Divorced From My Husband, and My Faith by Tova Mirvis – Also: Why It May Be Wiser For Women to Enter First Marriage At Age 40+
This lady is Jewish. I found myself relating to it. Some of the things she says, I think, are true of most American women, while others are true of Christian women too.
Several of her comments about how marriage and women are viewed in Judaism (or her particular branch of Judaism) sound very similar to the experiences of women in American evangelicalism, Reformed Christianity, fundamentalism, and Baptists.
I have a few observations to make about this excerpt farther below.
(Link): Divorced From My Husband, and My Faith by Tova Mirvis
…It felt impossible that any of them could understand why, a month shy of my 40th birthday, after almost 17 years of marriage and three children, I had upended the foundations of my life. I was barely able to believe it myself.
….I had been raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, had lived my life as an Orthodox Jew.
…It was best not to speak of such things. Amid the vast number of religious rules, there were other ones, enforced not by God but by the community. I learned to swallow dissent. To observe the rules was to be good, and to be good was to be loved. It was what let you stay inside a community, surrounded by family so that, if the world’s spinning were halted for one moment, and a finger placed on one small spot, you could say: I belong here.
I stayed inside. I followed the rules. I got engaged at the age of 22, after a blind date and a dozen weeks of dating. I was a senior in college, he in law school. We were of the same world, and fell quickly, easily in love. Nowhere was there room to say, I don’t yet know myself, let alone you.
… But there was no guarantee, as life moved forward, that we would remain the same as we were then.
Years later, the people who had shouted “mazel tov” at our wedding asked “What happened?” They wanted to hear the black and white explanation, not about the myriad shades of experience that move people apart. To get divorced was to shatter the wishful belief that to be Orthodox was to shield yourself from the discontent and disappointment that invaded marriages in the outside world.
But it was hard, impossible really, to explain what went wrong, how in my marriage I eventually felt like the street performers I’d once seen, who fold themselves inside impossibly small boxes, contorting arms over legs, so that a body occupies such little space.
As I stood before the rabbis, the divorce document was deemed correct, and read aloud, in Aramaic, dated the year 5772 from the creation of the world, in the city of Boston, by the Ocean Atlantic. I, Tova Aliza, the daughter of Dovid Moshe, was released from the house of my husband, to have authority over myself.
At the sound of the door closing behind me, the divorce took effect. So did something new inside me. One separation made way for another. The divorce, I realized, was from more than my husband — it was also a break with a way of life with which I had long wrestled, in which I did not sufficiently believe.
When I was summoned back inside, I was apprised of my new status in Jewish law as a divorcée. I was told I couldn’t be alone in a room with my former husband. I couldn’t drive alone in a car with him between cities or live in the same apartment building. I couldn’t remarry for 90 days. I couldn’t marry a man of the ancient priestly caste.
I listened politely, but looked at the rabbis differently now, not as men who stood in authority over me, but as people I once knew. I had no illusions about the path before me:
I was leaving a world in which so much is predetermined, leaving a marriage that I entered into when I was newly an adult.
I was like an astronaut severed from his ship, floating in space. And yet, after years of wrestling, doubting, justifying and chafing, I was ready to discover for myself a life in which I could fully believe.
You’ll notice the woman who wrote this addresses a few things I’ve mentioned before in older blog posts.
One reason of several I don’t think people should marry prior to reaching age 25 is that people – women in particular – have no idea who they are.
This is especially true for women raised in certain faith traditions, which teach codependency as being “biblical gender roles,” which includes, in part, teaching females that they are “number two” in a marriage, the husband has final decision-making ability and veto power, women should go through life in a passive mindset, never taking charge of their own life, never getting their own needs met, putting other people’s needs first, they are to act as a “help meet” to the spouse (as interpreted by many conservative Christians as the wife helping her husband achieve HIS dreams, HIS goals, etc).
All of that is sure as hell true of Reformed, Baptist, fundamentalist, and evangelical Christians, and based on this woman’s story, it sounds like it is true of Orthodox Judaism as well.
If you are a woman who is raised that way, sooner or later – probably by age 40 (for some women, it might be age 30, or later, by 50), you realize what an absolute bunch of bullshit all this is, you realize you have no damn clue WHO YOU ARE because you were never told, never permitted, to figure out who YOU are and what YOU want to do with YOUR life.
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