Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet…

Ask the Rabbi

Why is divorce rate so high?

Dear Rabbi,

Why is the Jewish divorce rate so high – even among strictly Orthodox couples? I thought we placed great emphasis on family.

JenniferASK THE RABBI 2

Dear Jennifer,

Nothing is surprising anymore. Ashley Madison was recently hacked, exposing some 35 million people. If you take into account this is just one site where people are willing to pay money to philander – plus the many who may not use the web for their indiscretions and we get near 100m people out there who are actively looking to be unfaithful. If you take into account the world’s population of approximately seven billion, less all the children, teenagers and unmarried, you get at least 10 percent of the universe who are involved in some form of extramarital behaviour and probably a lot more than that.

That translates to a lot of unhappy relationships because say what you want, when someone is looking for something beyond their own immediate relationship, it suggests instability and unhappiness. Today I would argue divorce is no longer taboo or as difficult as it once was, so many do their own self-reckoning and realise it’s better – and indeed emotionally easier – to start a new relationship and life rather than stay stuck in a rut with one eye on the exit while straying in the interim.

I know a young man stepping into marriage with some hesitation who was given sterling advice (cue sarcasm) by his father: “If it doesn’t work out, at least you tried!” How on earth does one enter into marriage with that sort of mindset? What does that say about our attitude towards relationships? We live in a disposable age where sometimes all you have to do is hit ‘delete’ and what is here today is gone tomorrow.

This has become as much a reality in Jewish circles as anywhere else because we are not immune from being lazy in our relationships. We must look to invest the time and energy to preserve the sacredness of our unions. To be sure, there are some genuinely unhappy marriages and it is only on account of ego and pride that they stay together.

This, too, is a tragedy. Granted, there are often children to consider, but I maintain – sometimes it is better that these children come from a broken home rather than live in a broken home. Sometimes divorce is the best option. But the bottom line remains that when you are prepared to commit to one another, it should be with a mindset of a lifetime commitment. When there are obstacles along the way, acknowledge and confront them. If you cannot manage on your own, seek professional help.

No one said marriage is easy and, like everything else you apply yourself to, you need to expend time and energy to make it work.

Don’t look for the quick get out or the internet alternatives. Like a flower than needs watering every day, appreciate that you are first and foremost soulmates and that you need to nurture what you have with constant attention. If more people submit to that, I genuinely believe our divorce rates would be considerably lower. But is it too late?

Dave’s problem is his, not mine

Dear Rabbi,

You must be very thick-skinned to put up with the nastiness in David Levy’s letter (10 September), saying he prefers Rabbi Livingstone to you! It would make me pretty miserable. I for one think you’re great and know numerous others who love your column. Welcome back! Geoffrey

Dear Geoffrey,

It is told of the famous Gaon of Vilna that he would hire someone to berate him occasionally, as it would enable him then to introspect better. So David Levy’s tirade of abuse was refreshing, apart from his one choice word, “miserable.”

I’m a happy-go-lucky person. I think he was most likely projecting. When I was a boy, my father taught me the meaning of “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. We always have a choice to allow ourselves to be affected by the sourpusses around us, or rise above it and let whatever verbal projectiles bounce right off.

I know that for every David Levy out there, there are at least 10 who enjoy my column. So, am I going to let some whiner drag me down? Doesn’t that give him the upper hand? The irony is I’ve been writing this column now for more than a decade and however much he hates it, he keeps reading it. It makes you wonder what kind of glutton for punishment he must be, right? It’s not the first time he’s written such a letter either.

If venting helps him sleep better, then all the better for him. But I won’t lose sleep over anything he’s written. At a rabbis’ conference years ago, a concern was expressed by one rabbi: “How do I deal with the few congregants who never have a nice word to say to me and are always looking to moan?”

Former Chief Rabbi Sacks replied most poignantly: “You’re not going to change them and we all have them. You can only change your attitude to how they make you feel. Learn to understand that it is not your problem. It is their problem!”

An important lesson in life is to surround yourself with happy people – the grouches will only look to pull you down. I do hope ol’ Dave finds some inner peace – and thank you for your kind welcome.