There is no ban on divorce in the Messianic community in Israel
Passover is one of those occasions to catch up with family and friends, over food and fellowship. It’s also an opportunity to talk about what’s going on in the news. One such story, which has been circulating around the country, has been the very recent tragic event of a husband killing his wife – both having been members of a local Israeli Messianic congregation.
The rumor, which has been swirling around, is that although the husband had been abusive, the wife, nonetheless, stayed in the relationship due to the fact that divorce is not permitted within the Messianic community.
This is not only untrue, but it is libelous in terms of how it represents the community of Jewish believers in Israel. It suggests that abuse is not only tolerated but actually sanctioned, regardless of the circumstances. That is a blatant lie. No God-fearing congregational leader has ever encouraged a spouse to remain in an abusive relationship, whether it involved physical, mental or any other type of ongoing harm to the partner.
While divorce, in general, is not encouraged as an alternative in most religious communities, it is also not forbidden, with the exception, perhaps, of Hinduism, Catholicism (unless one partner is not of that faith) or within what might be defined as extreme faiths. However, even among those exceptions, divorce has been widely practiced for many decades.
Divorce is not only discouraged within religious circles, either. Many couples who have bad marriages go to seek the advice and counsel of psychologists, marriage counselors and other experts, in the hope of saving the relationship. This is oftentimes for the sake of the children or even an attempt to salvage what they once felt for each other. Therefore, it is fair to say that divorce is often viewed as a last resort, but not a first step.
The biblical view of divorce is certainly considered to be a last resort.
In the Old Testament, Jeremiah 3:8 refers to divorce as “being given by God to Israel, due to her being faithless and having committed adulteries.” And in Malachi 2:16, we read: “The man who hates and divorces his wife, says the God of Israel, does violence to the one he should protect, says the Lord Almighty.” Likewise, some believe that Ezekiel 16:8 is used as a metaphor for husbands protecting and providing for their wives, since the passage speaks about “covering someone with your garment.”
Deuteronomy 22:19 says: “They shall fine him 100 shekels of silver and give them to the young woman’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.”
Of course, the New Testament probably has the most well-known scriptures on the subject of divorce, especially as recorded in Book of Matthew, when Jesus (Yeshua the Messiah), was specifically asked by the Pharisees if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all.
Yeshua’s response was that “once a man and a woman are joined together, they are one flesh which no man should separate. But pressing Him as to why Moses commanded to give her a certificate of divorce,” and that “it was only permitted because of the hardness of their hearts,” and that “whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matthew 9:19).
There are other scriptures which deal with the subject of divorce, but the point is that the vast majority of people who follow the scriptures, whether Jewish or Christian, know that divorce is not supposed to be viewed as a desirable option or the first course of action taken.
Ending a marriage has devastating consequences for many and, even in the most amicable cases of divorce, it still carries scars, including a sense of failure, regret and pain. Of course, it goes without saying that it also ends up creating a financial burden for both parties.
Having said that, the Messianic community in Israel is no different than other faiths which encourage reconciliation, counseling and an ongoing attempt at working through the difficulties which exist in so many marriages, especially given today’s pressures and disagreements on a variety of issues.
Yet, in the case of abuse, whether physical, mental, verbal or otherwise, no spiritual leader with integrity would ever counsel someone to “weather the abuse and remain together.” If such a leader would offer that kind of advice, it would be a dereliction of their duties, as it relates to showing mercy while expecting a mate to endure shame, ill-treatment and distress. Any leader who believes that this is a godly response to that kind of suffering should be challenged by the community of faith, at large.
The abusive spouse should also be confronted and forcefully challenged, either by their spiritual leader or even lawful authorities, because abuse has no place in the life of someone who claims to be a true follower of the Messiah, whose teachings centered around love, forgiveness, mercy and kindness. Nor is it acceptable in society.
Within the Messianic community, both abroad and in Israel, there have, sadly, been quite a few cases of divorce. Although this reality is lamentable, it also proves that there is no ban on divorce, as per the rumor which emerged after this particular recent murder took place within the community of believers in Israel.
Anyone claiming that there is a ban on divorce should substantiate it by citing who put the ban in place, when it was enacted and what consequences have resulted from violating the ban. Only after such a claim is verified, can that accusation stand and, even then, it must be carefully examined to understand who thought they had the authority to establish such a ban and why it is wrong.
The Messianic community, as stated previously, is no different than any other community of faith when it comes to the subject of divorce. Assistance can be offered but, in the end, no one should have the final word over the couple’s decision. Matters of conscience must be left to each individual as they stand before their God.
It’s also important to state that divorced individuals are not forbidden to enter Messianic congregations, nor are they denied the glad hand of fellowship.
To suggest otherwise is, perhaps, a cynical excuse to cast blame on the community of faith for being overly rigid, judgmental and critical of human failure.
Not all divorce results from abuse and, in cases of less urgency, maybe it’s true that more effort could have been made to save the relationship. However, the choice to remain in a bad marriage, or end it, remains the personal and individual decision of each person.
That is the position of the Messianic community both in Israel and abroad. Anyone saying otherwise is simply not speaking the truth and attempting to smear this body of believers.
Jonathan Moore serves as Lead Pastor of Ahavat Yeshua in Jerusalem. Jonathan and his wife Simcha have four small children.