Divorce & BTs

In actuality, this article was started about twenty-five years ago.

I was a bachur in Ohr Somayach, Yerushalayim, at the time. Despite struggles with the realities of becoming observant, I still wore a nice pair of rose-colored glasses about the world I was entering. Yes, there were challenges and even real problems, but it was still a disinfected picture of life in the yeshiva lane I beheld.

Then, casually – it was during a walk in Meah Shearim on a bright, late summer Shabbos afternoon – someone in a group I was strolling about with remarked that he heard Rabbi Gottlieb say that the divorce rate of baalei teshuva was as high as those of the general, secular world.

First there was disbelief.

“Are you sure you heard that?” another person asked. Yes, he seemed to be sure. Furthermore, he said, he heard that in Rabbi Gottlieb’s opinion baalei teshuva should date for six months, not six weeks, before they get engaged.

Truth be told, I never had those claims confirmed: that the divorce rate of BTs was as high as in the secular world and that Rabbi Gottlieb had actually said it or that BT dating should last six months. Nevertheless, the conversation stuck with me.

Flash forward about a year later. I am now a fully committed BT learning full-time in yeshiva. I am at a weekend retreat with my fellow bachurim. The previous year, a slightly older peer – I’ll call him Michoel – had made Kiddush for us. I envied Michoel: he was intelligent, deeply committed, funny, personable, creative. And he had a wife who was as intelligent and spiritual as she was attractive. They were the picture of perfection in my mind.

Now, a year later, I sat at Michoel’s table, and he was making Kiddush again… but his wife was not there. They had since divorced. (They had been married long enough to have a child.)

This sent me for a loop. I never asked him what happened, but his divorce stuck in my gut. Michoel was someone I could relate to; someone who had achieved, externally at least (internally, too, it seemed), many of the things I dreamed of. Yet, his picture perfect life was shattered. And with it my own picture of perfection about becoming a baal teshuva. If one wasn’t careful, one could stumble and fall like Michoel, like his wife, like the 50% or more secular and/or non-Jewish Americans who divorce.

Anyway, to this day I still do not know if, in fact, the divorce rate of baalei teshuva is comparable to that in the secular world, but I have witnessed or heard of enough divorce, to say nothing of difficult marriages, among baalei teshuva to ask the following question: What are the pressures and circumstances that might put more strain on a marriage of baalei teshuva than others?

I suspect that the answer is: strains that are no different than those of becoming a BT in the first place.

For instance, if it can be said that a baal teshuva tends to have less familial support than an FFB, then the baal teshuva couple has more strain on them because they tend to not have parents to give them the same degree of physical, emotional and/or financial support one might typically get from FFB parents.

(Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. My own parents, baruch Hashem, took the hour-and-a-half ride to visit us three or four times a month for over a decade. This had an enormously positive impact on my children. Often, I thought to myself how the kids would have fared without them.)

There are greater financial stresses and requirements needed to live the observant life. In theory, and often in practice, they are offset by positive communal attitudes and a healthy Torah outlook. However, is that always enough? And what about baalei teshuva who do not have the deepest roots in a community or perhaps even the same depth of Torah wisdom to apply this knowledge?

The strains of raising and being mechanech children: It can put a strain on any marriage when children have difficulties in school. Many BT parents lack the learning skills to teach their children beyond the elementary school years. This is another extra strain.

I am sure there are other things, but I want to leave this article more open-ended. What are examples of other strains, in your opinion? What are the worst ones? What are your strains and what do you do and/or what can anyone do about them?

Do you even accept the premise of this article: that BT divorce rates are as high as (higher than?) secular divorce rates? Do you think they are higher than FFB divorce rates?

I look forward to the usual spirited and articulate responses.

77 comments on “Divorce & BTs

  1. To Leah #76: While I sympathize with your plight, I beg to disagree with you about marriage in “the shtetl days.” People stayed married not because they were stronger but ironically because they were weaker. Husbands and wives were interdependent, not always a good thing because spouses wound up trapped in abusive marriages by poverty. Many husbands took off for America, and not all of them were responsible enough to send money and tickets for their wives and children. Some Jewish men just up and left and nobody ever heard from them again, leaving behind in the shtetl starving Agunot.

    I do agree with you that the la-la land of dating gives no clue as to the real character and inner strength of the person whom you’re marrying. Even being married (in good times) gives no clue about the commitment of one’s partner to slog through the bad times together.

    The only factor that made marriage easier years ago was the financial pressure on men by society to be good husbands and fathers. Men who mistreated their wives and children were shunned and could lose their jobs or their customers. Nowadays nobody cares what goes on behind closed doors. A man can beat up his wife, get divorced, claim “my wife was crazy,” get married again, beat up wife number two, get divorced again, and walk away like Teflon Don, super clean and nothing ever sticks to him.

    Also, I don’t know about the official statistics or the hard numbers, but it seems that like the Marines, there are only a “few good men” out there. If there are ten nice Jewish women for every available nice Jewish man, then it is incredibly easy for any husband to walk out and call it quits…nine other women are waiting.

  2. Great advice Danny. After less than 3 years of marriage I’m now separating with my husband and it’s been completely devastating and out of the blue. He hasn’t been willing to resolve the issues that I didn’t even know where so bad for him that he’d be willing to end a marriage over it. It’s all about his feelings (that I wasn’t aware of) and nothing about us, together, working things out now. Some of you have commented about the shtetl days and I completely agree – that generation had the strength to get through much tougher times. No one had fairy tale expectations because life was hard and people battled through it. I always say that it’s easy to have a good marriage when things are easy but it’s when troubles start that people’s real character comes through. How can this character be tested/seen while dating when things are fluffy and nice??? People tend to always say they’re tough and family-orientated when dating, but how do you really know the truth?

    Out of everything that happens to us we need to make conclusions/outcomes/learnings. I’ve learned that my partner has to get along with my family (or at least be open minded enough to sit back and let people be as they are – i.e. if they’re not frum, that doesn’t make them bad, just different). A partner has to be an optimist, a fighter, but still accept people for who they are. We BTs can often have a chip on our shoulder – just remember that if you’ve chosen to change your morals it doesn’t make everyone who didn’t is ‘bad’. Also, Hashem will take your life wherever it needs to go. We just have to remember that we don’t control everything and at the end of the day, make the best decisions we can at the time we make them.

    So where to from here? Back to the drawing board to find another person that I think I’m compatible with and look for the signs better than I had.

  3. Hey everyone!

    I want to share my experience in the shidduch game…

    In my BT Yeshiva, being allowed to date and getting/being married were seen as signs of having made it in your religiousness. I got the ok to date and met with various shadchanim telling them what I wanted. What did I know what I wanted!? I was young as clueless of who I was and what I really wanted religiously. I met a few girls who I said no to immediately. Then I dated my ex-wife who was of average looks and I kind of thought was ok. It was so parve that I gave it date after date. My rav pushed me even though I said I wasn’t attracted to her and wasn’t that interested in her. He told me to have bitachon and that if Hashem had put her in front of me then it was a sign that it was right. He told me that it didn’t matter if I was into er or not. It wasn’t “disney” love. (I have to say that I take full responsibility for my decision on my side. I made the decision and no one held a gun to my head. saying that…) I listed to him naively and it was a disaster. I asked another rav and he told me that I’d appreciate her when she gives me babies… The marriage was still very plain, I avoided her, and she knew there was problems. Worse, after a year I really started to grow and then knew who I was and what I wanted out of life. There were more and more arguments, not major but there. She wasn’t what I wanted at all! She revolted me and I had no respect for her. I over powered her constantly and made her cry due to my huge Alpha personality. I gave it 5 years, tried hard and gave it a lot of patience. The best thing I could do was to leave. It left me bitter about my leaving my successful life for yeshiva and the whole life style. At first I blamed her and wanted her to be the wife I wanted. Then I realized that I couldn’t expect her to be someone she wasn’t. The marriage was doomed from the start. I don’t know how many BT’s go through this but I wanted this post to be here for others who are going/went through the same…

    My advice:

    1. Don’t trust any Rav that hasn’t gone through all of Torah 20-30 times, chazras it each year, lives it, is switched on and with it. Then there’s a chance for him to have daas Torah (nowadays, most people don’t have Daas Torah. Just cause you have smicha, it doens’t mean you’re qualified to give eytza. I got smicha, like everyone else nowadays, and I’m still an am ha’aretz)… And still, if the rav had daas Torah, he likely doesn’t know you. He’ll have to meet with you once a week for many years to know you and give you advice. And still, you don’t have to take it.

