I have previously written about the very painful topic of divorce in our community. As the number of divorces of young couples climb to unprecedented proportions, leaving devastated families and at times devastated communities in its wake; the Torah community as a whole has not stepped up adequately to address this modern plague in our community.
From a personal perspective, in my first fifteen years of being blessed with the opportunity of serving as a community Rov, I dealt with approximately ten divorces. In my last five years, I have dealt with approximately ten each year. I’ve often been asked something that I’ve already been asking myself for years; what is the common denominator connecting the reasons for so many divorces today, particularly amongst young people.
Until recently, I’ve felt that there really is no common denominator to be found. Sometimes it’s a result of overwhelming economic pressures; sometimes due to meddling parents. At times it’s due to a lack of Middos, and sometimes one spouse has grown in a different direction from his or her spouse. There are even times that they are so incompatible that they never should have gotten married to begin with (though this is not all too common).
However, lately I have begun to sense that there is a common thread on most of the young divorces that I have been involved with (emphasis on “most,” not all), and it’s something that some of my distinguished colleagues have expressed as well.
Before I offer my thoughts to you, I must introduce it with a disclaimer. There is all too common an attitude that every community problem that exists today is because of our Yeshivas. Our Yeshivas are the source and reason for all our problems.
I remember about twenty-five years ago, a prominent educator rose up to speak to alert the community to a growing problem of Yeshiva kids going off he derech (today it is politically correct to call them “Kids at Risk).” In what was for the most part a masterful and insightful presentation, he concluded his remarks with the statement “that the cause of these problems are clearly and without doubt, today’s Yeshivas.”
As soon as he concluded his remarks, the late Telzer Rosh Hayeshiva, Rav Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, who was in the audience jumped up onto his feet and thundered in his powerful and eloquent style, “luz up dem Yeshivos, vus is Kodesh Kodashim,” (loosely translated) “Leave the Yeshivas alone, they are the Holy of Holies).”
I still remember and hear his words ringing in my ears, “stop blaming the Yeshivas, our most valuable possession, for causing all of society’s ills.” I have shared this recollection with many authors, educators and speakers who have somehow laid the blame of our community’s ills at the feet of the Yeshivas.
Despite the above, I with great trepidation and reverence for all Yeshivas, and their dedicated staff, feel that deep in my heart I sense that in some measure Yeshivas have created a foundation for many future failed marriages.
Permit me to explain.
In the last hundred and fifty years, Yeshivas were identified by the Rosh Hayeshiva of the Yeshiva. His style, personality and derech defined the character of the Yeshiva and the students for the most part were identified by their connection and relationship with the Rosh Hayeshiva. Rav Boruch Ber’s talmidim were distinguished from the talmidim of the Alter of Slabodka in many aspects, as were the Talmidim of Mir and Telz.
Each Rosh Hayeshiva left his imprint on the students, who (again for the most part) developed a lifelong connection to their beloved Rebbe. In my days, things were no different.
I have had the great fortune of being zoche to be a lifelong talmid of my Rebbe, the late Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zt”l. He didn’t just teach us how to read a Gemorah, Rashi or Tosfos; he taught us how to think and how to act. We revered him and we loved him. We talked to him about anything and everything; from politics to current events. Most of all we shared everything with him, and he guided us and supported us at every step of our lives.
More important, he knew us better than we knew ourselves. When we married, we consulted with him and he was available to all of us whenever we needed his advice or input. If these were questions or difficulties in communication in a marriage, we had a Rebbe to help us through. Many of the talmidim, long after they went out into the world, relied upon his wisdom and his caring to guide us through life’s challenges.
There were numerous times in my own married life that we had decisions to make, at times we may have even seen things differently; but often at my wife’s suggestion, let’s call the Rosh Hayeshiva for this thoughts on this issue. While he would never tell us what to do, he often clarified the issues for us to make the necessary decision.
This was not only the way of the talmidim from my yeshiva, those from Yeshiva Chaim Berlin had Rav Hutner, zt”l; had Rav Hutner, zt”l; Yeshiva Torah Vadaas had Rav Yaakov zt”l, and then Rav Pam zt”l; and so did many others from their respective Yeshivas.
And yes while there were divorces in my days as well, it wasn’t decisions made just by a young husband and wife, invariably the husband would discuss the issues and problems with his Rebbe and often things would fall into place.
I’m not sure why or when this has changed. Today the vogue is to send our sons to large institutional Yeshivos with thousands of talmidim, whether here or in Eretz Yisroel; where the atmosphere is truly inspiring but the connection to a Rebbe is non-existant. Many of our sons, within a year or two after high school, join these large colossal Yeshivos where they make many friends, learn many blatt, but do not develop a connection with a Rebbe that they can turn to in the ensuing years.
And while we can debate the necessity of having a real Rebbe to maximize one’s learning potential; without doubt the void left in one’s life without a Rebbe is undeniable.
This phenomenon has become the norm, rather than the exception. Several weeks ago, I was asked by the father of a kallah, who was an old student of mine if I would honor them by being the Mesader Kiddushin at his daughter’s wedding. I asked him, “doesn’t the Siddur Kiddushin generally go to the Chosson’s Rebbe, and since he had learn’t several years in Yeshiva, surely he would want his Rebbe to have that honor.
The father responded, “the Chosson learnt two years in a large Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel, and is in his third year in a large yeshiva in the states, and has never had any eal contact with any of the Roshei Yeshiva, and so he is fine with passing on the honor to the Kallah’s family.
How sad, how tragic, how unfortunate that this young couple are starting out their new life together without the benefit of the wise counsel and special love that only a devoted Rebbe can have for his student and his new family.
What I have begun to take notice, that in the majority of the divorce cases that come to my attention (again, not all) while the reason for the difficulties vary greatly; an underlying common thread that these two young people have to deal with the pressures of a struggling relationship all on their own without the confidence and support of a Rosh Hayeshiva or Rebbe. That situation often results in them making mistakes either in word or deed, that often when they finally end up at my door or at the door of my colleagues, it is often beyond repair.
If this observation is correct, and the underlying common problem is the lack of connection to a Rebbe or Rosh Yeshiva in the crucial Yeshiva years; then the current situation in many of the very large Yeshivas, where young men, 19, 20 and beyond have to develop themselves in Torah and Mussar is not only wrong, it is downright tragic.
Often, after a lengthy painful session with a young couple at times with several children going through the divorce process, and when I ask them if they have a Rebbe or Rosh Hayeshiva to consult with, and often the answer is no; I feel two things. One, how blessed I was to have been zoche to have developed a lifelong relationship with such a wonderful and dedicated Rebbe; and second, how much I truly miss his presence and guidance with each and every passing day.
Maybe what is needed to stem the tide of so many divorces today; is to take a long hard lok at what is happening in our beloved and treasured Yeshivohs. Where are we heading, how do we reconnect with the Rebbe/Talmid relationships that developed generations of not only wonderful Talmedei Chachomim, but of happy and stable homes to go with it. We need to do this now, before we get to the stage when it becomes the next “crisis” in our community. Some of us may feel, we are already there.
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