Though during the 2020 pandemic year, the divorce rate in the United States dropped to the lowest level in half a decade, it is close to 50 percent.
Divorce is a tragedy for everyone, most of all the children whose parents split up, but it’s more than that.
In an op-ed last month in The Wall Street Journal—“Social Distancing Was a Problem Before COVID”—Peggy Noonan quotes Yuval Levin, director of social, cultural and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, who points to the “declining family formation” as one of society’s pressing social ills.
Although he wasn’t referring specifically to divorce, the disruption and social disorder engendered by it fits well with his thoughts, which include the statement that “humans have appetites for pleasure, status and power,” and “when these things aren’t well directed and joined to human commitments, they leave lives deformed.”
Indeed, for society to flourish, divorce rates must be lowered. This applies to both the general population and the Jewish one.
It is estimated that the divorce rate among American Jews is 30 percent. In Israel, it isn’t much lower. This is staggering and unacceptable. More has to be done to prevent it from happening.
Among Orthodox Jews in America, the divorce rate is lower (10 percent), but it’s still much too high. To their credit, 85 percent of Orthodox couples stay married. This is a laudable and heartwarming.
Unlike the false characterization of the Orthodox on Netflix’s “My Unorthodox Life,” the Orthodox in the U.S., for the most part, are a beacon of light in a sea of serious decline in family values and commitments. The Orthodox have led by example on how to raise children and keep tradition alive.
As Noonan cites Levin claiming, the traditional social order in 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 we Orthodox Jews do not live in a vacuum and are influenced by society at large, the divorce crisis is very much upon us, which explains our community’s divorce rate, as comparatively low as it is.
Clinical psychologist Isaac Schechter, who has conducted landmark studies on divorce among the Orthodox, presented data in 2015—obtained from 310 respondents—which found that 57 percent of Orthodox divorces were acrimonious. This is disturbing, as is the phenomenon of the thousands of agunot, women refused Jewish divorces by their husbands and are therefore unable to remarry. In America, certain laws have helped somewhat to alleviate this situation—another unfortunate by-product of the divorce crisis.
Schechter lists the 10 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 is how to mitigate each of these factors, many of which can be rectified, to prevent divorce. This is an area in which we, as a society, must do better. Each individual must do his or her part, as well. Nobody should continue sitting on the sidelines.
Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage Foundation.