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Protecting Us From Ourselves: An Anonymous Perspective on Divorce

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SUMMARY

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to an anonymous divorced man who gives us his perspective on the divorce process and the need to protect oneself from his own darkest inclinations.

While one would never assume themselves capable of get (divorce document) refusal, the emotions of uncoupling run high and it’s possible to find yourself considering using the get as a bargaining chip. We sit down with a man who was in this exact predicament and he explains why the get should never be used in this way and how signing a halakhic prenup protects both people in the dissolving marriage.

  • What role do community leaders, rabbeim, and therapists play in a couple’s divorce process?
  • What should one do post divorce to better themselves?
  • What can men do to protect themselves from even the consideration of get refusal?
  • How important is the halakhic prenup for all communities?

Tune in to hear a conversation on divorce, granting a get, and what can be done to protect against our baser instincts.

References:
To Heal a Fractured World by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck
Game Plan for Life by Joe Gibbs

For more, visit https://18forty.org/agunah

David Bashevkin:

Hello and welcome to the 18Forty Podcast, where each month we explore a different topic balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re exploring agunot, people in chained marriages. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big, juicy, Jewish ideas that animate our contemporary Jewish lives, so be sure to check out 18Forty.org – that’s 1-8-F-O-R-T-Y.org – where you can find videos, articles, recommended readings, and all of our old recordings and conversations. This month we’re doing something special, which is coming up to our one year anniversary. We’re asking you, our listeners, to send in questions, feedback, comments to the phone number 917-720-5629. Again, that’s 917-720-5629. Give feedback, give criticism, give comments. Tell us what you loved. Tell us what you hated. Tell us why. Just please mind your language. This of course is a family show.

I think I’ve mentioned a few times that my favorite tractate, my favorite masechta, in the entire Talmud is Tractate Gittin, which is the tractate that deals with the laws of divorce. “Gittin” is plural for “get,” which means a divorce document. And I’ve always found the tractate extraordinarily interesting, and how the themes within the tractate – there are so many, and I hope to write about this one day – how all the themes in the tractate cohere and come together on one single idea. But a lot of what you can find in Tractate Gittin is actually in its very structure.

Tractate Gittin is written backwards. Meaning, when you open up, the first page talks about someone, a husband, who is sending a get, a divorce document, to their wife overseas, who’s not in the country. So they’ve already decided to get divorced, they’ve already written the divorce document, and the question is now, how do you send it over? The last page in the entire tractate really discusses, when should you give a get? Meaning, the entire tractate is written backwards. I would have expected that the first page should be, when should a marriage dissolve? And the last page should be, okay, now that you’ve decided to dissolve it, written the get, done all the other requirements, now, how do you send it?

But that’s not the order. And the entire tractate is written backwards. It doesn’t go from A to B, it actually goes from B back to A. And I think this tells us quite a bit about the notion of divorce itself, and what it is actually trying to accomplish in that larger sense. And in many ways, we see this in the very text of the Torah itself, where the entire concept of marriage is only discussed within the narrative of divorce itself. You can look that up in Parshas Ki Tetze, which I believe is the 24th chapter in Sefer Devarim, in Deuteronomy. You can check that out yourself, how the laws of marriage are discussed. It’s really a part of the divorce narrative. It’s not written sequentially – you get married, and then this is how a couple can get divorced. It loops around in this strange way, that as part of the narrative of divorce, we then weave in the concept of marriage and all the laws related to marriage.

And it just seems that the way that we talk about this is not sequential. And I think that there’s actually something quite moving in this, which is that, normally we think about our lives unfolding quite sequentially. We move from point A, we date, we fall in love, point B, we get engaged, point C, we get married, point D, you have children, establish a family, and then you live your life, and life unfolds sequentially.

But I think there’s a reason why, when we talk about get, the entire structure of this tractate is in fact backwards, because I think this in many ways is what divorce does, and what specifically Jewish divorce is trying to cultivate, is to show people that when your life unwinds in a way, or one’s life unwinds in a way that does not follow that linear path that we all hope for in our own lives. It doesn’t go from point A, then B, then C, then D, but there’s a disruption of sorts. What we’re trying to do with the concept of divorce is be able to connect that point to which we landed, connect that point B, that point Z, whichever point we are in our lives, and connect that back to that starting point of point A. To basically look at our lives in all of its messiness and complexity.

And even when our plans did not work out according to what we had hoped for, to take the moment that we’re in, that dissolving of the miracle of marriage, and say, there is a way to forge presence even through this absence. There is a way that my life can be restored in a way, that each member of that marriage’s life can be restored in a way to that point A, even though the narrative of their lives clearly did not follow sequentially. And I think this notion of taking the point where you are, the marriage didn’t work out, it didn’t come back together, but let’s find a way to dissolve this in a way that we can both reclaim that equilibrium in our lives. We can both go back and find a way back to point A. I think is quite beautiful. And this is at the heart of the tractate.

