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A man should not marry a woman with the intention of divorcing her — Maimonides, Laws of Divorce 10:21.

It is forbidden to marry a woman with the intention to divorce her, for it says, "Devise no harm against your fellow, when he dwells securely with you."1 If, however, he informs the woman before marriage that he intends to later divorce her, it is permitted — Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Relations 21:28.

At first glance, the second law seems a mere elaboration on the first.

But if that were indeed the case, why would Maimonides, in the first law, use advisory language, "A man should not," instead of the unequivocal language he later uses, "it is forbidden"? (By no means is his groundbreaking Mishneh Torah a book of proverbs, but a book of law.)

Secondly, if his point in both passages is identical, why doesn't he mention in the first instance both the biblical source for the prohibition as well as the qualification recorded later on, "If he informs is permitted"?

Finally, Maimonidean scholars often point to the economy of words present in his works, which rules out any form of repetition or excess. Why, then, would he repeat himself in our instance?

In fact, Maimonides is expressing two different ideas here.

It is dishonest and even cruel to lead one's spouse onThe second citation pertains to the laws of marriage; the first one helps to define it; it teaches us what marriage is.

It is dishonest and even cruel to lead one's spouse on. It's the wrong thing to do to any person under any circumstance, let alone to the person you love.

It's a sign of bad character and facilitates great pain when the truth is later revealed. The verse, "Devise no harm against your fellow, when he dwells securely with you" couldn't better describe such behavior.

All of the above is irrelevant, however, if the husband was straightforward and open at the outset. If the woman agreed under those circumstances, that is her choice; no fraud was committed, and no pain was rendered.

Both the clause and biblical source are thus appropriately mentioned in the context of the second citation. Additionally, since deceiving another is a grave transgression, prohibitive language is used.

The first passage, though, defines marriage. Marriage by definition is the unification of husband and wife on every single level. Scripture spells it out clearly in saying, "Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."2

Ever wondered where the term "soul-mates" comes from, or talk of a "better-half"? Where the Bible speaks of "becoming one flesh," the Kabbalah talks about "becoming one soul," considering husband and wife to be two halves of the same soul. (Ever wondered where the term "soul-mates" comes from, or talk of a "better-half"?)

This Kabbalistic insight does more than take a biblical verse from one level to the next –from body to soul – it actually provides clarity and logic to the verse's provocative advocacy for spouse over family.

After all, doesn't blood run thicker than love? Isn't a connection that begins unconditionally (family) deeper and stronger than one which does not (marriage)?

According to Kabbalah, however, the former relationship, however powerful, is between two entities, parent/child or siblings, while the latter relationship is between two halves of the same whole. And it doesn't get deeper than that.

In order for this exceptional unification to take place, there can be nothing that stands between husband and wife. For if a gap exists between bride and groom as they tie the knot, they are not off to a weak start, they are off to a false start. Their efforts do not amount to an imperfect marriage; they account for no marriage at all.

After all, without complete integration, how can two separate beings become one seamless entity, or reveal their essential unity? And what greater wedge in the world can there be between spouses than a husband getting married with his thoughts on divorce?

This isn't about what not to do after one is married; this is about what not to do in order to get married! Thus, the first quote from Maimonides is not a prohibition; it's the Torah's way of classifying marriage (hence the advisory language). This isn't about what not to do after one is married; this is about what not to do in order to get married! The verse about dishonesty is therefore irrelevant because the problem in this context is not deception, but the distance it creates. And it is quite obvious that whether or not the husband tells his wife about his intentions, the distance is there, in his mind or in both of their hearts. As such, the clause which permits such a marriage if the woman was notified is useless, which explains why Maimonides omits it.

In sum, marriage in Jewish thought is not two people working together towards the same cause, the term "partners" better describes that type of relationship; nor is it just about lifelong companionship, security, and friendship; it is the merging of two beings into one.

One plus one, according to this unique institution, equals one, not two.3

What's in It for Me?

Maimonides' message is extremely relevant today. The mindset of marriage has sadly changed from what it once was. It used to be that when getting married one did not even entertain the possibility of divorce. Marriage was a life-long commitment. In fact, not until 1985 did the last state in the U.S. (New York) legalize no-fault divorce!

