Friday, April 17, 2015

Pirkei Avot, Saying of the Fathers, Divorce, and Mediation

I have not been inspired to write a blog for a while but feel the necessity. I thought about how Sun Tzu’s Art of War applies to divorce and mediation but Joe Epstein and Eileen Siskel have already done a wonderful job on that topic. See

I looked at my bookshelf and saw discussed Pirkei Avot or Sayings of the Fathers. It reminded how as a high school student I participated in a study group which discussed Pirkei Avot, a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims of the Rabbis of the Mishnaic period. The pages of the book are browning and delicate but it still has special meaning to me.

So what does Pirkei Avot have to say about divorce? It does not say anything directly but it does say a lot about how people should face life in general and life events like divorce.

One of my favorite’s quotes is the first one. “Be deliberate in judgment…and make a fence around the Torah.” (1:1) The first part means you should be moderate and avoid anger, impatience and stubbornness in dealing with you soon to be ex-spouse. The fence quote is less obvious. It means have cautionary rules which act like a danger signal and prevent you from the wrong thing.

Other quotes are also inspiring. “The more charity, the more peace.” (2:8) and "Meet every person with graciousness." (1:15) If you give your spouse more and treat them right, you will have more peace.
“Judge every person favorably.” (1:6) Too often in a divorce case one spouse demonizes the other spouse. It is often better to start with a clean slate and give the person the benefit of the doubt.
“Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place.” (2:5) I often ask a client if he or she would like to take the offer he or she made to his or her spouse. It gives them a chance to stand in the other person’s place.
“The more flesh, the more worms. The more possessions, the more worry. The more wives, the more witchcraft. The more maidservants, the more uncouthness. The more servants, the more theft.” (2:8) Too often I have seen a party get all they want in a divorce and be very unhappy.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself what am I? And if not now, when?” (1:14) This quote by Hillel is probably the best known quote from Sayings of the Fathers. To me it means that a person must balance his or her own self-interest with the interest of others and you should not be indecisive for no reason.

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