The very last page, page 90B in Tractate Gittin, if you want to look it up, has this really moving imagery that has always stayed with me. When a couple gets divorced, in Hebrew, it’s “afilu mizbe’ach morid alav dema’os”. Even the mizbe’ach, even the alter, even the place where we sacrifice korbanos and bring sacrifices to God, even that mizbe’ach, even that altar, begins to weep.

And I was always struck by, why “even”? are we suddenly surprised that this anthropomorphic altar is now weeping? Why “afilu mizbe’ach”? Why is there this sense of surprise, so to speak, that even they’re crying. The other people are crying, I get it. But even the mizbe’ach is shedding tears. But I think there is these two ways in which we forge relationships. We forge relationships through presence, through what exists currently in our lives, and I think that is modeled by the mizbe’ach, by a korban, which comes from that root Hebrew word “karov,” to be close, to have that presence, to have that sense of immediacy in your lives, that divinity in your lives, that other people in your lives. There is that sense of presence that is forged through sacrifice, through korbanos, and through marriage, in many ways. You have that immediacy and that presence of those other people in your lives.

And what Gittin essentially is doing is the opposite. It is learning how to develop healthy relationships through absence, through a disillusion of the relationship. And there’s a way, not just through Gittin, in many ways in our lives, that we develop relationships through absence. I always think of many Yeshivas, and possibly universities, they have, this is very common in Yeshivas, they have an empty chair where a former leader of the rabbi used to sit. What’s happening there, that we leave that chair empty? I think you look at that chair and you are reminded of what is no longer there. You are reminded of what is absent. That it is through that absence that you’re able to have a relationship. And in many ways, this is what get is trying to do. That even through this absence, even through this dissolution of the miracle of marriage, you’re still able, we still have the tools and the path to develop a healthy relationship, even through this absence.

And I always found it remarkable, this is like 0% of our listeners, I think, are going to appreciate this, but I’m going to share it anyways, because I’ve always found that fascinating. The korban that was most commonly brought is the korban tamid. It was brought twice a day every single day, in the mornings and in the evenings. And if you look at the passage that describes the korban tamid, which represents relationships through presence, relationships through immediacy, every single letter of the aleph-bais, every single Hebrew letter, is represented in that passage of Torah, except two. And those are the letters gimmel and tes, which spell the word “get”. Because in some ways, get is the inverse of what we’re doing with korbanos, of trying to invoke that relationship through immediacy, and get is about relationship through absence.

There is a healthy way to dissolve a relationship. There’s a healthy way to almost build a relationship, non sequentially, through that absence. There is a way to create a relationship as well, a healthy dissolution of the relationship through absence itself. Which is why I think this final conversation about agunah that we’re sharing with you today is so incredibly important.

We are talking to an anonymous person, someone who’s chosen to stay anonymous. Somebody who I know personally, who went through a divorce and was not, let me be absolutely clear, was not me’agen, did not make their wives into an agunah. But, and this is the important part, but thought about it. And why am I sharing this? Well, two reasons. Number one, just to be absolutely clear, we tried very hard to have an actual agunah, a woman, who was going through this process on the podcast. It’s obviously, somebody who’s in the middle of that process, or went through that process, this is something very difficult in people’s lives that they, more often than not, don’t want to share again on someone’s podcast. And I had to be sensitive and respect that, obviously. But we did very much try. But I actually thought this story was, in some ways, more practical and important, because I assume most people don’t really think ever, God forbid, about being me’agen their spouse, about making their spouse into an agunah.

Instead, this gives an inside look at the process of divorce, and how some of our uglier instincts can come up when we are fighting with one another, and how a relationship that was founded on love can quickly devolve into something much uglier. And I think the number one takeaway from this conversation, that I hope you listen too closely, and generously, and carefully, is that the prenup, or whatever measures you take, the prenup of the Bes Din of America, or any measures that you take, they’re not just meant to protect the spouse who you are in love with, though obviously, that’s number one. But I think what I found so moving about this is that it’s also meant to protect you from yourself. To make sure that you know that who knows what ugliness lurks inside of any relationship. Relationships are really complicated. And if, God forbid, this dissolves, you need to be ready to make sure that you have protections against yourself and don’t ruin your own reputation, your own standing in the community.

And I thought that this emerges really well. And this was a very ugly divorce of this person who is sharing this story. Though, obviously, there are a lot of details that we couldn’t share, and if you listen, you’ll understand why. But I think this idea of agunah not being just an issue that women need to protect themselves from, but the notion that men need to protect themselves from themselves to make sure that the uglier instincts that can oftentimes emerge when something so holy, of such sanctity like marriage, and I believe that marriage is at the heart of religious life in so many ways. We need to make sure that people are protected from themselves as well, which is why I thought this conversation was so very important.

