The Divorced-Parent Family & the Synagogue Community

When the synagogue is welcoming, the newly divorced begin to overcome their inhibitions about reconnecting to the Jewish community.

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Reprinted with permission from Conservative Judaism magazine and the Rabbinical Assembly.

One of the most alarming aspects of adults experiencing divorce is their newly developed negative attitudes toward the rabbi and the synagogue. These feelings are generally characterized by two stages: hostility and self-exile. Open hostility, with escalating vindictiveness, is often aimed at the rabbi and is frequently followed by withdrawal from Judaism and experimentation with non-Judaist and even non-Jewish lifestyles [A Judaist is a Jew who practices Judaism. A Jew is a person who by birth or conversion identifies with the Jewish people but who is not necessarily a Judaist.].

divorce and the jewish communityAt first glance, this behavior appears to be irrational. As more or less observant Jews, we were taught that the synagogue is our source of strength, a place to turn to in times of personal crisis.

However, it becomes understandable when we remember that many single parents were raised with traditional attitudes toward the Jewish family. They feel that the collapse of their own marriage violates their Jewish adulthood. The Jewish mother--"The Woman of Valor"--is particularly embittered. Judaism implies that she is responsible for keeping the family together.

Jewish Focus on Family May Alienate Recently Divorced

For members of a family experiencing a divorce, Judaism may seem inconsistent with, even antithetical to, the realities of their own lives. The ceremonies of the home and the synagogue are visibly focused on the traditional family. The mother blesses the candles; the father chants the kiddush [blessing over the wine]. Couples are called to open the ark. Babies are named; anniversaries are celebrated. This pageantry of the Jewish lifecycle is painfully family centered.

Attempts by the single parent to adopt a non-Judaist lifestyle are often used to provide a healing distance from the pain created by this omnipresent coupledness.

Synagogues Need to Maintain Contact

Regardless of the real facts of the marital collapse and the following lifestyle, most divorced parents carry a heavy burden of religious guilt. Dealing with this guilt is the continuous task upon which the relationship of the single-parent family and the synagogue is rebuilt.

The major task of the congregation during these early stages of divorce should be to maintain contact with the adults--although their anger may be discouraging. How often the rabbi has heard: "The rabbi was absolutely useless during my divorce"; "Every time he sees me, he turns the other way"; "I feel like a second-class citizen."

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Barbara Karlin Bundt Bond lives in Israel.