More Emphasis is Needed on Preventing Divorce, For Many Reasons
By Yomin Postelnik
Judaism has survived throughout the ages because of its people’s dedication to Hashem and to Torah. This has always entailed standing up for what is right over that which is popular. Judaism doesn’t allow us to shy away from problems. It tells us how to solve them in Hashem’s way and gives us a path that, on the simplest level, demands solutions that are truly moral and beneficial.
There’s a pressing need to solve a problem that threatens the Jewish family as never before. People know about the perils of divorce, but little thought or action is expended on preventing it. That’s not just a shame, it’s a crisis. Answers are available, but only by challenging what has unfortunately become commonplace can we effectively tackle this problem.
The problems with divorce involve a lack of prevention, how to stop what many articles have now defined as its “contagious effects” (when “friends” who are no friends at all encourage others to follow in their footsteps and seek a “freedom” that is nothing more than destruction). Another pressing question is why there are so few people and resources dedicated to combating what has become nothing short of an epidemic.
What are the results? From even a secular perspective, studies from Harvard and Cambridge document how children from divorced houses are more prone to drop out of school, lead lives of crime, use drugs and have a greater risk of suicide. From a Torah perspective, we’re dealing with a threat from within to the Jewish people and its strong legacy like never before. All should be done by all who care to prevent it.
With regard to prevention, this is best accomplished by putting one’s spouse before oneself in every way. Concentrating on the good qualities of one’s spouse and ignoring the trivial are also key.
But what if one falls short of this, within reasonable bounds? What if one forgets that the main part of marriage is dedication in every way, including through communication and understanding? At that point a couple can either work through their problems and build a better marriage and become better people all around. Society may not encourage it, but that’s a societal ailment, not a paradigm to follow.
How to work on this is crucial. One frum postnatal organization that has probably saved hundreds of marriages is SPARKS. The life changes that involve having children are many, but a good adviser can help one focus on the positive blessings that come with children. Postnatal health challenges are a different matter. Just looking up the symptoms for standard post-pregnancy conditions show how perception can change in a way that would threaten a marriage and make one susceptible to the worst advice of cynics at the same time.
Although SPARKS doesn’t make this claim, it seems that one key aspect of their success is that they usually advise each spouse individually, one at a time, avoiding the free for all that coupled “counseling” can become. Even in non-postnatal situations, each spouse having a mentor who is rooted in Torah can be of far greater help than traditional counseling, which often gives rise to one-upmanship.
Thirty years ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe asked people to appoint such a mentor for themselves, one whose philosophy is rooted in Torah and who puts this into practice. That, in and of itself, would likely stave off divorce as both husband and wife are privately and separately encouraged to save their marriage.
As to those who discourage any form of counseling and ask “why save a bad marriage,” aside from the commitment made to both parties by each other and the effects on the children, many marriages are surprisingly turned around with some work put into them. Those who take issue with this need to first read the Targum Yonasan (which for Chumash is really the Targum Yerushalmi) on Devarim 24:6 ( lo yachvol reichaim varachev – the prohibition of taking millstones as collateral), in which it states that those who come between a husband and wife have chas veshalom forfeited their portion in the world to come. Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 154) also clearly sees marriage as a strong commitment.
Worse than divorce itself, more and more couples in difficulty are actually, shamefully, encouraged to run to lawyers as a first step, or instead of working on a settlement. Aside from breaking an important Torah prohibition, the lawyer does indeed accomplish tremendous things. Aside from making reconciliation all but impossible, all human decency, let alone Hashem and Torah, is thrown by the wayside as the lawyer starts by using mandatory arrest laws (insane laws that demand arrest first and fact checking later based on the allegation of the spouse alone) and temporary restraining orders that are laughed out of court.
Lawyer tactics should not affect a desire to reconcile, as moving forward with forgiveness (and recognizing that fear of custody or ability to provide for the children is what motivated these tactics) is key to any area of life. The fact is though, that these things do affect the ability to reconcile, often to the sadness of both parties. In short, as far as lawyers are concerned, the short term benefits of wasting money are trumped by the long term benefits of callous destruction.
Lawyers scare their clients, telling them that unless they do things that they would never even consider in their normal state, they would lose custody or not have money to provide their children. More and more so, heavy handed tactics also backfire, with judges actually imposing punitive measures on a spouse who used mandatory arrest laws without cause.
But even when this is not the case, is one ever better off for going down that route? One custody advocate whose websites were later shut down by the FBI, counseled religious people to use mandatory arrest laws to report their spouses close to Friday night for maximum effect, so that bail would take days to arrange. Is this something that the accusing spouse will be proud of? Is it something that anyone with a conscience can do to someone else without suffering tremendous guilt or going insane? It certainly can’t help their long term relationship with their children, the precise reason given by lawyers for parents to resort to such tactics in the first place.
These tactics, aside from amounting to a loaded game of Russian Roulette with one’s Olam Haboh, damage those who resort to them far more than they damage the spouse who was targeted (unless both spouses end up using the same tactics against each other – which has not been uncommon and which must certainly do absolute wonders for the children involved).
Here’s what divorcing couples should be scared about, aside from all of the above listed effects on their children and aside from rendering marriage irrelevant if divorce is rushed into hastily.
A child will not appreciate that an obscene legal tactic was used to incarcerate their parent because the other spouse needed to secure custody. I know that many lawyers will disagree with this. That’s why no one asks divorce lawyers for educational and child rearing advice. They’re also of little use when a din vcheshbon, judgement, is given to the soul in front of Hashem. No one wants to have to answer for incarcerating another human being.
There’s a simpler point too. Divorce is a hardship. During any time of hardship, a person needs Hashem’s blessings, which are brought forth by following the Torah. Resorting to such tactics does the exact opposite.
It also used to be the policy of most Batei Din to insist upon counseling before any couple considered divorce. In many circles, this is no longer the case, which is not just a shame but a crisis in leadership.
All in all, Judaism demands higher standards, such as reliance on Hashem instead of on lawyers’ tricks. Adhering to these standards at a time when one is tested the most is not only key to staying a proper human being, it also saves someone from pain afterward. This is true even when things were done to them by third parties who should never be part of any divorce. In fact, many separated couples eventually try to reconcile. One of the primarily impediments to doing so are the wounds that the divorce itself inflicted.
Lastly, there’s been a recent increase in blogging against people during divorces. Commenting on any divorce almost invariably involves nothing more than false and idle gossip and is almost always fraught with ridiculous smears that both parties actually laugh at whenever confronted. Decisions need to be made guided by well versed poskim, professionals and, often after childbirth, with the help of postnatal specialists. Bloggers and their minions don’t enter into that equation. In truth, one only needs to see how far they’ve gone for any right headed person to come to the conclusion that there’s a cheshkas kashrus (presumption of innocence) on anyone who’s been attacked by them.
Idle gossip has always been a problem. The Torah forbids us to partake in it or to believe it if we’re unfortunate enough to hear such words. A while ago, such gossip was at least contained to the chattering classes of one city and frowned upon. Today, with the help of the internet, such slander is promulgated by wrongheaded individuals who think that they’re doing the work of Heaven.
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah 1:1) mentions that the act of loshon hora itself kills three people, including the one who hears it. This is all the more so when it comes to Rechilus (tale bearing) and Motzi Shem Ra (false slander). It says that the Second Mikdash was destroyed because of unwarranted hatred. Stopping futile chest thumping tactics that only make matters worse, being careful about slander and working to limit, not increase divorce, serves to hasten Hashem’s promise to build the third and eternal Mikdash. Let us strive to take part in its hastening, just as we pray for it to be rebuilt three times a day.