I just want to make a really important disclaimer. Not a disclaimer, a mistake that I made in the first introduction. A few people reached out to me, very much appreciated, that I seem to have mistranslated the word that we say when we do the act, the ceremony of kiddushin, where we say “kedas Moshe v’yisrael”. Kedas over here, and I just want to be clear, I am embarrassed, because I clearly did get it wrong. And I translated the word “kedas” as knowledge. It’s not knowledge. I mean, “kedas” is spelled, daled taf, which in this case is the religion of Moshe and the Jewish people. And this is what we say in the act of kiddushin. The point that I was trying to make, and the point that still very much stands, and anybody who I’ve served as mesader kiddushin at your weddings, it’s not a long list, but the list exists, please don’t panic. I know what the word “kedas” means. I promise. And your wedding is still absolutely fine. But the idea that I was trying to say is, why is it that specifically kiddushin, the betrothal ceremony where you have that exclusivity in your relationship, why do we mention here, of all the other ceremonies that we have in Jewish life, that it’s done according to the religion of Moshe and the Jewish people?

And this is where the idea that I had mentioned previously, is that there is something specifically communal about the act of marriage. It’s not just two individuals coming together and deciding to get married alone in a room. That is not how the Jewish concept of marriage works. The Jewish concept of marriage is something that requires this communal participation. What in the language of the Talmud is called “chavla achrini,” other people have stakes in this claim too. When a person gets married, so now, God forbid, relations with people outside of marriage would be considered adultery. And there is a sanctity around that marriage that is invested, not invested, but is integrated with that larger communal sanctity of the Jewish people. And there’s a lot more to say about that, about how so much of sanctity emerges from the ceremonies of marriage itself.

And dare I say that there is a holiness to the divorce ceremony as well. I don’t want to give litanies of proof in this, but you can just look at that very first Tosfos in Tractate Gittin, where the laws of writing a get are derived, in many ways, from the laws of writing a Sefer Torah. There are more proofs to this, Tosfos talks about having names of idolaters later on in the masechta, and again, Tosfos says we can’t have that in a holy document. And I think that comes back to the idea that we just began with, which is that there is a holiness, there is a sanctity, obviously, in marriage, but in the way that we create holiness through absence, through the ceremony of get in a healthy, proper way, is a way to create holiness and a relationship through absence as well.

Which is, why I am so excited to share a personal conversation with you today, of a friend, who has, for obvious reasons, chosen to remain anonymous. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

For obvious reasons, we are not going to be sharing this person’s name. So, all of you, 18Forty detectives, if you want to go, there are hundreds of people I know who have been divorced. Good luck with that. But it is my pleasure to welcome my friend here today. Thank you so much for joining us.

Anonymous:

Thank you, David.

David Bashevkin:

My identity is open. So you could call me by my name. I am going to avoid yours. Maybe we could begin at the beginning. Just to state it. You are now remarried.

Anonymous:

Yes.

David Bashevkin:

Thank God, which is wonderful. And we’ll talk a little bit about that, but I really want to talk about your first marriage, which ended in divorce, and that process. Take me to the beginning. How did you meet your first wife?

Anonymous:

I had been dating for a few years. I was in yeshiva. I would date local girls, date girls out of town, and travel. And I was following the typical shidduch system. You know, a shadchan would set us up. They would know me, they wouldn’t know me. And they would set me up with a variety of women, and I met my wife through a shadchan.

David Bashevkin:

Your first wife?

Anonymous:

My first wife.

David Bashevkin:

And I want to be clear to our listeners. You got permission from your current wife –

Anonymous:

Yes.

David Bashevkin:

To talk about this. I don’t want anybody get nervous. Okay.

Anonymous:

Yeah. So I met my wife through, we’ll call it the standard shidduch process. She was suggested to me, my mother looked into her, I looked into her, we went out. We dated for, I want to say two, three months. So probably fairly typical schedule, at least amongst my friends.

David Bashevkin:

In your cultural world two, three months.

Anonymous:

Right. In the cultural world, so two, three months. And then we had a two, three month engagement, and then we got married. And then –

David Bashevkin:

So you’re a fast forward way too quickly for me. So let’s pause. You got engaged. Tell me now, were you nervous at that point? You’re dating for two to three months. I could tell my own dating story a different time. I dated my wife on two, depending how you count, two or three different occasions. And there were definitely bumps along the way. At the point when you decided to get engaged, was that just smooth sailing, or was it already bumpy?

Anonymous:

Throughout the dating process until we got engaged, it was fairly smooth. I’ve actually found some of the stuff that I had written. I used to be a fairly good diarist.

David Bashevkin:

You kept a diary back then?

Anonymous:

I kept a diary back then.

David Bashevkin:

Like a journal?

Anonymous:

Yeah. Like a journal. I’ve actually been doing something like that since I was very young. I found writings that I wrote in 3rd grade or something. So it’s pretty funny to look back at…

David Bashevkin:

It’s funny. I kept a journal too, at different points in my life. And I kept one in 12th grade. I have ones that I found in 9th grade… And I lost the one from 12 grade. And, Lord save me, if that falls into the wrong hands, I don’t know, they’ll blackmail me for whatever. But you actually went back to your… you still have those journals?

Anonymous:

Yeah. I have them. They’re tucked in a drawer somewhere and one day I’ll burn them, but I have them. But it’ll be part of a will, is that I’ll have a friend come over and burn all my stuff.

David Bashevkin:

Exactly. Exactly.

