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Monday, December 07, 2009

Huh? Infidelity

VIN has an article reprinted from the 5TJT (site down at the time of this post) regarding marriage counseling and problems that young couples are having, something that has come up in recent posts.

Never in a million years would I have suspected that enough young Jewish couples to warrant a mention are divorcing/contemplating divorce because of issues of infidelity*. But, this is what both the author and Rabbi Peretz Steinberg of Young Israel of Queens Valley claim.

Let's hope that any such infidelity isn't full blown. Yes, even I am having a difficult time with this report. The rest of the reasons named (abuse, poor communication, lack of respect, financial stress, and parental influence) all pass the "smell test" as to why there are an increasing number of short marriages within the klal. But infidelity?. . . . . I'm just having a hard time believing that this reason makes the top 10 (6) list, so to speak.

*Yes, I am aware that some uniform wearing, kosher keeping, Shabbat observing men do visit brothels. And I am aware of some women who have stepped outside of their marriage. But this article seems to be hinting at something other than the rumored and known.

32 comments:

tesyaa said...

I do not know of this personally, but unfortunately I can believe it for so many reasons. When you put every mitzvah and minhag on the same moral level, you devalue them all. And young people who have been married off at very young ages may feel that they missed out on something by not having "played the field", not realizing that cheating on a spouse is a warped way to do it. I doubt it's any more widespread than in the general population, but sure, I can see how it could happen.

Commenter Abbi said...

Unfortunately, I've heard some really wild stories coming out of Queens and Brooklyn through relatives, so, infidelity is not so unbelievable to me. A few years ago, weren't there two frum couples killed in a plane crash in Colorado who vacationing under suspicious circumstances?

Offwinger said...

I think it's naive to presume that the Orthodox community would not experience infidelity at exactly the same rate as society at large, just as the Orthodox community is susceptible to abuse and other damaging behaviors, just like everyone else.

As for how much you hear about it, I would think that infidelity might be something that people wouldn't speak about as freely with one another in the Orthodox community. But I also can envision a scenario where some Orthodox spouses who do not get along with one another would be MORE likely to accuse the other person of infidelity. A culture that prohibits people from so much as shaking hands with someone of the opposite gender may produce an irate spouse who views *any* friendly behavior or contact between a spouse & another party as infidelity.

I guess my point is that while I imagine Orthodox infidelity is about as common as it is in the rest of the country, I'd expect actual infidelity to be under-reported (by the couple rabbinic leaders or counselors, friends & family or even to one another), and I'd suspect that false claims of infidelity are also higher than the average.

ProfK said...

Sorry, but this is really nothing new, and the stories aren't all apocryphal. There was one area of 6th Avenue in Brooklyn that was a regular hangout for married men looking for extra curricular sexual activities. In a scandal back when I was dating there was a 7th Avenue NYC manufacturer who had a back room he used to rent out for those who "needed a fix." It was and is particularly bad when the wives are up in the mountains for the summer. There was a well known sheitle macher who "helped" her female customers to make the cost of the sheitles by providing opportunities for these same extra curricular activities.

I once heard a rav give a speech in which he stated that it's not enough to teach the rules of taharas mishpocha to the men but the philosophy behind it must be emphasized. You get young married men who have been told to wait for marriage and then find them having two weeks a month when the privileges aren't there. Rather than wait it out, they go hunting.

Anonymous said...

SL - Unfortunately, these things are happening. I have a close friend in Queens (Rabbi Steinberg is his Rav) whose wife has been meeting up with other men for at least a few years. He puts up with it for the sake of keeping the family intact. I do not believe Rabbi Steinberg knows about that case.

ora said...

I've heard of people confusing minhag and mitzva, but never to the point of not realizing the severity of adultery.

And I think there are definitely reasons to expect infidelity to be less common in the orthodox world. Mainly, the separation of sexes. Many people who have affairs weren't necessarily seeking to cheat on their spouse, but it "just happened" (most commonly, with someone from work). In the orthodox world, it's not at all common to have the kind of close friendships or even banter among coworkers that can lead to that sort of "accidental" affair.

In addition, cheaters are much more stigmatized in the frum world than in society at large.

