Deu 24:1-5 contain two laws concerning the relation of a man to his wife. The first (Deu 24:1-4) has reference to divorce. In these verses, however, divorce is not established as a right; all that is done is, that in case of a divorce a reunion with the divorced wife is forbidden, if in the meantime she had married another man, even though the second husband had also put her away, or had died. The four verses form a period, in which Deu 24:1-3 are the clauses of the protasis, which describe the matter treated about; and Deu 24:4 contains the apodosis, with the law concerning the point in question. If a man married a wife, and he put her away with a letter of divorce, because she did not please him any longer, and the divorced woman married another man, and he either put her away in the same manner or died, the first husband could not take her as his wife again. The putting away (divorce) of a wife with a letter of divorce, which the husband gave to the wife whom he put away, is assumed as a custom founded upon tradition. This tradition left the question of divorce entirely at the will of the husband: “if the wife does not find favour in his eyes (i.e., does not please him), because he has found in her something shameful” (Deu 23:15). עֶרְוָה, nakedness, shame, disgrace (Isa 20:4; 1Sa 20:30); in connection with דָּבָר, the shame of a thing, i.e., a shameful thing (lxx ἄσχημον πρᾶγμα; Vulg. aliquam faetiditatem). The meaning of this expression as a ground of divorce was disputed even among the Rabbins. Hillel's school interpret it in the widest and most lax manner possible, according to the explanation of the Pharisees in Mat 19:3, “for every cause.” They no doubt followed the rendering of Onkelos, פִתְגָם עֲבֵירַת, the transgression of a thing; but this is contrary to the use of the word עֶרְוָה, to which the interpretation given by Shammai adhered more strictly. His explanation of דָּבָר עֶרְוַת is “rem impudicam, libidinem, lasciviam, impudicitiam.” Adultery, to which some of the Rabbins would restrict the expression, is certainly not to be thought of, because this was to be punished with death.
(Note: For the different views of the Rabbins upon this subject, see Mishnah tract. Gittin ix. 10; Buxtorf, de sponsal. et divort. pp. 88ff.; Selden, uxor ebr. l. iii. c. 18 and 20; and Lightfoot, horae ebr. et talm. ad Matth. v. 31f.)
כְּרִיתֻת סֶפֶר, βιβλίον ἀποστασίου, a letter of divorce; כְּרִיתֻת, hewing off, cutting off, sc., from the man, with whom the wife was to be one flesh (Gen 2:24). The custom of giving letters of divorce was probably adopted by the Israelites in Egypt, where the practice of writing had already found its way into all the relations of life.
(Note: The rabbinical rules on the grounds of divorce and the letter of divorce, according to Maimonides, have been collected by Surenhusius, ad Mishn. tr. Gittin, c. 1 (T. iii. pp. 322f. of the Mishnah of Sur.), where different specimens of letters of divorce are given; the latter also in Lightfoot, l.c.)
The law that the first husband could not take his divorced wife back again, if she had married another husband in the meantime, even supposing that the second husband was dead, would necessarily put a check upon frivolous divorces. Moses could not entirely abolish the traditional custom, if only “because of the hardness of the people's hearts” (Mat 19:8). The thought, therefore, of the impossibility of reunion with the first husband, after the wife had contracted a second marriage, would put some restraint upon a frivolous rupture of the marriage tie: it would have this effect, that whilst, on the one hand, the man would reflect when inducements to divorce his wife presented themselves, and would recall a rash act if it had been performed, before the wife he had put away had married another husband; on the other hand, the wife would yield more readily to the will of her husband, and seek to avoid furnishing him with an inducement for divorce. But this effect would be still more readily produced by the reason assigned by Moses, namely, that the divorced woman was defiled (הֻטַּמָּאָה, Hothpael, as in Num 1:47) by her marriage with a second husband. The second marriage of a woman who had been divorced is designated by Moses a defilement of the woman, primarily no doubt with reference to the fact that the emissio seminis in sexual intercourse rendered unclean, though not merely in the sense of such a defilement as was removed in the evening by simple washing, but as a moral defilement, i.e., blemishing, desecration of the sexual communion with was sanctified by marriage, in the same sense in which adultery is called a defilement in Lev 18:20 and Num 5:13-14. Thus the second marriage of a divorced woman was placed implicite upon a par with adultery, and some approach made towards the teaching of Christ concerning marriage: “Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery” (Mat 5:32). - But if the second marriage of a divorced woman was a moral defilement, of course the wife could not marry the first again even after the death of her second husband, not only because such a reunion would lower the dignity of the woman, and the woman would appear too much like property, which could be disposed of at one time and reclaimed at another (Schultz), but because the defilement of the wife would be thereby repeated, and even increased, as the moral defilement which the divorced wife acquired through the second marriage was not removed by a divorce from the second husband, nor yet by his death. Such defilement was an abomination before Jehovah, by which they would cause the land to sin, i.e., stain it with sin, as much as by the sins of incest and unnatural licentiousness (Lev 18:25).
Attached to this law, which is intended to prevent a frivolous severance of the marriage tie, there is another in Deu 24:5, which was of a more positive character, and adapted to fortify the marriage bond. The newly married man was not required to perform military service for a whole year; “and there shall not come (anything) upon him with regard to any matter.” The meaning of this last clause is to be found in what follows: “Free shall he be for his house for a year,” i.e., they shall put no public burdens upon him, that he may devote himself entirely to his newly established domestic relations, and be able to gladden his wife (compare Deu 20:7).