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When a man takes a woman and marries her and it comes about that she does not find favor in his eyes because he has found in her shameful exposure of her reproductive organs,

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and he writes her a scroll of severance and puts [it] in her hand and sends her from his house,   (See comment below.)


When a man marries a woman and it becomes apparent that she displeases him because she has acted shamefully by showing men parts of her body that only her husband should see, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and expels her from his house,   (See comment below.)



The word that is often translated “indecent” is much stronger and more specific in Hebrew. It means: “nakedness, shame, uncleanness, nudity.” It refers usually to external genitalia, and was usually applied to women. That seems strange because, unlike a man, a woman’s reproductive organs are internal. In its most specific sense this referred to the tissue around or close to the opening that leads to a woman’s reproductive apparatus. However, in this verse it probably refers to shameful exposure of parts of her body which only the husband should see.

Shameful Exposure

The word used here referred to a woman who, after marriage, began to exhibit indecent, immodest behavior by exposing sexually stimulating parts of her body to other men. It had not yet lead to adultery, but it likely would for what other reason did a woman have to abandon the modesty that was common in that culture?

This explains why there was no death penalty – she had not committed adultery yet; but she seemed to be headed that direction.

Thus, in my opinion, the permission for divorce does not grant a man the freedom to dismiss his wife if she burned breakfast, or any other trivial matter. It seems to be pointing to evidence of inappropriate conduct on her part that would lead to adultery if it continued. This word made divorce under the Law a very rare thing because the permission granted was for a narrowly defined situation.

If a man found himself in a situation where his wife was trying to entice other men by showing them private parts of her body, the law gave men the opportunity to do something about that problem when they saw it starting and before an act of adultery had taken place.

The husband intended the dismissal to be permanent, but it seems that God intended it to be temporary so that she would recognize the need to amend her ways and then be able to return to her husband. After that their marriage would be free of such dangers.

However, not everyone would agree that it described a narrowly defined situation. There were two schools of rabbinic thought that developed with differing interpretations of this part of Deuteronomy. The school of Shammai understood the Hebrew word in question as unchastity, as I have described above. But the school of Hillel thought the word was open enough to interpret it as any displeasing behavior, blemish, even the most trivial cause of dislike.

The decision to divorce, according to Dt 24:1, was in the hands of the husband, not the wife. So this was not intended to protect women from abuse. The wife’s recourse in the case of abuse was to run away from her husband and return to the safety of her father or brother if her father was dead, who should protect her against further abuse. In other words, she returned to her previous authority structure because the one she found herself in was not healthy. In such a case the bride-price would not be returned because it was the husband’s fault she had run away.