The Museum of

       rites of passage

From the book "The Polish Jew: His Social and Economic Value," by Beatrice C. Baskerville, 1906.

According to the Talmud, polygamy is lawful; but the Rabbinats have long since altered this law, and now a man may not have more than one wife at a time. But it is very easy for him to get rid of her. The Law says, "When a man hath taken a wife and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes because he hath found some uncleanness in her; then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house."

This means is very frequently used among the Jews in Poland and for trivial reasons, when a man is free of his father-in-law's roof and has grown tired of the wife his parents chose for him when he was thirteen. Often an irate husband will go to the communal Rabbinat and demand a writing of divorcement, as it is still called, because his wife gave him food with flies in it or put too much salt in his soup. The Rabbinat generally tries to dissuade the petitioner from his intention, but cannot legally refuse him the writing if he proves that his complaints are well grounded. Once in possession of the piece of parchment, all the husband has to do is to thrust it into his wife's hands or even throw it into her arms. When divorced, she is entitled to half of her dowry; but as the marriage contract is made out according to the religious law, and by this a dowry cannot exceed the equivalent to thirty pounds of English money, her husband is not obliged to give her back more than fifteen pounds. A widow is entitled to the same amount on the death of her husband. The Russian authorities do not make any difficulties about confirming the decision of the Rabbinat, and so divorce is excessively easy for the Polish Jew--though as a matter of fact cases are comparatively rare among the educated classes. But when a man, divorced in the above way, wishes to marry again, he must get the consent of the Rabbinat in order to do so, and this gives the latter a good deal of influence in petitions. If both sides wish to divorce, the matter is very simple indeed, and neither has any difficulty about getting married again. A woman can get divorced from her husband against his will if she can prove that he engages in any dishonourable or objectionable trade which she did not know of before her marriage; if he is suffering from any objectionable disease; if his breath is unsavoury; if he often turns her out of the house; if he has a very bad temper; and lastly, if he beats her: "For," the Talmud says, "it is not seemly that a Jew should beat his wife."


Copyright 2007-10 Museum of Family History. All rights reserved. Image Use Policy