Anonymous:

So honestly, everything seemed fine. There was like… There’s always little things that come up in a relationship, but they seemed minor. It seemed, these were maybe rising to the level of a yellow flag, but probably not even. I think it was a fairly good relationship. My father always has a thing of, he’s like, “Just make sure you’re not walking on clouds.” Whenever I got serious with a girl, he’s like, “Make sure you’re not walking on clouds.” And I’m like, I didn’t think I was walking on clouds. I think I was going in with eyes wide open. I’d been dating, at that point, for probably four or five years, maybe three to four years at that point, so I had had some serious relationships already at that point, and I was ready to get engaged. And then we got engaged, and there’s always –

David Bashevkin:

How’d you propose? Can you tell me or no? Too much information? Or you just forgot?

Anonymous:

I think I just, I’m not –

David Bashevkin:

May have blocked that out. Okay. You got engaged –

Anonymous:

I actually do not remember. To be perfectly honest.

David Bashevkin:

Okay. You’ve been through a lot since then. So you got engaged, and at what point did you get the first bump in the road that, “This relationship, it’s not…” Nobody gets married with a certainty that, “Oh, this is going to end. This is not going to last.” But what was the first glimmer in retrospect that this is a bump?

Anonymous:

I think that there are certain things that I think in the engagement, I would consider were high stress, but I more or less just chalked that up to, I don’t know, engagement jitters, or just… It’s a high stress relationship. And at the same time that you’re trying to build this relationship and get married, it’s like you’re still on pause. You still can’t go any further, in terms of the relationship, because you’re planning for a marriage.

David Bashevkin:

You’re in this limbo zone.

Anonymous:

Right. Right.

David Bashevkin:

It’s the worst period, I think.

Anonymous:

And it’s a lot of stress, and there’s a lot of negotiations and everything else. And honestly, there were yellow flags, but again, I just chalked that up to, in hindsight, those things would be more like red flags, but I think it’s hard to tell when something is a red flag or a yellow flag, even from an outsider perspective. While we were engaged, I called up one of my rebbeim, my ex wife had, we’re engaged, she called up one of my rebbeim just to talk things over. My rebbe related this to me later, months later, after the divorce was final. He said he was a little uneasy with what he was hearing, but he also just thought it’s a yellow flag, but he said, he’s seen it before and the relationship worked out fine.

David Bashevkin:

Do you know what the concern was? Was it just jitters before a wedding, or something very specific that you cannot talk about?

Anonymous:

It’s something that I cannot talk about. Respecting everyone’s privacy. And again, it’s hard to tell if something is a red flag, yellow flag. My siblings and parents will tell you they knew all along, but I don’t think that’s true. I think that, I don’t know –

David Bashevkin:

I totally agree with you.

Anonymous:

My feeling is that it’s not true. I think it’s just hard to tell.

David Bashevkin:

I absolutely agree. I think that the yellow flags, if every yellow flag, if every bump in the road was immediately escalated to, “You should not proceed with marriage,” I think you would lose more. And this is based on nothing. This is based on my own intuition, based on my own marriage. I certainly had concerns, it wasn’t just smooth sailing, we met and just fell in love and boom. I definitely think that if you dissolved every relationship because there was a yellow flag, obviously we don’t have more information than that, then you would lose more healthy marriages than you would save unhealthy marriages. That’s my intuition. I’m sure there’s more research on that.

So you ended up getting married. At what point did the yellow flag, because it was not a long marriage. I want to say just two quick disclaimers before we proceed. Number one, and I think you’ll agree with this, you operate in a psychologically adjacent profession.

Anonymous:

Correct.

David Bashevkin:

So I think you would agree that in any divorce there are always two sides to a story.

Anonymous:

Correct.

David Bashevkin:

I think that there’s nobody who could disagree. There are always differences. You’re only hearing half of that story. And obviously now, and we’re not sharing your name or identity, we’re only hearing half of the story. But the second thing is that, I do want to say from the outset, this was not a long marriage and did not bear any children, which definitely changes the dynamic of the proceedings when eventually the marriage dissolved.

Anonymous:

Correct.

David Bashevkin:

That’s a major factor. But let’s talk about the dissolving of the marriage and what happened, and what happened to you personally. So at what point did you realize that this was not going to last?

Anonymous:

Probably somewhere between the month, month and a half mark.

David Bashevkin:

Wow.

Anonymous:

Things just didn’t seem to be working so great. And we spoke to one of our rebbeim, and his immediate reaction is, “You’ve got to go to therapy. This can be worked out, but you’ve got to go to therapy.” So we were in therapy fairly quickly, with the goal of fixing whatever issues need to be fixed and moving on from there.

David Bashevkin:

This is an incredibly personal question, but I feel a little bit more liberty, again, because of the anonymity. Did you make a conscious decision at this point that, “We are not going to try to have children until we see if we can work this out?”

