The JIIS forum on haredi research recently met to discuss the issue of divorce within the ultra-orthodox sector. Not only is divorce frowned upon in this sector, but being such a closed community there has hitherto been little option for broader discussion, or advice seeking, on the subject. This may be changing, judging by the lively discussion that took place at the meeting.
“There does seem to be an awakening of the subject in ultra-orthodox circles,” says Asaf Malchi, coordinator of the forum and a longtime researcher of the haredi community. “There is still a negative attitude in general to the idea, because ‘the family has to be strong,’ ‘what will people think?’ and other inherent views, but there are numerous indicators that this is slowly changing, just as it has in society in general.”
At the meeting, Dr. Anat Bart, who researches divorce among the ultra-orthodox and is herself a member of the community, outlined the picture. She noted that haredis dealing with the idea of divorce have to take into account three “rings”: the individual-within-the-immediate-family ring, the immediate-family-within-the-extended-family ring, and the family vis-à-vis the community ring. Each of these is a hurdle, steeped in religious-based conflict, guilt and more often than not economic pressure. Moreover, she added, the guilt and shame may also extend to the parents of the couple seeking a divorce, since they played a role in brokering and approving the “shiduch” [arranged marriage].
And yet, a rise in the number of support groups and hotline calls for help point to a shift in thinking. Mental illness and violence are among the triggers, though not the only ones. Divorce in this sector, however, can be a long, drawn-out process, says Malchi. It begins within the home, but until it gets to the family’s rabbi who ultimately recommends that the religious court grant the divorce can take many years.
Among the 15 participants at the meeting was Aharon Malach, who founded the Em Habanim organization in 2002, to help post-divorce families within that community, particularly women who are afraid to seek help from the authorities. Also present was ultra-orthodox social worker Nati Becker, who noted that it might help if haredis received more instruction and preparation before embarking on a marriage, especially as they marry so young and with little experience in life, let alone in relationships.
The JIIS forum on haredi research brings together researchers and experts, including from within the ultra-orthodox community, to explore topical subjects and draft policy recommendations.