Thursday, September 08, 2011

Marriage, divorce and re-marriage of the same divorced couple: Ancient Israelite and present Singaporean practices

I. Ancient practices
In the times when Deuteronomy was first read, marital status is legitimatised, sustained, and recognized by the religious-communal system which consists of but not limited to (1) the married couple’s praxis according to YHWH’s ordinance[1], (2) the theological emphasis on marriage as covenant,[2] (3) the accountability by immediate family members that uphold the marriage (which is presumed by the practice of ‘Levirate marriage’[3]), and (4) the governance of marriage through the theological concept of ‘holiness and defilement’[4] ruled by a group of elders.[5] The civil and legal affairs of the community are grounded in their religion. Within this system, marital matters are part of the community’s corporate worship and the individual’s relationship with God. [6] This is the common assumption in the ancient world. Therefore inter-religious marriages are not encouraged nor allowed in general because to marry to someone of a different religion entails participation in the other person’s religion (Deuteronomy 7:3-4, 1 Kings 11:7-10, Ezra 9:1-2, 10:2-3, 10-11 and Malachi 2:11).[7] For that, the ancient Israelites’ marriage contract, ‘ketubah,’[8] is the manifestation of the religious meaning in practical terms.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 permits divorce. Although the Shammai and Hillel schools differ with each other on the ground for divorce, both agree that divorce is permissible. Other rabbis think likewise though emphasize that divorce is undesirable on the basis of the religious-communal system (Babylonian Talmud Gittin 90b[9]). Two other famous first century Jewish teachers teach against divorce because it contradicts the institution of marriage.[10] Apparently one of them thinks that divorce is to limit a problem and not the authorization for its permeation by misunderstanding this allowance as divine endorsement (as God’s will).[11] Some commentators suggest that the production of divorce certificate is to protect the defenceless woman.[12] I think it is more likely that the certificate is meant to secure the woman from being reclaimed by her former husband when she is already married to another man and so to prevent her and her new husband from being executed for committing adultery as per Deuteronomy 22:22.[13] Hence it is not merely to protect the woman but both herself and her new husband.[14] In other words, divorce is permitted to control post-divorce consequences. For this reason, the religious-communal system treats divorce as a contingency and contradiction against the institution of marriage.

In Deuteronomy 24:4, the remarriage of the same divorced couple—after the wife had other marriage(s) that ended either by natural death of or divorce with her subsequent husband(s)—is forbidden because it “is an abomination before the LORD.” Among other reasons,[15] this ordinance serves to “discourage hasty divorces by requiring a man to stipulate a reason for divorce in writing, and also by prohibiting him from remarrying his divorced wife.”[16]

II. Present Singapore practices for non-Muslims[17]
The practice of marriage and divorce is the change of one’s marital status before the Singapore State through the Women’s Charter. It is understood that “before the Women's Charter was passed by the People's Action Party (P. A. P.) government in 1961, there existed in Singapore as many different forms of marriage as the different ethnic communities had commonly practised in their home countries, according to their own cultural-religious traditions. Once the P. A. P. came into power, one of its first tasks was to bring order and uniformity into the prevailing legal chaos.”[18] In other words, marriage and divorce in the present Singapore is not located within a religious-communal system like that of the ancient Israelites. Rather, it belongs to a civil-contractual system. Marital affairs as practiced in the civil-contractual system is legitimatised and sustained by the apparatuses of the State, where civil and legal affairs are grounded in secular morality even though it is an inheritance of the religious-communal system. The Registry of Marriages deliberates upon all marriages regardless of customary and/or religious consideration.[19] For that, marriage contract is an end in itself without any religious meaning besides being an apparatus, ‘proof,’ for legal purposes.[20] (Therefore polygamous or polygynous marriages can be charged under section 494 of the Penal Code even in cases where such unions are arranged in the name of custom/religion.[21]) In short, only the apparatuses of the civil-contractual system can make effective any marital arrangement. The religious-communal system is basically invalid (the Muslim community is an exception) since all civil and legal affairs are grounded in secular moral paradigm.[22]

Under the civil-contractual system, divorce is a legal proviso to “minimize bitterness, distress and humiliation experienced by the parties, and to achieve a harmonious resolution of the most painful dispute anyone can experience in the course of their lives.”[23] In other words, it is an allowance for struggling married couples to be liberated from pre-divorce problems.[24] If marriage instituted in this system is an inheritance of the religious-communal system but devoid of its theology[25] and hence a parody of the latter, then divorce is the remedy of the former’s own farce.