Now, while divorce is definitely necessary at times – parenthetically, the Torah, which views marriage as sacred, was way ahead of its times in allowing divorce – could it possibly be necessary more than half of the time?!

According to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri, 50% of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce.4

People entering marriage have ceased seeing it as a life-long and unconditional commitment Or is it possible that because divorce is so prevalent, people entering marriage have ceased seeing it as a life-long and unconditional commitment, and instead view marriage as an attempt at commitment, "Let's give it a shot and see what happens?"

That difference of initial attitude makes the marriage of a difference.

Here's one of the reasons why.

Rules of Combat

A Jewish law of war states that when one surrounds a city to lay siege to it, it is prohibited to surround it from four sides, only from three. One must leave a place for inhabitants who wish to flee to save their lives.

Nachmanides explains:

G‑d commanded us that when we lay siege to a city that we leave one of the sides without a siege so as to give them a place to flee to. It is from this commandment that we learn to deal with compassion, even with our enemies, even at a time of war. In addition, by giving our enemies a place to flee, they will not charge at us with as much force.5

His first point shows the moral genius of Torah, the second shows its psychological genius.

You will summon your deepest powers and quite possibly prevailWhen you're forced into a corner, and there's no way out, you are bound to give your greatest fight. You will summon your deepest powers and quite possibly prevail over your opponent, who ironically is disadvantaged by being in control. His dominating status may leave him complacent, or at least not accessing his innermost strength.

You make your adversary infinitely stronger by closing him in.

The same can be said regarding relationships. If you're in it for the long haul, if you lock yourself in, there's a greater chance of success. If your mindset is "I'm committed," not "I'll try to commit," you'll be able to access a reservoir of inner fortitude that will enable you to overcome challenges otherwise deemed impossible. In situations where others might throw in the towel, you'll find yourself gearing up for another round.

If you're in it for good, chances are you'll do anything to make it good.

If, however, divorce is even a distant option, a bit of distance has already been created.

So remember to lock that last door when getting married, and you'll find that many new doors will have opened!


Based on the Rebbe's teachings, recorded in Likkutei Sichot vol. 34.


Consider the fact that of marriages where at least one partner has been previously married (and these are 40 percent of marriages), about 20% choose a pre-nup—vs. 5% of first marriages. What does that say about the dwindling level of trust between spouses? While there is a Jewish concept of pre-nup, i.e., the Ketubah contains a clause that provides financial support for the wife in the event of divorce, the consideration is quite the opposite than that of most pre-nups. The Ketubah is there to protect the wife; pre-nups are generally there to protect the husband. Also, a Ketubah is not the institution of both (or either of the) parties, it is a rabbinic obligation; it has nothing to do with the lack of trust between parties, but ensures that in the (rare) event of divorce, no one will be hurt.


Supplement of Nachmanides to Maimonides' Book of Commandments, Positive Commandment #4.

Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson is the rabbi of Beit Baruch and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London, where he lives with his wife, Chana, and children.
Mendel was an editor at the Judaism Website—, and is also the author of the popular books Seeds of Wisdom and A Time to Heal.
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Anonymous October 13, 2013

Rules of Combat: Jewish versus Chinese That Jewish warfare advice is kind of like the inverse of what Sun Tsu, the ancient Chinese strategist, would say. He would advise that when surrounded by superior force one should block all avenues of retreat by your own forces, as only when your own soldiers are fighting for their lives will they prevail against overwhelming force. Which makes the Jewish rules seem all that more sensible. Reply

Kayo Tokyo, Japan August 19, 2010

Kiiddushin Thank you very much for teaching me that why the true Jewish marriage is not a worldly pleasure but it is holy union of two souls within the ONE. Reply

Anonymous ny, ny August 19, 2010

Two mini-comments:

1. 1+1=1 Reflects Gd! In the math of infinities, we find 1+1=1.

2. Fixing what you can fix is OK. It's ok to clean the carpet even if the engine is kaput. In Elul fix what you can fix. (By "fix" I mean "repair".) Reply

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