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Friday, March 2, 2012

Divorce is good news for Orthodox Jews.

Growing phenomenon of divorce in ultra-orthodox society is positive as more men, women say 'no' to life of unhappiness

Seven years ago I stood in front of a local bakery's counter in Bnei Brak, and requested the following be written on a cake: "Congratulations Miri, on your divorce". The woman behind the counter was shocked.

Until recently, divorce in the ultra-orthodox sector was deemed provocation, a spit in the face of a conservative society. A divorcee was regarded as a local myth, a neighborhood attraction in a community of couples. Today, separated couples are becoming more common, even trivial, and no longer situated at the heart of every scandal or gossip.

As the rates of divorce go up, the stigma of the tragic nature of divorce is crumbling. A growing number of divorce stories help strengthen an alternative narrative. Instead of "they married and lived happily ever after", ultra-orthodox society now accepts the possibility of: "They married, lived, divorced and than lived happily ever after".

Conservative society is also growing more tolerant towards divorce as a solution not only for extreme cases of violence or severe mental health, but also for mere unhappiness. "We weren’t getting along" has now become a legitimate reason to divorce.

Divorce is a symptom

The growing occurrence of divorce in ultra-orthodox society is a good and welcome development, as people choose their own happiness over the fear of becoming subject to gossip. A growing number of men and women choose to escape their unhappy life and pursue self fulfillment instead.

Divorce is not the only sign of the changes within the ultra-orthodox society. Since that first scandalous cake, the Bnei Brak bakery has delivered cakes to university graduations, military promotions and startup companies. Ultra-orthodox society in 2012 no longer adheres to a single flavor, and often elevates the individual's well-being over the need for uniformity.

Recent attempts by Israeli researchers to describe the new haredim in Israel were not very successful. This is a spontaneous, highly undefined phenomenon, still unfamiliar to any known categorization of Jewish sectors today.

The source of this change, similar to many changes in ultra-orthodox society, is the growing desire for individualism and self fulfillment and the decision to pursue these goals, even when they contradict the need to maintain the communal, conservative structure of society.

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