Should the divorced couple decide to marry with one another again, they are allowed to do so. And their remarriage is not considered as a reactivation of their previous marriage but a new marriage under the Registry of Marriage in Singapore.[26]

[1] Genesis 2:24 is a stipulation based on the theological understanding described in Genesis 2:20 – 23. ‘4Q Sapiential work A’ from the Dead Sea Scroll records “Walk together with the helpmate of your flesh according to the statute engraved by God that man should leave his father and his mother… and that they should become one flesh.” (As quoted in John J. Collins, 'Marriage, Divorce, and Family in Second Temple Judaism' in Leo G. Perdue, Joseph Blenkinsopp, John J. Collins, & Carol Meyers, Families in Ancient Israel [USA: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997], p.127. Emphasis added.)

Malachi 2:14.

Although Genesis 38:8 and Deuteronomy 25:5-6 oblige the brother-in-law to marry his widow and childless sister-in-law to carry on the deceased brother’s name (the ‘yibbum’ practice), there is the ceremony of ‘halizah’ where such obligation can be avoided as testified in the Babylonian Talmud: “At first, when the object was the fulfilment of the commandment, the precept of the levirate marriage was preferable to that of halizah; now, however, when the object is not the fulfilment of the commandment, the precept of halizah, it was laid down, is preferable to that of the levirate marriage. Rabbi said: ‘But no coercion may be used. […] If you wish, submit to halizah; if you prefer, contract the levirate marriage; the All Merciful has given you the choice: And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, implying, if he likes he may, whenever he wishes, submit to halizah or, if he prefers, contract the levirate marriage.'” (Come and Hear website: Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Yebamoth, Folio 39b, [accessed 1 September 2011].)

Leviticus 21.7, 14, 22:13 and Ezekiel 44:22

Deuteronomy 22.15 – 18.

Therefore I disagree with Daniel I. Block’s statement, “[Apart] from the fact that weddings were civil rather than religious affairs, the Old Testament provides little information on the nature of Israelite weddings,” (Daniel I. Block, ‘Marriage and Family in Ancient Israel’ in Ken M. Campbell, ed., Marriage and Family in the Biblical World [USA: IVP, 2003], p.44) and John J. Collins’ description of ancient Israelite marriages as non-religious and hence non-moral, “Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of these contracts from a modern viewpoint is precisely the consistent view of marriage as a contract. The witnesses are human, not divine. It is assumed that the arrangement can be terminated at will by either party, without necessarily entailing moral culpability.” (John J. Collins, 'Marriage, Divorce, and Family in Second Temple Judaism' in Leo G. Perdue, Joseph Blenkinsopp, John J. Collins, & Carol Meyers, Families in Ancient Israel [USA: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997], p.109.)

This is the same concern why the present Shariah court does not allow inter-religious marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims. Singapore Statutes website: Administration of Muslim Law Act (Chapter 3): Part VI: Marriage and Divorce, (accessed 5 September 2011).

See the discussion on pages 188 to 198 in David W. Chapman, ‘Marriage and Family in Second Temple Judaism’ in Ken M. Campbell, ed., Marriage and Family in the Biblical World (USA: IVP, 2003), p.183 – 239.

Pointed out in Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature (USA: Hendrickson, 2005), p.356. The theological undesirability of divorce can be read in Babylonian Talmud Gittin 90b: “R. Eleazar said: If a man divorces his first wife, even the altar sheds tears, as it says, And this further ye do, ye cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with sighing, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, neither receiveth it with good will at your hand. Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously, though she is thy companion and the wife of thy covenant.” (Come and See website: Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Gittin, Folio 90b, [accessed 28 July 2011].)

Mark 10:5-9 and 1 Corinthians 7:10-11.

Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27 – 16:20 (USA: Thomas Nelson, 2001), p.84.

Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27 – 16:20 (USA: Thomas Nelson, 2001), p.84; William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974), p.354; James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002), p.301.

Although to Jesus the remarriage to another person by the one who initiated the divorce is considered adultery (Mark 10:11 – 12), it is not clear would the remarriage to another person by the one who received the divorce is considered as such as well.

The certificate is the proof of the woman’s “freedom to remarry.” (Jeffrey H. Tigay, Deuteronomy [USA: Jewish Publication Society, 1996], p.222.) Ben Witherington III may have implied this reading when he wrote “bill of divorce was required to be given to the woman, to make sure that she was no longer married.” Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), p.276.

