Marriage (and its flipside, divorce), besides being “what brings us together, today” is one of those odd topics where civil law and religion often blend. Fitting, because I’m both a lawyer and a fairly observant Jew. Even more fitting because I wrote a historical romance featuring a twice divorced Jewish heroine called Dalliances & Devotion.
And while my books don’t talk a ton about religion (I mean where’s the space? This is the book has like ten tropes: second chance, bodyguard, brother’s best friend, road trip, cave sex…not a trope, but should be) my characters’ Jewish identity shapes their outlook and attitudes, especially on marriage and divorce. In other words, the story could’ve looked really different with protagonists from different backgrounds.
For a little context (and bear with me, it gets a little long, but I’ve learned from beta-readers and critic partners that a lot of this isn’t common knowledge): Jewish law has provided for divorce for as long as it has provided for formalized marriage, intrinsically linking the two. As noted in my first book, Appetites & Vices (for important plot reasons), all that’s required for a formal Jewish marriage is that the groom give the bride a thing of value (usually a ring) and a signed contract called a Ketubah. Seriously. That’s it. Everything else you see at a Jewish wedding ceremony like circling or breaking the glass is tradition, but not necessary to actually get married.
Not particularly romantic, but super practical. Likewise, the traditional text of the Ketubah is just a formal statement of marriage, a listing of the bride’s dowry, and a pledge of property from groom, which the bride will retain if the marriage is dissolved. (For fun, I have a picture of my Ketubah. My husband did both the Aramaic calligraphy and the artwork. It’s supposed to be based on a 17th century one from the Netherlands but obviously Americanized. Someone gave us a cool coffee table book on historic Ketubahs and we are massive nerds so… voilà).
Anyway, at its core, marriage in Judaism is contractual, with clear ways to enter and exit. A Get, a Jewish divorce decree, doesn’t require an explanation of why the marriage is ending—it just must be written, approved by a willing husband, and delivered to the wife. And though divorce has always provided for gossip, plotlines in folktales (I’m looking at you, Isaac Bashevis Singer) and wasn’t desirable, there has never been significant shame around the process in Judaism.
However, starting in the 17th and 18th centuries, Jews were given more rights in certain parts of the west and no longer exclusively lived in autonomous communities. To help maintain their newfound status, they informally permitted civil marriage law to proceed the Jewish. This was made semi-official in 1806 by the Grand Sanhedrin. Therefore, while even today many Jews continue to adhere to Jewish law, we do so subject to the civil, which, in Dalliances & Devotion was 19th century American law.
Divorce in the United States is generally under the purview of the states so laws vary by local. During the 19th century, all states required reasons or “grounds” for divorce (as opposed to the common “no fault” statutes of today).
At the time, Indiana was recognized as the most liberal of these states. It had multiple grounds which included the rather appealing “abandonment,” something which could be proven by the parties with far less embarrassment than, for example, “impotency.” Indiana also provided child support, possession of the family home, and return of premarital property to women who were deemed not at fault (however women found at fault forfeited their property to their husbands). Due to these laws some wealthier individuals moved to Indiana for a period to take advantage of the jurisdiction. However, even in Indiana, divorce was expensive, arduous, and there were large class and cultural hurdles to end even dangerous marriages.
While laws across the U.S. have changed in the last 150 years, barriers to access still remain. The partner with the most access to money is always at an advantage. A private attorney with unlimited resources can vanquish the other side no matter the facts (It should be noted, though not explored a great deal in the book, race, gender identity, ethnic background, and LGBT+ status did and continue to impact access to and the fairness of our legal system in contested cases due to prejudice and bias as well).
In Dalliances & Devotion, my heroine is lucky. She comes from a culture that was accepting of divorce and had access to the sort of funds to make divorce accessible. Part of the plot is how she recognizes the advantages she’s had and what she’s willing to do to extend those to others. For what that involves, as well as a few fashion tips, some spa recommendations, and yes, cave sex, you’ll have to read the book.BUY: Dalliances and Devotions by Felicia Grossman
About the Book
A change in course can be refreshing…when it’s done together.
After two disastrous marriages, beauty columnist Amalia Truitt’s life is finally her own—well, it will be if she can get herself back to Delaware and demand access to her share of the Truitt family fortune. After all, the charity she’s organized for women who can’t afford their own divorces won’t fund itself.
However, not everyone wants her to reach her destination. When her family learns she’s been receiving anonymous death threats, a solo journey is out of the question.
Enter David Zisskind, the ragtag-peddler-turned-soldier whose heart Amalia broke years ago. He’s a Pinkerton now, and the promotion he craves depends on protecting his long-lost love on the unexpectedly treacherous journey across Pennsylvania.
That their physical connection has endured the test of time (and then some) is problematic, to say the least.
In very close quarters, with danger lurking around every curve, with each kiss and illicit touch, the wrongs of the past are righted. But David can’t weather another rejection, especially with his career in jeopardy. And Amalia can’t possibly take a lover, never mind another husband…not with so much depending on her repaired reputation. Not when she’s hurt David—her David—so badly before.