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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
As the ancient Hebrews paid a stipulated price for the privilege of marrying, they seemed to consider it the natural consequence of making a payment of that kind, that they should be at liberty to exercise a very arbitrary power over their wives, and to renounce or divorce them whenever they chose. This state of things, as Moses himself very clearly saw, was not equitable as respected the woman, and was very often injurious to both parties. Finding himself, however, unable, to overrule feelings and practices of very ancient standing, he merely annexed to the original institution of marriage a very serious admonition to this effect, viz. that it would be less criminal for a man to desert his father and mother, than without adequate cause to desert his wife, Genesis 2:14 , compared with Malachi 2:11-16 . He also laid a restriction upon the power of the husband as far as this, that he would not permit him to repudiate the wife without giving her a bill of divorce. He farther enacted in reference to this subject that the husband might receive the repudiated wife back, in case she had not in the meanwhile been married to another person; but if she had been thus married, she could never afterward become the wife of her first husband; a law, which the faith due to the second husband clearly required, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 , compare Jeremiah 3:1 , and Matthew 1:19; Matthew 19:8 . The inquiry, "What should be considered an adequate cause of divorce," was left by Moses to be determined by the husband himself. He had liberty to divorce her, if he saw in her any thing naked, any thing displeasing or improper, any thing so much at war with propriety, and a source of so much dissatisfaction as to be, in the estimation of the husband, sufficient ground for separation. These expressions, however, were sharply contested as to their meaning in the later times of the Jewish nation. The school of Hillel contended, that the husband might lawfully put away the wife for any cause, even the smallest. The mistake committed by the school of Hillel in taking this ground was, that they confounded moral and civil law. It is true, as far as the Mosaic statute or the civil law was concerned, the husband had a right thus to do; but it is equally clear, that the ground of just separation must have been, not a trivial, but a prominent and important one, when it is considered, that he was bound to consult the rights of the woman, and was amenable to his conscience and his God. The school of Shammai explained the phrase, nakedness of a thing, to mean actual adultery. Our Lord agreed with the school of Shammai as far as this, that the ground of divorce should be one of a moral nature, and not less than adultery; but he does not appear to have agreed with them in their opinion in respect to the Mosaic statute. On the contrary, he denied the equity of that statute, and in justification of Moses maintained, that he permitted divorces for causes below adultery, only in consequence of the hardness of the people's hearts, Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 18:1-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18 . Wives, who were considered the property of their husbands, did not enjoy by the Mosaic statutes a reciprocal right, and were not at liberty to dissolve the matrimonial alliance by giving a bill of divorce to that effect. In the latter periods, however, of the Jewish state, the Jewish matrons, the more powerful of them at least, appear to have imbibed the spirit of the ladies of Rome, and to have exercised in their own behalf the same power that was granted by the Mosaic law only to their husbands, Mark 6:17-29; Mark 10:12 .
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Divorce'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/d/divorce.html. 1831-2.