Anonymous:

That was actually, one of our rebbeim, actually, when we spoke to him, he says, “You’ve got to go to therapy, you’re going to go, this can be worked out.” And he told my wife to go back on birth control. He said, “I’m not saying it won’t work out, but it takes that pressure off the table when you’re on birth control, that not everything has to be so fraught and high stakes.” And that was what he conveyed at the time is that, if you’re on birth control, then you can enjoy each other physically without everything becoming a high stakes going through your head, “What if it doesn’t work out, this therapy?”

David Bashevkin:

And now we have a child in this equation.

Anonymous:

And now we have a child. So just take that off. Back on…

David Bashevkin:

And just to be clear, obviously that’s such a personal question. I’m somewhat embarrassed that I asked you, but again… And that’s a question that everybody needs to consider privately in their own lives. But I think that that’s a consideration that’s worth highlighting. So you went to marriage therapy? My wife and I have been to a therapist together. I’m curious, did you find it helpful? Did you find the therapist helpful?

Anonymous:

Some of them… Yes. I would say yes. We actually went to different ones because, if one works well for the husband but doesn’t work well for the wife, and one works well for the wife and doesn’t work well for the husband, it doesn’t work. So there’s definitely a group dynamic there.

David Bashevkin:

It’s like shidduch dating again. It’s like you’re dating your therapist and all that.

Anonymous:

It is.

David Bashevkin:

I think the breakups are harder with therapists than with actual relationships.

Anonymous:

Right. So I did find that therapy helped. It definitely helped clarify what the issue is and what the issue wasn’t. From there, we were in therapy for a few more months, and then at a certain point, we decided to separate. Questions over there? Or…

David Bashevkin:

No, I actually I am curious. The decision to separate, that’s a conversation you and your wife had alone, or you made that in the therapist’s office?

Anonymous:

I cannot disclose that information.

David Bashevkin:

Okay. Interesting. When you separated, did you say, “And this is separation in order to get divorced?”

Anonymous:

That wasn’t the intent. That was never spelled out explicitly. After we separated, there was fairly intense discussions, I think without us. Basically our respective rebbeim, mentors, the therapists all got together to discuss.

David Bashevkin:

Gotcha.

Anonymous:

Because they’re trying to draw a whole picture of it. They wanted us to continue with therapy, and ultimately we decided not to continue and to go on for a divorce.

David Bashevkin:

And how long after separation… This is quick. So you’re now married for how many months?

Anonymous:

Call it three months or so.

David Bashevkin:

And the separation was for how long?

Anonymous:

I cannot disclose that.

David Bashevkin:

Okay. And now you are getting ready to get divorced. Tell me about what happened when you made that decision.

Anonymous:

Ultimately when it was decided that we weren’t going to go forward with reconciliation and further therapy, something happened in the relationship. So I talked to my rebbeim, therapist, and all of that, and they said, “Okay. So now you’re going to go, whatever date, you’re going to go give the get.” So I said, “Fine, I’m going to go give the get.”

David Bashevkin:

Actually we need to pause. Did you have a prenup at this point?

Anonymous:

We did not have a prenup.

David Bashevkin:

Did you ever have a discussion before you got married to have a prenup?

Anonymous:

No. No.

David Bashevkin:

And why? Because it just didn’t dawn… I only had one because, I think either the mesader kiddushin remembered, or my wife wanted me, and I’m just like, “Okay, sure.” But the culture in a lot of places is not to sign them.

Anonymous:

In the culture that I was in at the time, I did not have one. It was fairly uncommon. I did have friends that did, but it was fairly uncommon. And we did not have a prenup.

David Bashevkin:

And it wasn’t even a discussion initially?

Anonymous:

I don’t recall it being a discussion at all.

David Bashevkin:

Okay. So now it’s time where you’re going to give a get. This was a fairly short… What should be an open-shut case of like, “Okay. Now you’re going to give the divorce.”

Anonymous:

Right.

David Bashevkin:

And what happened next?

Anonymous:

Something happened as part of the separation. Someone did something in the relationship that enraged me. It was taking advantage of the situation, and it made me really upset. And it’s like, “We’re going through a divorce, we’re going to go to bes din, and we’re going to deal with all of those things. How can you go ahead and make arbitrary decisions on your own?” And it enraged me. And I remember talking to –

David Bashevkin:

I want to jump in, because I know you for many, many years. The word “enrage,” the verb, does not seem like something that I would associate with you. Maybe I didn’t know you well enough, but it’s surprising to me to even hear you describe yourself that way. But you were enraged.

Anonymous:

I was enraged. Yeah. Even thinking about it today, I get upset of what happened. Because, who gave you the right to do those things? And it’s upsetting to recall that. And I came close to refusing to go to bes din unless that issue was resolved. And my rebbeim talked me down. I said, “Unless this is resolved – ”

David Bashevkin:

What happened? You called up your rebbeim, who were essentially telling you, “You’ve got to go to bes din and you’ve got to give the get,” and you said, “I’m not going until this matter – ”

Anonymous:

Is resolved.

David Bashevkin:

And what did your rebbeim respond to you?