Israel men may cite Deuteronomy 24:5 to defer from military service by divorcing and remarrying their wife. Deuteronomy 24:4 prevents such abuse. See Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 21:10 – 34:12 (USA: Thomas Nelson, 2002), p.563.

James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002), p.301.

Muslim marriage does not come under the purview of the civil court but under the Syariah court in Singapore according to Women’s Charter Ordinance No. 18 of 1961; now Cap. 353 (4). Singapore Statutes website: Women’s Charter (Chapter 353), (accessed 1 September 2011).

Eddie C. Y. Kuo & Aline K. Wong, eds., The Contemporary Family in Singapore (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1979), p.8.

The Registry of Marriages website: Frequently Asked Questions: Divorce, Question no. 7, (accessed 1 September 2011).

“Every marriage register kept by the Registrar or a Deputy Registrar under the provisions of this Act and any copy of any entry therein certified under his hand and seal of office to be a true copy or extract shall be prima facie evidence in all courts and tribunals in Singapore of the dates and acts contained or set out in such marriage register, copy or extract.” (Singapore Statutes website: Women’s Charter (Chapter 353): Part V: Penalties and Miscellaneous Provisions Relating to Solemnization and Registration of Marriages, (accessed 2 September 2011).

Singapore Statutes website: Women’s Charter (Chapter 353): Part II: Monogamous Marriages, (accessed 1 September 2011).

“[The] law can continue to expound moral message to the divorced parties. It is a good law that aims to expound a moral message to a husband and wife both during the subsistence of their marriage and even on its termination by divorce.” (Leong Wai Kum, The Singapore Women's Charter: 50 Questions [Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011], p.119)

Leong Wai Kum, The Singapore Women's Charter: 50 Questions (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011), p.68.

Leong Wai Kum, The Singapore Women's Charter: 50 Questions (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011), p.65 – 119.

See page 119 – 120 of Debbie Ong, ‘Reflections on the Law of Marriage & Divorce in Singapore’ in Daniel K. S. Koh and Kwa Kiem-Kiok eds., Issues of Law and Justice in Singapore: Some Christian Reflections (Singapore: Trinity Theological College and Genesis Books, 2009).

This is confirmed by a personnel named “David” from the Registry of Marriages in Singapore. Phone conversation dated 1 September 2011. The same divorced couple who plans to remarry is required go through the same application as every other couple.


chin said...

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 does not permit divorce. It defines divorce methodology and prevents certain remarriages. And in Matthew 19:8, Jesus explained Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and said that in the beginning, there shouldn't be any divorce. When combining the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5 and 19, all parties involve in a divorce commit adultery, except when there is fornication. Since Jesus did not come to give a new Law, therefore, this is the true meaning of the Mosaic law.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi chin,

The fact that Deut 24:1-4 defines divorce methodology presumes that it allows such act to take place. If not, it doesn't make sense to talk about its methodology unless it is allowed to take place.

Yes, Jesus said that divorce is not the original plan.

chin said...

Presence of definition does not legalized one act. God in OT defines how sin offering shall be done, does it mean that we can sin?

IS divorce a sin? For me it is, from the beginning till the end. For me God did not change, what is sin now (NT), is sin then (OT).

Sze Zeng said...

I think you are confusing analogy here.

The OT defines how sin offering to be done, not how a sin should be committed. Hence sin offering need to be done according to prescription.

In the case of divorce, the OT defined how divorce is to be done. Hence divorce should be done according to OT's prescription. And that, as I have pointed out, presumes that divorce is allowed.

chin said...


Well, it is never easy to understand that Deut. 24:1-4 is never about divorce but remarriage.

1. Deuteronomy 24:1 simply assume that divorce had occurred and a bill had been issued, it never states that divorce is a sin or not (therefore allowed).

According to your understanding, as it is prescribed, therefore allowed (by God) to take place.

Let’s look at the Law again,
Deuteronomy 23:2: adultery allowed (by God)? If not where does the bastard come from?

Deuteronomy 21:15: polygamy allowed? A man with 2 wives.

Deuteronomy 23:18: Harlotry allowed? Where does the hire of a whore come from, if not from a whore?

It is quite clear that all these law is written to prevent a second sin after the first had occurred.

