. The message is at best unhealthy, at worst, it will ruin their lives.
Emotional abuse is no less harmful and in some ways even more damaging. It cuts to the very essence of a persons' core, tearing them down to feel worthless and doubting anything real. The abuser can say horrible things about her family, laugh at and belittle her beliefs, her ideals, her interests, whatever she does, he puts down and tries to make her feel like she is nothing. Then he goes behind her back and makes up lies about her, to her family! trying to isolate her from her own family. This is an abusive sociopath. Only cure, divorce. Reply

Anonymous via April 16, 2009

re: never a time when divorce is imminent I mean no offense when I state that I disagree with the above posters comment that any couple can work out their problems IF THEY REALLY TRY. This simply is not the case when there is spousal abuse (from either partner), child abuse, ongoing emotional abuse where a husband can strip his wife's spirit down to the bone in horrifying ways. Domestic Violence can happen in all faiths, and it is not something that can be easily endured. One friend of mine had a husband who gave her 20 minutes to get to the store and back, and when she was 3 minutes late beat her severely. He demands she never leave the house, not see her family, and slaps her if he doesn't like dinner, the way she folded laundry, etc. So no, not all couples can work out their problems because sometimes the problem isn't about both partners behaviors, it's about abuse. Abuse destroys future generations when children are raised in these types of environments; often cause teen n adult children to turn away from G-d... Reply

Anonymous CH CH , NZ April 16, 2009

divorce The only time to divorce is when not to get divorced causes irreparable damage, to both husband, wife and children. Staying teaches everyone that misery is life's lesson instead of the joy of being loved and giving love. Is love not the ulitimate joy? and to learn to be loved, give love is what we learn in our everyday supplications to G-d. If divorce is the only answer can we do it with love? if we can then we are better for it Reply

Anonymous Omaha, NE April 14, 2009

divorce There is never a time when Divorce is imminent. Any couple can work out their problems if they really try. Sure, it isn't easy...but nothing worthwhile ever is. Otherwise you move from one relationship to another whenever it suits you without ever really having to put your heart and soul into any relationship. People forget what things brought them together in the first place. They start taking each other for granted. They stop treating each other like the other person is the most precious thing in their life. They hit the person they should be showing love to, or they look for that hot moment with someone else who is not worthy. They need to realise that if they are cheating- it is with someone who knows they are already married. In otherwords someone who has no scruples and will flirt with anyone- a slut. How can anyone respect a person like that? It won't be long before you realise that you have made a horrible mistake and thrown away a marrage that could have been saved Reply

Yaacov Philadelphia, PA September 10, 2008

When to Divorce There are several additional views about when to divorce that haven't been mentioned.

We are told to know Him in all our ways, meaning that we should aim to emulate the example of HaShem when we choose any action. In terms of when to divorce, the example we have is in Hoshea the prophet when he was instructed by HaShem to marry the prostitute, Gomer bat Diblayim. G-d arranged this strange marriage to demonstrate that He doesn't seek divorce even when there appears to be an immoral matter.

Among the Rishonim, the halacha in many cases is decided or at least mentions this view as valid in certain types of marriages, namely one's first marriage which is also the marriage of one's youth and where children have been born to the couple.

Also, the redemption from Egypt began with a massive increase in divorce among the Jewish people as mentioned explicitly in the Haggadah. The Torah says that the final redemption and the coming of Moshiach will in many ways parallel redemption from Egypt. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI April 20, 2008

When To Get Divorced Anonymous from, I absolutely agree!

When there's TOTAL DISRESPECT for the needs, feelings and rights of others and the husband or wife doesn't care, divorce is the ONLY answer! Reply

Anonymous Gaithersburg, MD via January 3, 2008

Abuse When there is abuse present, constant, and damaging to family sanctity and life, there must be a divorce. When the husband is unfaithful, deceitful, immoral and corrupt, simply a wicked man, there must be a divorce, to save the family. When years and decades pass, and there is no improvement despite psychiatric treatment, medications, yeshiva education, and family lineage, only a divorce can protect the people in that family. Reply

Ebkb brooklyn, ny September 1, 2007

If there is physical harm forget counseling (so said by the post marker sarah m)

lets say there was a physical beating then an less then a year later there wasnt anymore mybe becasue of all those angermanagement class's an AA/Na Step's/Groups or maybe just beacuse that bi-polar guy just finally sincerly meant some or those apologies/words he said about that once a month agony/stress he placed ontop of me.
what im tryin to say is do you just pick up an leave when u see he is finally ready to change an is afriad u will really leave him. or do u do it an leave him beacuse you are unsure whether he has truly stoped or when he will strike next, (since a peice of paper OOP hasn't stoped him before why should it again?) Reply

Sarah M August 31, 2007

halacha and wishes to gloria Twice people have asked about a wife initiating a divorce. In Jewish law only a man can hire the scribe to write the divorce paper, and deliver it to the woman. The women who are left without these papers are in a legal trap, bound to their husbands, unable to proceed in life, even though civilly they are no longer part of a couple. (In Israel, where civil and religious laws combine the situation is much worse.) In Jewish law, it is possible for a Jewish court to rule that a husband be beaten untiil he agrees to hire the scribe. These are very complex laws, and rabbis need to be brought into the situation as soon as possible.

Gloria, So much pain is visible in your words. I hope your situation has improved, you wrote 2 years before I read this. However, in that pain I see problems which counseling may help more than a divorce. Go alone if your husband won't go with you. If there is physical harm forget counseling, get out now!

I repeat to all: If there is beating leave now!! Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, Ny April 29, 2007

when to get divorced? i saw the reason why or why shouldnt a man divorce his wife. but what about the reasons a woman should or shouldnt divorce her husband? doesnt the woman have a say in the matter? Reply

Anonymous Miami, FL via September 4, 2006

Divorce reasoning According to your “altruistic” approach to divorce you state that “unless your current situation in life spells a violation of your ethical, moral and religious values (in which case even the sages of Shammai permit, indeed obligate, a dissolution of the marriage) the place to be is the place where you are.” How should a person act if he/she is the one who has clearly violated the above values while the other party to the marriage appears to accept such violations in order to continue the marriage even though deep down inside they feel the hurt of the violations. Should the person who has violated make the decision for the other, i.e. accept that a divorce is necessary or just do nothing?. Reply

Related Topics
This page in other languages