    2. Date for at least 6 months and most likely a year. You can only date for 2 weeks if you know each other from the shtetal and grew up together. Then you know him/her and the rest is easy(er).

    3. Know who you are. Grow a ton and then grow some more. Know what your core beliefs are about yourself and the world and how they affect you. Know your values, write them out and order them.

    4. Know what you want in life. Have clear written goals.

    5. Know what you want in a marriage partner and why. You want someone who will complement you but you have to be somewhat alike. To complement you means that they should make up for any weakness you may have but not in a way (or in something) that will cause problems or be looked down on.

    6. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ll go into kollel and somehow make it. Have a plan, a way to make a living, and savings behind you.

    7. Only marry if/when you’re sure the person is right for you.

    8. Be strong in where you’re going religiously and be a BT for at least 5 years including a couple of years in the working world. You really don’t know who you are in Yeshiva/Sem.

    I hope this is useful. Bring on the heckle ; )


    ps After 2 years apart from my ex-wife, I see it was the best thing to leave her. I support her emotionally and help her anyway I can. It wasn’t her fault. She was pushed into this situation like me and a lot of others. Now I try to help her find someone that’s right for her.

  4. That is, she became a Democratic Party committeewoman in Highland Park, NJ. Two of our Jewish political friends (ladies from England and Uruguay!) cooked up this shidduch.

  5. Leah, I got talked into becoming the committeewoman for our district and got talked into going to the “meeting” where Bob and I met. I also was the only one who didn’t know what was going on. Everyone else, including Bob, knew the’meeting’ was only an excuse so we could meet. Needless to say, I’m glad I went.;)

  6. Fern –

    Just saw your comment and WOW! So there IS another person like me around (a BT woman married to a man who never became observant – he and I are very happy otherwise). I wish there were some way you and I could get in touch. Or, that there were a support group especially for women like us.

  7. Shalom Bob,

    I can’t resist … at least she wasn’t backing the Democrat and you the Republican! :-D

    True story. I’ve always been interest in politics, and before I became frum, I was a lifelong avowed (Canadian) Liberal, which is a little right of U.S. liberalism, but much to the left of conservatives.

    I understood later the correlation between Torah values and conservatism.

    At any rate, just two years before I got caught up in my personal BT tsunami, I was a very active worker on the campaign for a Liberal candidate in my Toronto riding.

    He got elected by a landslide — and went on to become the government official that overturned a critical (and hotly contested) piece of legislation passed by the preceding Conservative government and soundly backed by the frum community — tax rebates for religious education.

    By then, my political sensibility had swung solidly to the right. And after I finished kicking myself all the way around the block, I decided politics was no place for the devoted.

    Two years ago though, a frum woman lost her bid for a seat in provincial government, campaigning on that same issue — reinstating the tax break for religious education.

    This year, a frum man was elected municipally on the same issue.

    One small step for frumkind. :~)

    Leah L

  8. Charnie and Miriam P. Add me to the list of the mentorless (or maybe the many, many mentors but no one mentor).

    There is a lot of good marriage advice out there and a lot of bad marriage advice out there. I think parents play an extremely important role even if they are not at the same “level” as their children because they raised them and have a good idea of what they can or can’t handle and their life experience is that much more and they might be able to spot red flags that their kids might not be able to see in the midst of the moment. Rarely have I seen a situation where the parents needed shut out and supportive parents make a marriage so much more plesant. So I couldn’t agree with Bob Miller more.

    P.S. Please excuse my inexcusable spelling and grammatical errors. They make my head spin too.

  9. Our “shidduch” was made as part of a political campaign in New Jersey. Sharon and I belonged then to two groups backing the same slate of candidates. She was a party committeewoman and I was on a civic committee board. Two Jewish ladies (one from England in Sharon’s party and one from Uruguay in my civic committee!) decided to set up a bogus political strategy meeting so we could meet.

  10. Miriam and Charnie,

    Your comments remind me of something I heard from a Rav who has extensive experience with BTs. He told me years ago that in his experience BT couples who came to Torah after they were together had better marriages. If I understood him correctly, he attributed this, in part at least, to dating not through the “system” (i.e. to quote Miriam P: not doing “the shidduch thing”); to getting to know each other in ways that were more in line with their upbringings.

    He felt that mentors at or involved with BT organizations, as well meaning as they are, could just as often give BTs bad advice and push them into unnatural situations.

    So maybe your lack of mentoring was an advantage and helped you create strong marriages.

  11. Being another mentorless BT – ie, I came into this on my own, not through any particular organization, kiruv or otherwise, so Miriam P’s sentiments very much hit home.

    It is imperative for BT’s to get over the “I better hide my secular parents or the shidduch won’t work” mentality. Our parents raised us, and therefore had a big part in creating who we are, albeit not the Torah aspect, but hopefully the middos. If a potential spouse isn’t willing to accept your family, it’s setting things up for disaster, and what kind of respect for parents would we be teaching our own kids if we don’t show proper respect for our own, with the “they never had an opportunity to learn about mitzvahs” explanation tagged on if necessary.

    We also paid for our own wedding. My mother thought (prior to the simcha) that it was a “waste of money”, that had less to do with religious beliefs then financial strategies. My husband’s parents were delighted. We did things economically, and small by today’s standards (under 200 people), but 20 years later I still can relish the memories of the simcha – it was freilich!

    Perhaps the shidduch approach is more relevant to BT’s who became frum when they were younger (college age?), and ahve the right contacts. Me – I met my husband through a mutual friend, and prior to that spent plenty of time in the “Orthodox Singles Scene – Elliot Udell weekends, YI of Flatbush socials, etc.”, which I don’t think even exisit today. Are we losing the forest through the trees in that young people now (my singles time was in the early 80’s) are more focused on how they’ll meet then who they’ll meet?

  12. Regarding SephardiLady’s comment of March 23rd, 2007 01:25 :

    Respect for the BT’s parents on the part of the BT’s rebbeim/teachers would go a long way toward future preventing problems, not only marriage-related problems. It’s not the job of the rebbe/teacher to show the BT how to shun his/her parents, quite the opposite.

  13. Miriam P-My parents were of the “send us an invitation” attitude also. :) My in-laws less so. But since we were paying for much of our low-cost wedding, we were much more free to do as we pleased.

    One crucial step I have seen BTs miss is the step where you introduce the person you are dating to your parents and the parents to each other. In a few situations I know of, the young man was told by his Rebbes that he should get engaged quickly (the frum thing to do) and both sets of parents where completely left out of the loop. What parent wants to get the surprise that their children are engaged to be married, asap no less, and they were unaware that someone was in their child’s life (for 6-8 weeks)! ?

    This is a huge chutzpah and is completely inappropriate for BTs (or FFBs-and those that advise this would be livid if their own children did so).

    I think parental support for a marriage creates a strong foundation and undermining such from the outset could hurt a marriage down the road if there are problems.

  14. Okay, I guess I’m the exception. I was raised “Traditional,” and now I’m Orthodox, so that makes me a BT, right? But I guess I forgot to have a “mentor,” I started out knowing at least a bit about all the holidays, I could read and write Hebrew, I came from a (mostly) Kosher home, had a clue about what was forbidden on Shabbos, although wasn’t really Shabbos observant. I started frumming out all on my own in High School, and finished in college, and was one of those “old-fashioned wait-for-marriage” types anyway, (and shy and a bit nerdy) so hadn’t really had any serious boyfriends (and only 1 or 2 non-serious) before I met my husband. (We never did the shidduch thing, since we met in College.) I was only his second girlfriend. He was FFB, but his parents are BTs, so he had plenty of experience interacting with secular relatives.

    At any rate, we both went into marriage with the mindset that marriage is forever, and divorce is only for serious issues like abuse. And yes, we did date for several years, mostly because I was still in the process of becoming frum, and he wanted to make sure I meant it and that I would reach a level compatible with his.

    I found SephardiLady’s comment about interacting with the parents of BTs for arranging the wedding amusing, because both sets of parents, while thrilled for us, basically said “send us an invitation.” (Mine had one child in college, his had several still in Yeshiva) So we arranged and paid for our own wedding, with his credit card. See, we actually listened to the “low-budget/fuss” takanah! And it was still the best wedding I’ve ever been to, and not just because it was mine.