2. Jeremiah 3 implies that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is not from God as it begin with “They say”

3. Divorced, harlot and widowed is deemed unfit for marriage to a holy person (Lev. 21:7) (contradictory?)

4. When ask about lawfulness of divorce (Matthew 19), Jesus never cite Deuteronomy 24:1-4 but Gen. 2:24, and say no, implying that Deuteronomy 24: 1-4 is never about divorce but prevent remarriage to another woman. (By saying so, Jesus did not give a new law but interpret the Law appropriately).

5. Paul teaches no divorce (on whatever ground), remarried to the same person (because divorce never ends a marriage as suggested in Jer. 3, only death ends a marriage)

6. I hate divorce (Malachi 2:16), would then God allows divorce?

7. I like how Ambrose put it: Do not then put away your wife, lest you deny God to be the Author of your union.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Chin,

Thank you for this elaborate comment.

RE 1. May be you have missed this portion in the post: "Other rabbis think likewise though emphasize that divorce is undesirable on the basis of the religious-communal system (Babylonian Talmud Gittin 90b]. Two other famous first century Jewish teachers teach against divorce because it contradicts the institution of marriage."

The assumption underlying the discussion of divorce in the OT is that divorce is not desirable but allowed.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 assumes the reality of divorce and proscribe to facilitate the process of divorce. These passages are laws on how divorce should be done.

This is far from the analogy you are trying to use here (as already pointed out in my previous reply). Does Deuteronomy 23:2 proscribe law to facilitate adultery? Is this passage a law on how adultery should be committed?

Is Deuteronomy 21:15 a law on how polygamy should be committed? Is Deuteronomy 23:18 a law to facilitate prostitution?

If not in these cases, then it just point to the confused category of analogy that you are using.

RE 2. May you point out which Jeremiah 3 are you referring to? I don't see the "they say" phrase.

RE 3. The fact that divorced is seem unfit to marry holy people does not mean divorce is not allowed. There is no logical connection between unfitness of a divorcee to marry holy people and divorce is allowed.

RE 4. I've pointed out this in the post. May be you have missed this too. So this is not an issue.

RE 5. I've pointed out this in the post. May be you have missed this too. So this is not an issue.

RE 6. I didn't dispute that God does not hate divorce. God hates divorce and he himself employs the divorce imagery to describe his relationship with Israel, saying he gave Israel a divorce certificate. (Jeremiah 3:8). So again, there is no logical connection between the fact that God hates divorce, and yet divorce is allowed.

RE 7. Again, there is no logical connection between the fact that God is the author of marriage and divorced is allowed.

As observed, it seems that you've made a few logical leaps and one confusion of analogy in the above.

chin said...

Exodus 21:10 (example of law “allowing” or “permitting” another wife)

Our differences:
You: if something happens = allowing or permitting, denoting consents.
I: if something happens ≠ allowing or permitting

Analogy (pls points out how is it wrong?)
a. God said no harlotry (Deut. 23:17), however, there are harlots (first sin)(Deut. 23:18), and God said their earning shall not be used in the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow (second sin).

b. God said no divorce (Gen 2:24, Malachi 2:16), however there is divorce (first sin)(Deut. 24:1), and God said there shall be no remarriage to another woman (second sin).

c. God said no polygamy (Gen 2:24), however there is polygamy by marrying the second wife (first sin)(Exodus 21:10), and God said he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights (second sin).

How would you answer?

Q: Is it lawful (permitted by the Mosaic Law) for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

Jesus’s Answer: What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (therefore, according to Mosaic Law, it is unlawful to divorce)

Pharisee (Shammai and Hillel): Deut. 24:1 although the cause is subject to debate.

Wondering: Why Jesus as God who knows the will of the author of Law does not use Deut. 24:1? The only reason I can think of is Deut. 24:1 is never written to permit divorce.

Q: Who allows Deuteronomy 24:1-4?
“They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man's, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me,” saith the LORD. Jeremiah 3:1. Who said? Not the LORD but them. And if you use NIV, the words “They say” is omitted.

Q: Is divorce a sin? Does the Law points out sin? Can the Law permits sin?

3. I cannot find where is Jesus in your passage, the nearest I found is the 2 teachers (Jesus and Paul?). But Jesus does not teach that divorce is against the institution of marriage only, he teaches divorce is sin and against God’s will, something more serious. Paul did not teach anything new but said it is Lord that says. Jesus and Paul did not think “divorce is to limit a problem”, in fact they say it creates more problems.

4. God instruct people not to marry divorce to be holy. But yet in Deut. 24:2 (allows?) a divorce to marry another. Isn't that contradictory?