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Chupah in Israel

There’s an old (but awful) joke that asks why Tractate Gittin – dealing with divorce – was placed before Tractate Kiddushin, which discusses marriage. Now, the simple explanation is that the order is based on the order of the verses in the Torah. The joke, however, plays on the classic idea that G-d always creates the cure before the malady.

While it’s a terrible joke, it conveys an important message about the way we should approach marriage and, G-d forbid, divorce. Marriage is a mitzvah. But so is divorce. Marriage is a mitzvah we look forward to fulfilling. Divorce is one of the many mitzvos – like cities of refuge and eglah arufah – that we hope we’ll never have to deal with.


Sadly, however, it’s far more common than those other mitzvos we dread. Nevertheless, most divorcing couples forget that it’s a mitzvah. And they treat the process with derision and pour scorn and disrespect upon their partner in the mitzvah. Why? Because they’ve never learned the tractate about divorce. Had they learned, they would never treat the mitzvah with such disdain.

And maybe that’s why our Sages placed Tractate Gittin before Tractate Kiddushin. Think about it like the information you had to learn before you started driving. Imagine the following order of events: You get behind the wheel, press the ignition, put the car in drive and off you go. A couple of days later, you get a ticket for speeding and a rule-book. The notice says that you should read the book and take another test. Otherwise, you risk losing your license due to bad driving. You say to yourself, “That’s ridiculous. I know how to drive. I don’t need to read a book to tell me what to do!” But the next day you get a ticket for a wrong turn. And the day after that, it’s a fine for running a red. And the following week you get a letter that says you’ve lost all your points and you’re no longer licensed to drive. What went wrong?

Of course, we all know it doesn’t work like that. First, you must read the book that tells you all the things you need to do to avoid losing your license. Like stopping at a crosswalk. Driving slowly in a school zone. Checking your mirrors before switching lanes. Never ever driving under the influence. You haven’t even gotten behind the wheel, and you already need to pass a test to prove you know how not to lose the license you haven’t received for the car you haven’t ever driven or learned how to drive!

But that’s the responsible sequence. We don’t allow you to drive until you understand the consequences of being a bad driver. Likewise, perhaps the message of positioning Gittin before Kiddushin was to warn us of the consequences of being a bad spouse. Just as the driver’s ed book tells you all about the things you do to forfeit your driver’s license, tractate Gittin tells you all about the things you do to forfeit your marriage license. There’s no point giving someone the book to read after they’ve lost all their marriage “points.” By that stage, it’s too late. They’re not going to read it. Instead, they’re just going to be bitter and act acrimoniously towards their soon to be ex-spouse. The time to learn about the mitzvah of divorce is before you’ve even gotten behind the marriage wheel.

That’s the real meaning of creating the cure before the malady that somehow got lost in translation. Learning tractate Gittin is the cure for the malady of entering Kiddushin without the understanding of the serious responsibility marriage entails and the consequences of “drunk spousing.” The preempting of the cure ensures the malady never even begins! And that’s the transformative power of Tractate Gittin. Don’t think of it as a guide for divorce. It’s positioned as a guide to avoid divorce! The more one is acquainted with the tragic realities of divorce proceedings, the more one will strive to avoid it at all costs.

Often in life we look for transformative solutions to redeem ourselves from bad habits and experiences. But the best kind of transformation occurs before the problems have even begun! The more we train ourselves to apply principles of good living – physical, spiritual, material, emotional, psychological – the easier our lives will be. You won’t need the lifeboat to rescue you from the storm. You’ll understand the reason and the process of the storm and have the tools to survive and make it through to the other side. That’s the ultimate transformative approach to life!


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Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the founder of The Center for Torah Values. He received his PhD in International Relations from the University of Alberta and advanced rabbinical ordination semicha yadin yadin from Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz of the Beth Din of America. He served as senior rabbi at Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue in London, a 1200-family prominent institution of Anglo Jewry. He was the inaugural chair of the Holocaust Monument of Canada and was a delegate to the World Holocaust Forum 2020 at Yad Vashem. He is the author of The Transformative Daf book series and his articles have appeared in multiple publications.