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Marriage and Divorce Customs in Yemen and Eretz Israel

Until the Yemenites' mass immigration to Israel in the years before and immediately after the establishment of the State, Yemenite Jewry preserved several marriage and divorce customs based on the rulings of the Talmud and of Maimonides that had been abandoned by other Jewish communities. These customs included the marriage of minor girls, levirate marriage (yibum), polygamy, divorce against the wife's will, and compelling a husband to divorce a wife who could not bear to live with him. Economic and social factors also influenced marriage practices in Yemen. Thus, underage girls were often betrothed in order to ensure them a good match, or, if they were orphans, to save them from forced conversion to Islam. Similar factors contributed to polygamy, which was less prevalent in Yemen than is commonly thought. Yemenite scholars were flexible in their rulings regarding yibum and considerate of the interests of the childless widow (yevamah). In Israel, most of these customs have disappeared because of the different social conditions prevailing there and the ordinances of the Chief Rabbinate, which forbid the betrothal of girls under the age of 16 and enforce the "ban of Rabbeinu Gershom" regarding polygamy and divorce without the wife's consent.

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