Parsha Ki Teitzei by David Hartley Mark

This parsha/Torah reading contains certain familial laws which, while they may have served the Jewish community well in centuries gone by, are a source of interdenominational friction today. These include the laws of mamzerut, or bastardy. In Judaism, a mamzer/bastard is not the offspring of two unmarried people, but, rather, the product of an adulterous relationship. It is therefore crucial that, when a Jewish couple is divorced, they receive not only the civil decree, but also a religious one. The problem is that the three Jewish denominations—Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform—do not necessarily accept one another’s gittin/religious divorce ceremonies—as valid.

As a Conservative rabbi serving in New Hampshire, I have, in the past, arranged for couples to undergo a Conservative divorce ceremony, during which I acted as the sh’liach get, or the messenger bearing the divorce document, which had been sent to me by the rabbi specifically designated in our region to write them (each divorce has to be handwritten with the couple’s Hebrew names on heavy white paper, using a quill pen). There were also instances when I would refer a couple to Boston, where the Orthodox bet din (Jewish law court) would attend to their needs. I note that the latest Reform Rabbi’s Manual (Rabbi David Polish, Ed., Ma’aglay Tzedek, NY: CCAR, 1988) provides a “Ritual of Release,” but notes that “The rabbi will explain to the participants that this ceremony…[does] not constitute a halachic get [Jewish writ of divorce]” (p. 97). There is no way, therefore, that this would be acceptable to the Orthodox, nor to many Conservative rabbis. What are the consequences of the various denominations not accepting one another’s gittin/religious divorces—specifically, the Orthodox, in most instances? The ensuing problem is that any subsequent marriage by either party would be considered an adulterous relationship, and the offspring thereof regarded as mamzerim. In Modern Israel, where the Orthodox Rabbinate rules who may marry and who not, mamzerut is a very controversial and divisive matter, indeed, since a bastard is allowed to marry only another bastard, and bastardy will persist to the tenth generation—an unspeakable curse visited onto generations yet unborn.

As a rabbi, as a human being, I believe that our faith was not flash-frozen at Sinai; it continues to develop and grow organically, shedding archaic ceremonials and laws and adopting new ones. If our people find Judaism too onerous and irrelevant to their lives and their spiritual journeys, they will not follow it. Its inherent worth is too valuable for a few musty, dusty laws to hold it back. Torah is multifaceted, and must flourish into the future.

Shabbat Aug. 17, 2013—11 Elul 5773
Torah Portion Kee Taytsay

Page Chapter Verse

Kohen 840 21 10-12
Levi 840 21 13-15
Yisroel 841 21 16-18
Revii 841 21 19-21
Chamishi 842 21-22 22-23; 22:1
Shishi 842 22 2-4
Shevii 843 22 5-7
Maftir 856 25 17-19

Haftorah—P.857, Isaiah 54:1-10

Enjoyed this archived service or article? Click here to donate $3 to OneShul (care of PunkTorah).

Support OneShul on GoFundMe

Leave a Reply