Anonymous:

“Absolutely not. You’re going to bes din. We’ll take care of it, we’ll make sure that this issue is off the table.” Meaning, “You’re going no matter what. We’ll deal with this issue separately.” And I was like, “That’s not good enough for me. It needs to be resolved. I need a commitment that it’s going to be resolved.” And ultimately, they got us to both sign an agreement that we will deal with that issue post get. And not wanting to use the get as a leverage in that negotiation, and courtroom battle, whatever you’re going to call it. And… It scared me. It scared me.

David Bashevkin:

What did you learn about yourself from that?

Anonymous:

It scared me. I never thought of myself as that type of guy who would do such a thing. I am not blind to the fact that people will use it, and people will use things as leverage, but it scared me because I never thought I was that type of guy. I thought I’m a good guy who’s learned in good yeshivas, the whole thing. And I never thought I would be that type of guy. And it absolutely terrified me. And honestly, in hindsight, it was fighting over minor things. I couldn’t have even imagined giving in in such a situation if there were children involved. Like we’re saying, you would have never thought of enraged, but I have this, I don’t know, almost like mama bear approach where, I think, if it was withholding of custody, or something like that, I don’t know that I would have given in, or something like that. I was enraged. That’s how I felt.

David Bashevkin:

Looking back now, and I’m curious what you did, because you did get remarried, did that make you look differently at the prenup? Did you sign a prenup in your second marriage?

Anonymous:

Yeah. In my second marriage I signed a prenup. We did the standard RCA prenup, I think we did the standard RCA prenup. We didn’t do the child custody addendum that they have to it. But essentially, we did the standard RCA prenup.

David Bashevkin:

Mm-hmm. And I’m just curious, did it resolve? Did you in fact were able to resolve it afterwards in court?

Anonymous:

We went to bes din, we pled our cases in bes din. Honestly the dayan was excellent. He kept everyone calm in the situation. We didn’t have a to’en or to’enet, or anything like that. We argued our sides and we walked out of bes din. At least from my end, I walked out of bes din, honestly, I felt that the overall scheme of things, I didn’t get very much out of that, but I felt happy. I felt…

David Bashevkin:

You felt resolved.

Anonymous:

I felt resolved. Like this is over, get is done, the monetary issues are done, all the other issues are done, let’s move on. Let’s do the painful process of therapy and rehab and working on myself –

David Bashevkin:

Healing. Individual level.

Anonymous:

Yeah, and working on myself at an individual level, and we could go on and never have to, hopefully, deal with each other again.

David Bashevkin:

And let me ask you, looking back, I’m always curious about this. I dated for a very long time, and you can’t compare the relationships and interactions you have when you’re dating to one that you actually were married to somebody. But I remember as I was dating, there was a sense of exhaustion, in how should I be viewing those relationships that I invested so much of my time into, and now they’re done. They’re finished. And I know that that’s an exhaustion that so many people who have been dating for a long time, or did date, how do you look back at that time and that marriage? Is it like, “I wish that never happened. I wish I did something differently.” What’s your orientation towards that period in your life?

Anonymous:

I mean, obviously, I don’t expect… I would never want to go through that again. You sometimes go on a roller coaster, and like, “That was fun, let’s do it again.” And you sometimes get off of one and you’re like, “Never again. I’m never doing, whichever, pick your favorite rollercoaster it is, again.” I had to go through a lot of soul searching and work post divorce. I had to work on myself, because there are certain personality characteristics that, they’ll always come up in another relationship. And I honestly don’t think that I would have gone through the hard work that I needed to do if it was just another few years of poor dating record, or even a broken engagement. I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to go through a divorce to work on their middos, but I felt like I went through that in order to work on myself.

David Bashevkin:

And it was a wake up call.

Anonymous:

It was a wake up call. And I spent many years in therapy. For the first six months it was weekly, sometimes more. And then afterwards it moved to biweekly, and monthly, and every three to six months… Working with therapists. And that’s why I said, going back to this whole enragement thing, there are certain things… You have to know yourself and know your personality, but you have to also protect yourself from your own worst instincts. I didn’t have a prenup, and I came close. And yes, would I have given it eventually, probably. But you don’t know that about yourself until you go through very extreme circumstances. You just don’t know how you’re going to react. And looking back, I don’t know, I did have happy moments with my ex, and we did have a good relationship. There were happy moments that we had together. And she has incredible and special characteristics. But just not for me.

David Bashevkin:

You shared this beautiful quote from Mitch Albom that I want to read. He said, “In order to move on, you have to know why you felt that way, and why you no longer need to feel that way.” And I think that’s something remarkable, that you’re at a place now where you can actually look back and have the courage. I think there’s a measure of courage needed to be able to look at a failed relationship and not just say, “Oh, the whole thing was a mistake, I was never happy. The whole thing was…” There’s a measure of courage needed to look at it and still be able to extract growth and happiness from within that relationship. And I think that that’s really impressive.

Anonymous:

Right. Looking at it as the mistake, or saying, “I never liked that person anyway,” those are not helpful. It doesn’t help you from doing the work that you personally need to do to get better. Just going back to the story about how we had good moments together. So we were in the bes din, and while, I don’t know if you’ve ever been at a get ceremony, but –

David Bashevkin:

No I’m fascinated by this. Did you guys, I’m just curious, did you come alone to your get ceremony, or were your parents there with you? Do you remember?

