Woman Can Initiate

The right of the wife to demand a divorce is as legally entrenched as is the right of the husband to demand a divorce. This legal entrenchment goes all the way back to biblical times, and is not merely an adjustment to more modern contingencies.

It would be a basic inequity in the relationship if the husband would be allowed to sue for divorce for whatever precipitating factor, whilst the wife would not be allowed to demand exit from the marriage no matter what happened. No one can deny that there are inequities in the system, but these inequities emanate more from abuse of the system rather than from its basic weaknesses.

Equity in the Law

The very same Torah that forewarned against taking advantage of the orphan and the widow could hardly be expected to entrench vulnerability of the wife within the marriage. If anything, the sense of fairness, and concern for all individuals no matter what their position or station in life, is a central feature of the Torah. All individuals are G‑dly creations, and all individuals must be appreciated as such.

It is therefore not surprising and quite natural that the woman has access to exit from the marriage not only in cases of mutual desire, but also in situations when she is obviously disadvantaged by a callous and insensitive husband.

To force a woman to endure the agony of a cruel husband who abuses her is unfathomable. The self-same Torah of G‑d which forbids the afflicting of others could surely not allow, or tolerate, a situation wherein afflicting of others is permitted to continue through the camouflage of an institutionalized union.


The primary right of a woman to demand a divorce is linked to situations when basic marital needs have been neglected, or abused by the husband. The husband is then "convinced" by the court to both grant the get to his wife, and to give her the ketubah (marital contract) settlement.

The husband who has been derelict with regard to the sustenance that he is obliged to give to his wife, or the conjugal visitation that he must share with his wife, has thereby violated a primary responsibility of the marital covenant, and the wife has the right to a divorce in these situations. These elements of the marriage are so crucial, that their being used by the husband as a weapon with which to deprive the wife, either emotionally or physically, is considered a breach of the sacred marital trust.

A woman may demand a divorce from her husband, if he has been found to be philandering with other women. There need not be proof of his having committed adultery, just of his having cavorted with other women. Even his causing her a bad name through his lecherous actions is likewise considered legitimate justification for the wife launching a divorce action. If the wife feels repulsed by her husband, it is wrong to force her to remain in the union. If the wife should make a vow that affects the marital union, such as a vow related to abstaining from conjugal union or some other impediment to marital viability, and the husband purposely fails to annul that vow, this is interpreted as a desire on his part to sever the relationship. The wife may then demand a divorce.

Should the husband, via a vow, forbid the wife to engage in any form of work, this is considered sufficient grounds for the wife to demand a get. The reasoning behind this is that imposed idleness has certain adverse personal consequences, leading to frustration and perhaps even worse. No wife can be coerced into such an adversity.


The husband who hits his wife, curses her, ridicules her, insults her, or insults his wife's parents in the presence of his wife, or forbids his wife from visiting her parents or family, or whose general mode of communication with his wife is through temperamental outbursts and disrespectful language, creates a situation which is untenable. The wife cannot be expected to live in such an environment, and she is well within her rights to demand a divorce.

In this situation, the wife must be able to show that this is not a rare occurrence, or an isolated outburst, but that it is reflective of the husband's usual demeanor. Should a husband counterclaim with the charge that his behavior is instigated by her, the burden of proof is upon him. We assume the correctness of the wife's position unless and until the husband can prove otherwise.

Unbearable Conditions

The woman whose husband insists that his mother (that is, the wife's mother-in-law) move into the house—and this thereby restricts the wife's freedom—may demand a divorce if this is an unbearable situation for her.

The wife whose husband forces her into conjugal relations during her menstrual period may also demand a divorce. This is the case even if she may not be scrupulous with regard to observing the laws of menstruation, which forbid conjugal union during that period and seven days beyond.

The underlying common denominator in the mother-in-law and menstrual situations is that the husband fails, or refuses, to accord to the wife the freedom, dignity and respect to which she is entitled beyond any question.

The wife has the right to demand a divorce if the husband, for whatever reason, makes life unbearable for her. Aside from some of the reasons heretofore cited, this untenable situation may come as a result of the husband having developed a repulsive blemish, or having adopted a noxious habit, such as cigarette smoking. It may ensue from his having taken on a malodorous, offensive trade, from which he comes home with an intolerable stench.

The wife who was aware prior to marriage that her husband would be making his livelihood in an offensively smelling vocation, is still able to claim that her awareness prior to the marriage did not prepare her and condition her to live with it. Even though she had the best of intentions, it turned out that the stench was much worse than she had envisaged, and she now finds it unbearable.


If the husband is unfortunately sterile, the wife has a right to a divorce, on the proviso that this demand for divorce is linked to her assertion that she desires to have children. The same is true if the husband is impotent. When the husband takes issue with the wife's claim that he is impotent, her statement of his impotence is considered to be the more powerful argument. She is believed as long as she makes this statement directly, and not via the "good" offices of a lawyer.

Although the grounds spelled out here do not exhaust the full gamut of legitimate right for the wife to demand a divorce, they do provide sufficient insight into the wide range of circumstances which are found to be unfair to the woman, and because of this unfairness, she is allowed to demand exit from the marital union. Much as divorce is not a desideratum within Jewish life, neither is the locking in of either husband or wife in a prison of misery.