    I shudder to hear about people who go into marriage saying, “well, if it doesn’t work out, we can always get a divorce.” I think it poisons the marriage from the get-go, because where’s the incentive to work things out? We never considered divorce an option, and we’ve got a strong marriage to show for it (10 years and 7 kids later). And yes, I think Taharas HaMishpacha helps, because it keeps things in perspective, reminding us that neither of us really owns the other.

    Also, we approach each obstacle that life throws at us together, keeping in mind that it too comes from Hashem. It’s not him against me, it’s us against (but against is really the wrong word) the world, with Hashem’s help. Whether it’s financial, or related to the children, or even Pesach cleaning, we’re in this together, to the end.

  15. Albany Jew:

    Apologies if it sounded as if I disregarded your comments! Actually, I enjoy discussions with you and wanted others to chime in!

  16. I know I’m not supposed to comment but I can’t help myself. Another thing that someone who became BT at a later date (let’s say over 30) has experience with, is the emptyness of secular dating (for the most part) and might have less of a desire to “see what’s out there” because it wasn’t all that great. (once again, for the most part)

  17. Dina,

    IMHO focusing on the stresses a BT may face that an FFB might not, is not the key issue. These are “outside factors,” and every family experiences stresses. The key issue is what two people are bringing to the marriage in terms of personality development, their ability to form intimate relationships, their ability to communicate in stressful situations, their reaction to stressful events, etc.

    Good point. But I wouldn’t underestimate “outside factors.” No one is an island. No one is a rock. Outside factors can shake up and profoundly impact the happiness and well-being of even very internally strong people.

    Unfortunately, the more exposed a person was to the dysfunctional secular culture, the more likely it is that they have absorbed dysfunctional habits or have not developed a full and adult personality.

    Yes, but FFBs and FFB households can have this exposure just as much. Perhaps in some cases more. And not only households, but it’s possible that a particular FFB subculture can be infected, so to speak, with a negative, non-Torah attitude.

    I’ll give you an example. Some of us grew up very sensitized to prejudice against certain ethnic groups only find that they are openly expressed in FFB circles.

    If your assumption is that secular households are completely devoid of Torah attitudes, while FFB households, are completely immune to them, then I would disagree.

    I don’t think you assume that. But perhaps your perception is not yet fully in line with the reality that secular households can and probably do include very strong and good values while some FFB households, and perhaps even subcultures are lacking those good ones and/or harboring some bad ones.

    I don’t want to come across as saying there’s no advantage to an FFB household/upbringing. A real one. I believe there are, otherwise I wouldn’t have created one — tried to create one to the best of my ability — for my children myself. I’m just saying, like Albany Jew, that it’s not realistic to paint one side an automatically dysfunctional and another side as automatically “functional.”

    Additionally, if a person’s parents did not have Torah values, it is likely that his/her role models in marriage were faulty

    I remember a lecture by Avi Shulman. Someone asked him what to tell children who ask why grandma and grandpa are not frum. He said he would answer: True, they do not keep the full Torah yet, but I became frum because I learned many good and Torah values from them. For example, they are kind and that instilled me with the value of chesed. They appreciated study and instilled me with the ability to appreciate Torah. Etc.

    In other words, I am very skeptical of a BT who says that their parents did not give them any Torah values. Maybe they didn’t call it Torah values, but they really were. Remember the Mishnah: Derech eretz kodman l’Torah, “Basic decency precedes Torah.”

    ie: how did your parents argue? did they argue in front of you? was there violence? did they disagree about petty things? was there flexibility displayed? was the father sensitive to the mother’s needs/did he speak positively about her to the children and visa versa? did the parents reinforce each other’s discipline toward the children? were a person’s own parents divorced/if so, they probably have trust issues?

    All these things can and do happen in FFB homes.

    In addition, BTs acquire other personality-destoying baggage from their previous romantic (or otherwise) relationships. How many rejections after trusting someone can a person experience without it affecting him/her? The Torah says that every intimate relationship makes an impression on a person’s soul. That means that BTs are much more likely to begin their marriage somewhat crippled. Sad, but that’s the reality as I see it.

    Yes, I agree with this. This would tend to be an issue more often and more intensely associated with BTs than FFBs. However, at the same time, some BTs will turn this into a positive. Their negative experience makes them more energetically committed to not repeating it. Or, perhaps, their numerous experiences with failed and successful relationships somehow makes them wiser and able to have a depth of relationship that they might not have acquired had they been raised otherwise.

    All these factors and more affect a person’s inner core, and unfortunately, we as BTs are more likely to have absorbed bad lessons and bring more baggage into a marriage relationship.

    Nothing I’ve said automatically negates this. I’m just saying it’s not necessarily always so.

    Of course, being an FFB is no guarantee that he or she was raised in an ideal way, with ideal modeling. However, most FFBs haven’t had casual romantic relationships, and the Torah values in their home hopefully had a positive impression. It is pretty likely that most BTs in contrast bring at least some baggage into a relationship.

    FFBs can have their own baggage. IOW, baggage is not only a function of having experienced casual relationships. It’s only one type of “baggage.”

    There’s a parody book someone showed me called, “Bitter with Baggage Seeks Same.” Bitter is not good. But baggage is probably a given. Who has no baggage? The question is what type of baggage? There’s an argument to say that BTs have more. But I don’t think it’s necessarily so. And it’s certainly not always so.

    All the other stresses can be handled if both parties are basically healthy.

    I would say the more emotionally, psychologically and spiritually healthier they are the better they will be able to handle the stresses.

  18. David (#55), I think 100% of the married women reading this jsut forwarded your comment to their husbands.

    Dina, I read your comments with great interest and agree with them completely! And also Ora’s earlier comments with marriage advice. As someone who became frum in the latter half of her 20’s, for sure I’d had boyfriends before changing gears. Frankly, I don’t know if mentally I ever really focused on dating in a “frum” way, since my dating patterns were already fully ingrained. Perhaps I just got lucky, B”H.

    Among the various bits of advice about marriage and dating posted herein, there’s a key one alluded to, but not mentioned outright – people shouldn’t marry one another just because “I’m frum, you’re frum”. Marriage is a lot more complicated then just finding common haskafa (which isn’t to say that that’s easy either). One time I was at a well known frum single’s event, and spoke to the person in charge about the difficulty I, as a BT without the family and friend resources to help me find shidduch, was having. The person just about dragged me over to a young man in the room and said “here, so and so, this is Charnie…”. Not one bit of information was shared about what kind of person am I, what’s my personality like, my goals, etc. Fortunately (unbeknowst to the “shaddichun”, the guy was someone I knew from my neighborhood, so we both had a good laugh.

    Wow, a lot can happen on this site if I don’t visit for a few days!

  19. “Frumster stats -which with almost 7,000 women, represents between 9-25% of the total Orthodox population of single women -which is an enormous and significant percentage for a survey.”

    Unless you have reason to know that the estimated 9-25% is a cross-section of the 100%, you can’t draw conclusions.

  20. I would suggest to the married men commentators that we can do our part to lower the divorce rate in Klal Yisrael–roll up your sleeves and help in the Pesach cleaning!

    An avreich once complained to the Steipler that his wife was consistently late for lighting the Shabbos candles. His response: “Pick up a broom and help.”

    Perhaps we can make the time by cutting back on blogs!

  21. OK, according to Israel’s official stats (which probably underestimate the orthodox if anything), out of 5.31 million Jews living in Israel, 8% are Hareidi, 9% are national religious, and 12% are traditional religious (orthodox). So a total of at least 1.54 million frum ppls here.

  22. Yakov–Given that Israel’s Orthodox population is well over 1 million, and quite possibly over 1.5 million, I really doubt your figures. Add in Belgium, Russia, England, etc and of course America and I think you’ll get a much higher number.

    I don’t think it’s insulting to online daters to point out that the population is self-selecting. I don’t think it’s self-selecting in terms of religious level. But it makes sense that older daters, converts and BTs, or frum divorcees would be more likely to use a dating site, since they would be less likely to find a partner through the traditional shidduch system or by being introduced by a friend (b/c they know everyone in their community already, don’t have many friends in the community yet, or are considered relatively undesirable by shadhanim respectively).

  23. Does anyone besides Albany Jew have any comments about my post (#23)concerning the extra baggage a BT may bring in to a marriage being a potential for contributing to a (perhaps) higher divorce rate?

  24. P.S. I didn’t mean to sound uncivil or presumptuous, and I apologize for my tone. I’m sure no condescension was meant.

  25. Hi Yaakov and Ruth,

    Thanks for commenting.

    I actually know more secular people than frum, having been BT only around 4 years, and having already spent 35 years on the planet.

