Where is the Jewish Ritual for the Joy of a Divorce? – Kveller
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Where is the Jewish Ritual for the Joy of a Divorce?

woman with balloon and champagne

via Getty Images

Recently, Facebook memories popped up with a selfie I’d captioned “100% officially divorced!” It reminded me that it’s been eight years since my divorcee status was confirmed. I wouldn’t have remembered otherwise, but seeing the memory made me smile. 

I rarely talk about my divorce — not because it makes me uncomfortable, but because it seems to make everyone else around me so uncomfortable. There’s this negative stigma around divorce still upheld in even many of the most progressive circles, and it’s disappointing, to say the least. Generally, it’s even worse in the Jewish community, where everyone knows everyone and the gossip spreads like wildfire. (Not to mention the Jewish cultural obsession with making a shidduch and getting married!) Even nearing a decade later, on the rare occasion I run into someone from my old Jewish community, they still offer their sympathy regarding my divorce, speaking in hushed tones (faces and voices full of pity), like it was yesterday. 

We have this idea that any relationship that ends is a “failure.” I don’t share this stigmatized perspective: My divorce was as big a milestone as any other life event or phase, like a brit mitzvah, the birth of a child or buying a new house — and, to me, just as positive. Regrettably, unlike these milestones, there are no mainstream traditions to celebrate divorce. It’s too bad because mine definitely felt worth celebrating. It was the impetus that got the ball rolling for much-needed change (and subsequently goodness) in my life; it was a new beginning. Divorce got me out of a stagnant rut. 

Everyone’s divorce happens under different circumstances, so obviously that colors our feelings toward it. Mine came on the heels of an abusive marriage, so the feeling of literally being free was hugely tangible. But even for those who’ve separated after years of love and happy memories together — there is still something so sacred about choosing to divorce. 

Years ago, I read a fascinating midrash that Moses’s parents got divorced before he was born. It really struck me how powerful an act divorce can be, beyond the stereotyped drama of squabbling spouses. According to the midrash, his parents got divorced in response to Pharaoh’s decree to kill Jewish baby boys: It was a boycott on having more children. Their actions came from a sacred place of holy rebellion, to protect their people — and they were considered community role models, leading to many others to follow suit. While they did end up remarrying (thanks to the wise counsel of their daughter, Miriam, who danced at their second wedding), I still think this makes a bold statement: Sometimes we can better fulfill our divine purpose in life through the vehicle of divorce, than by staying in a relationship that limits us. 

For me, being free to explore my identity (Jewish and otherwise) outside of my marriage has enabled me to build the relationship that was most lacking in my life before: my relationship with myself. Now that I know myself better, I’m able to pour myself into the Jewish LGBTQ+ community; be a parent who can model having the courage to stand up for yourself; and finally pursue my dream of writing from a more authentic place. 

I bristle when people cringe and reply “sorry” in response to hearing that I’m divorced; they are missing the point. Don’t get me wrong, there are challenging emotions when any chapter of someone’s life closes — but there’s simultaneously so much new potential for living. Cycle and change is life; we should only truly reach a complacent stasis when we’re dead. 

Celebrating my divorce as an important milestone doesn’t mean burying all my emotions and partying myself into raucous oblivion. It means celebrating that I found my footing and got back on a stable path so that I could continue my journey. My personal celebration has always been quiet and introspective: I’ve gotten a second chance in life, and I reflect regularly on how grateful I am to be where I am now. My life as a free-spirited, healing divorced woman is a living celebration. However, as my friends are just beginning to go through divorces of their own and falling into despair, I’m beginning to wonder if I should be more intentional and communal in my celebration, so they can see that despair is not the only option. I wonder if there should be an established ritual for celebrating the sacredness of divorce (particularly because it seems like, as Jews, we have traditions for just about everything else!). Maybe next year I’ll have a Divorce Seder and invite my loved ones to join in the joy of my renewal with symbolic foods and blessings. Maybe we’ll borrow lighting two candles from Shabbat — but in this context, the candles will symbolize that even when we separate from one entity back to two, we each retain our own light that still lights up the darkness around us.

Divorce ushers in a time of sitting with the messy, challenging parts of ourselves; a time when everything comes to a head and we can’t keep numbly ignoring the feelings we’ve been avoiding. Jewish religion and culture are not about mere words or intentions: It’s about taking action. Divorce is a sacred action that encapsulates all of this like nothing else can. If a marriage that isn’t thriving is a Jew who’s lost sense of who they are, then divorce is a kind, sage bubbe taking your hand in her soft one and saying “Come, bubbele — let’s bake challah together. It’ll take some time to make, but when it’s done, we’ll dip it in honey.”

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