Israel and Jerusalem

The land of Israel, a potentially explosive issue within marriage, has implications for divorce. The general rule is that whichever of the couples move to Israel has the full right to the cooperation of the other spouse in this desire, and can demand a divorce from the reluctant spouse, if that spouse refuses under any circumstances to move to Israel. The exception to this is when moving to Israel would transform the couple into a charity case, unable to make ends meet on their own.

The same general equation applies when the issue is moving, within Israel, from any other city to Jerusalem. The spouse who desires to move to Jerusalem has the more powerful hand, and can demand a divorce from the intransigent other spouse who refuses the move to Jerusalem.

The reasoning behind this is that Israel is crucial to spiritual growth. Since marriage is a spiritual union in which the couple should grow together in a decidedly spiritual way, the failure to move to Israel, or Jerusalem, obstructs rather than facilitates this growth. There is a transcendent quality to the marriage that is neutralized through this refusal.

Neither of the marital partners has the right to stand in the way of the marriage taking such a positive direction. The obstinate refusal to go along with such an obvious incremental improvement in the marriage's spiritual content is considered to be a breach of the primary intent of the marital covenant. But it is advisable that the marital partners not use the Israel or Jerusalem factor as a weapon. This, and other marital growth issues, should be a shared concern.

A Unique Title

Within the realm of claims to divorce, there is a unique title and attendant rules given to one specific situation. That is the situation when either the husband or the wife refuses to be involved in conjugal relations. In this matter, the affected party, be it husband or wife, has sufficient grounds to demand divorce. This has already been discussed.

The instigator of this refusal is given a precise title, a title of dubious distinction. The instigator is labeled as a "rebel." If it is the husband, he is referred to as a mored; if it is the wife, she is referred to as a moredet.

This term is generally accepted as applying specifically to conjugal visitation. It speaks eloquently and powerfully about the seriousness with which deviation from conjugal responsibility is viewed within the Judaic perspective. It is well known that pejorative labels are not the usual Judaic way of expressing displeasure with behavior. The use of such a label here must be seen as an extraordinary deviation from the norm, and a sharp comment on the extreme gravity of this offense. Using one's body as a weapon to punish one's partner prostitutes the marriage compact in a most serious and inexcusable way.

General Rules

The husband who is a mored must give his wife a divorce, and must also give her the marriage settlement known as the ketubah. The wife who is a moredet may be divorced by her husband, and she forfeits her right to the ketubah settlement. When it is the husband who is the mored, the rebellious one, the wife has the right to seek a divorce, but she is not compelled to exercise that right.

The reasoning for this is quite simple. Compelling the wife to seek a divorce would contravene the basic notion that the wife cannot be divorced against her will. It is obvious that any situation which forces the wife to seek a divorce from her husband would open up a convenient excuse for the husband to behave in that derelict manner, so as to be sure that he will gain the wife's cooperation for the divorce. This is unacceptable.

Conjugal Games

It is interesting to note that the husband is considered a rebellious one, a mored, even if he just swears off conjugal relations for a short period of time. He is a mored even if that period coincides with the wife's menstrual period, when conjugal visitation is in any event proscribed. The point being driven home with this stricture is that one's body, one's very being, may never be used as a device to punish, deprive, or threaten the other. When the relationship reduces itself to that level, the exit door is opened wide.

A husband who insists on engaging in conjugal union with his clothes on is likewise considered a rebel, a mored. Even though he may be motivated by considerations of modesty, and he thus may argue that this is not spiteful deprivation, it is deprivation nevertheless.

The wife who denies herself to her husband is considered a moredet, a rebellious wife, even if she claims that her locking the husband out of conjugal intimacy is because of the husband's debts incurred to her.


Under any circumstances, the wife does not have an obligation to submit to frequent conjugal union beyond the norm. She can never be reduced to chattel, to be used by the husband at his lustful whim.

The wife is likewise not considered a moredet if she leaves the house because the husband has failed to live up to his maintenance responsibilities. In fact, in such an instance, the husband is considered to be the instigator.

Additionally, if the wife leaves for other reasons, such as because of difficulties with her in-laws, then too she is not labeled a moredet, if she maintains her willingness to engage in conjugal union with her husband. The fact that she has left the premises does not necessarily mean that she has denied herself to her husband.

With regard to the extraordinary situation and label of mored and moredet, the husband and wife are equal, in that whatever legitimately removes from the one the label of rebel, would accomplish the same for the other.

Can, but Not Obliged

Having spelled out the situations and grounds for which both husband and wife can demand a divorce, it bears repeating and reemphasizing that simply because such reason or ground exists, this does not militate that either husband or wife should run to the divorce court, or more specifically, to the Bet Din that supervises the granting of a get. The first reflex in situations like this is to address the issue, to carefully scratch below the surface, to find out what exactly has triggered the overtly non-cooperative behavior of the spouses.

When true love, respect, and appreciation prevail, neither husband nor wife will deny the self to the other, or be derelict in the responsibilities to the other. The fact that they do so indicates there is something seriously wrong with the marriage. Because there is something seriously wrong with the marriage, the overriding impulse should be towards correcting that which is wrong. Radical surgery is only a last resort.