The Contagion of Divorce


divorceBy Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld

On May 1, 2014, summarized the results of a study on divorce that concluded that divorce may be socially influenced (“New Study Says Divorce Can Be Contagious”). The theory runs something like this; the odds of a couple’s chances of divorce increase as more of their friends divorce. The theory has some rationale basis. In a society where few people divorce, there is a social taboo against divorce. In a society where many people divorce, there is little peer pressure that militates against divorce.

My personal opinion as one who serves as a divorce mediator is that the contagion of divorce does not pose much of a challenge to our way of life. We all have the ability as religious Jews to make decisions for ourselves. We know that it is inherently wrong to do something because “everybody is doing it”. This is the nature of the concept of Free Will (“Bechirah”) that we all possess. However, there is another type of contagion that does indeed threaten our communities. It is the contagious belief that while we may marry as Bnai Torah we need not divorce as Bnai Torah. We act as if we have every right to divorce in the most confrontational and divisive ways.

The concept of civility and decency in divorce is becoming an option we choose to ignore. We have fallen prey to the mores and ethics of society-at-large. This is the contagious (and most detrimental) aspect of divorce that threatens to engulf us. The ethics of Torah Jews who divorce must be of the highest order. I am not sure if we have met that challenge in the way we engage in the process of divorce.

In previous articles in this website, I have written of the challenges we face when we allow the universal standard of divorce to dictate how we conduct ourselves in divorce situations. (See e.g. ). I have written of the dangers that bitter divorce battles exact from our children and our mental health. Our spiritual health suffers as well. As a community, with rising divorce rates and increases in Shalom Bayis issues, we need to meet the challenges head-on. At times, marriages need to be ended. But we have a choice; we can slam the door on our marriage or we can close it with a sense of dignity and propriety.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski has explained the growing divorce rate with a reference to Noach. We are told that “Noach Ish Tzaddik”. If the Torah calls Noach a tzaddik we know much about his inner character. If he was so righteous, how did he fall prey to the intoxicating effect of wine, after the floodwaters subsided? The words of Rabbi Twerski are in need of no additional interpretation: “The commentaries say that Noach knew how much he could drink safely without the wine affecting him, but that was before the Flood. What Noach did not consider is that the world had undergone a radical change, and it was not the same world he had known. In a new world, old rules may not apply.”


We no longer live in a world, or community, where divorce is not known. The world has changed. The challenges are different. However, the behaviors that were unacceptable in the “old days” are still unacceptable. We must resist the temptation to treat divorce as battlegrounds for the mighty and showcases for nimble attorneys. To allow divorce to become mercenary and unduly confrontational is to allow the contagion to enter our communities and lives. We have to be vigilant to prevent such destructive tendencies from entering our personal and communal lives. If we divorce, we need to show the same commitment to Halacha as we do when we daven, study Torah, perform acts of Chessed, etc.

For several years, I have tried to persuade leaders of communal agencies into crafting a communal response to the challenges of growing rates of divorce and improper divorce “ethics”. While I have had polite discussions with some leaders, I have concluded, regretfully, that divorce-related issues do not rank high on the community agenda. The reasons for this are many but people prefer to talk about cheery and upbeat topics. Focusing on divorce is not a preferred agenda topic for a communal organization. Divorce does not even have the appeal of such varied topics as children-at-risk, special education, Agunah, etc. But yet the contagion is out there and we are not immunized against its effects. What can be done to safeguard our way of life?

I believe rabbanim need to devote more discussions about Shalom Bayis. Schools need to talk more about what to do when marriages are confronted by challenges and stressors. Batei Din need to spend more time before a Get is written in facilitating marital therapy and/or mediation. Most importantly, we need to find communal ways to convey the message that divorce, as tragic as it is, can be conducted with dignity and reasonableness. Our community must find ways to both get this message out and then to develop ways to meet the high standards we have set.

Years ago I attended a lecture given by Rabbi Zalman Posner A”H. Rabbi Posner said that every good speech must have a “therefore” (“U’Vachen”). Words are pleasant to digest, but what steps can be taken to provide some solution to what ails us? As a divorce mediator, I have been asked on occasion to consult with clients of the organization, Sister-to-Sister. I find that even in one session or two, a professional can give guidance that may ultimately lead to a positive resolution. I would like to encourage other mediators, attorneys, therapists, etc. to consider volunteering their time to work one or two sessions with couples who are contemplating divorce. Where marriages can be saved, the rewards will be apparent. Where divorce is contemplated, the professional can guide the couple towards making proper, dignified choices. In either event, the community needs to know that trained professionals care enough to save our Kehillas from the contagion that confronts us. The first step is always the most difficult one. Let us begin the challenging task that confronts us as we ensure that all our efforts, even those in the divorce arena, are imbued with Torah teachings and Torah values.

Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld is a divorce mediator and attorney in Fair Lawn, NJ. He may be contacted at:

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  1. #1:
    Shviggers and shvers are often the problem.
    People come to trained professionals only when they already have problems which the professionals did not create!
    Other than abusive situations which cannot be tolerated, if when a married child comes crying to her mother than her husband is not everything she dreamed of and he is too frum/ too modern, too much of a masmid/not enough of a masmid, too messy, etc., rather than giving her backing and telling her, “Sure mammaleh, come home,” she tells her to grow up, go back to her own home and cope, there wouldn’t be as many divorces. Sometimes it’s not just the parents giving backing to immaturity, but often, they are the ones who cause the problems in the first place, criticizing the son-in-law or daughter-in-law, making impossible demands, mixing in to personal decisions and so on.
    And if a trained professional recognizes abuse and encourages the abused spouse to get out of the marriage, the abuser will surely view the trained professional as THE PROBLEM.

  2. You are partially right. Professionals are “sometimes” the problem. But even though you assuredly read of medical malpractice, I am assuming you still see a doctor when you have medical questions.

    The issue is not whether professionals are sometimes the problem. The issue is to go to the proper, qualified professional when the need arises.

  3. Being a so called professional in this field, I really believe that one major problem is that professionals do NOT understand that divorce is hardly even a B’dieved. The grass is NOT greener on the other side. The problems of a bad marriage don’t end by divorce, they just get magnified. The suffering spouse now has to deal with living alone. When the income hardly paid the bills for one family, now it must pay for two families, how does this work??

    Batei Dinin, Professionals must know that divorce usually does NOT work for anyone’s benefit, especially the not for the CHILDREN.

    Yes, there are cases that need a divorce, badly. But these are the exception.

    If we would stop giving blanket HeTerim to go to Court, whether it is for a TRO or other, before qualified people determine if this is really truly warranted, a lot of Jewish lives would be saved.

    Please remember, that even though, as Frum Yidden, we don’t believe in statistics, the percentage of children from divorce homes that grow up normal, problem free is a very frightening one indeed.

  4. @1, wow! B”H I have not been personally involved in any such matters, but from what I’ve heard, we need more people like Rabbi Rosenfeld, not less. Anything that limits the number of agunos and the resulting chilulai Hashem that we’ve seen recently is worthwhile in my book.

  5. So this fellow suggests that we are not influenced by our surroundings.

    He disagrees with the Rambam’s psak. The Ramabam says that we are completely influenced by our surroundings:

    ??? ?????? ?? ??? ????? ???? ??????? ??????? ??? ????? ??????? ????? ????? ???? ??????. ????? ???? ??? ?????? ??????? ????? ??? ?????? ???? ??? ?????? ???????. ?????? ?? ?????? ??????? ???? ??? ??? ????? ???????. ??? ????? ???? ???? ?? ????? ???? ????? ?????? ????. ????? ???? ???? ???’.

    I’m unaware of any disagreements with the Ramabam in this psak.

    Interesting how the “get-on-demand”, disposable marriage clubbers do seek to quote a Ramabam that all the other poskim (including the Shulchan Oruch) disagree with.

  6. The writer first sugests that we aren’t at the influence from society, “contagion of divorce does not pose much of a challenge to our way of life. We all have the ability as religious Jews to make decisions for ourselves. We know that it is inherently wrong to do something because “everybody is doing it”.

    and later he says that people’s behavior during divorce is because of the way society behaves.
    “The concept of civility and decency in divorce is becoming an option we choose to ignore. We have fallen prey to the mores and ethics of society-at-large. This is the contagious (and most detrimental) aspect of divorce that threatens to engulf us”

  7. @comment#8

    You read very carefully. I do find there are “shnai dinim”. I believe most Frum people are dedicated to the thought that they wish to make their marriage work. They will not divorce simply because that is what others are doing. This is point#1.

    However, once they make the decision to divorce, like so many others, they hire combative and strident attorneys, and turn the divorce proceeding into a battle of the “hired guns”. Very few attorneys are trained in mediation and few, I suspect, even feel comfortable in assuming such a role. I have heard from many Frum people who say their actions during the divorce process is directly affected by the advice they receive from their attorneys. Boorish behavior during such proceedings is never excused, morally, by the argument that “I was only following my attorney’s advice”. People who say this need to consider whether they hired the right attorney for what they hope to accomplish in divorce negotiations.

    Feel free to contact me directly if you wish to keep up this discussion. You have made a very good point!


  8. Rav Avidgor Miller ztvk’l said many times that the word divorce should be treated as a word in a Jewish home that should never be uttered, even as a joke.

  9. Sometime divorce is the only way. We need to work with these out of control men, the husbands, and sometimes wives. If they could work on themselves and stop their disruptive, punitive and disrespectful behavior
    We would not need divorce. Since no one speaks up, thank gd
    Rabbis and lawyers do, as we’ll as the court to protect our women and their children. It would be better if people could work on conting themselves
    But many of us know, it’s not the case, people get divorce to avoid
    Their own death, we riser e to serve Hashem I. A respectful way!

  10. Just like we pray to Hashem for our needs we should put shalom bayis on top of the list. A stable home helps the child to grow and function in a healthy way. They say the Mizbayich cries when there is a divorce-parents kallah teachers chosen teachers have to prepare these kids well enough and be there for them after the wedding and hopefully we’ll see less divorces