It's not clear to me that "infidelity" means "adultery" in the article, at least not the way the rabbi says it. "Infidelity and Internet" sounds to me like online porn. But maybe I'm just being optimistic.

It also seemed that the writer was referring to all marriages, and not only frum Jewish marriages.

In any case I wouldn't believe high rates of infidelity without seeing a lot more evidence than a couple of random quotes.

Like offwinger, I would expect some false claims, especially since Judaism doesn't have no-fault divorce. A man who just doesn't get along with his wife isn't allowed to divorce her at all, a man whose wife committed adultery gets an instant divorce with no obligation to pay the ketuba.

Staying Afloat said...

I think the pairing of infidelity and internet is important here. I've been hearing that there's an increasing number of people having "relationships" over the computer, or that started there. It's a new portal that didn't used to exist.

David said...

Anon 10:16 wrote: Like offwinger, I would expect some false claims, especially since Judaism doesn't have no-fault divorce. A man who just doesn't get along with his wife isn't allowed to divorce her at all, a man whose wife committed adultery gets an instant divorce with no obligation to pay the ketuba.

Why do you think that? My understanding was that we poskened according to Hillel, who ruled that a man could initiate divorce because his wife burned the soup or for any reason at all. He would still have to pay the ketuba, but so what? The price of the ketuba is actually pretty small relative to modern families' assets (200 zuzim = 100 goats; 1 goat =~ $150, therefore 200 zuzim =~ $15,000, or perhaps less depending on the value of goats [oxfam has them running $25-50])

Anonymous said...

I'm with SL and ora - infidelity via Internet porn. Perhaps I'm naive and perhaps I have a terrific group of friends, but I don't know of any actual infidelity in my MO or modern-Yeshivish circles. Or any brothel-visiting, for that matter - even on vacation/business in Vegas. Tons and tons of porn, though. That can certainly break up marriages, but it depends on the attitude of both spouses - I know several men who claim their wives understand, encourage it, or actively use it themselves.

Orthonomics said...

I always thought of Jewish divorce being "no fault." Perhaps others were taught differently?

The lawyer only writes of infidelity. The Rabbi uses a conjunction which possibly connects the infidelity to internet issues. I guess I'm still surprised to see infidelity as a top 10 reason, although perhaps I am not interpretting infidelity correctly.

The other issues (financial, parents exerting too much influence, communication, etc) are all easy to relate too. Infidelty? Well, I'm not relating so well. Perhaps I'm naive.

Ariella said...

Sephardi Lady, I too, am in the naive camp. I don't know and don't really want to know about infidelity. But I suppose that community rabbis that may be consulted would have to know about it.

MiMedinat HaYam said...

i havent read the 5tjt article yet, but i heard a (prominent) 5t rav had to return from israel EMERGENCY a couple of summers ago because of severakl cases, not involving prostitutes or whatever but plain married men and married women with each other (not together).

so its not prostitutes, and for every man, there is a woman.

Anonymous said...

MiMedinat -

I have heard stories, too. But they're just that - stories. I know lots of people who have gotten divorced and aired their dirty laundry with me. They've told me of emotional issues (some that included abuse), mental illness, a marriage that lasted a year without being consummated for medical/emotional reasons, lots of money issues, several parental interference issues, gambling compulsions, and several where the problem was profound personality incompatibility that should have never gotten past the second date, never mind 1/3/5/12/30 years of marriage. I know of many happy emotional marriages despite profoundly unhappy sex lives - and still no cheating, other than porn. But in all the cases of divorce there was not a single instance of infidelity. (I do know of one relative-of-a-friend where the sefardi husband visited a prostitute and shrugged it off as normal - and while the wife did NOT consider that normal, yet that couple hasn't divorced.) So while I am certain that infidelity is an issue in the frum community, I am still skeptical that it is a top ten reason for divorce, at least in the ashkenazi MO/Yeshivish circles I travel in. I'm open to believing infidelity is a serious problem once it if someone shows me the data, not stories.

Nice Jewish Girl said...

Honestly, I am not that surprised. Jews are human too. My guess is the rate of cheating is about the same in the frum world as in the not frum world.

megapixel said...

put me in the naive-and-wanting- to-stay-there column.
I want to believe this happens not so often and when it happens it causes a big scandal...

conservative scifi said...

