We’ve all heard the phrase and possibly read the book by the same name, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. The concept is that men and women have a completely different way of communicating and viewing the world. Whenever I’m inclined to think that men and women don’t think so differently after all, I just need to have one conversation with my husband and sons to realize the folly of that train of thought.
After dinner on a long Friday night, my family often retires to our smushy living room sofa to talk about the past week’s events. At one point, the conversation turned to the Tamar Epstein case. My husband stated his opinion that the main reason the original beis din didn’t feel they could coerce her husband into giving a get, nor nullify the marriage, was because she had left him once and then returned. Apparently the fact that Epstein had felt a change of heart at one point, weakened the case that her marriage to her husband was untenable. Her choice to return, even the one time, meant that the conditions for nullifying the marriage without a get couldn’t be met.
Of course, I quickly gave an impassioned response against this line of reasoning. For example, imagine being a newly married orthodox woman in your early twenties. After a brief period of cohabitation, you are greatly bothered by several recently discovered personality traits and habits of your new husband. So bothered, in fact, that the prospect of remaining married to this man throws you into despair. You reluctantly approach your parents, who are freshly in debt thanks to wedding expenses, and tearfully tell them that you want a divorce. What is their most likely reaction?
If you have marriageable age children, and your first response would be, “Of course, dear! We only want you to be happy. We’ll make an appointment with a beis din tomorrow for an annulment and you can move in with us as soon as we can pack your things,” you are truly an understanding and supportive parent.
Most of us however, would want a bit more information about the specific nature of the problems. Marriage counselling would probably be suggested. Perhaps anecdotes about our own first difficult months of marriage would be tossed about. In short, we didn’t take out second mortgages, max out credit cards, and hit up local lending gemachs requiring countless post-dated repayment checks in advance, only for you to get a divorce a few months after the wedding! So suck it up sister!!!
Well, I hope I wouldn’t be that harsh, but the point remains that any newly married young woman having difficulty adjusting to marriage would most likely be urged to carry on and work through it, unless she was suffering violent abuse. The fact that such a woman would leave, only to return under the guidance of her parents, rabbis, relatives, and friends, isn’t an indication that she went back purely of her own volition and because she had a change of heart.
However, according to both my oldest son and husband, the problem has to do with purchasing a horse.
Not being a farmer and never having had the need to purchase a horse, I was unaware of this principle in helping to determine whether or not a marriage can be annulled. Apparently it applies in the Epstein case and those like it where the wife attempts to “return the horse.”
My husband and son, enjoying an academic argument, explained it like this – say you are travelling a distance too far to walk and you need a horse. You reach a small village looking for a sturdy horse to buy, but there is only one horse for sale (my son added this detail to illustrate that even if you bought the horse under duress because there were no other horses available (like the wife being forced/compelled to return to her husband) the principle would still apply). Outwardly, the horse looks pretty good, and so you buy it. You saddle up the horse, and begin your journey.
Things are going well, until midway through the journey, when all of the horse’s hair begins to fall off. This is concerning, and surely a sign of some sort of disease, but as the horse is still moving steadily along, and it’s a good few hours ride back to the village where you bought the horse, you continue on your way. A few hours later, the horse begins limping. You are now almost at your final destination, and despite the lameness of the horse, patch it up as best you can and continue on.
Throughout the trials and tribulations of the journey, you have developed a fondness for the horse. You house it in your barn, feed it, and nurse the horse back to health. The horse’s hair never grows back, but on the flip side you have a cool bald horse that you never have to waste time brushing (I threw in that benefit myself). Although the horse’s health is always in a frail state, you care for it for the next few years, until one day, its original owner visits your town. At that point, if you decide to take the horse’s first owner to a beis din to sue for damages or the original amount paid for the horse, you would be denied.
You indicated your acceptance of the horse and its health issues by not raising those matters when you first discovered them. The fact that you didn’t immediately return the horse, but instead kept it and cared for it, means that you accepted the animal, flaws and all. It’s too late for a refund.
So it is when determining whether or not a woman can petition to have her marriage annulled. If she leaves her husband, but returns even once, she indicates her acceptance of him, flaws and all. It’s too late for a refund.
I argued valiantly that a woman’s heart doesn’t work that way. That being influenced by others to return to the marriage certainly does play a role in whether or not her return to the marital home counts as accepting the man. I argued that women don’t view marriage as monetary transactions. I was told that that’s what kiddushin is – a monetary transaction – and so that’s how the dissolution of kiddushin is handled – as a court would decide upon monetary disputes.
I argued that women don’t need men for their financial support anymore. For a woman, marriage isn’t about money, but about her heart, her happiness, and her emotional well-being. I was told that when it comes to halachic decisions about divorce and annulment, they are dealt with in the same vein as other matters of acquisition, including horses.
Later that night, my husband tentatively asked me, “You do realize that I was not on the beis din deciding Tamar Epstein’s divorce case, right (he’s not a rabbi)? You do know that I had nothing whatsoever to do with her not receiving a get or a universally accepted annulment, don’t you?”
Maybe I argued a little bit too vehemently? What can I say? When a Venusian tries to divorce in Mars, we are arguing our case in a completely different language and from a completely different set of laws than the Martian court can understand – and vice versa.