In our post feminist world, a case in Devarim 22 is very troubling.
After consummating his marriage, a man finds that he hates his wife. Instead of following the Torah’s instruction for how to absolve a marriage through divorce (as described in Devarim 24), he chooses to invent charges against her that she was unfaithful, most likely to get out of having to pay her Ketubah. To save a few shekels, he tries to destroy her reputation.
Her parents produce evidence to prove their daughter’s innocence, at which point “the city elders shall then take the man and flog him. They shall fine him 100 [shekels] of silver [as a penalty] for defaming an Israelite virgin, and give it to the girl’s father. [The man] must then keep [the girl] as his wife, and may not send her away as long as he lives.” (22:18-19)
Isn’t this supposed to be his punishment? What about her? Must she be condemned to live with this ingrate, this despicable individual who clearly doesn’t like her, who makes up horrific stories about her rather than go through the proper channels of either reconciliation or divorce, just to save money? Why must she be stuck to this low-life?
The Talmud (Ketubot 40a) explains that in cases similar to this (and if the parallel is not clear in the Talmud, the Torah Temimah assures us that it should be clear), the girl has every right, and is even instructed, to say “I don’t want him.” Her refusal, as the Malbim explains, gives her an easy out, and rids her of this nuisance of a man who doesn’t deserve her and who tried to destroy her life. If she doesn’t want him, there is no longer a positive commandment that he must marry or remain married to her.
Let us assume for that the girl decides she wants to stay with him. Maybe she thinks no one else will want her. After the accusation, anyone who Googles her name (even after she is proven innocent) will see the accusation at the top of the search engine. She may think she will have no shot at a life other than with this man.
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How is his inability to ever get rid of her a punishment to him, while at the same time being in some way to her benefit?
In Biblical and Talmudic times, being married was automatically beneficial to a woman, as she was supported by her husband.