Torah For Today: Couples with different levels of observance making a home together
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Torah For Today: Couples with different levels of observance making a home together

Rabbi Ariel Abel takes a controversial topic and looks at an Orthodox response

Rabbi Ariel Abel

Rabbi Ariel Abel is based in Liverpool

Happy couple
Happy couple

Typically, greater evidence of couples living happily together with differing levels of observance has been observable in traditional Sephardic households.

This is partly due to Shabbat and mikveh seen as staples of culturally Jewish, rather than specifically religious observant identity. This contrasts with the all-or-nothing approach, that may promote divorce over forming compromises in religious practice.

The story is told of the Chief Hakham of Argentina Issac Chehebar, whose wife did not cover her hair as would be expected. A growing number in his congregation asked him what he might do about it. The leading decider of halacha of the era, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, had declared that the bareheadeness of a married woman was grounds for divorce. Chehebar’s response was rhetorical and incredulous: “Are you expecting of me that I divorce my wife?!”

What is interesting in conversations around differing levels of observance is that the discussed criteria centre around the three ‘big ones’: Shabbat, mikveh and kashrut. Whereas these are halachic cornerstones in practice of Judaism, it is far less expected that a Jew might separate or divorce from a spouse who exhibits dishonest behaviour, or who routinely gossips, hurts, judges or shames others.

Significantly, our sages teach that the tenets of humaneness to be merciful, have a sense of shame and generosity of nature (Yevamot 79a) are the very characteristics of a Jew, without which one should start to worry whether the perpetrator can be Jewish at all; they are therefore also the three preconditions of character for accepting converts to the Jewish faith.

Hence one could be halachically married to a reputedly frum
spouse, but ethically be considered out-married all the same.

  •  Rabbi Ariel Abel CF LLM is a solicitor at Liverpool Legal, a legal practice in Liverpool associated with E Rex Makin & Co Solicitors

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