Eliezer Finkelman

A parable about divorce and remarrying

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, a woman can hold her ex-husband hostage and refuse to allow him to remarry

A man went to the matchmaker (called shadchanit there) to ask for help in finding a partner. The shadchanit asked the usual questions, including, “Have you ever been married?”

The man admitted that he had been married, and was now divorced.

The shadchanit followed up, “and do you have your ex-wife’s permission to seek a new partner?”

The man admitted that his ex-wife had withheld permission, back when the divorce was new.

The shadchanit explained that she could not help him until or unless he got his ex-wife’s permission.

“Is there no other way for me to get your help?” he asked.

“Well, you can go to a tribunal of wise women, who theoretically have the power to grant you permission to seek a new partner,” the shadchanit replied.

So he went to the tribunal of wise women. When he told them that his ex-wife had not granted permission for him to seek a new partner, they told him that there was nothing they could do for him. It was entirely up to his ex-wife.

He replied that there was literally no other human being in that parallel universe who had less interest in helping him find a new companion, in gaining female companionship, in marrying, or in starting a family, than his ex-wife. He recalled that the divorce had more or less the usual level of rancor.

The wise women told him that they had no choice. The ex-wife had the right to make that decision.

He thought it spiteful of his ex-wife not to grant him permission, and the wise women agreed.

“But you, wise women, always teach people about the importance of finding companionship, of marrying, of having children, and establishing peaceful homes to raise the children.”

“True,” they said, “but not for you.”

“Is that the only possible answer?”

“No. Years ago, some wise women found ways of permitting ex-husbands to remarry, even without permission from their former wives, but we have since developed a tradition to reject all those ways. We cannot make an exception to our tradition.”

He asked, “Are there no tribunals of wise women who would rule differently, who could permit me to remarry even without my ex-wife’s agreement?”

The wise women replied, “We hate to admit it, but there are renegade tribunals that would grant you permission. They go against our tradition. We declare them ‘not traditional.’ If you go to them, we will condemn you for your radical unfaithfulness.”

He complained, “Maybe you would have more compassion on me if there were at least one man on your tribunal of wise women.”

They dismissed that idea: “Men are disqualified from serving on tribunals. Everyone knows that.”

He persisted: “But three thousand years ago, our sacred literature describes a wise man as having led a tribunal.”

They were not impressed: “We have many explanations for why that case sets no precedent. Only women may serve on the tribunal.”

He judged this as totally unfair, but they explained that since they were following the traditions, fairness had nothing to do with the situation.

So he lamented, “I guess I can do nothing. I am destined to remain alone for the rest of my life, with no wife and no children.”

A kindly member of the tribunal offered a wise suggestion: “I have one idea that sometimes works. Do you have any money saved up for your retirement?”


“You can offer to give all that money to your ex-wife. Perhaps if you offer her enough money, she will consent to grant you permission to marry. Maybe your relatives and friends can get you more money, if your ex-wife demands more.”

“I would rather go to a renegade tribunal.”

“If you do that, we will ruin your life. We will tell your community to reject you, and they will do that. You will wind up with no friends.”

“Hey, I am not doing anything wrong. Why don’t you threaten to ruin my ex-wife’s life instead? Maybe then she would give me permission to find a new companion.”

“It would not help if we threaten your ex-wife. She has to grant you your freedom willingly. Threats would count as coercion.”

“But bribes? I could offer her money?”

“Of course. If she granted permission for money, that would count as willingly offering consent. Then you could go the shadchanit with a clear conscience.”

In that parallel universe, the ex-husband was strictly out of luck.

Meanwhile, in our universe…

About the Author
Louis Finkelman currently resides in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Until recently, he taught Literature and Writing at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan, and served as half the rabbinic team at Congregation Or Chadash in Oak Park, Michigan.
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