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Shabbat Parashat Devarim| 5765
Demand of Divorce When Husband Takes Second Wife - Condensed from Piskei Din Rabbaniim - vol. VII, pp. 201-206
Case: A couple was married in Yemen and moved to Israel. The husband decided to take a second wife. The first wife, who opposed the second marriage, now demands divorce because she has been disgusted by his behavior and because he does not have enough money to support two wives and six children (5+1). The husband says that he can be a good husband to both and points out that in their country of origin, bigamy is acceptable.
Ruling: Regarding the financial issue, although the husband may have difficulty supporting all of his dependents properly, even those who say that inability to support is grounds to force a get, this is only when the husband is unable to provide even the most basic necessities (Chelkat M’chokek 70:9 and Beit Shmuel 70:7).
There are different, halachic reasons that a man may not marry two wives in Israel. One is that here we follow Rabbeinu Gershom’s ban, which prohibits bigamy. Even those who come from Jewish communities that did not accept the ban are bound by this practice. However, for those people the nature of the prohibition, that one should conform to the practices of the place he moves to, is a relatively minor one. This is not grounds to force him to divorce. Another issue is that when one gets married in a place where bigamy is not accepted, he tacitly obligates himself to his wife that he will not marry again during their marriage. However, since this couple got married in Yemen, the husband accepted no such obligation.
Although the wife says that she is disgusted by her husband’s behavior and cannot bear to remain married to him, that claim is grounds for a coerced get only according to the Rambam. The consensus of other authorities is that we must be fearful that a woman might make such a claim to allow her to remarry even if her husband is not really so disgusting in her eyes. There are many opinions that in cases where there is clear basis for her feelings, we at least will require (not coerce) the husband to give a get.
In this case, there is an additional reason to require a get. The gemara (Ketubot 72a) says that a man who causes his wife to have a bad reputation is subject to divorce. In our situation, it is extremely embarrassing for a woman in Israel to be one of two wives. The Maharach Or Zarua (228) does say that embarrassment is grounds for divorce only when the husband continues acting problematically, and, in our case, the wife bases her claims on the man’s past actions. However, since the husband refuses to divorce his second wife, we can require him to grant his first wife the divorce she desires.
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