Splitting the Red Sea for the Second Time:
A Jewish Philosophical View on Remarriage
Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, LCSW and
Chaya Feuerman, LCSW Psychotherapists
A person who is thinking about remarriage, or even a previously unwed single who
is considering marrying a person who was already married, may be contemplating a
number of hashkafic questions:
- What is the nature of bashert?
- Can a person have more than one bashert?
- Is it possible that my bashert be a person who was previously married?
- Is it bad luck to marry someone who was divorced? Are the odds greater that he or
she will get divorced for a second time?
In this series, we will attempt to share some ideas from our tradition, as well
as present it with a psychological perspective informed by my experience as a therapist.
Though us humans can never really know what G-d has in store for us, it still is
natural for us to look for some kind of sign, guidance or indication that our actions
are legitimate. We hope that our suffering and tribulations are part of a grand
scheme and plan that Hashem has which ultimately is gam zu l’tova, for our own good.
Actually, the title of this article comes from a well-known Gemara (Sotah 2a), which
is often misinterpreted. Both the misinterpretation, and the proper interpretation,
is of relevance to the question of remarriage. The Gemara asserts that creating
a shidduch is as difficult as the splitting of the red sea. After raising a contradiction
from another teaching which indicates that a person’s spouse is pre-destined or
pre-ordained by heavenly decree prior to a person’s birth, the Gemara resolves the
contradiction as follows: The teaching that a marriage is pre-ordained is referring
to a zivug rishon (first marriage), while the teaching that it marriage is as difficult
to accomplish as the splitting of the Red Sea is referring to zivug sheni (second
Most often this Gemara is interpreted to imply that a second marriage, is so to
speak, not bashert. This is a rather depressing idea, and fortunately, the commentaries
interpret this Gemara in an entirely different manner, leaving us with a very optimistic
Rav Yaakov Emden in his commentary on Sotah (2a) explains that the phrases “first
marriage” and “second marriage” are not referring to a literal first and second
marriage. Rather the first marriage refers to the Kabbalistic idea that each soul
really consists of a male and female counterpart, which are separated at birth only
to be possibly reunited through marriage -- if they merit such a degree of divine
intervention. This is what we might call a “soul mate”. Rav Emden maintains that
no human can know this, and only G-d knows for sure who is a “soul mate”. In any
case, what this means is that there is a “perfect” or “soul-mate” out there which
represents our true bashert. This soul mate is the one person that our best version
of our selves is destined to marry. In point of fact though, everyone or even no
one, may achieve this level of marriage. Rav Emden emphasizes that there is no way
to verify this.
Meiri (ibid) has a similar conception as Rav Emden, but stresses the notion of merit
and deservedness. According to his opinion the phrase “first marriage” refers to
the ideal marriage partner who is initially decreed before one reaches the age of
bar mitzvah or bas mitzvah, when he or she has no merits or sins of his own. (Keep
in mind, it was not unusual in the times of the Gemara and the Rishonim to have
childhood engagements, with marriage often put off until adulthood.) The phrase
“second marriage” refers to all marriages after the point that a person is a halachic
adult, and from then on he or she must work to merit an appropriate marriage partner.
In other words, our basherts, or our fate are constantly being re-ordered in response
to our actions, be they sinful or meritorious. For the Meiri, zivug rishon is a
starting point, and zivug sheini is an endpoint.
The difference between Meiri and Rav Emden is that according to Rav Emden the zivug
rishon is always the mystically ideal soul mate, whether you marry this person first,
second, or never. While according to Meiri the concept of zivug rishon is the mate
that matches you before you take any steps to merit a spouse on either a lower or
higher spiritual level.
Marrying someone who was already married
If you are an older person, and have tried to get married in the past and haven’t
yet succeeded, what’s important to keep in mind is the approach we have seen above.
Every day we are creating our ideal mate, which is in a sense, our true zivug rishon.
If there is a person whose values and goals matches yours, and you have an affinity
with him or her, it is definitely worth exploring. Life is too short to turn down
opportunities that appear promising even if they are unconventional. Even if there
were statistical evidence to support the idea that people who have divorced once
more often choose to divorce again, individual people are not statistics. The same
reasons why you would consider a person to be an appropriate or inappropriate mate
apply here too, if you have done your best to verify that he or she seems to have
the middos and personality qualities you value, there is no reason not to proceed.
The hidden matters are for Hashem to deal with, while you as a human can only operate
with what your senses, and your common sense, tell you. (This philosophy we believe
is supported by a Responsum from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, ZT’L, see Igros Moshe, Y.D.
As a concluding thought, we share with you an important principle that we advise
all couples: Couples should set aside time to spend together without the children
on a regular basis, preferably outside of the house. This principle is especially
pertinent in the case of a blended family because a couple goes from romance to
family burdens without any “shana rishona” time to develop the relationship. Is
it expensive to get a babysitter and go out? Sure, but it’s cheaper than therapy,
and perhaps more effective!
Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, CSW co-authors a weekly column in the Jewish Press on religion,
relationships and parenting, along with his wife Chaya Feuerman, CSW. The Feuermans
also have authored a book, titled "How to Have Fun Without Getting into Trouble:
Essays on Relationships, Parenting and the Self" available through Rowman and Littlefield,
inc. In addition, Simcha serves as Director of Community Services at Ohel Children’s
Home and Family Services. He received training in family therapy from the Philadelphia
Child Guidance Center and maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Queens,
New York, where he provides individual therapy, family therapy and couples counseling.
To email a question to Simcha please click
(Please note: All questions asked to Simcha will be published on the site with
the pseudo names.)
Dating advice is made available through a joint Ohel Family Services & SawYouAtSinai relationship.
SawYouAtSinai combines Jewish matchmaking with online Jewish
dating. Jewish singles can use a shadchan, a Jewish matchmaker, to send them shidduchim
(matches) so they can find their bashert. Our matchmakers have made successful matches
between Jewish singles internationally including: Atlanta, Chicago, Florida, Los
Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Montreal, London, Manchester, England,
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