Anonymous:

One of my siblings came.

David Bashevkin:

Okay. And your ex-wife was there –

Anonymous:

With a family friend.

David Bashevkin:

With a family friend. Okay.

Anonymous:

And we’re in this bes din, and it’s a fairly long process, because you have to write, for anybody who’s learned Gittin, you have to write the get for the wife. And the way that they do it is they write it right there on the spot. So the sofer is writing, the mesader gittin is doing all of that. And there’s a lot of sitting around. And one of the edim, while the mesader gittin is there, he gets a phone call. And he starts talking, whoever it is. And whatever the discussion was, I don’t remember what it was, but it was totally inappropriate for the somberness that I’m feeling. He’s having this relationship, he’s having the conversations, whatever it is, and it’s funny.

So I remember looking at my ex, and she looked at me, we make eye contact, we both smile, and I’m like, “We’re going to go home and we’re going to laugh about this.” And then it hit me like, “No. We’re not going home together. We’re just going to have to laugh about this separately.” And even in the moment you’re separating, you still have the relationship.

And going back to your thought about, you have this relationship, you date and you have this relationship, and the relationships don’t work out, and you’re like, what do you do with that? And depending on the culture that you sit in, whether you’re going to still be friends with the woman that you dated for a while… I was talking to a shadchan once, and she was telling me, “Okay. You broke up with that girl, now here’s the next resume. Here’s the next girl to go out with.” And I said, “I really can’t. I need a break. I need a break, two, three weeks, I’ll get back to you.” I need to unpack that relationship and go on. And they’re like, “No. You just have to keep dating. There’s so many girls.” I was like, “No. You got to figure out what worked, what didn’t work.” And honestly, it’s like, people don’t spend time doing that. And some relationships it’s like, one or two dates and it’s done, and you don’t need six months in between. But when you spend time getting to know someone, it’s like, if you’re not going to have that relationship, you have to understand why it’s not going to be there anymore.

David Bashevkin:

Yeah. A hundred percent. And when we started this topic, talking about agunah, I was very hesitant. I happen to know agunot, and I’ve been watching what’s been going on on social media and what’s been drawing the attention to this. And we’re still trying, and hopefully we’ll have an interview secured with a woman who has gone through this. But I actually do think that there is a story, and there are instructive aspects for men in this story. And I’m curious what you personally think. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, I don’t know if you’re on social media, but there has been this wellspring of attention given to the plight of agunot, nearly exclusively women. And I’m curious what you think about, as somebody who saw something different in themselves when they were going through the divorce process, and looks back and says, “I needed the protection, the incentive of a prenup, to protect me from myself.” I’m curious what you think about when you see these stories now. Do you think about that part of yourself? Do you think about what’s going on for the men? For the women? What’s going through your head when you see these stories? Or maybe you don’t see them?

Anonymous:

I don’t know… I don’t know. I honestly feel, everybody’s story is different. But in the end of the day… And their reasons for, we’ll call it withholding, might be different. But in the end of the day, the behavior is, you’re keeping someone connected to you, and you’re holding… It’s the behavior, and you need to protect yourself from that behavior.

David Bashevkin:

When you say yourself, you’re talking to the guy?

Anonymous:

I’m talking to the guy. You’re protecting yourself from your worst instincts on the worst days of your life. Going through the divorce will be the worst days of your life. I remember when we separated, you were saying there’s a custody, there’s also a custody of, “Who’s going to continue with the therapist that you had?”

David Bashevkin:

Therapist custody, didn’t think of that. I know about friend’s custody, like, who gets couple friends?

Anonymous:

Right. Who gets couple friends? My ex got our therapist. So I needed a therapist. I needed one fast. At the time I was in college, so I was like, “I need a therapist fast.” So I walked into the college counseling center and I said, “I need to see someone.” Because one of the benefits of being a college student is that they often have counseling centers for free. So I walked in, and they have an intake form. So I filled out the intake form, and again, I’m in a psychology adjacent field, so I filled it out and filled it out. And I turned to them when they were looking at my intake form like, “I’m pretty depressed, aren’t I?” They are like, “Yeah. Severe depression.” I’m like, “All this checks.”

David Bashevkin:

Checked all the way down.

Anonymous:

Right. And you can’t make effective long and short-term decisions at that point. And again, it’s taking your worst instincts, and you’re feeling like you want to push back and hurt the other person, take that off the table. We do so many other gedarim, the fences around –

David Bashevkin:

Protections.

Anonymous:

Fences and protections around so many other mitzvos. And let’s just do this one of working on your middos and becoming a better person.

David Bashevkin:

Your character. The ultimate… We protect the Torah and avoid prohibitions in so many ways. We need to protect us from ourselves at points. And I think that’s a really powerful image to think about all of the ways, waiting six hours between meat and dairy, and making sure that, I don’t know. All of the different protections that we have in Jewish law. And perhaps the most important protection that people can take is the protections of themselves at their very, very worst moments. Everybody has had different worst moments and different thoughts go through their head at that point, but you need to protect yourself from that. And I think that that’s quite noble, and a quite powerful way to think about it.

