Rav Pam, zt”l, said the best antidote to divorce is a good marriage.
Unfortunately, there is no denying that divorce has become considerably more of a problem than historically was the case in our communities. Thankfully, the phenomenon is receiving some much-needed attention.
At the NEFESH Conference of Orthodox mental health professionals in December 2007, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel began his talk with comments on how the Agudah is confronting the issue of divorce.
In May 2008, Dr. David Pelcovitz spoke on divorce at a forum in the Bais Yaakov of Boro Park.
Newspapers and magazines serving our communities have increasingly included articles on divorce alongside articles on shalom bayis.
In The Peaceful Home: Thoughts and Insights of Rav Pam zt”l on the Topic of Shalom Bayis, a handbook compiled by Rabbi Sholom Smith, the author of several books on Rav Pam, we read these words from Rav Pam:
The Torah recognizes that there are situations where it may be necessary to terminate a marriage. Until a mere few decades ago, Jewish divorce was a rare occurrence. The stigma attached to it was very strong and only as a last resort, when everything humanly possible to save the marriage had failed, was this option exercised. In the present times, the divorce rate among Jews has skyrocketed and even among Torah Jews the frequency is shocking.
How many people know someone – relative, neighbor, friend, person in shul – who is divorced or going through a divorce? It was not uncommon in the 1960s and 1970s, when baby boomers were growing up, to hear of one divorce in a neighborhood. Today, it’s not unusual to hear of one in every shul.
Consider for a moment the total number of children directly affected by divorce and transpose this to our classrooms. It is not an exaggeration to say that in many of our yeshivas today, one child in every classroom may have parents who are divorced. That’s a dramatic and frightening shift in just one generation.
How many divorces are there? How many children and families are affected?
In a recent informal survey, Dr. David Pelcovitz estimated a five-percent rate in our communities. That’s one in 20 couples.
At Ohel, seven percent of our calls for information or services are related to divorce. That’s one in 14 couples.
(And bear in mind that Dr. Pelcovitz’s study included only those who responded to the survey and that calls to Ohel are made primarily by people with mental health issues, so these figures can be viewed as a floor, a minimum – not a ceiling.)
Certainly there are circumstances where one member of a divorcing couple may have to take responsible action to protect family and personal interests. But in a bitterly contested, drawn-out and fractious divorce involving custody, orders of protection, financial disagreements, allegations of abuse against a spouse or child, extended family disputes, and police coming into the home in front of the children, the negative consequences on young people may be seen immediately and have long-lasting effects.
How could they not, when children see, hear and experience what warring spouses do to each other in acrimonious divorces that can take several years to conclude? And even when the divorce is settled, the children’s lives often are not, as ex-spouses continue their personal battles.
Again, to quote Rav Pam:
The tzaros of a get does not end when that twelve-line document is delivered to the wife’s possession. Often, it is only one part of a protracted, venomous struggle over custody of the children, visitation rights, division of the financial assets.
If the best antidote to divorce is a good marriage, the best prescription for maintaining strong, healthy, and resilient children in the face of divorce is to engage in legal proceedings that follow the dictum Do No Harm to the Children.