Although changes have been made to Jewish divorce laws, women are continually being mistreated when dealing with the issues of divorce. In biblical times, there were no assurances that women would be protected when faced with a man who wanted a divorce. Furthermore, women were not allowed to initiate the process by asking for one. As time went on, it was recognized that women needed to be somewhat shielded from actions that her husband could take, which she had no control over. Rabbinic law made four major changes to help the plight of women regarding divorce (Biale p.5).
First, the Halackah requires a Get (bill of divorcement), which limits the possibility of a rash, thoughtless divorce (Biale p.6). Second, the Talmud introduces a number of grounds where a woman can seek a divorce. She must appeal to a Beit Din to compel him to divorce her (B. p.6). Furthermore, post-biblical Halackah introduces the Ketubah, which gives financial assurances to women in case of a divorce (B. p.6). Finally, in the Middle ages, the ban of Rabbenu Gershom forbids divorcing a woman against her consent (B. p.6).
Although these assurances are made, it does not hinder the man’s ability to abuse his power when initiating a divorce. The Mishnah cites three opinions regarding legitimate grounds for divorce (B. p.74). In Deuteronomy 24:1, the passage reveals a lot about the practice of divorce. One clause states “and it comes to pass that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some matter of indecency in her”. There have been many debates about this clause because the appropriate grounds for divorce are unclear. Some believe that a man can divorce a woman merely because he likes another one better (B. p.74). There is no safeguard against this because it is up to the man’s judgment. The requirements of the Ketubah and the Get may not convince the man to stay married.
The fact remains that on the one hand; a wife could not initiate a divorce without appealing to a Beit Din, and on the other hand may be divorced without her consent. The Talmud states “A woman may be divorced with her consent or without it”(B. 81). Rabbenu Gershom made a ruling that banned the divorcement of a woman without her consent. Although this is a positive legislation, a Beit Din has the power to revoke it when they deem necessary.
The most problematic law is that while it is not always necessary for a woman to consent to a divorce, “a man can give a divorce with only his full consent” (Yevamot 112b) (B. 97). It is then up to the courts and the community to try to convince him to give his wife a divorce. Many women have faced this problem of being...