    People from secular backgrounds post profiles on Frumster because they are BT’s. Same way people do here.

    There is a non-Orthodox section on Frumster, but it is segregated and not searchable by a frum member.

    I’ve found people’s self-assessments of their hashgafas to be fairly accurate. Most modern orthodox women don’t pretend to be Haredi, and vice versa. And secular women don’t generally make a point of trying to marry orthodox men.

    In using divorce rates, I used the conventional definition as was used in the study that I cited, and in most studies. I’mJewish’s observation was astute and my eyes were opened, but it isn’t commonplace.

    It should be clear though that the percentages I am citing are not a percentage of the frum population as a whole, (or even of the supposedly dubious second class segment of the “frum” populace who would stoop to using an online dating site), but only are percentages of the single (currently not married) Orthodox women -which is a different kind of stat.

    Using some very loose estimates: The world Orthodox Population is approximately 1.5 million. If we were to assume that women made up one half of that population (even though they probably make up slightly more than half)there would be 750,000 OJ women worldwide. Given Orthodox population trends, probably 60-70 percent are below marriage age. using a 65% figure, that would mean that around 490,000 are out of contention, leaving @ 260,000 women. The question remains what percentage of these OJ women are married and which are single, and which are divorced? Its fair to assume that 70-90 percent are married and never divorced. Of the remainder, (around 26,000-80,000) which segment is single, and which has been divorced? Frumster stats -which with almost 7,000 women, represents between 9-25% of the total Orthodox population of single women -which is an enormous and significant percentage for a survey.

    Could the approximately 90% of single and divorced Jewish women who don’t advertise on Frumster, many of whom may be Ultra-frum throw off the predictions of the sample? Sure. Its possible -but we know that the Ultra-frum get divorced as well, and I think it very condescending to dismiss the 3801 FFB women on Frumster as “not representative” or as prone to misrepresenting themselves as being raised Orthodox.

    At minimum the evidence on Frumster shows that the casual observations made on this thread are pretty on target. Divorce is a big problem in the orthodox world, both for FFBs and BTs.


  26. I think there definitely is self-selection involved with Frumster. Among yeshivish people, the only people who would use it are those who are having a harder time finding a shidduch through traditional channels. Those who are both young and single are unlikely to use it. Those who are older and/or divorced are much more likely to do so. So I don’t think you can infer an over-all divorce rate based on the proportion of yeshivish people there who are divorced.

  27. Yakov,

    I know significantly more religious Jews who have been divorced than I do secular and liberal Jews and non-Jews.

    Do you also perhaps know significantly more religious Jews?

    Of those that have been divorced, 497 described themselves as having come from secular families.

    Just a question: If it is an Orthodox dating website why are secular women posting there?

    530 described themselves as coming from traditional families. 89 were converts, and 930 were from religious families!

    I went to school with a woman who liked telling me that she was Orthodox and grew up Orthodox. However, it was obvious she knew nothing about observance and wasn’t even observant herself. She really thought she was, though.

    We have to be wary of self-definitions. In addition, non-Orthodox women might be motivated to call themselves Orthodox on a dating website for the Orthodox. So I don’t know how seriously we can take your otherwise excellent idea for researching this.

    Yes, the 25% rate is shockingly high, but the secular rate is very close to the national average,

    According to Post 8 above this should be 20% for secular people. What is real and representative and what is not?

  28. Hi MG,

    The people who advertise on Frumster come from secular, traditional, religious, and gentile backgrounds. And they identify with a range of Hashgafas -they can select, “Modern Orthodox Liberal”, “Modern Orthodox Machmir”, Yeshivish Modern”, “Yeshivish Black Hat”, “Hassidish”, “Shomer Mitzvot”, and “Carlebachian.” And while perhaps the Frummest of the Frum don’t patronize the site, many Yeshivish identified people do, and the majority of posters are FFB.

    The sample is very broad, and very large, and so the answer as to whether a certain type of single Orthodox Jew puts a profile on Frumster is obviously no. I’d of course like to see the stats for the men for an even clearer picture. Perhaps some woman on this site who is also a member of Frumster can post them here?

  29. I don’t regard the small slice of life on Frumster as having any real statistical value, unless we have a good reason to know it is representative of the total Orthodox population.

    I’ll bet there are entire large Orthodox communities who don’t use Frumster at all, for one reason or another.

  30. Regarding frumster statistics: There may be a self-selection effect. Does a certain type of person choose to put a profile on frumster? The answer is obviously yes, but I can’t speculate about whether the details to that answer confound the numbers you are trying to gauge.

  31. Just to clarify the stats cited from Frumster. Of the the never married and widowed women, 2871 are FFB, 1045 come from traditional families, 98 are converts, and only 594 are secular.

    On the entire website there are 3801 FFbs, 1615 from Traditional backgrounds, 186 converts, and 1091 from secular backgrounds. What this means is that almost 25% of all the FFB women have been divorces, whereas almost 50% of the women from secular backgrounds have been divorced. Almost 33% of women raised traditionally have been divorced. These numbers make sense -divorce rates escalates as we move away from Orthodoxy. Yes, the 25% rate is shockingly high, but the secular rate is very close to the national average, and I think the sample of Orthodox women is large enough that the 25% figure is pretty accurate -perhaps as accurate as can be gotten without a massive, massive study being done.

  32. While other are commenting about the lack of a support system for BTs, I might argue that it also gives them a slight advantage. For example, an FFB couple basically just shows up to their wedding. A BT couple or a mixed FFB/BT couple might have to work on the details and negotiate between themselve and their parents on financial issues, seating arrangements, decorum, and more. The opportunity to communicate and face challenge together might break a relationship (something the Rabbi Falk wants couples to avoid if you read his book on Engagement meant for frum families of a certain circle), but I think there is an upside when you endure through these challenges as you build respect for your future spouse and you build trust. And if the opposite happens. . . .well, that can also be for the good.

  33. Yakov,
    We live in a predominately Ashkenazi community and have friends from Modern to Yeshivish and Chabad so the experiences I was relating have to do with the same groups you are talking about. We have friends whose marriages have dissolved in 3 months and in 3 years.

    In the really, really short marriages amongst young couples who went through the shidduch system, I believe that there were either major mistakes made and possibly deceptions on the part of one dater, a family, or a shadchan. I believe that the dating time frame is too short in general and that problems that might be present would surface with more time.

    Regarding your comments on Sephardim I believe you are headed in the correct direction. The men are expected to support their family and take pride in doing so. Those who do sit and learn tend to also pick up a “marketable skill,” either as a mohel or sofer or something outside of the learning world. Torah im Derech Eretz or Torah U’Madda is basically a given.

    A point you did not touch on is that Sephardim, while less religious overall, are far more traditional as a whole than Ashkenazim. Being that their exposure to Orthodoxy in their formative years in probably greater, they are possibly less likely to be taken to extremes. Also, those who are familiar with Hebrew have more direct access to the sources and texts.

    Like I pointed out above, the observance level in Sephardi families is somewhat lower and Sephardim in general are used to that. So you might have a husband who is always going to minyan, learing, etc, whose wife doesn’t cover her hair and/or wears pants and he is basically unphased by it. We know more than a handful of of couples like that.

    Also, it is hard to isolate the Sephardi community since there are few communities in the US where there are Sephardi schools and Sephardi-Sephardi marriages, outside of NY and Los Angeles. And in the next generation you will see more and more “mixed marriages” as the language barriers with the newer immigrants from the Mizrach assimilate more.

  34. I know significantly more religious Jews who have been divorced than I do secular and liberal Jews and non-Jews. I’ve been well aware that this is probably anomalous, but it still astonishes me.

    The best sense of actual numbers I’ve been able to gather is from Frumster, the Orthodox dating website. I wasn’t able to search through the men, being a man, but here are the (very surprising) results of my search through the women. Out of 6693 single women currently advertising in the Orthodox section on Frumster, 4,608 have never been divorced, whereas 2085 have been divorced. Of those that have been divorced, 497 described themselves as having come from secular families. 530 described themselves as coming from traditional families. 89 were converts, and 930 were from religious families!

    Now just because nearly half of the women on an Orthodox dating site are divorced doesn’t mean that the divorce rate amidst the orthodox overall is that high -and keep in mind that there are many more ffbs than there are bts, so it may well be that as a percentage of ffb’s, fewer divorce than bts.

