Sunday, January 25, 2004

Hang ups and Hang ins

Somebody once made a phone call and got a wrong a number. Instead of hanging up he said “you know what, seeing as we are on the line already, let’s talk anyway”. Although that sounds absurd I must venture to say that absurdity does not seem to be a factor when our dear Rabbinates set our lives up. I am talking of the D word. Divorce!

I am not in the possession of any data as to what percentage of our couples that get married discover not long after that they have made a terrible mistake. I do know for certain that it is much higher than that of couples who actually get divorced.

I am not an advocate for divorce-on-demand. I do believe that marriage is an institution that should not be gotten into, or out of, lightly. I am an advocate for happiness though and I fail to see how a Rabbi, any Rabbi whose training did not involve psychology, sexology and marriage counseling, can take it upon himself to decide that a couple should stay together when they have decided they cannot.

Most of you who have never been in this situation (I hope that’s most of you now that I think about it) will probably not be aware of the difficulties that are put in the way of a couple who do decide to part ways. When I say difficulties I do not mean the insistence that the unhappy two try to put some effort into salvaging the marriage. That I can understand, and even live with, which is usually more than the couple can say for each other, because a divorce is even harder to reverse than marriage, and if everybody could divorce at whim I suspect the world population would dwindle within a couple of generations. What I mean is the blind refusal of many Rabbis to give a divorce at all (except to members of their own families when they need it).

I spent the Shabbes morning meal with such a couple. They are desperately unhappy together. Not in a hateful and spiteful way but because they are on two different mental planets. She is vivacious, highly intelligent and an extremely well versed woman. In any other society she would be influencing events. In hers the only events she can influence are bring and buy sales and cook-ins. She married her Talmid Chuchem because she thought that would be second best to fulfilling her girlhood dream of going to Yeshiva herself. In some ways she is in Yeshiva, if having young men with earnest faces all around you at all times and living in a space where books are more important than people is the Yeshiva experience.

Her husband is a scholar that has gotten to be that through pure grit. Not exceptionally bright he has the ‘bren’ (burning desire) that makes Talmidei chacumim (Torah scolars) and the social skills to match. He considers asking his wife where she put those papers he left in the hall, having a conversation. He is an exceptionally well-meaning man and has done his best to make her happy. They both laugh when she tells the all the stories of the things that have gone wrong as he earnestly but ineptly tried to make her happy but failed miserably, because he simply does not have any idea of how she ticks. Like the time he planned an outing to Greenwich because a counselor suggested that as a form of quality time, but he took with a bocher (student) so he could learn on the boat up the Thames.

Some years ago, when the family consisted of them two and a baby, they had both agreed that would both be happier with other partners. They went together to speak to a Rabbi who suggested that they should not rush into so momentous a decision in haste. He suggested that they give it a few months longer to try if they could not accommodate each other’s needs. A laudable decision they both agree. What happened next is a comedy of errors. They tried six months of various suggestions including some ideas so laughable and insane that it simply a shaila of lushen hora (a question of libelous gossip) against the Rabbinate to repeat them. The upshot was that after a about a year they returned to insist that they still were of a mind that they needed to go their own separate ways. The Rabbi then told them that he was not able to grant them a get but e recommended that they see his colleague who maybe could. They met him and he suggested that they first try a period of monitored counseling.

I am not going to describe all the rest of the story. Suffice it to say that this farce has been repeated many times. They have endured speeches explaining to them that the Mizbayach (the holy alter) cries when a couple divorces. They have been explained that his learning would suffer if he were to divorce. They have also in that time been obliged to bring another three neshumes into this world, which now form another reason why they cannot divorce of course.

I do know that her spirit has been broken. She is a closet skeptic and her talents and gifts are lost for the community. He is a broken man whose lack of a warm and close relationship has stunted his personal growth. The kids are being brought up in a home that is lacking in familial unity and so cannot possibly develop to their full potential. One of the local Rabbis in London is said to have gravely informed a couple that were having problems. “there is no romance in Jewish Marriage”. I disagree. It is true that there is no romance in some and those are the ones that have to be broken while they still can. Divorce is not a punishment it is right that is granted by the Torah and any couple who demand it should be granted the privilege. The alternative is that we end up like some areas in the Catholic Church, bankrupt, mean-spirited and a breeding ground for pedophilia and extra marital sex. I think it’s time for us all to wake up - next to whom we want to!

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