I've been married for 14 years. My wife has told me she no longer wants to have sex. She says she doesn't love me any more. She has stopped going to mikveh, so it is not possible for us to engage in sex. I am not satisfied with the situation. What does halacha say about this? Am I required to give her a get (divorce bill) and divorce her? Is it permissible that I do so? Would it be right to do so?
First of all, let me express to you my sympathy at this difficult time where your marriage has broken down.One cannot legislate love and feelings, only actions. Our tradition offers specific legal rulings and ethical principles with regard to the expectations of sexual relations in the context of marriage, but the pain of each broken relationship is unique.
The Jewish tradition does describe a mutually gratifying sexual relationship as one of the expected criteria for married life. While neither partner must be available to the other at all times or in all ways (indeed, this is one of the effects of the system of“Taharat Hamishpacha” the monthly cycle of abstention, mikvah and intimacy among those who observe it), the expectation is that both partners will make a good faith effort to maintain the physical aspect of the relationship on a regular basis.
According to the classical sources,from the Mishnah onward, if one of the partners is not able to meet the reasonable need of the other partner for physical intimacy,that is considered grounds for divorce.One source which lays outthese criteria is the Shulchan Aruch.One subsection (Even Ha-ezer 76:1-13, 77:1) lays out the grounds for the husband’s responsibility to provide for the physical gratification of his wife, even going to the level of specifying the frequency of relations based on his occupation and travel.
The following section (Even Ha’ezer 77:2-5) describes the wife’s parallel responsibilities to her husband.It defines the category of a Moredet- a woman who refuses to engage in sexual relations with her husband over an extended period of time. It specifies a very detailed process for the Beit Din, the Jewish court,to work with the couple, over periods of at least amonth, and up to a year, but if the couple are not reconciled, then divorce (throughthe husband’s granting of a “get” ) is the result.It is worth noting that a husband does not grant a “get” unilaterally.A Beit Din is involved to ensure that the proper procedures are followed.
A husband is permittedto initiate this process, but not required to do so. There may be extenuating circumstances.To take an example not relevant to your situation: while some couples remain sexually active into old age, others reach a point where their physical capabilities, or mutual expectations of the relationship no longer include sex, though they may still enjoy other forms of physical affection.Such couples are not required to seek a divorce just because neither of them desire continued sexual activity, and typically other factors maintain the strength of the relationship.Other couples may chose to stay together for financial reasons or “for the sake of the children.” However, it is not healthy for a person to be denied a safe outlet for appropriate sexual desires, nor, more importantly, to be in relationship with a partner who is actively antagonistic.A marriage where one partner desires physical intimacy and the other does not, or where one partner dislikes the other, is likely to be harmful to both partners and to those around them.
Therefore, according to Jewish ethics, if your wife states that she does not love you and no longer wishes to be intimate with you over an extended period of time, you would be permitted to initiate the process that might end with a divorce carried out through the “get,” and through whatever civil procedures might be appropriate where you reside. Throughout the divorce process, there are Jewish ethical obligations that apply (for example,the oblgation to care for any children in the family, and the prohibition on Lashon Harah, gossip). I would recommend a book by my colleague, Rabbi Perry Netter, called “Divorce is a Mitzvah” which covers these and many related topics.
Whether divorce is "right" or not depends on the outcome of that process, where other resources might be brought to bear.The Shulchan Aruch, cited above, notes that part of the process of “moredet” involves inquiring of the woman why she no longer desires intimacy with her husband, and the code suggests a range of possible causes that must be explored.To list a few examples: she may no longer find him attractive, he may have been abusive or hurtful , or another party may be involved.Some are the “fault” of one partner or the other, others may be beyond human control.What unites them is that often a breakdown in physical intimacy is preceded by a breakdown in emotional intimacy, and resolution of the emotional issues could lead to resolution of the physical issues.
I would therefore encourage you, or any couple whose relationship has reached this stage, to seek professional guidance together.Depending on the circumstances, you might choose a rabbi with expertise in couples and relationship counseling, or a professional counselor who is sensitive to Jewish values. With their assistance you could determine what factors in your relationship that have led to this impasse, and whether they still might be resolved successfully. If such counsel does not bring about reconciliation, or if your partner is unwilling to seek such assistance, then you would be within your rights to pursue a divorce.
The issue of marriage and refusal of one partner or the other to have sexual relations is well founded in Rabbinic sources, based on passages in the Torah.
