Thursday, August 27, 2009

Getting Married Again

Pharaoh, fearing the birth of the predicted “saviour” of the Israelites, decreed that all male Israelite babies must be cast into the Nile. Yocheved, the daughter of Levi, and her husband Amram, already the parents of Miriam and Aaron, divorced because they worried about the safety of additional children. As they were leaders in the community, the rest of the Children of Israel also separated from their spouses.

One person, however, disagreed with Amram’s logic. Miriam, possessing great wisdom for her young age (she was 5 years old), said to her father: “Father, your decree [meaning the act of divorcing Yocheved] is more severe than Pharaoh's; because Pharaoh decreed only against males whereas you have decreed against both males and females...” (Talmud Sotah 12a). Amram then remarried Yocheved, and all of the other couples remarried as well.

Tradition has it that the date of the remarriage of Amram and Yocheved was the 7th of Elul (today). As a result of their reunion, Moses was born.

In the usual "quirks" of the Jewish calendar, 7 Elul coincides with the weekly Torah reading of Ki Teitzei, in which the question of remarriage is addressed--only the question here is a much more complicated relationship: A man marries a woman but he finds in her something “unseemly” (immoral habits, according to the great commentator Rashi), so he divorces her. After she leaves her first husband’s house, the woman remarries and this second marriage also ends in a divorce (or in his death). The first husband may not, according to Torah law, remarry his previous wife after her marriage to another man.

The Torah prohibts such remarriages, knowing that whatever troubles this couple had in the past will always haunt their renewed relationship, as will the memories-good or bad-of the second marriage.

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