Prof. Broyde discusses marriage, divorce and the Jewish tradition at Brandeis Society event
The Brooklyn Brandeis Society and Congregation Mount Sinai held a discussion with professor Michael J. Broyde titled “When Things Fall Apart at Home: Marriage, Divorce and Child Custody in the Jewish Tradition” in Brooklyn Heights on Thursday.
Approximately two dozen judges, lawyers and congregants attended the lecture, which included discussions with judges Hon. Katherine Levine, Hon. Ellen Spodek and Aimee Richter, the immediate past president of the Brooklyn Bar Association.
Broyde is a professor of law at Emory University in Georgia whose areas of expertise include Jewish law, family law, law and religion, alternative dispute resolution and bankruptcy. He is a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory.
Broyde also authored a series of books and articles including “Innovation in Jewish Law: A Case Study of Chiddush in Havineinu” and “The Pursuit of Justice and Jewish Law: Halakhic Perspectives on the Legal Profession.”
The professor started off the talk by putting divorce into proper historical context — that for most of the last 1,000 years or so it was incredibly uncommon, but in modern American society roughly half of marriages end in divorce.
“There are a lot of reasons why this is happening, but the fact that it is happening is indisputable,” professor Broyde said. “We need to acknowledge that divorce is normal and common. The central question that the Jewish tradition seeks to confront is — how do we handle situations where married couples are contemplating getting divorced?”
Professor Broyde then went on to discuss what he called, “the greatest rabbinical contribution to divorce,” the prenuptial agreement.
Broyde said that, in the old tradition, rabbis contemplated the three ways that marriages ended, the death of the husband, the death of the wife or a divorce, and insisted couples get prenuptial agreements, known as ketubah in the Jewish tradition, to plan for one of these eventual outcomes.
“We’re not going to stay married forever so we might as well have a frank and honest conversation about divorce before we get married,” Broyde said. “For more than 1,000 years, that conversation was exceptionally common. You could not get married in the Jewish tradition in the year 1,000 without having a written personalized agreement that addressed the end of the marriage.”
Broyde also explained that rabbis also believed that fault had to be assigned if a marriage was dissolved and that the responsible party, in some cases, needed to be punished.
The Jewish tradition does not like no-fault asset distribution and thinks that the world would be a better place if people suffered consequences of their marital misconduct,” Broyde said. “That marital misconduct should, in some form, be penalized and that adultery is a sin … It’s a bad idea to let people get away with that moral wrong.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of divorce in the Jewish tradition, according to Broyde, is that it be focused on what’s best for the children.
“The Jewish tradition insisted that the divorce be child focused,” Broyde explained. “When there are children in the house, it insists that a deeply important aspect of divorce is that the children are taken care of. It worried incessantly that they are the true victims of divorce because they were the most hopeless people standing around. What happens is that the children can sink into poverty. The rabbis recognized that children do better with more money rather than less.”
Broyde explained that his feeling is that the focus on children has been somewhat forgotten in recent years, but expects that it is such an important tenet of a healthy divorce that it will eventually become the focus again in even mainstream society.
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