Divorce: The Communal Issue That Lacks Mazel

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divorceBy Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld

There is a statement in the Zohar that indicates that everything requires Mazel, even the Sefer Torah itself. The explanation I heard about this thought is that a Sefer Torah is chosen or not chosen from the Aron by a series of incidental considerations. Is it light enough for Hagbah, was it donated by people visiting the Shul on the week in question, does the Ba’al Koreh enjoy reading its print, etc. Certain decisions that we make fit into that same mold. A community has choices to make about where its resources and time will go. Education is always high on the list. Entertainment is often low on the list. And so it goes. The decisions tend to be quite rational but Mazel plays a factor as well.

In recent years, I have written and called various organizations about the increasing rate of divorce in our community. I have offered my services in this regard. So many have said the divorce rate is out of control and yet so little has been done. Some organizations simply ignored the overture. It is not possible to respond to everyone who contacts an organization. Some have expressed some interest and took some steps to do something helpful. A token effort, usually, but at least it was something. What the organizations all share in common is that none of these communal entities have felt that the increasing rate of divorce deserves a high priority on its organizational ladder. (I am excluding the groups that deal with specialized issues such as support groups and outreach towards those who have been denied a get. Their sincere efforts are quite helpful, but do little to deal with the burgeoning numbers of divorcing families.)

I am writing to sound the alarm. Divorce is increasing and the attendant problems they often usher in are increasing as well. A divorce is not only a loss to the couple going through the pain of separation. It is a loss for Klal Yisroel as well. We need to see the implications of divorce in its clearest sense. Divorce needs mazel if we are going to be proactive in our efforts. What ripple effects are caused by the greater prevalence of divorce?  I will outline three areas of impact. Each of these areas on their own has attracted much communal support and effort. When they are an aspect of divorce, they seem to fly below our communal radar. They truly need more Mazel.


In recent years we have come to grips with the fact that we have children who need specialized care and educational opportunities. We call such children “at risk” because we understand that a lack of proper intervention may cause them to be lost to our people. (G-d Forbid). In the field of divorce, the work of one person stands out for thorough research methods. Her name was Dr. Judith Wallerstein. Dr. Wallerstein is reputed to have interviewed more divorcing couples than any other person in history. Dr. Wallerstein was curious if divorce affected the well-being of children. Early in her career, Dr. Wallerstein presumed that lower-class children were more prone to the harmful effects of divorce than were their better-positioned peers. Ultimately, Dr. Wallerstein concluded that class was not the determinant of how children would be harmed, or not, by the divorce in the family. What she did conclude was that children whose parents had an amicable divorce were less likely to be harmed by parental divorce than were children whose parents had a bitter and rancorous divorce.

I wish I could report that Orthodox couples who divorce tend to have a more civil divorce than those who are not Orthodox. I have never seen this to be the rule in divorce. The reasons for this are subject to discussion, but divorce rates grow and so do the number of our children who are “at risk”. What are we doing to deal with this challenge?


Recently, the media has examined the activities in a particular Jewish poverty organization. It was not pleasant to read. The fact remains however that we can be justifiably proud of our efforts to deal with those who are society’s less fortunate.

It is well known that when a couple divorces, each party is highly likely to be in greater financial peril than they were previously. (A study cited in “The Divorce Revolution” found that women have a 73% drop in their standard of living after divorce. The study did not find a similar drop among men, but in a society where men have huge tuition bills and tend to live in urban areas, it is a reasonable conjecture that Orthodox men too have a drop in their standard of living post-divorce.) What does our community do when people are not at the point of being impoverished, but they are experiencing dealing with new financial challenges they may never have experienced before? The words “V’Hechezakta Bo” come to mind. Are we providing the support, the financial planning, the financial advice that this group may need? I hear of cases where individuals (usually the wife) have never written a check in their married life and they now need to prepare reasonable budgets and financial oversight for their family. The group of divorced individuals often become part of our marginally needy in the economic sense. What are we doing to deal with this challenge?


Divorce is considered one of life’s most traumatic events. It is difficult for the adults and it is more difficult for children. Family members affected by divorce are prone to episodes of depression, “acting out”, withdrawal, feelings of guilt, etc. Many such individuals do not recognize their symptoms or do not wish to seek professional help. The reasons might be shame, lack of esteem, feelings of hopelessness, etc. At times, a family who was once affluent, but now beset by financial woes, will not wish to seek help because they are too proud to acknowledge their need to pay reduced fee or no fee. Our community is compassionate but we may not know who these individuals happen to me. People who have just been divorced do not always step forward to get the assistance they need in meeting their mental health challenges. For a person who has experienced good health for all of their life prior to divorce, their new status brings them shame and bewilderment. (A recent article on divorce in “The Journal of Men’s Health” serves as an illustration of this concern. The article found that divorced men are 10 times more likely than married men to seek mental health counseling.) We know these people are out there. What are we doing to deal with this challenge?

