Are Some Things Improving?

In the charedi community, it is regarded as pretty much axiomatic that external values are seeping in, and this has led to more troubles for our community — in everything from drugs to divorce.

A visitor to my office today, however, challenged the conventional wisdom in one area. In his opinion, there are fewer divorces today among younger yeshivish (fervently-Orthodox, yeshiva-educated) couples than formerly. And he believes the underlying reason is a better education in good middos (character).

When he was in school, he said, he heard about middos when they were yelling at you — when they were telling you your behavior was bad middos. But today there are projects in respecting teachers, parents, and peers before there’s trouble, along with chessed (kindness) projects and all sorts of positive behavior programs. But, on the other hand, he admitted that his family background wasn’t as right-wing as that of his kids, so perhaps it was always true of the truly yeshivish families, but there were fewer of those.

There’s no question that kids are learning these positive things today. But not having been through these schools myself, I don’t have a basis for comparison. So, given that there have been no surveys of which I’m aware, I couldn’t contradict him.

I always went along with the conventional wisdom that there are more problems today than twenty years ago — but frankly I’m not sure. Others have said the exact opposite, that the divorce rate is skyrocketing compared to the last generation. What’s your opinion?

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6 Responses

  1. T F. says:

    50% of the New York population is not married (70% in Washington D.C.) … a little over 50%
    are divorced….I would say that is merely a quarter in total .. I am curious if the rate
    indeed is higher in the frum world…. Just a thought…..

    emotional disorders unlike personality disorders have a profound effect on a marriage and
    such disorders plague the frum community, good homes…etc. as well… may I suggest a shift in focus from proactivity in
    getting married to prevention of a divorce…pre-marital counseling

  2. Neviah T. says:

    Unfortunately, I have never seen reliable data collection specifically within the Orthodox community related to these sort of demographic questions. So many people perceive so many problems, and it’s entirely based on anecdotal evidence. I mean, TF, where do you get a number like “50% of the NY population is not married”? According to the 2002 NY federation survey, of the “8-county” service area, 57% of adults were married. But that 43% of unmarrieds, for instance, includes 12% widowed. (I might note that the marriage/widow rate in Brooklyn was 61%/14%)

    Likewise, the question of divorce. The number of overall divorces may have increased as the Orthodox population increases. But has the rate increased? Again, the ’02 survey indicates a 9% divorce rate overall, but no breakouts by identity. I don’t know what numbers the ’91 survey had on divorce.

    Anyway, the survey is available at

  3. mycroft says:

    It is probably a very complex answer to the questions are things improving. A simple example
    in Lakewood alone there are probably more people learning than ever did in all the European Yeshivas together a
    at one time. On the other hand you have probably over 90% of the Jewish population
    who can’t read a siddur-including many who went to day schools/yeshivas for 12+ years.
    Clarification-reading a siddur-things not part of usual davening-the vast majority
    can read regular davening-or they are very familar with it it is almost memorized. But read Barchi Nafshi
    or read Yom Kippur davening-many have extreme difficulty.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    Perhaps, as per your visitor, the number of divorces are down. Yet, the numbers re teens and adults who are are going
    “off the derech” may be nore than we either know or are willing to admit. One has to wonder if the numbers are lower than
    they are because of what social scientists call an iceberg factor-there are a lot more unknown cases than known cases.
    I higly recommend that anyone interested in thisissue read an important new book-“Off The Derech” by Faroouk Margolese. As R Z Leff points out in his intro-there are numerous causes and solutions to this problem. Of course, “outside influences” are a factor. but so are
    many others that she outlines as well- the pressures for intellectual, cultural and social conformity, parents and teachers
    who are not as well trained or sensitive to their children’s development, etc.

  5. mycroft says:

    I agree with Steve again-we’ve had our differences-I believe respectful differences- on the blogosphere.
    The numbers of off the derech are much greater than anyone could imagine
    I believe Farook Margolese raises a lot of very important issues as to how we treat people- not just children
    and what is important in Yiddishkeit-and why people leave it. One area that I don’t recall her discussing is the
    economic barrier to people remaining frum Jews. Judaism is for everyone -not just the intellectual and economic elites.
    As one guidance counsellor of Yeshiva HS told me-much to that persons surprise-the IQ scores of students are
    essentially like the rest of the US population. I raised the question-and how do you expect them to understand chazakah and Talmud. If they couldn’t understand adverse possession a fortiori they can’t understand migu.

  6. ja says:

    “As one guidance counsellor of Yeshiva HS told me-much to that persons surprise-the IQ scores of students are
    essentially like the rest of the US population.”

    I find this implausible as Ashkenazi Jews are generally higher IQ than the rest of the population. For yeshiva HS students to have avg IQs similar to the US population average, they’d have to be selectively attracting the least intelligent Jewish children!

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