Divorce, Morality & the Internet: Cause or Effect?
By: Martin E. Friedlander, Esq.
Is the internet causing divorces? The answer to this question is an
unequivocal, “yes.” In the community at large and specifically the Orthodox community,
authors and lecturers constantly forewarn the many dangers that the internet poses on
children. Very little information, however, is published as to the danger that adults face
while using the internet and viewing online pornography and the harmful effects that the
internet has on marriages. As adults, people have rights to view scenes and sites that
demean and portray individuals in the most horrific and disgusting manner, but this does
not diminish the detriment it causes on their moral and religious character.
We need to expose this culprit in the adult community; otherwise there will be
long lasting effects on the entire fabric of our society. People who would not be seen in
a bar or club if their lives depended on it, for fear of being seen in that environment, can
easily access all of the lures of that environment, and worse, with the click of a mouse,
this can be in the comfort of their home or business setting, without the accompanying
embarrassment. Unfortunately, all of society, including the Orthodox community,
has been plagued by this epidemic and its harmful effects. This does not diminish the
negative ramifications doing so has on the viewer and the influence it has on one’s family
life. There is no question that the immorality that has become rampant in the world has
infiltrated the Orthodox and Chareidi communities and the number of divorces based on
this has risen significantly.
From a religious standpoint, there are obviously halachik prohibitions against
viewing these materials. Community Rabbis and leaders have urged public awareness
about this subject due to the upsurge of immorality and infidelity as the cause of divorce
within the Orthodox community. Inappropriate computer usage and acts of immorality
have not been limited to gender, as it affects both men, women and even children within
the community. One of the topics that will be addressed in this article is the interaction
between the internet and its effect on divorce.
MENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVE
Frequenting these inappropriate sites is creating a new type of addiction. Those
who are affected need professional help and counseling. Any mental health professional
will unequivocally state that constantly viewing such content, sites, and videos,
negatively affects one’s mindset, decisions, and interactions with his/her spouse, children,
loved ones and others. In a countless number of legal cases involving excessive internet
usage, experts have presented data which reveals that the people engaged in this activity
all contain a manifest level of addictive behavior. Many people who are addicted to the
internet spend hours upon hours browsing the internet searching terms that we hope are
not in the vocabulary of a yeshiva educated individual. The extent of the addiction is
revealed by the fact that there are legal cases in which Orthodox people have generated
inappropriate searches for these sites even on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. There
are also people who can not turn off their computer at the outset of the Sabbath, so that
they can feed their addiction throughout the Sabbath. Computer experts who had access
to internet addicts’ computers’ also remark regarding the extent of this phenomenon
that has entered our community. Forensic experts note that this epidemic can lead one to
transgress the Sabbath and Yom Tov.
STATISTICS ON INTERNET USAGE
The United States Senate heard testimony concerning internet pornography
usage and its effects on divorce and custody determinations. Dr. Mary Anne Layden of
the University of Pennsylvania indicated before the United States Senate at a hearing
relating to internet usage in 2005 that 40% of people addicted to the internet will lose
their spouse, 58% will suffer several financial losses and 27%-40% will lose their jobs or
At a meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, it was found
that 56% of divorce cases involved one party’s obsessive interest of pornographic
websites and 47% of divorce cases involved spending excessive time on the computer.
Psychologist Janice Abrams has noted an explosion of online extra-marital affairs due to
its accessibility and anonymous nature. More than half of the population uses the internet
and 20-33% go online for these pursuits.
SYMPTOMS OF INTERNET ADDICTION
It is important for people to become aware of this predicament plaguing our
society and be able to detect when someone is suffering from an internet addiction in
order to help that person seek help and to rectify/save a marriage. Dr. Kimberly Young
indicates that many family/marital therapists are unfortunately not proficient in treating
this addiction. There are, however, common symptoms indicative of internet addiction,
such as spending excessive time on the computer and becoming very defensive when the
other spouse comes near the computer or enters the room where the computer is located.
1 Hearing on pornography’s impact on marriage & the family subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights
and property rights committee on judiciary. United States Senate. November 10, 2005.
In Israel, a discussion in the Rabbinic Courts has centered around a debate
regarding the similarities between eating virtual pork and engaging in online virtual sin
via pornographic websites. A case before the Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem involved
a woman suing her husband for divorce, on the grounds of virtual adultery. Virtual
fantasies are conducted by placing electrodes on the head while engaging in the online
fantasy. In particular, eating virtual pork is accomplished by placing electrodes on the
head, while placing bland food in the person’s mouth and the program to which the
electrodes are connected, simulates the food the person desires to eat. The Beis Din
had to grapple with this issue and its ramifications, but today, Batei Dinim are forced
to deal with situations far more serious than virtual adultery. The hurt one spouse
suffers after being confronted with the user’s habitual online browsing of inappropriate
material is undoubtedly a cause of divorce; the awareness is accompanied by a feeling of
unfaithfulness and disgust, which attacks the core of the marriage.
Surprisingly, Rabbinical Courts are not giving considerable weight to a parent’s
immorality and significant internet usage in deciding whether that parent should be
awarded custody of children. Has our society become so jaded that viewing this material
is no longer considered a significant factor in divorce and child custody matters before
the Rabbinical Court (Beis Din)?In New York, adultery is still generally a crime in secular courts, but individuals
are not generally prosecuted for this crime.
After numerous discussions with prominent Toanim, it has become clear that
unless there is an issue involving child pornography, then in a practical matter, Beis Din’s
view on infidelity and internet immorality will have no bearing on custody and parent
visitation determinations in divorce proceedings before them.
In my years of practice in the matrimonial field, I have seen a wide spectrum of
unfortunate cases involving internet usage. Despite claims that Orthodox Jews are an
insular community, the causes of divorce are universal and not limited by the constraints
of religion or level of religious observance.
Outcry from clients, family members, Rabbis, and community leaders regarding
internet usage and its negative impact on our lives is downplayed. Further uproar must
to be generated due to the lack of serious ramifications within the religious community
and its tribunals for violating the Jewish prohibitions against pornography and excessive
usage of the internet for inappropriate matters. The religious community must address
and acknowledge this epidemic. The number of Orthodox cases involving allegations
of excessive and inappropriate computer usage and acts of immorality is staggering and
it is growing. The usual and customary response that this problem does not plague the
religious community is ludicrous and simply untrue.
Countless families have been destroyed by the internet and other technology
and in many cases, children are unfortunately aware of the reasons behind their parents
divorce. As a result, they are exposed to this immoral behavior. The lesson children learn
from their parents’ behavior can only handicap their development and religious growth.
A recently created website has attracted much negative media attention and provides a
forum in which married Orthodox individuals may seek partners for extra-marital affairs.
The screen names and descriptions as reported are quite telling of the challenges we face
today. The fact that this website was established by allegedly religious individuals, for
religious individuals, makes one wonder what values our children are instilled with today
and the frightening ramifications that such sites will have on future generations. This site
has drawn significant negative media attention as well as the interest of law enforcement.
Internet addiction is an addiction like any other. Not only are there signs which
can be picked up on, but only through trained professional specialties in this area, can one
obtain proper assistance. This addiction has ruined many marriages, having placed
barriers in relationships between the addicted and their children, which at times requires
the parents contact to be supervised.
Martin Friedlander P.C. is a firm specializing in
matrimonial matters in both secular courts and Beis Din.