    On a semi-tangent, a recent study “Trends in Marital Dissolution by Women’s Education in the United States” by Steven P. Martin reveals that for college educated American women in contrast with those with less than 4 years of college the divorce rate dropped from 29% to 16.5% from 1975 to 1994. It increased for those with no HS diploma, with just a HS diploma, and slightly decreased for those with some college. Given that more BT’s are college educated than are FFB’s, this might explain some of the disparity in that almost twice as many female FFB’s on Frumster have been divorced as BT’s. This would certainly throw a monkey wrench into the fierce Beyondbt debates about secular college.

  35. “Bob Miller
    March 21st, 2007 11:58 There’s an assumption going around that the hard data exist to prove or disprove assertions or guesses made here. Do we know this?

    Yaakov Astor
    March 21st, 2007 12:06 Bob, what assertions are you referring to?”

    Any assertions about things like divorce rate vs. religious category (such as BT, FFB, Othodox, Jewish, Total Population…). We may have plausible ideas that lack confirming data.

  36. Zelig,

    You bring up a point that has been touched on in a few comments (as well as other posts and comments on this website), namely: Do not reliquish your sense of what’s best for you.

    This is a very crucial point that I don’t think can be overemphasized.

    When a person enters Torah observance he encounters hashkafas about the ultimate respect we have to have for Torah, for talmidei chachamim, our Rabbonim, etc. He is told that the Torah is above mere intellect; Torah is a Revelation that happened on Sinai after all. If your intellect conflicts with Torah then your intellect is wrong.

    All of these are true hashkafas — BUT they can be taken out of context and/or applied in ways that are DANGEROUS to the BT.

    First, the typical BT by definition already has some very good instincts for right and wrong, truth and falsehood, by the very fact that he or she has chosen to move closer to Torah.

    Second, there are areas that are black and white, but others that are not. Marriage is not. It is not a halacha berurah. It’s not: If I become frum I have to keep kashrus, put on tefillin, say Shema, etc. Marriage is just about the most personal decision one will make, and comes with all the gray areas a complex human personality can generate.

    I, unfortunately, have personally known several people who were pressured to marry (by their rabbis or peers or simply within themselves) as you describe, Zelig. This is all the more reason that the statement I made in the article in the name of Rabbi Gottlieb, and the Comment that SephardiLady made, is so important: go out for a long time. As long as you need. And then some.

    As a BT you are still integrating information long after you make the commitment. You are still making adjustments and feeling your way even years later (maybe till 120).

    You may, for instance, intellectually agree that kollel life is for you, and yet be totally unaware that inside your instincts are wondering if indeed it is. The longer you go out with a person the more chance you have of unearthing this conflict and coming to grips with it — BEFORE you take the leap.

    Often a BT does not feel he has the right or ability to confront advise that goes against an instinct. It’s the yetzer hara or whatever, he says to himself. But it could be the exact opposite. The instinct could be right and what he thinks is the Torah’s position could be wrong. Wrong for him. At that time.

    I believe in daas Torah. But you are the gadol hador when it comes to the mesechta known as yourself. Your are daas Torah. The buck stops with you.

    Yes, your mentor can and should (and must) help you clarify the sugya of marriage: whom you should marry, when you should marry, how you should live. But, in the end, the sugya has to make sense to you. Otherwise you are not ready to move on.

    This should be obvious. But it often isn’t.

  37. I just want to follow up a little further on what I mentioned earlier, since I’ve seen not much response to it.

    I have seen in my journey so many cases where a BT of maybe a year or less, who is still somewhat skeptical, is told by people in the community who they look up to, such as a person like an FFB version of Michoel who is not divorced the following : “A true frum Jew acts this way and that” or “I dont know what to say, you need to do this and that because that is what is expected of you…otherwise you’re not really frum.”

    So what happens after this? A lot of times this new BT is pushed to marry a certain person because of pride that the mentor will get. For example, a girl might be told to marry a kollel type, even though dont agree with that lifestyle at that point in their life. Or someone is told to marry and move to a specific neighborhood even though that might not like that neighborhood, because after all the mentor can brag how this BT is now “sooo frum”
    SO, because of the pressure, because of the ignorance and stress on the part of the BT, not to mention that when dating everyone acts on their best behavior, they dont take a minute to think it through and realize that this type of situation might not be for them…at least at the moment.

    Therefore, it is important for us BT’s to have the strength to be upfront with our mentors when we feel they are pushing us too hard to do something we are not ready for, especially when it has to do with marriage and haskafa that does not fully fit with one at that time. It is one thing to push yourself a little to do a mitzvah, but we shouldnt get guilted or threatened to do something, after all this is NOT the faith of JC, LEhavdil, where Hell is just waiting for you.

    Dont forget that for us this is a life long growing journey and our mentors and guides need to be a little bit patient and understanding after all…like they claim.

  38. There’s an assumption going around that the hard data exist to prove or disprove assertions or guesses made here. Do we know this?

  39. SephardiLady,

    It would be interesting to see how the divorce data differs with different subcultures within the observant world. Given your name, I assume you are Sephardic (just taking a wild guess here). I know in the world where I come from (Ashkenazi/Yeshivish/Chareidi) the issue is real. If there is a difference between the Sephardic BT world and the Ashkenazic one I have an hypothesis why it might be so. I’m curious what you think of it:

    The Sephardic world tends, I think, to have an attitude toward work and society much more closely aligned with general society than the Yeshivish world. In the yeshiva world we would call it Torah im Derech Eretz. I don’t think the Sephardic world has a specific name for this because it is the norm. In the Yeshiva world is it associated with Rav S.R. Hirsch and, unfortunately IMO, downplayed if not seriously frowned upon in many circles. The truth is it includes more than an attitude toward work, but toward non-Jewish society in general. In any event, my impression of the Sephardic world, at least in the US, is that it naturally aligns much more closely with Rav Hirsch’s Torah im Derech Eretz approach.

    If so, Sephardic BTs would tend to have different attitudes — including perhaps better jobs — than their Ashkenazic/Yeshivish counterparts. This would help reduce, somewhat at least, the typical stress involved in the transition from a non-observant upbringing to creating and raising children in an observant one.

    I could be totally wrong. It’s just a guess. I’m curious what you think.

    Your thought regarding longer dating periods is one I mentioned in my article and Comment above. I tend to agree with it. However, how does one deal with the opposite side of the coin, namely the pressure caused by 6-month courting periods that end up not in marriage, which can lead to a whole host of extremely complicated and difficult situations? Then you also have the reality that people who date longer don’t necessarily stay married any more or longer (this is certainly true in the secular world where, statistically, living together before marriage actually reduces the chance of a long-lasting happy marriage.)

  40. I’m Jewish,

    the reason that there weren’t as many divorces in our grandparents’ era is not because people today are weaker or less able to endure the hardships of life – but that women in particular had fewer ways to support themselves and thus stayed trapped in bad marriages.

    Speaking with people of previous generations a constant refrain I hear is: Divorce was never really an option. We never even thought about divorce. When you married expected to stay married.

    There are a lot of things that feed into the phenomenon of higher divorce rates but one of them, arguably the main one, involves attitudes. Societal attitudes have gone through tremendous changes, certainly say from before 1950 vs after (one could also perhaps argue the 60’s was the major turning point).

    What does this mean? If I change my attitude I will not divorce and/or be happier? Not necessarily. But attitude does obviously contribute to how one experiences/perceives life and events.

    For all its warts, the observant community does promote values and attitudes that, in general, can give marriage a better chance. It’s not an automatic but it’s a difference.

    These values and attitudes bear closer resemblance in many ways to the general society of our grandparents’ world. So, IMO, the financial component of higher divorce rates is certainly not the only reason, and, IMO, not the main one.

  41. JT

    Where should one go for these skills, a four year degree or a tech school? If you do post-graduate work can you become Dr. of Marriage? Believe me, almost no one is “marriage material” It is something you work on, not an in-born skill set. Same with parenting for the most part.

    To all,

    I think this topic is becoming dominated by the choice of who one will marry. While that is a key ingredient it is not the only one. What may be a perfect match initially can turn sour if not treated as a work in progress. The BT variable can obviously help but it can also be an added pressure. Just my 2 cents.

  42. Yaakov Astor, perfectly profound pioneer metaphor. Its definitely those “free haircuts” one should be wary of.

    Ora,regarding your divorce theories, you skipped the part where people who shouldn’t marry and or birth kids are doing so anyway.Marriage is not a universally applicable concept.Everyone is so busy promoting marriage and birthing babies stuff like “not marriage material” or “could never be a proper parent ever” small truisms like these just get lost in the self rightous shuffle.
    If everyone (frum from birth , frum since friday,never been frum and everyone frolicking in between )would not consider parenting and ór marriage a given but à skilled profession then there would be fewer divorces less cheating less dysfunctionalism ànd fewer affairs at the workplace on a global level.

