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The Other Side Of The Mechitzah

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

I’ve been following your articles on divorce and you’ve been right on target. However, something was missing from your presentation – the plight of divorced men.

In a divorce situation most people sympathize with the wife. They assume she was mistreated. When it comes to custody, most often it is the wife who is given that privilege. I realize of course that mothers are usually the homemakers, though I have seen many instances where mothers abandoned their responsibilities and did not give proper care to their children.

I attended the recent Shabboton for frum divorced people and listened to your talk. You gave me hope to go on. I was very despondent when I came and went home considerably more upbeat. It was all due to your focus on “being a blessing.”

I was married at 23, an age considered young for marriage in the secular world but proper in the frum community. I was studying at a yeshiva in Israel. My parents received many recommendations for a shidduch for me. After some investigation they settled on “Miss X.” She was lovely to look at. She came from a good family and had a good educational background. On paper she met all my expectations. She was my first date and the only one. From the moment we met I felt this was it.

My entire family was involved in my shidduch search. A cousin who went to school with the girl was drilled by my parents. She confirmed that the girl was beautiful but added that sometimes she was moody. (Who isn’t, my parents thought.) They also asked friends and family about her home life. Were there conflicts between the parents? Was there shalom bayis? Were they hospitable?

My parents didn’t leave a stone unturned. They spoke with the rabbi of the synagogue where the parents of the girl davened. They spoke with the rabbi and rebbetzin in charge of the seminary where she studied in Israel. Everyone agreed she was a very nice girl. Our families met on neutral ground at a restaurant in New York. Everything seemed to go well.

We dated for two months. We had an open house for family and friends and the engagement was sealed. Three months later we were married. A few days after the marriage I started noticing strange things, especially wild mood swings, but I dismissed them. Then my wife became pregnant. It was a very exciting time. Everyone was so happy.

For my parents this would be the first grandchild and for my in-laws the second. My wife became increasingly temperamental. I ignored it and attributed it to her pregnancy. After she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, she fell into a terrible depression. She went for help, and many people told me that it’s not unusual for women to have post partum depression. So I had patience.

Soon, however, I discovered that the depression had nothing to do with having had a baby but rather something much more serious. My wife had been on medication for many years but was able to keep it from me during our dating period and the early part of our marriage. But I did find out about it and I realized her moods were caused by her neglecting to take her medication.

Things gradually grew worse. Our shalom bayis crashed. It was painful for me. Just the same, I was ready to accept it. I wanted to protect our baby and I had compassion on my wife and didn’t want to hurt her. I tried with every ounce of my being to avoid even thinking about a divorce but it became increasingly difficult to do so. For seven long years I lived with the problem, during which time we had another child. This time we had a little girl. And now there were two children I couldn’t bear to leave.

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