Sunday, August 20, 2023

Prominent Charedi Therapist: Rabbinic divorce decisions need greater involvement of mental health professionals

The following is a detailed comment by a well known chareidi therapist to a comment I made to a recent Tamar Epstein Post
Beis din can categorize a case as being one of four levels of dysfunction  1) nothing serious but one party wants out and the other doesn't 2) One or both party is irritating or abusive to the other - but nothing that counseling and good will can't fix 3) One party has serious problems such as being physically abusive or suffers from mental health or physical issues which make the marriage very unpleasant. In such a case the beis din can order the husband to give a divorce. 4) the existence of a pre-existing condition that was not known to the spouse which makes marriage impossible for most people such as severe mental illness. It is not fixable and as soon as the spouse found out about it - left the marriage.”

I copied and pasted this quote above from the latest post on the Friedman/Epstein case.  I have zero knowledge of that case, though I recall there being quite an uproar about it several years ago.  I plead equal expertise in the sugya of kidushei to’us.  I was impressed with the information in the quote above.  The comment that follows is a sentiment I have shared with you previously.  Writing this now is as much to share it again as it is to get it off my chest.

My first question is – who makes the determination about the level of dysfunction?  I have yet to meet an average Rov or even Dayan who possesses this expertise.  Allow me to quote a dayan who is well known and a giant halacha expert.  This involved a case where a couple had been with me, where the wife withdrew, and claimed that her husband was the problem.  He was.  He was a professional schmatte, acceding to her abusiveness, which was physical, emotional, and constant.  In my office, she threatened him with arrest.  She openly stated that she hits herself to cause bruises so that she could get him locked up one day.  Well, she did precisely that.  Together with several askanim, we made sure he was released from central Booking that night.  She had his tallis/Tefillin.  She delivered then to a Rov where he could pick them up.  She was waiting there with her phone in hand to call 911 that he violated the order of protection.  He did not pick it up personally, but through another Rov.  2 days later, she had her brother-in-law follow him into mikva, and pickpocketed his driver’s license.  The quite renowned Rov was contacted, and was given the license.  Once again the wife had the Rov summon the husband to return the “lost” license.  Of course, she is waiting with her phone to call 911 to re-arrest the husband.  I met with this Rov a few days later, and he insisted that the children need an intact parental unit.  I told him that the line crossed was way too far for tolerance, and that once a wife fabricates a police report, I would never trust her again.  He debated the “leibedige yesomim” line, and I retorted that I would accept responsibility for that, while getting the mitzvah of לא תעמוד על דם רעך.  Bottom line, that Rov, with all his genius in halacha, was grossly incompetent to assess the viability of the marriage.

Now for the play-by-play.

1.    One party wants out but the other doesn’t.  I have no question about what halacha requires.  Torah provides ample leeway for the husband to determine what is unacceptable, כי מצא בה ערות דבר, with its many interpretations.  However, a Rov is also obligated to guide those he serves with guidance that is effective and productive.  To stay married to someone you want who doesn’t want you is akin to a life sentence.  A Rov needs to guide על פי הלכה, but needs to consider ישרות  as well.  Shamefully, this has become the exception.

2.   One party is irritating or abusive to the other – but nothing that counseling and good will can’t fix.  Not sure what this means.  And I am a therapist with lots of experience and training.  How on Earth should a Rov know what this is?  Counseling experience?  Evaluation skills?  Perhaps investigation of who is being truthful?  When batei din get into this, I trust their intentions as being holy (though oft times they may not be), but they are still way too often more damaging than helpful.

3.   Serious problems, physically abusive, mental health or physical issues.  See #2.  What dayanim are equipped to assess these issues or to verify truth?  The percentage of false reports of domestic violence exceeds 50%.  I recognize the need to be cautious, and I also know quite well that abusers deny having committed this.  But it is the exception when a Rov gives a “heter” to separate which includes having listened to the other side of the story.

4.   Pre-existing conditions.  Unfortunately, many shidduchim are completed with one side having been given a “heter” to withhold information.  I personally consulted to several cases where someone was taking serious anti-psychotic medications, and the parents had a story to excuse why they kept the information secret.  The wife had zero relationship with a husband who was close to catatonic, or so medicated that he was barely functional.  In one case, the boy’s father sat in my office telling me that girl had “social issues” that excused giving her a technically male adult for a husband.  Not only was this untrue as per my evaluation, but I was able to obtain information (with consent) from her mechanchos that she was a stellar girl without issues.  Another case, currently consulting, involves a young woman with a serious intestinal disorder that has already resulted in several hospitalizations, surgeries, and current issues of ostomies.  As per the family’s Daas Torah, the issue was only disclosed at date #7, when the boy was already pushing to propose.  I have no clue which poskim are advising to withhold such information, but it is commonplace, and almost always a recipe for disaster.  I also marvel at the statements from Rabbonim about the therapies for borderline personality, and the addictions, mostly devoid of empirical support or logic.

So, are batei din qualified to decide on these types of situations?  I wish they were.  My experience indicates otherwise.  My only remedy for the situation is to open up these issues to rabbonim who team up with the relevant, qualified professionals.

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