  43. Albany Jew–My peer group isn’t really at the age of school tuition just yet. Likewise, my secular friends are all still unmarried, so it’s too soon to see what will happen if one “frums out” post-marriage. I can only really describe the problems I see.

    I’mJewish–I very much disagree with your assessment of the situation. For one thing, most of the divorces I know of today (and there are many) don’t fit the “woman leaving a bad/abusive situation” profile. They tend to break into two groups:
    1. young couples marrying quickly and then divorcing as soon as things “don’t work out”
    2. couples in their mid-40s who feel that the love just kinda disappeared several years ago, but wanted to wait for the kids to be in high school.

    For another, I think it is still very difficult for many women to support themselves after divorce. I know of several cases where a woman with children would prefer that her husband cheat than divorce her, simply because it will be hard financially (even with child support, and who says he’s going to pay?).

    Basically, the stigma of divorce has mostly gone away, but the financial problems faced by divorced women have not.

    Again, looking at this from a young perpective (appropriate here IMO since I’ve heard that about 50% of marriages that end in divorce do so within the first few years), I think a big cause of divorce is unrealisitic expectations. I don’t think our grandparents expected as much of marriage as we do.

    We’re also at a disadvantage for marrying older and usually after extensive dating. There’s a special bond between people who are each others’ first love. I know that might sound corny, but in my experience it plays out on the ground. I know plenty of non-frum family/ friends’ family who got married to their high school sweetheart 30-40 years ago. Except for a couple of abusive relationships, which wouldn’t have lasted under any circumstances, they’re all still together. As one friend said of his parents, “I don’t think they’d know how to not be together.”

  44. We personally know a seemingly growing number of divorces in the frum community and only a small sliver involve a BT. So I am quite skeptical of the facts on the ground at least here in America.

    What I have seen that I think is a disservice to daters (BT and FFB alike) is the pressure to close the deal and make an engagement so quickly. Daters should be encouraged to let their relationship develop as it needs to regardless of the push by some shadchanim, rabbonim, parents, and friends.

    As Steve Brizel likes to say (loosely quoting here), there is no great honor in being the first to marry and divorce. I’d add that there is no prize handed out for the couple who gets engaged quickest. It is much more prudent to make sure all the important conversations an meetings have taken place and that the couple be comfortable with each other and that they trust each other. If this takes 5 or 6 months, so be it. And that goes for FFBs, BTs, and whoever else.

  45. Dina, the reason that there weren’t as many divorces in our grandparents’ era is not because people today are weaker or less able to endure the hardships of life – but that women in particular had fewer ways to support themselves and thus stayed trapped in bad marriages.

  46. Do we as a people not have any insight or knowledge passed on from those who have made tshuva before us?

    In a certain sense what we have today IS unprecedented. See this thread


    for more about this

  47. I agree that our grandparents were stronger than us in a lot of ways. But I am not so young that I can’t remember when divorce brought a lot of shame to a family. For better or worse that stigma is gone. (the stigma for intermarriage also disappeared, unfortunately) All I’m saying is that BTs, whether married or not have very unique issues that need to be dealt with.

  48. AJ:

    Of course they happen in the frum world. I merely posit that they happen at a far larger rate in the secular world.

    I am not minimizing the stresses families are sometimes under. They can be huge. However, why will one family endure and one break up under the same stress? Why, in my grandparents era, when there certainly were many stresses, the war, financial, etc., were there fewer divorces? What I am saying is that people today are weaker, less able to endure the hardships of life, partially because our personalities are not what they once were; I attibute a lot of that to today’s culture. Obviously those saturated in the culture are most vulnerable.

  49. This is off the topic of the article in most ways, but relates to a comment on this post.

    In Yaakov’s post 18 he says that “the definitive study on how to and what it means how to become a BT has yet to be penned.”

    From my impression of Jewish history, in truth we are not the first generation to have some number of ‘BT’s. (I don’t know what names they went by in the past.) Coming out of Purim, I am particularly reminded of the people of that time. I have learned that there was a great tshuvah movement then. And I imagine that since then, there have been other tshuva movements I am not aware of, and at the very least, other generations must have had a small share of baalei tshuva. Do we as a people not have any insight or knowledge passed on from those who have made tshuva before us?

  50. Dina,

    Unfortunately all the things in your second paragraph exist in the frum world too (ask my wife, she is a psychologist) Don’t underestimate other stresses though, financial stresses have terrible potential to hurt a marriage and they do increase with observance (as has been discussed here before) even keeping up with the Jones’ doesn’t completely disappear, it just becomes the Goldbergs :)
    Also learning IS vital but those that are established with families cannot just pick up and learn full time.

  51. Thank yoy to Rabbi Astor for bringing up an important topic, albeit a very sad one.

    IMHO focusing on the stresses a BT may face that an FFB might not, is not the key issue. These are “outside factors,” and every family experiences stresses. The key issue is what two people are bringing to the marriage in terms of personality development, their ability to form intimate relationships, their ability to communicate in stressful situations, their reaction to stressful events, etc.

    Unfortunately, the more exposed a person was to the dysfunctional secular culture, the more likely it is that they have absorbed dysfunctional habits or have not developed a full and adult personality. Additionally, if a person’s parents did not have Torah values, it is likely that his/her role models in marriage were faulty — ie: how did your parents argue? did they argue in front of you? was there violence? did they disagree about petty things? was there flexibility displayed? was the father sensitive to the mother’s needs/did he speak positively about her to the children and visa versa? did the parents reinforce each other’s discipline toward the children? were a person’s own parents divorced/if so, they probably have trust issues?

    In addition, BTs acquire other personality-destoying baggage from their previous romantic (or otherwise) relationships. How many rejections after trusting someone can a person experience without it affecting him/her? The Torah says that every intimate relationship makes an impression on a person’s soul. That means that BTs are much more likely to begin their marriage somewhat crippled. Sad, but that’s the reality as I see it.

    All these factors and more affect a person’s inner core, and unfortunately, we as BTs are more likely to have absorbed bad lessons and bring more baggage into a marriage relationship. Of course, being an FFB is no guarantee that he or she was raised in an ideal way, with ideal modeling. However, most FFBs haven’t had casual romantic relationships, and the Torah values in their home hopefully had a positive impression. It is pretty likely that most BTs in contrast bring at least some baggage into a relationship.

    The antidote? In my opinion BTs MUST sit and learn for a long time prior to marriage, and not just learn halacha (altho that is important) — learn the lessons of chumash, learn about the avos and imahos and thier character, learn the mussar texts, a person should confront their personal issues, with therapy if necessary, and only begin dating when they have achieved real growth. This can take months or years. There is one institution in Jerusalem where the menaheles forbids dating while learning in her seminary, until she has determined the person has learned enough. Some people dislike that, but I must say that I agree, at least in theory, with her premise. She says, ‘it’s easy to get married. what’s hard is staying married.’

    Perhaps teachers in BT institutions who try to marry off their students so early on do not apprehend the depth of the potential damage by secular living on even a good, caring, basically wonderful person.

    All the other stresses can be handled if both parties are basically healthy.

  52. One major problem is that BT’s can be mislead by “guides” who claim to be looking out for them when in fact these “guides” have their personal agenda. I’m not talking about Rabbonim, but rather sometimes families take in BT’s say things like “to be a successful BT you have to this and that.” BT’s dont have family that support them so they are vulnerable and will do what these baal a batim say…and that can get them into trouble sometimes.

    ALSO, many times there arent the same checks that an FFB will do on a prospective shidduch for BT’s. So if someone has a medical problem…it’s much easier to hide it…because no one in the community knows about it

  53. There is also the opposite problem when the BT is way too rigid and sometimes makes up halachas or chumras that don’t really exist. This problem comes when a BT becomes frum on his own without the guidance of a rav. It is problematic and I have seen cases of this first hand. This can be a huge problem straining a marriage.

  54. Yaakov

    I would agree that my figure is way to low and is probably a result of living in KGH and its BT friendliness. I wouldn’t be surprised if the overall rate is slightly higher than the general frum community, but the 40% figure is just not believable. Unfortunately some will read the opening paragraph and believe the unbelievable 40% figure, doing a disservice to the entire community. Sensationalism has its price.

