Sunday, February 7, 2016

Commentary and update on the 1992 interview with Rav Landesman and Rav Malinowitz

Guest post

I think the interview should have been introduced that it is an old article, of which much may be relevant, but that there are likely updates to this.  Here’s my angle.

I suspect that the growth of the frum population has resulted in a greater incidence of divorce, even if the percentage never changed.  I also believe that marriage requires סייעתא דשמיא.  Having noted this, I also believe that there are more reasons for divorce today, and that there is a rise in the rates in terms of percentage.  I lack the scientific data to support this, and my observation is biased in being one of the turn-to people when a marriage is failing and likely beyond repair.
·    Poor preparation.  The true preparation for marriage begins at birth, and consists of role modeling by parents and extended family.  As community patterns change, this is also affected.  Yeshivos and schools include way too little guidance in character development, and the bits of mussar that are transmitted academically are wholly inadequate to satisfy the fundamental need.  Madrichim for chassanim and kallahs tend to avoid the most important aspects of training for the relationship aspects of marriage.
·       Cultural trends.  There are patterns that have developed that have become “norms”, most of which are of dubious value to the integrity of a marriage and young family.  These include the foolishness of mandating or expecting the kollel lifestyle to be universal.  The multiple angles on this include the dependency patterns (on family, programs, etc.), the conflict ridden expectations of the working wife as the homemaker and young mother.  Locations to live being related to the kollel or the parents often exert unneeded stress on a fragile, developing relationship.  Even expecting to marry because peers are getting married is of very questionable price to the potential of forming a true relationship.
·   Dependency.  Most young marrieds are incapable of being financially independent.  The supporters, usually parents and in-laws, tend to have expectations of the young couple, most of which are not focused on the needs of their children but rather their own desires.
·       Throw away society.  Oft blamed for the deterioration of the marriage, it is unquestionably true, but it is insidious and usually under disguise.  There are many ways to address the earliest challenges in marriage.  Faulty behavior is frequently mislabeled as indicative of a flawed personality.  The latter implies hopelessness.
·       Bad advice.  This is one of the greater causes for marriage failures.  In the frum community, there is a pattern of seeking guidance of rabbonim, roshei yeshivos, roshei kollel, and chosson/kallah teachers for intervention and advice whenthe going gets rough.  These individuals are probably capable of much, but helping the couple in crisis is rarely one of the skills for which they trained.  There is also a belief that the professionally trained person is corrupted with foreign, secular values, and should be avoided.
·       Certain people’s parnosoh depends on it.  There is an entire industry built on divorce.  There are askanim (to be fair, most do their work without monetary compensation), toanim, lawyers, batei din, mediators, and some professionals who profit from the terminating marriages.
·     Personal image.  This always existed.  However, the preoccupation with how one appears to others is undeniably greater than ever before.  This is worthy of exploration and analysis.  Regardless, when a marriage fails, each side tends to seek the attribution of blame to the other side.  Accusations abound, and the breakups in which the extreme demands, even the denying of support or visitation rights are hardly exceptions to the rule.  The bitterness lingers for a long time, affecting everyone.  What was once (or should have been) love turns into hate and revenge.  The greatest motivational factor in this is the desperate need to be seen as the victim who succeeded in escaping the claws of the evil other side.   And all this is to be considered by others as the tzaddik.
·       Children are not nachas machines.  The expectation of parents is that their married children be a service to them.  This is not about the Torah prescribed mitzvah of kibud av v’em.  This is about the parents being on the receiving end of the nachas.  Anything that is perceived to interfere with this is target for intervention.  How many young people marry to provide nachas to their parents?  The nachas is a good thing, but it is the sidebar to a marriage in which the chosson and kallah create a home that is a nachas to HKB”H.  The parents can become a seriously divisive force in their children’s lives.  This may be more prevalent today than in the past.
·      Being right is not always effective.  With exception to halacha, which is not negotiable, there are many instances in which a couple who disagree on a matter that does not lend itself to compromise.  Only one can be right, and the other is wrong.  Must the one who is right insist on being the “winner” of the argument?  While this may sound correct, it is often not effective.  This more than learning to “give in” or be mevater.  It is about focusing on the outcome of staying close instead of constricting barriers, obstacles, and wedges to divide the couple.  The advisor who lacks training often tries to settle an argument by examining who is right.  This becomes more harmful than helpful.
·    Beis din has always been limited in its ability to render a psak but no authority to enforce its conclusions.  Having the court system verify a psak and agreements is almost standard practice.  It is likely that the level of Yir’as Shomayim of previous generations was such that the issuing of a psak halacha meant compliance.  The conflict of carrying this into additional proceedings is probably one of the developments of the recent generation.
·     Divorce is expensive.  But some individuals view it as a money making venture.  Sometimes it is the wives who seek far more in their settlement than they should have.  Sometimes it is the men who are too miserly to support their children adequately.  It is way too common for one party to demand a cash payment to give or receive a get.  This is viewed as extortion by outsiders.  It is a hard sell to convince most people that this is moral, and not simply holding the get as hostage for a demand of ransom.
Media has expanded, but not always in positive directions.  Years ago, one typically sought to keep these issues of personal conflict private.  The common use of technology and communication has made everything, from the most mundane to the most intimate fodder for blasting to the world. Social networking, the ease of having direct communications, the convenience of multiple sources of input, and the tendency for people who are bitter to provide “support” (more accurately “incitement”) are all features of the new world.  Agunos (the real kind and the modern versions who adopted the word) have always existed.  But they were rarely, if ever, the chatter of everyone.  Not any more.  There now many hundreds of opinions from people who have no connection to a case, and from those without a shred of experience to make opinions based on knowledge.  And all these diagnoses and pronouncements are majorly based on a single side of the story.  This is sad, but pervasive.
Our generation has not universally adopted the mussar message of Rav Yisroel Salanter and others, in which academic mussar is only useful in its implementation in the lives of Yidden.  If it looks respectable, it must be really so.  Personal change, character refinement, working on the imperfections of midos, and the like make great discussion topics.  The greatest mashgichim, baalei mussar, darshonim, and others have made careers of such discussion.  If the community listened and put all these words into action, there would hardly be any divorces, and batei din would be unutilized.  Meanwhile, there are few families that have never encountered a failed marriage, a divorce, or the bitter conflict that ensues when a marriage is dissolved.  The incidence may well be on the rise.  But the magnitude of the pain and conflict have accelerated to alarming levels.

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