The divorce rate in the United States is close to 50%. Interestingly, during the 2020 COVID pandemic year, rates actually declined to the lowest levels in 50 years.
Divorce is a tragedy for all-most of all the children of divorce. It is most unhealthy for the children, but all suffer.
In Peggy Noonan’s opinion piece entitled “Social Distancing Was a Problem Before Covid” in the Wall Street Journal on November 27, she quotes Yuval Levin, Director of Social, Cultural, And Constitutional Studies at AEI, who points to the “declining family formation” as one of society’s pressing social ills. Although not directing his remarks specifically to divorce per se, clearly the disruption and social disorder engendered by divorce fits well with his thoughts. He says, “Humans have appetites for pleasure, status, and power; when these things aren’t well directed and joined to human commitments they leave lives deformed.”
Divorce rates must be lowered if society is going to succeed and flourish. This is true of the general population and it is true of the Jewish population.
It is estimated that the divorce rate among American Jews is 30%. In Israel, the divorce rate is 26-27% (2006-2011). These are staggering statistics. They are unacceptable. More has to be done to prevent this from happening.
Among Orthodox Jews in America, the divorce rate is lower at 10%, but still much too high. To the credit of the Orthodox, 85% are married and stay married. This is a laudable and heartwarming statistic. Unlike the false characterization of the Orthodox on Netflix’s “My Unorthodox Life,” the Orthodox for the most part are succeeding and acting as a beacon of light in the age of serious decline of family values and commitments. The Orthodox have led by example how to raise children and keep tradition alive.
Levin points out that the breakdown of the traditional social order in the general society is related to “the waning of ‘life scripts’ provided by family, religion, and traditional norms.”
The Orthodox have provided a blueprint for maintaining the social order. There is no better “life script” than the Torah.
Yet, because Orthodox Jews do not live in a vacuum and are influenced by the society around them, the divorce crisis is very much upon us.
As I stated above, a 10% divorce rate is still too high. Dr. Yitzchak Schechter has done landmark studies on divorce among the Orthodox. He presented data in 2015 obtained from 310 divorced respondents. He found that 57% of Orthodox divorces were acrimonious. This is extraordinarily disturbing. It is no doubt why thousands of women become agunot (“chained” women, unable to marry). The male in Orthodox circles must provide a get to his wife in order for her to remarry. In America, various get laws, especially if a prenup agreement is signed, have helped somewhat to lessen the agunah crisis. It is another major crisis facing Jewish Society. It is unfortunately another by-product of the divorce crisis.
Dr. Schechter lists the ten factors leading to divorce in the Orthodox community. They include: Verbal and emotional abuse, demeaning or feeling put down, communication problems, unmet emotional needs, sexual issues, mental illness, religious differences, undisclosed information, financial difficulties, and different life goals.
The question then is how to mitigate each of these factors to prevent divorce. Obviously, some are not correctable, but many are. Problems with communication and unmet emotional needs are the two main factors, according to Dr. Schechter. This is an area which we as a society must do better. I don’t think any of us can just sit on the sidelines any longer. Each must do his or her part.
Dr. Joe Frager is Chairman of the Israel Advocacy Commission for the Rabbinical Alliance of America; Chairman of the Executive Committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim; Dean at Kollel Ayshel Avraham; Executive Vice President of the Israel Heritage Foundation; and a physician in practice for 41 years.