    Marriage takes work. Getting closer to Hashem takes work. Raising the secular to the kodesh takes work. Raising children takes work. We’re all works in progress.

  55. As hard as it is to find a marriage mate its just as easy to marry the wrong one. Perfect Merry Partners and Marriages are rare.
    I think we should all go back to marrying often.
    What’s not to love about a few husbands. Think of the growth opportunities.

  56. Yaakov what is your estimate of the BT divorce rate among those you know?

    I really don’t know, Mark. One of the reasons I wrote the article was to get a little clarity myself on this issue from our readership here. Nevertheless, because I guess I’ve been around the block a couple of times, I suspect it is higher than what some people here might think. I don’t know if it’s 40-50%, but if you think it’s 1-2% I would say you are probably not up on current events in this area.

    There could be several reasons why one’s perception may be that there is less divorce than there may actually be. One is the stigma against divorce in our circles, which presumably is greater than the stigma in society at large. As such, BT (even FFB) divorces tend to be kept low-key. You might only find out later, perhaps a lot later. You’re sitting at an event or you’ve been davening with a guy you know for a while and he says, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been divorced for several months now.” This has occurred to me more than once. (Maybe I’m slow; my wife seems to have an antenna for goings-on in the community that I lack.)

    Several years back, I found out about a slew of divorces with couples involved with a particular organization for BTs, and who all had in common that they were advised by a particular rabbi. David Linn made the point above that perhaps the rosy picture of marriage that is painted for the BT leads to unrealistic and impossible expectations, and thus disappointment and divorce. This seemed to be at least part of what was in play there. But the point is that not a lot of people knew about it.

    If I had to take a guess I’d say the BT divorce rate closer to the 1-2% than the 40-50%. But how much closer? Is it 10%? 20%? More? I don’t know.

    But after we get greater clarity on the statistics, if we do, I believe in the premise of my article: that BT divorce is higher than some might like to believe and that there are specific reasons for this, including some of the ones I mentioned in my article and other things like David Linn’s remark about painting perhaps too idealistic a picture to prospective BT couples.

    In my experience, a person needs a lot of realism to go with their idealism. More so for a BT couple. And perhaps more so than they may be led to believe by otherwise well-meaning peers and mentors.

    I like the point — “the chiddush” — that a BT couple needs more time than the average bear to date. Six months may seem too long for some, but I don’t think it’s crazy. Like Yaakov’s ladder every person, especially BTs who tend to start out with higher doses of idealism, need to be planted firmly on the ground even as they reach into heaven.

    That’s arguably hard to teach in a BT education setting, because you want a BT to ride his idealism as much as he can; you don’t want to dampen his/her enthusiasm it with too much realism. On the other hand, when do you tell them there are these general realities (e.g. financial) and these specific BT realities (lack of or even negative family support, learning deficits when raising FFB kids, residue of conflicting pre-BT attitudes and expectations) which can make the climb fraught with dangers and even perilous? And when you tell them how strongly do you tell them?

    I frequently say that becoming a BT is like being a pioneer who has decided to venture out into Wild West with just a flimsy covered wagon; beware of Indians and other dangers. I suspect it may be a generation or two before anyone has real clarity on how to make this transition from life as a non-observant person to an observant one; on what we did right and what we did wrong; on what we were told that was right and what we were told was wrong. The definitive study on how to and what it means how to become a BT has yet to be penned.

    What this means, perhaps, more than anything else is: BT — to thy own self be true. You are your best mentor. Listen to what others say; listen very carefully. But in the end do not give up your own sense of what is best for you. If that means being selfish, be selfish. Don’t be afraid to do it your own way in your own good time. Take all the time you need. Go in with your eyes open and know which trails are better paved, better proven. And beware of Indian chiefs with scalps on their lapels who offer you a free haircut.

  57. I agree with a lot of what Ora said. I believe the problem of many BT and why the divorce rate is high is because someone might not be a real BT. Somone who thinks they are frum before they get married and think they are a real BT think differently once they are married and dont want anything to do with religion. This is a risk every BT will have. Whether or not it is authentic and if they are willing to stick to it. If you go into a community where many BTs might live such as Crown Heights you see this all the time.

  58. One other comment, to Ora: I agree that it is impractical to impose FFB standards of dating on BT’s. On the other hand if the BT’s identify strongly with the secular mode of dating they can find themselves not bothering with marriage at all and just living together.

  59. Yaakov Astor: Thank you for bringing out a “closet” issue. Even if we don’t have a clearly accurate number, I don’t believe we can deny that some frum families are suffering from lack of harmony. Many Rabbaim are taking up the issue of Shalom Bayis through shiurim; although my impression is that their ability to actually do Rabbinic counseling of marital issues is not as strong, since they will frequently refer to mental health practitioners.
    Rabbi Shimon Russel said recently (with reference to families with kids off the derech) that there are no “dysfunctional families”, but when a child is not following the derech of Torah it creates dysfunctioning in the family. Even without that problem, the stresses of raising children in an educational environment that is so foreign to the way a BT was raised can create severe dysfunctioning in a marriage.
    For example, after many years of sending kids to yeshiva, I still feel like I don’t quite understand some subtle expectations about the relationship that students and parents are supposed to have toward menahelim, especially concerning who is accountable to whom. In any event, it has been said that the yeshiva system puts pressure on families in various ways, and this pressure certainly affects sholom bayis, especially for BT’s who are less likely to be accepting of anything and everything that emanates from the school administration.

  60. Ora,

    Good advice! But as Fern pointed out above, those that became BT after they got married need advice too. Although one spouse moving faster than the other could be a big problem, there are a lot of others too (see my post above). Here is another example: The number of kids that you had in mind before getting married can certainly change with the BT process. If spouses have different ideas here, how does one reconcile that?

  61. Three more issues:

    -BT women sometimes feel pressure to marry before they’ve really had a chance to figure out their new goals or grow into their new lifestyle, usually because of age. If you’re in a community where it seems like everyone is marrying at age 19-22 and you’re 25 and just starting to keep Torah, it can be very hard to resist the pressure to jump into dating right away.

    -Some BT yeshivot/seminaries push marriage right away. If Shaina started sem five months ago as secular Cindy, teachers will already be thinking of nice young men for her. The thinking behind this appears to be that it’s easier to stay frum when married (true, IMO). The problem is, the students are often not ready to be married. I have a friend who attended a school like this and ended up divorced shortly after being married (thankfully she’s now happily remarried (to someone else)).

    -BTs often don’t know what they’re getting into. It’s easy to decide that the husband will work while the wife stays with the kids, or the wife will work while the husband learns in kollel. It’s much harder to put into action. The wife may realize that she’s horribly bored at home, or that trying to work while raising small children is too difficult. Also, taking care of children in general is something that most BTs haven’t done much of. It’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed. FFBs, on the other hand, usually have seen these situations from up close and have a more accurate idea of what will work for them.

    The secrets to succesful BT marriage, IMO:
    1) Spend plenty of time around happily married frum couples (ideally starting before dating) and try to learn from the way they relate to each other.
    2) As hard as it may be, date in a stress-free manner. Keep in touch with a mentor while dating to clarify goals, what to look for in a spouse, etc.
    3) Date for at least four months before getting engaged, and then for another two months before marriage. Faster dating processes sometimes work, but it’s a risk. If keeping negiah gets hard, take longer between dates and stay in public places. Do not get married because of negiah.
    4) Stay flexible. If the wife is having a hard time working, or the husband wants more time to learn, be willing to change the household roles a bit to accomadate new needs.

    My advice should be taken with a grain of salt or two, since I’ve only been married for about a year and three months. But most of the BTs I’ve seen with happy marriages followed these rules, so I think they are good.

    oh and–follow Torah rules while dating. People who date in a non-Torah way, ie without keeping negiah, often run into problems later. Fast religious dating works because of negiah, not despite it.

  62. There is an old expression that I have heard such eminent speaker such as R M Solomon and R Y Frand both mention as to wny the divorce rate within the frum world is higher than in prior generations. IOW, to paraphrase the expression, as things develope in the surrounding world, they develope in our world. There was a recent J POst article on the increasing divorce rate in the frum world that interviewed a prominent dayan who mentioned this factor as well.