I also am in the naive category. I don't hear about infidelity in my conservative synagogue and I would have expected it even less in an orthodox context. I know that it sometimes happens, (as does child abuse, spousal abuse, etc.), but I hope it is rare.

I must admit that while any particular anecdote might be true, a good one will go around and around, with slight changes each time. So one true event can sometimes seem like 30 events because of the "telephone" game effect. I saw this happen firsthand with a coworker who committed a genuinely criminal act and was forced to resign. I later heard a few different versions of the event with incorrect details and no names mentioned.

Lion of Zion said...

i've heard a few specific stories about adultery in the last few years, but in general i find it hard to believe that its widespread. i don't know why. i'm certainly not one who has ever denied problems in the jewish community and i'm not an apologist. but it just strikes me as so beyond the pale.

Anonymous said...

Thirty years ago, who would have believed stories of abuse/molestation in the frum community? From a social standpoint, adultery is less serious than molestation (though it has serious halachic consequences).

Anonymous said...

I heard that this sort of wife-swapping thing goes on in the five-towns and that Rabbis are figuring out a way to keep this under control.

Avi said...

@Anonymous 12:30pm - MO swingers? Really? OK, I'm sure there have been instances where it's happened, but as a widespread problem? How would you recruit new members to your group without being socially ostracized? Sounds like a lovely urban legend, but I'm sorry, this doesn't pass the smell test.

GilaB said...

The thing about the adultery/molestation comparison is that with adultery, it takes two (adults) to tango. A single molester may molest many, many children purely because he/she can, but an adulterer, at least one who stays within the Orthodox community, needs to find a discrete,willing partner without alerting the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

AVI - All I know is that I have heard first hand from relatives that live there that they have been solicited to join these Motzei Shabbos "parties" where this sort of thing goes on. Whatever happened to a good old fashioned melaveh malka on a saturday night?

tesyaa said...

GilaB, I see your point, but the molestation problem is not just one molester. There were/are many.

And why would adulterers confine themselves just to the Orthodox community?

Anonymous said...

Unless a couple actually breaks up and publicly declares that adultery or infidelity was the reason, how would anyone ever know other than through rumors?

A former coworker lives in the 5 towns. Her neighbor had a semi-public divorce after he discovered his wife was cheating. The husband was suspicious and supposedly had genetic testing done on his wife's undergarments. The test results indicated she had been cheating with multiple men which she confessed to when confronted. The men were all members of the shul.

Avi said...

Nobody invited me to any of these infidelity parties - I feel so left out.

GilaB said...

My point isn't actually that there are few molesters - just the opposite, in fact. In one sense, it's _easier_ to become a molester, because one doesn't need to find a consenting, discrete partner, unlike becoming an adulterer. Given that, assuming a closed community (not always a valid assumption, I know), I don't think it's fair to assume that just because there were way more molesters than everybody might have thought back in the day, there also must be way more adulterers. The two aren't parallel.

Anonymous said...

I understand what Gila is saying, but I still have a hard time believing that this is common among frum women. There are more outlets for men than for women and women are generally more tied to responsibilities at home when they are not at work, making it pretty hard to slip away for an illicit encounter.

Charlie Hall said...

'In the orthodox world, it's not at all common to have the kind of close friendships or even banter among coworkers that can lead to that sort of "accidental" affair.'

I've been working full time for over 25 years in co-ed environments and have never had an affair with a coworker, neither accidental nor intentional. In fact, only thrice have I ever dated a coworker, and the first two times were in 1979 and 1980.

Miami Al said...

I really want to know how one accidentally has an affair. People make it sound like they "trip and fall" and land on a coworker.

As a rule, people happy at home don't cheat on their spouses.

If infidelity is on the rise in the Orthodox world, we need to look at why happiness in the home is on the wane. The ever increasing pressures to conform to a tighter definition of "normal" is going to make more and more bad families.

If we have a VERY BROAD range of "normal" behavior, say 97.5% of Jews are happy within it, then 95% of couples won't have problems with the lifestyle (assuming no correlation between spouses. A slightly narrower definition of normal, say 95% of people fit, and 90% of couples don't have an unhappy couple.

