Monday, November 07, 2011

Some Thoughts about Divorce

Follow the money. I am beginning to believe that this is the underlying problem in everything we deal with – for good and for bad in Judaism. Pick an issue. Examine the problems with it. Nine times out of ten it can be directly traced to financial matters. Or at least indirectly.

One might say this is a cynical view of Judaism. But I think an honest look at many of the issues discussed here will verify that.

Of course if one would discuss this with a Rav or any prominent religious figure there might be a lot of denial – or at least spin. They would certainly accuse me of being cynical and say that I have an agenda. I don’t. I am just an observer.

It is true that the Torah has higher values than money. But the truth of the matter is that money is what governs many of the decisions made in the Torah world. And it is the cause of much strife in interpersonal relationships. It is often cited as a primary reason for family dysfunction, children going OTD and even divorce.

But is that really the case? I am far from an expert. But I do read a lot. My impression is that there are many pressures on a modern day marriage even in Orthodox circles. Including Charedi ones. And that has caused the rate of divorce to sky-rocket. It almost doesn’t matter what social strata one is in or what the religious orientation is. The idea of a marriage lasting a lifetime seems to have given way to the idea that a marriage is basically just a test run between two people to see if they can get along.

Of course no two couples are alike and there are Hashkafic differences between people and groups all of which impacts on a marriage in different ways. But the one thing they all seem to have in common is the rate of increase in divorces.

What are some of the causes? I do think money is among the top reasons. There never seems to be enough. Two people coming into a marriage have different ideas about how to spend what they have. They have different expectations about how to live based on different backgrounds. This can be a major source of conflict. When to spend, when to save, what to spend money on… can all contribute to family dysfunction and ultimately divorce.

Another important factor is the level of religiosity each brings to the table. If one spouse is more religious than the other, it can cause some serious conflict. When children are born, what school do they send them to?

One of the things that seem to be a big problem these days is the way most Yeshivos and seminaries indoctrinate their students – especially those in the right wing. They have created a monster it seems to me.

On the Yeshiva side the emphasis on learning Torah full time for as long as one can is so pervasive it has caused even mediocre students to pursue that as their goal - even at the cost of their future earning potential. They will stay in Yeshivos until they get married with little if any preparation for workplace. Whatever background they may come from, they now seek the same thing learning full time – no matter what their capabilities are. This makes for some pretty shaky marriage prospects for young seminary women looking for mates that are big Talmidei Chachamim.

The right wing seminaries indoctrinate their students to seek only full time Kollel students. That – they are told – is the ideal mate. Anything less is second best. Who wants to settle for second best? Their expectations are very high and very few of them will get what they want -although they may not realize it when they get married. No young Yeshiva student will ever say he is not quite up to the standard their potential spouse is looking for. That sets the couple up for a big disappointment down the road.

And there is the fact that these seminaries have indoctrinated these young women to reject the material values of their parents. Money is rarely discussed as an issue except to say that one must sacrifice their material well being for the greater good of living the Kollel life.

The problem is that material concerns do not disappear. They just get buried somewhere in the sub-conscious and reappear later in the marriage in the form of discontent with their below par standard of living. The desire for a husband to learn full time can easily turn into resentment of the fact that not enough money is coming in to pay the bills. This may even be true in cases where a husband is a serious Talmid Chacham – let alone where he isn’t.

The last thing I would mention is that divorce has become so a part of our world that it is no longer considered shameful. It is now as common white bread. When I was growing up back in the fifties and sixties I did not know anyone who was divorced. If it did occur it was whispered about and. People used to be ashamed that they could not hold on to a marriage.

Now divorce is seen in an entirely different light. It is seen as an easy and acceptable way out of a bad marriage. It is now advocated as a solution to a dysfunctional marriage. Couples are no longer forced by the social order to stay in an unhappy marriage. This is actually a positive development.

But it is a double edged sword. In fact I think we have probably gone too far in the other direction. People are getting divorced way too soon and not willing to work out their differences. Or try compromise. This unfortunately gives short shrift to children who suffer the most when parents split up.

Not that living in a dysfunctional family is any better. It isn’t. But I can’t help but believe that some of these divorces could have been prevented with the right counseling. I don’t know the statistics but I’ll bet that a significant portion of children who are OTD come from broken homes where divorce could have been prevented.

I know I haven’t covered everything. But I think I touched upon a few problems associated with divorce - a subject that needs a lot more discussion than it gets.