The situation is a difficult and painful one.In today’s world most rabbis, I included, advise couples to seek competent couples counseling and therapy.It often takes time to find the right mix of therapist and couple.
Marriage is a vital part of Judaism and life.It is not to be dissolved unless absolutely necessary.But Judaism unlike some other religions believes that not all unions are meant to last and gives individuals the tools to bring such troubled unions to a reasonably equitable conclusion through the gerushin or gittin procedures (delivery of a Get or divorce document).
The major source for divorce in Judaism is in the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 24, verse 1: “When a man marries a woman or possesses her, if she is displeasing to him [or] if he has evidence of sexual misconduct on her part, he shall write her a bill of divorce and place it in her hand, thus releasing her from his household.”
The procedure of giving and obtaining a Get written by a sofer (scribe) in accordance with the halakhah (Jewish Law) as determined by a recognized beit din (Rabbinic Court) is well-known.I will not deal with these laws here.
Rather, I would like to address the laws pertaining to a mored (m.) or moredet (f.) in a marriage.These are partners who do not provide the normally expected conjugal rights that are considered a vital part of what kiddushin (marriage) is all about.
While one might imagine that Judaism defines this from the masculine perspective, with a wife withholding pleasure from her husband; the Rabbinic sources deal with the issue from both perspectives—a woman withholding sex from the man or a man withholding sex from his wife.
The sources are so explicit that they deal exactly with your case.Please realize, as I began, it is always recommended to do all in one’s power to bring a happy resolution through counseling and therapy.
After doing everything in one’s power and it still does not work, then and only then is a divorce warranted.It should be noted, however, that if both parties decide to divorce, a Get would normally be granted, even without counseling.
According to the Shulkhan Arukh, the Code of Jewish Law, if a wife refuses to have intercourse for a period of one year or more, then a Jewish divorce is appropriate.There is, however, a distinction to be made between a moredet—a woman whose refusal is based in spite and a woman whose husband has become loathsome to her.
Naturally, a husband whose manners, hygiene, etc. are unbecoming needs to be dealt with, as through therapy.
As with so many aspects of life, it is easy to interpret matters only from one’s own perspective.We all need to move beyond our own selves and determine whether or not “I could be causing her to refuse me.”
If after all the work necessary has been done in endeavoring to bring the marriage back to the way it had been before and it is seen that there is no resolution, a Get would be sought through an authorized beit din and mesader gittin (Rabbinical Court and Master of Divorce Documents).
It is understood that life under the described circumstances is unlivable and when living in accordance with Torah and Mitzvot (commandments) requires immersion in the mikvah (ritual bath), a divorced is warranted, albeit, sadly.
According to the circumstances that you outlined, it appears that you are halakhically within you rights to have a Get issued and given to your wife.(Shulkhan Arukh, Even Ha-Ezer, Section 77)
As with all questions of halakhah, a competent Rav must be consulted.What I have written does not constitute a specific decision in your case.I have only given direction in the matter as presented.
As a Reform Rabbi, I will leave the technical aspects of Halacha to my Conservative and Orthodox Colleagues and focus instead on the values involved.
It is unfortunate that your marriage has fallen into this state.The fact is that it happens and we can be thankful that Jewish law and custom give us a way to deal with the situation in a manner that is both dignified and lays the groundwork for a healthy friendship following.
Rabbi Heller was correct in advising you to seek counseling before anything else.But ultimately both you and your wife are within your rights. She is right in letting you know her feelings on both sex and the relationship, and you are right in wanting something more than companionship from your marriage.
If approached in a mature and open way, then even if you are unable to resolve your differences through counseling (and there are many couples who cannot), then you can end your marriage through both Jewish and secular processes, in a way that will enable you to be cordial and respectful to one another, and have as little impact on your children (if there are any) as possible.
While the Reform movement does not require anything more than a civil divorce, many within the movement have developed rituals for couples going through divorce that would go along with the formal signing of a Get.This can make the moment of divorce, usually painful and filled with regret, into a moment that also has God present. I encourage you to visit ritualwell.org to see some of the beautiful ceremonies that lend dignity and beauty to a process that is all too often anything but dignified and beautiful. Most of the rituals there can work in the strict Halachic framework I suspect you will seek.
The worst outcome is for you to stay in a marriage that is not fulfilling to you and then to seek that fulfillment in ways that would be immoral or illegal.Therefore I encourage you to seek counseling to see if your marriage can be saved, but ultimately do what is best for yourself.
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