    Look at it this way-certainly, the absence of toleration, as opposed to all out support for the way a child and his or her spouse raise a family is a definite stress. I think that finding a supportive community, shul and rav and making friends with FFB and BT couples can help a BT develope his or her own surrogate family. I would also add that being pyschologically aware of these issues is a major plus as well. As David Linn has pointed out, there is a long road from a “great shidduch” to the toasts at Sheva Brachos to a “Bayis Neeman BYisrael” to the reality of the day to day hard work of being a good spouse and parent.

  63. I’mJewish: Thanks for pointing that out. Misuse of statistics has always annoyed me.

    On topic:
    My anecdotal 2 cents–Americans divorce more often than Israelis for sure, BTs the most. I think the first difference (Americans/Israelis, which also applies to many BTs) has to do with different ideas about what constitutes a “broken” marriage.

    I remember a teacher of mine a few years ago who guided many young women in their marriages and often told us stories (without details, of course) as part of her classes. A couple of times she described really awful-sounding marriages–the husband had concealed a serious mental illness during the dating process, the husband was chronically unemployed and had a bad temper (not violent), etc. As American baalot tshuva, a lot of us asked “so why can’t she just get a divorce?” The answer was always, Israeli religious women just don’t think that way. To them, that is still a marriage, and they will make the most of it. It’s a cultural thing. BTs are less likely to be a part of this culture, and much more likely to see a marriage as unable to be saved than an FFB, esp. Israeli FFB in the same position.

    Another difference, which IMO accounts for the differing divorce rates between BTs and FFBs, has to do with modeling. A lot more BTs than FFBs have divorced parents or other family members. They are less likely to have seen and really absorbed Torah values as they related to marriage.

    Many BTs make the huge mistake of thinking that becoming religious, that is to say, wanting to keep Torah and keeping Shabbat and kashrut, is enough to assure them a happy marriage. The thought process is something like “divorce is low in the frum world, I am now in the frum world, so my chances of divorce are now lower.” Unless they’ve put serious thought (and sometimes serious work with a therapist) into the process of creating a succesfull marriage, this is often unfortunately untrue.

    One related problem I’ve seen, almost entirely among young people, is the tendency to do things the way that FFBs do, even though it’s often not applicable to BTs’ dating lives. As an example, I know one couple who were married 6 weeks after they met. Both had become religious about one year earlier. Another couple decided to marry early into their courtship because “it’s hard to keep negia.” Both marriages had serious issues to deal with, although I don’t know if either ended in divorce. Just because FFBs have a short dating process or certain gender roles doesn’t mean BTs will succeed in the same path.

  64. To get more accurate numbers on Divorce Rates, check out http://www.divorcereform.org/rates.html

    According to the low end set of numbers, 40% of marriages will end in divorce. Even the Health Science statisticians agree with that lower bound. Check the sources yourself.

    I guess if you know 2 BT couples and one of them was divorced, that would be a 50% divorce rate. Has anybody involved in a BT community seen anything even close to 40%?

    Yaakov, what is your estimate of the BT divorce rate among those you know?

  65. >The BT (or FFB) living in a growth paradigm has tremendous advantages in this area.

    Indeed! Rav Noach Orlewek said at our vort (about 25 years ago) that the most indespensible quality for a lasting marriage was the ability to change (do teshuvah). That’s something BT’s have in high measure!

  66. Great post, but I want to point out that the US divorce rate in general is not 50% or 60% or anywhere near close. That is a misperception based on the fact that at any given year, the number of divorces that occur is equal to roughly half the number of marriages that occur in that same year. That has been erroneously reported as meaning that there is a 50% divorce rate, when in fact such is not the case. The relevant denominator is not “number of marriages taking place during that same year” but “total number of marriages existing during that year that could have ended in divorce” (a much larger number). As an analogy, if the town hospital reports 200 births and 100 deaths, that does not mean that the death rate in the town is 50%, because the 100 deaths need to be calculated off the base of all people currently living in the town who could have died.
    This 50% divorce rate is all over the Internet, but it’s incorrect. It’s closer to 20% depending on the specific source and year. Nonetheless, the points in the article are thought-provoking and very valid.

  67. I think that the misconception that one will marry the “perferct person” and have the “perfect marriage” leads to added pressure. Perhaps, BTs are so concerned with what others (FFBs, non-religious family members and friends) will think if they don’t have that “perfect marriage” so they don’t go for advice or therapy when the situation warrants.

    Perhaps, also, the rosy picture of marriage that is painted for the BT leads to unrealistic and impossible expectations.

  68. I agree with Mark, in that I am now in the postion where I personally know (friends) almost as many BT’s as non-observant people and it seems to me that the divorce rate is higher among the non-observant. That being said, as a BT you go into a world of pressures that did not exist before and that can certainly be a strain on your life and consequently your marriage. Financial is probably # 1 (all of a sudden you are paying tons for school when it used to be free) You may have to move because all of a sudden the area you are living is unacceptable. You may not have the family support you once had. Pesach cleaning is pressure in itself! Even if your spouse is on exactly the same page as you and that doesn’t create pressure, you still have all these new outside influences that can (gosh, I hope I have not done anti-kiruv here, I certainly could make a longer list of the uncomparable joys that being a BT has brought me!!!)

  69. I agree with Mark.

    In my non-scientific observation of the frum world, divorce rates for BTs and FFBs do not seem to differ.

  70. “That is a touching story but I don’t think it is surprising. For one thing, we come from a world where divorce is not considered an embarrassment, but a viable option to a broken marriage.”

    Well, it may be an embarassment, in some ways, but according to the Torah divorce is the solution to a broken (unsalvageable) marriage.

    In any case, Mark’s figure of less than handful of divorces vs hundreds of Baalei Teshuva (does he mean hundreds of married couples?) sounds unlikely. Figures available online suggest closer to 5% – 10%. Remember, if you are younger, your personal experience of your perr group is not representative, as many divorces happen later on in life.

    In any case, while it’s quite possible that the divorce rate among BT’s is somewhat higher than the general Orthodox community, I highly doubt that it’s anywhere near 50%.

  71. Do you even accept the premise of this article: that BT divorce rates are as high as (higher than?) secular divorce rates? Do you think they are higher than FFB divorce rates?

    From my perspective, I know of hundreds of Baalei Teshuva and less than a handful that are divorced, so I question the basic premise.

    At the Shmuz last night, Rabbi Shaffier mentioned that the divorce rate for first marriages is 60% in the secular world, so somebody has the wrong statistics.

    To me the key is growth, if the overall direction is upward, then overcoming baggage and temporary stumbles won’t be permanent obstacles. The BT (or FFB) living in a growth paradigm has tremendous advantages in this area.

  72. Shalom Yaakov,

    That is a touching story but I don’t think it is surprising. For one thing, we come from a world where divorce is not considered an embarrassment, but a viable option to a broken marriage.

    I’d guess that for FFBs it would be more of a shame and a matter to be hidden, and quite possibly a “black mark” against future shidduchim. I could be wrong.

    I think there is most definitely more pressures on BTs who have to build from the basement up, where as FFBs would likely have a foundation to start from. We struggle with learning basic things that are natural like breathing to FFBs, and yes there is a financial commitment to keeping kashruth and the like that could add to the pressure.

    I will tell you though, it was quite a shock to me to learn that there are quite a lot of divorces among FFBs, maybe far below the average, but they are there. They may not be talked about, in the way that family problems may be more hidden, but they exist.

    As in being a committed BT, marriage takes work, and if the compatibility isn’t there, or the devotion, it will fail, in the same way that if the commitment to being shomer mitzvos isn’t there, a BT might fail or an FFB may fall off the derech.

    You started out talking about the physical aspects of what you thought was your friends’ great marriage — pleasing to look at, an aura of success, visible companionability. Both personable. You had in your mind’s eye what seemed to constitute a perfect marriage. You don’t know what was behind the scenes.

    Let me tell you what has struck me the most about what I’ve seen of FFBs and BTs who have lived a Torah life for much longer than I — they have problems too. They are people with human failings. They get cranky and they fight, and sometimes couples find they are no longer going in the same direction.

    In a way it’s comforting. I learned that FFBs are not the intimidating, shining paragons I thought they were, and they don’t have the inside track on perfection.

    They, like us, aspire to be better and to improve but they aren’t perfect. And BTs shouldn’t aspire to be “just like them.” We should aspire to improve ourselves and work hard on our marriages, making sure we are moving in the same direction as our spouses.

  73. Well, it seems to me that there must be at least a small group of BTs who were already married when they made teshuva (I’m not alone, right?!). If the BT’s spouse doesn’t also make teshuva at the same time, a difference in religious beliefs can certainly strain a marriage.

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