As you tighten "normal behavior," i.e. dress code restrictions, number of kids (is 0 unacceptable, 1, 2, 3, what is too few, etc.), and people make decisions that they aren't happy with, problems erupt. At 90% normal, only 81% of couples are fine, at 80%, 64% of couples, at 75%, you're down to 56% of couples.

As we tighten "acceptable" by making the "Jewish" aspect of life more encompassing (or the work aspect, or the tuition paying, etc.) the rate of satisfied couples drops DRAMATICALLY.

Now, do all unhappy couples experience infidelity? Of course not, but as you pile restrictions and requirements on people, you drastically increase the likelihood of an unhappy family, and therefore more likely to engage in anti-social behavior.

Now, does "exposure" and "opportunity" increase the likelihood of infidelity? Probably. However, anti-social behavior from a bad marriage can manifest itself in self-sabotage, sabotaging a spouse's career, family life, etc.

A husband that withdraws from his family is devastating, whether the outlet of the withdrawal is an affair, working late to avoid their home, going to the bar, casino, poker nights, or finding shiur after shiur to avoid their family.

Infidelity has huge emotional costs, but not sure that a cheating spouse is dramatically worse than other anti-family actions that a withdrawn spouse takes. Infidelity may be easier to deal with, because it's an accepted reason for either counseling or divorce. "My husband ignores me and the kids because he always working or learning" is harder to deal with, because the community has decided that this is "good" behavior.

Learning is good. Going to a shiur is a "good" use of personal time. Going to a shiur is lieu of family obligations is NOT holy behavior, it's neglectful.

Offwinger said...

I generally agree with Miami Al.

From my understanding, though, there is a real difference between a "no strings attached" sexual encounter and a romantic affair. My opinion here is based on my knowledge of several individuals who have privately admitted to infidelity, though I make no claims about the observance level of any of these people.

From what I've heard and read, people who cheat and seek emotional affairs - whether it has a sexual component or not - may be trying to fill a void in their marriage. People who cheat and seek solely a sexual experience, rather than an affair, are responding to something completely different.

In other words, I am aware of several people who have engaged in adultery solely for the sake of the sexual experience, with no romantic attachment to the third party, and with no claim of unhappiness with the relationship or spouse.

Some people simply find monagamy more challenging than others and will engage in opportunistic infidelity. That is, they will cheat to the extent they believe they will not get caught.

This belief is not so readily shared in the Orthodox world, because we presume that sex only comes wrapped in a loving/marital relationshi. However, I've discovered that a significant number of people - typically men, but not always - will admit that if they COULD cheat on their spouse and no one would ever know, they WOULD take advantage of the opportunity. This has no connection to whether they feel fulfilled or happy in their relationship. I think it is easier to understand and fathom infidelit when you recognize that it is not always about a protracted affair or caused by a "problem" in a marriage.

Anonymous said...

I think Miami Al makes some very good points. Even if a man and woman are very compatible, workj well together, and so on, the streses of Orthodox Jewish life can really mess up their relationship. (Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience.) Orthodoxy encourages having large families, which places a lot of finanicial and practical pressure on parents, and we also have lots of pressure-ridden obligations (minyan, Shabbos and Yom Tov, lots of community events , etc.) This lifestyle demands time management, organizational and patience skills that not everyone has. As te pressure and stress mount, the marriage begins to collapse.

ora said...

I disagree with Miami Al.

For one thing - do you think frum Jews are the only people out there with financial pressure? With tuition to pay? With holidays to prepare for? With community pressure of one kind or another? Etc...

For another - is this middle school? What is all this nonsense about adults being miserable and messed up and turning to affairs because of peer pressure?

Anyone who is really making themselves that miserable just to keep up with "community expectations" deserves what they get, IMU(nsympathetic)O.

Finally, some of what you're talking about seems to be Torah expectations and not society... for example family size, I don't think you'll find any deah that says it's OK to deliberately not fulfill pru u'rvu without good reason. You could see that as "restriction" that will make more people unhappy, but IMO that's overly simplistic, as it ignores the joy that many people get from doing mitzvot. The fact that people feel pressured or struggle with one particular aspect of observance doesn't mean that overall, they aren't happier than not in the frum world.