Friday, February 27, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- women as persons

We’re working on the laws in Deuteronomy 22:13-29.  These laws allow a groom to charge his bride with adultery if he thinks she wasn’t a virgin on her wedding night, a charge subject to all the same due process rules as murder.  But if it’s his fault, and her father doesn’t forbid it, he has to marry her and can’t divorce her.
But the girl isn’t stuck in the marriage.  A long time ago I pointed out “the law of daughters,” which says that a man who takes more than one wife has to allow all of them proper food, clothing, and their conjugal rights.
If the husband hates the wife he was forced to marry and refuses her conjugal rights, she can get somebody to go to court for her, and the court can force the husband to agree to a divorce.  It’s his fault, and the money he put down for her marriage contract goes to her.  Mishnah prescribes the situations in which she can demand this divorce.  For example, if he is in logistics and goes with his caravans to far-away cities, she may have to put up with only a couple of nights a year with him.
If he refuses to clothe and feed her, there’s another situation.  Mishnah describes the minimum support a poor man has to give his wife, and then says “and it’s all according to his wealth.”  It reflects badly on a man if he has a median income but his wife has to dress like a poor woman because he won’t pay for more.  What’s more, whatever she does around the house, she can use for income.  In those days, women were responsible for turning the family wool into fabric.  She was allowed to sell this.  If her husband failed to support her, she kept the money.
Mishnah also made the husband responsible for paying for the wife’s burial, for redeeming her if she is kidnapped, and for paying medical bills when she is sick or after childbirth.
Two other situations could lead to divorce.  If a husband took a performance oath not to fulfill his responsibilities, and the court tried to annul the oath but he wouldn’t co-operate, they could force him to divorce her.
Finally, if the husband refused to let his wife go to weddings and funerals, he turned his wife into a social outcast.  His only justification was if he could name people who frequented the house who had bad reputations or even were known criminals.  If he couldn’t do that, the court could force him to agree to a divorce, and he had to pay her the money put down with the marriage contract.
In the west women became non-persons upon marriage.  It was extremely difficult to get a divorce, no matter what the situation.  Usually she had to prove both ill treatment and abandonment, while the husband only had to prove adultery to divorce his wife.  What’s more, the husband could and sometimes would take entire possession of the wife’s property at and after marriage, waste it and leave her to starve.  She couldn’t do a thing about it, except possibly run away, and he could sue to make her come back, because the man had the conjugal rights and he could sue to enforce them.
For next week study Leviticus 21:7 and 9, 13 and 14, because I will set aside your objections based on verse 9.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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