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Shabbat Parashat Vayeitzei | 5768
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I am a woman of Sephardi descent who married an Ashkenazi man, and I have since been divorced. Should I revert back to my Sephardic customs and rulings?
Answer: We must start by seeing why a wife takes on her husband’s origin’s customs and rulings.
The oldest direct source we know regarding a wife conforming to her husband’s traditions is the Tashbetz (III, 179). He says that it is inconceivable that a husband and wife would live together governed by different practices. There are varied explanations of this concept. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe OC I, 159) compares the husband’s home to a community and says that when his wife joins his household, she takes on “the place’s practices” just like a new permanent resident of a community (Shulchan Aruch, OC 468:4). Others (Admat Kodesh II, OC 2; see Igrot Moshe, ibid.) claim that a woman was not fully connected to her father’s traditions, as the expectation always had been that she would leave to join her husband’s family and accept his minhagim.
What happens when a couple gets divorced (or widowed)? If the matter is that they cannot have different minhagim under one roof, then when they no longer live under one roof, the woman would revert to her former minhagim. In fact, the Tashbetz says this but with a major proviso. If the woman becomes widowed and her husband leaves her with children she would maintain her husband’s family’s minhagim. One of the precedents he brings is from a halacha from the Torah in regard to the eating of terumah. The daughter of a kohen eats terumah because of her father until she marries. If she marries a non-kohen she no longer eats terumah, but if he dies or divorces her she goes back to her father’s house, and his terumah. However, if she has children from the non-kohen husband, she does not return to eat terumah (see Vayikra 22:13). Thus, we see, says the Tashbetz, that a widowed woman with children retains the family status of her marriage.
Rav Yosef Engel (Gilyonei Hashas, Yevamot 86a) takes this comparison very formally and also understands it to work by linking her to her ex-husband. It sounds from the Tashbetz that her relationship with the children prevents her from reverting back naturally to her father’s household and way of life. It is also likely that this concept is based not on a halachic derivation but on a sociological situation that the Torah recognized. Namely, the mother of children who have their father’s halachic status is expected to continue to act in a way that is consistent with their upbringing. This then would apply even if she was divorced, as the Tashbetz himself states. Even when they are grown up, although she no longer has to raise them, halacha recognizes the likelihood that she will be very connected to them and may spend much time with them (see Ketubot 54a; Even Ha’ezer). Therefore it makes sense that she should not be more connected to her father than to them and it is not necessarily appropriate to change to her childhood minhagim.
Igrot Moshe does not rule on what happens in the case that a wife is widowed or divorced. However, his logic seems to imply that if practically she went back to interacting with her former community she could and maybe should go back to their minhagim. He does raise the possibility (within his explanation of the Rambam’s minority approach) that a woman waits until she marries to accept her lifetime minhag and that she should keep it thereafter (at least until she remarries).
In the final analysis it seems that a divorcee without children should revert to her old minhagim and that children, who play a pivotal role in the divorcee’s lifestyle, should prompt her to retain their joint minhagim. In general, though, if she has chosen either her old or her adopted community as her religious/cultural center, she can follow its minhagim.
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