We need to look at our divorce statistics (if we even have them) and ask what we can do in our schools, our Shuls, and our communities to deal with this challenging situation. If we assume a divorce rate of 10% (I suspect it is indeed higher) then we have 60,000 Orthodox Jews who are, or will be, divorced. If we assume 4 children per family (some divorce immediately while some divorce after a full adult life together, so 4 children seems like a good number to choose) that makes for an additional 240,000 individuals potentially impacted by divorce. These numbers are not insignificant. We then need to look at the impact on our schools, our Shuls, and our communities. The numbers are daunting and the challenges are humbling. We have dealt with many important issues as a community. Can we say we have done an adequate job in addressing the issues that emerge from our growing divorce rate?  Are we doing enough to deal with the challenges?

Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld is a family mediator and attorney. He can be contacted at:Rosenfeld@Juno.Com

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  1. With all due respect, this seems very sided towards women. As have the previous articles you’ve written.

    84% of divorces are intiated by women. These women know quite well how to write checks. Mentioning a rarity “(usually the wife)”, but calling it usually smacks of dishonesty. Or an agenda. Also, ORA is an organazation that MOST Rabbonim do not feel that they’re “quite helpful”.

    You make a very valid point about being amacble. Both -men and women – must choose that path. There’s an equal amount of women and men who behave horribly.

  2. What evidence do you have that there is a soaring divorce rate? You need some concrete data and to present it first.
    Also, what evidence do you have that the presumed increase in divorces is a bad thing? How do you know that it isn’t a reflection of individuals who previously were stuck in abusive relationships that were culturally ‘stuck’ and now have freedom to get out? The million dollar question that needs to be addressed isn’t the divorce rate inasmuch as ‘has there been a breakdown in family functioning over the recent years that has LEAD to divorce’?
    There are some major assumptions you make as the premise of your article that needs support/evidence.

  3. I want to ward off the mad rush that often accompanies my articles relative to what bias I may have. My three points were that divorces leave many people (i.e. children) at risk, leave many in poverty, and leave many with mental health concerns. These issues need to be addressed. Is that a controversial position? Is that a sign of a bias towards one group or another? I will leave that to the discerning reader. Divorce discussions need not lead to an exercise in finger-pointing between men and women. I believe most people who have serious thoughts on this topic will avoid drawing that conclusion.

    As always, I thank all who take the time to comment and I reiterate my openness to private discussions off-line.

  4. Concerning children at risk, I don’t agree with the conclusion: usually when a couple divorces, there where serious problems in communication and interaction before they got divorced. The divorce is not the cause, but the finallity in a problem that already existed. The “child at risk ” statistics already existed before the divorce and therefore there are a larger percentage of a divorcees with the problem of “Children at risk,” than still married couples.

  5. If there are 60000 divorced people, presumably half are men and half are women, which means that there are 30000 divorced couples, which means that at 4 children per family, there are 120000 children affected, not 240000.

    You see, I have already solved half the problem!!!

  6. A increase in young Frum couples getting divorced is probably do to boy/girl at risk within the community getting married more often.

    Kids at risk are more likely coming from a divorced or should be divorced home but the largest reason for it is not teaching kids why the should be fully Frum and thats probably because most of the parents dont know why the are

  7. to take “logic’s” logic to the next level, by divorcing an abusive relationship, the risk for the children actually drops.

  8. “abusive” today is usually just a convenient means of saying “unhappy”

    “If there are 60000 divorced people, presumably half are men and half are women, which means that there are 30000 divorced couples,”

    EVEN that is miscount

    ‘If we assume a divorce rate of 10% (I suspect it is indeed higher) then 60,000 Orthodox Jews’

    10% of Total POP. would already added children

  9. Your three points [divorces leave many people (e.g. children) at risk, leave many in poverty (i.e., every member of such family), and leave many with mental health concerns (e.g. it varies and depends on too many factors to suggest a causal relationship) are all issues that need to be addressed, are not controversial and are universal, i.e., are indicated in many other special familial situations (e.g. large families, families without a significant breadwinner). As to a 10% statistic – I doubt that that number is even close to accurate, at least with respect to divorcing couples with young impressionable children. A look see at classes in many yeshiva elementary schools (or your local shul) would clearly show that the divorce rate of the segment you address is more likely in the vicinity of 3-5%. In any event, these are important issues and whether addressed within the context of general organizations focused on the above issues or custom created organizations is a matter of resources available and evaluating strategically what approach will garner the best results.

  10. What the author is saying I believe, is if one chooses to divorce, do it without a fight. The bottom line is,if they good middos in the first place, there wouldn’t be a divorce . So I would say, stress good middos and maybe you’ll have good marriages.

  11. HaGaon HaRav Avigdor Miller zt’l often said that 99% of divorces were unnecessary and shouldn’t have happened and could and should have been avoided.

    Divorces often causes kids to become at risk where otherwise they would not have.


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