Thursday, November 5, 2009

An Important Issue - Quick Marriages and Divorces

Last week an article I wrote about what I call the "post-shidduch crisis" appeared in The Jewish Star. It made its way to the, where it created a bit of a splash.

It made it to Gil Student's hit list on his blog - - one of the Thursday links.

Here is the article - please feel free to comment below...

Opinion: The Post-Shidduch Crisis

By Rabbi Avi Billet

Issue of October 30th/ 12 Cheshvan 5770

Our community has a lot to say about the “shidduch crisis.” First, we blame the singles themselves. Why can’t young people date like we did? Why can’t they meet people in normal ways? Why can’t they have social functions like we had? Why can’t they get over their hang-ups of dating one person at a time? Why do they have to be so picky? Maybe they don’t really want to get married, because if they did, they would.

Then we blame their teachers. Why don’t the rebbeim do something about it? Why do they teach the boys that girls are taboo until it’s time to get married? Why are girls prohibited from talking to boys because of a stigma?

Then we blame halacha (Jewish law). It’s because they can’t be normal teenagers or adults – they don’t hold hands (plenty do anyway — that’s for a different discussion). What’s the big deal about a casual hug or impersonal kiss? Modesty shmodesty — they’re going to share a bedroom once they’re married, so why the need to dress modestly now?

Then we blame the culture we’ve created. Ridiculous background checks that put FBI and El-Al security to shame. Measuring tapes to check lengths of skirts, sleeves, and hat-brims. How classy are the “mechutanim”? (What does any of this have to do with whether the dating couple will honor, respect and care for each other in what will hopefully be a long marriage?)

It’s been said before that people get more excited about, and put way more hours into, preparing what will be a five-hour wedding than what should be, in good health, a fifty-plus years marriage.

Which leads to a newer, more serious crisis: the post-shidduch “very short marriage” crisis.

One of my professors in Yeshiva University would quip that college students got engaged so they could tell their friends “I’m engaged.” He’d say, “You people don’t know anything about love and romance. And you’re all too young to get married.”

Based only on informal polling, I would bet most people would probably prefer to experience or witness a broken engagement than a divorce. One of the last statements in Tractate Gittin (90b) is Rabbi Elazar’s comment that when a divorce takes place, even the mizbeach (altar) sheds tears.

At one point a couple of years ago, I personally knew of five marriages and divorces between the same couples that had taken place over a period of ten months. It is sad to think that all the joy, optimism and hope that took place at the wedding resulted in misunderstandings, disrespect (in some cases), and shattered dreams.

Unquestionably, men and women go into marriages with different expectations. Men and women have different needs spiritually, emotionally, and physically. They each bring different strengths to a marriage. But they each need to know in advance that not only is the marriage a partnership, but it is also a team. Sometimes you need to sacrifice yourself so the other person can shine. But the sacrifice helps the team win.

What is lost in communication pre-marriage? In all the hours dating and talking and sharing dreams, what is missed? How does the “love love love” feeling drastically switch (in such a short time) to “divorce”? Could it be we are not teaching ourselves that problems can come up and we need to deal with them? Could it be our eyes are so glazed over at the thought and process of preparing for that walk down the aisle we forget that five hours after the procession there’s a life to live together? And we need to prepare for that?

In America, it’s been said that “Marriage as an institution is a failure.” (To a similar statement, Groucho Marx said “And who wants to live in an institution?”) But it doesn’t have to be. It can be stressful, at times, and it requires work all the time. And that is why the married couple is a team. When a team works together and communicates, they can succeed. If each player is only worried about his or her own stats, the team has no chance.

Communication is hard at first. How does one give up being single, independent, making your own decisions, and replace that with having to think of another person? How does one communicate intimate, private thoughts about very personal dilemmas that one has never shared with anyone before? It sometimes takes time to really get to know and trust one’s spouse.

People who have never lived together do not really know each other until they have lived together for some time. I heard a great speaker talk about love and marriage and he declared, “Knowing what I know about love now [after 25 years of marriage] I would venture to say I did not love my wife when we got married.” But they grew together and built a wonderful marriage together.

There are a number of very traumatic events in a person’s life that can have a negative impact on one’s psyche and lead to symptoms of depression. They include: getting married, birth of a baby, moving, starting a new job, getting fired, divorcing, death of a close loved one. Marriage and moving usually take place at the same time, and if the wife or husband is from “out of town,” the move can be even more traumatic. The two people need to be there for each other, to trust each other, to share with each other, validate feelings, work together, see a marriage counselor if necessary, and work through kinks. The first few miles of any new road can be bumpy, but that doesn’t mean it’s an altogether bad road.

This is not to say that mistakes don’t happen. Some things creep up and come out in a way a person might never know until a man and woman share a roof. In some cases, there can be no reparation and the two parties will really have a miserable marriage if they stay together. This is why the Torah describes a method of divorce, why an entire tractate of the Talmud is dedicated to the topic, and why a complete section of the Shulchan Arukh is devoted to interpersonal relationships between men and women in the context of marriage and divorce. It is certainly hard to know the future. But divorce after a four-month marriage shouldn’t always be the answer to what seem to be, after such a short time, irreconcilable differences.

The mizbeach would like to stop crying.

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