A distraught parent, I assume a mother, sent a letter in response to my November 21 column in which I strongly suggested that engaged couples speak to a rav about family planning before getting married. In my opinion, there is almost an epidemic of divorces in our communities within the first year or two of marriage and all too often, the wife receiving her get is pregnant or has a baby in her arms – a heartbreaking tragedy for all involved.
I pointed out that our young people get getting married with little life experience; some having no idea what is actually right for them, idealistically marrying a person who seems to be what they think they want. Others do not recognize the huge red flags being waved in front of their eyes proclaiming that the person they are dating has a serious personality disorder and that they will be entrapped in a toxic marriage.
During that first year of marriage, the newlyweds will either meld into a compatible couple or realize that they have made a huge mistake. Going their separate ways would be infinitely easier if a child does not connect them.
In the letter, the writer states, “My daughter-in-law gives the impression of [being] a fine, quiet girl, but she is not well. I am not sure if she was ever diagnosed but her mental illness is clear to us.”
She points out that they went to speak to a rav who concluded that these were “shana rishona” issues and recommended the boy not call off the engagement.
The letter-writer describes the rav as being “experienced in these matters” but did not say that he is a licensed clinical psychologist or mental health professional, so my guess is that he is not.
As I see it, this young man, whom the mother describes as having “become a skeleton of his former self, who is being tortured and bullied – nothing he does can or ever will please her” is a victim of misguided judgment by both his parents and the rav. His well-meaning parents seemingly subscribe to the relatively new practice of asking a ravto give an opinion on matters that are not necessarily halachic in nature. Just a generation ago, one called the rav of one’s shul to pasken on issues pertaining to halacha, like what to do if one stirred the chicken soup with a dairy ladle or if could one travel to a hospital for a medical test on Yom Tov/Shabbos and return home the same day.
The role of the rav has expanded to include situations that have nothing to do with halacha, but rather are medical or financial in nature, and sometimes even matters a couple should be able to decide for themselves, like where to go on vacation.
As learned and as bright as he may be, unless the rav has a medical degree, is a practicing psychologist, accountant, investor, or lawyer, he lacks the expertise to give the best advice in many areas. If I were on an airplane whose pilot collapsed, I would hope the flight attendant would ask if there were any off -duty commercial or military pilots on board, and not run to the rav eating the kosher meal to take over in the cockpit.
This rav gave the young man life-damaging advice. Why did he not recommend that the family speak to a frum mental health specialist? An honest answer would have been, “This is what I think, but go ask an expert in this field.”
The rav now admits that the issues were not first-year jitters but, unbelievably, is encouraging the young man to “tough it out” because his wife is pregnant. I have to wonder if the rav understands the ramifications of what he is suggesting? He is telling this man that he should live with a verbally abusive spouse; to live in an environment where he will be constantly mocked and denigrated. Does the rav really think that a child in a home where one parent acts like a raging overseer will not be emotionally damaged by what he witnesses on a daily basis? He/she will repeat the behavior – either as a timid victim or tyrannical abuser, for that is all he/she knows.