Jewish divorce ritual, as distinct from civil divorce procedures, is rooted in laws set forth in the Torah, and their reinterpretation in rabbinic literature. Beginning in the biblical period, the husband had the exclusive right to end a marriage, although there were some protections for wives built into the divorce process. Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, liberal movements of Judaism expressed concerns about the power imbalance in a Jewish divorce and began to accept civil divorce alone as a means for dissolving a marriage. More recently, liberal movements have begun to encourage people to have a Jewish divorce ceremony alongside a civil divorce, as a way of offering spiritual and psychological closure for a dissolving marriage.
This resource kit includes biblical sources as well as depictions of divorce in modern Jewish texts. In these modern texts, religious rituals exist in conversation with secular ideas of divorce; traditional gender roles and expectations come into contact with modern, more egalitarian ones. As students progress through these resources, they may wish to consider how the traditional practices are similar to or different from the modern legal, social, and familial divorce practices that many Jews participate in today.