I’m wondering now, we’re already winding down, and I really appreciate your story. I know there’s a lot that we cannot talk about. One interesting, we’re talking about these protections we have around ourselves. One thing that you had mentioned, the intake, it’s so, I was fascinated by this, and you don’t have to give the details of how this applied to your own life, is that you and your ex-wife signed a non-disparagement clause, that you would not talk negatively about one another to others. Can you tell me a little bit about what that is, and what the reasoning was for such a thing?

Anonymous:

We were both relatively young at the time. We had a relatively short marriage. And it’s nice to go around life without having the fear of someone bad mouthing you to their friends, on the internet, whatever else that you can move on. We didn’t have this relationship that, honestly, it wasn’t that long, but also, to a certain extent, it’s another syag, another protection against speaking lashon hara. You can ask me what went on in the relationship, which is bordering on lashon hara, and I can say, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk about that. I have a commitment to the other person.” And it says in there, “If you have any questions about it, call these rebbeim, and these therapists, who know, who will tell you what is relevant for you to know.”

So when I was dating my current wife, she called the rebbeim, and called them to find out what went on that she needs to know. She doesn’t want to… Obviously there’s certain things, you can only trust me so much of my side of the story, but she called to find out, is he a pathological liar that he’s just…

David Bashevkin:

And she called the rebbeim? Who did she get in touch with?

Anonymous:

My wife?

David Bashevkin:

Yeah. Your current wife.

Anonymous:

Yeah. She called my rebbeim, who were aware of everything that went on in my –

David Bashevkin:

And they were able to give her the details that she wanted to know. Because that’s definitely fair. If you go out with somebody who had a previous marriage, it’s a fair question to ask what happened. I mean that’s, yeah.

Anonymous:

Right. Exactly. And to a certain extent, I could only say my side. And my wife still doesn’t know everything that went on, and I still –

David Bashevkin:

Your current wife?

Anonymous:

My current wife. She found out what she needed to know. Moving on from there, again, it’s a protection against lashon hara. I could have gone around and told everyone –

David Bashevkin:

Needless negativity.

Anonymous:

Right. Just negativity and lashon hara. And it’s also an issur in the Torah.

David Bashevkin:

A prohibition. That is really fascinating. And I think your story and the balance is really instructive. Any final advice, specifically for guys. I’m curious if you have advice. I’m sure that following a divorce, you reach out, you connect to other people going through situations similar as your own. Do you have any advice or ideas that you would share with somebody who is going through, either the divorce process, in the process, thinking of withholding a get, or somebody who just came out of a divorce? What would you say specifically to, and I’m asking you to speak to men, because I do think that, again, the attention that agunot are getting right now is so, so, so important. I’m not minimizing that. But there is a voice of the male experience of divorce that sometimes does get overlooked, or vilified. And I’m curious what advice you would give to other men who are negotiating with this.

Anonymous:

Looking back, talking to my rebbeim, where I first even broached the topic of, “Oh, I’m not going to go in.” And they said, “No, no, no. You’re going in.”

David Bashevkin:

You’re not going to go in to give a get, to give a divorce?

Anonymous:

“You’re going in to give a get. It doesn’t matter, we’ll figure out a way of doing it.” So you can be… A good friend knows how to tell the truth to their friends. That’s why they’re friends and not just acquaintances. I can tell you that, the job as a friend is not to be a therapist and not to be a counselor. Their job is to be a friend and guide them and be the type of friend that would be severely disappointed, and to put that mildly, if they were abusing someone else. At the same time, you might have a friend who’s going through a difficult relationship, or different period in the time. Don’t be afraid to reach out. If you have someone who’s going through something, don’t be afraid to reach out. They might not respond. But don’t be afraid to reach out, because they might respond, or they might respond eventually.

David Bashevkin:

Meaning, if you know somebody going through this situation?

Anonymous:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

And I’m curious, I did not reach out…

Anonymous:

Just in general in terms of divorce. I can’t really speak to the withholding experience, because I just don’t know what I would do. And this applies to men and women, it’s like, your job is to be a friend. You’re not a licensed therapist, and you’re not there, even if you are a therapist, you’re not their therapist. Your job is to be a friend.

David Bashevkin:

Did you want people reaching out to you after you got divorced? Would you have… I did not reach out to you, and I apologized for that many years later.

Anonymous:

No. It’s all right.

David Bashevkin:

But did you want people reaching out to you right after that? What’s the message that you want to hear after you went through this?

Anonymous:

I illustrate this in a way… I had a friend who called after I got divorced, and he left a message, and I called him back a year later. And I said like, “Whatever your name is, Zalman, I got your call. I wasn’t ready to talk then. I’m ready to talk now.” And as a friend, your job is to recognize that they might not want to talk to you now. They might be ready to talk to you in a year, or whatever it is, but your job is to be a friend. And I go back to thinking about this, what to do in a situation if your friend is in a tough situation. I go back to, I forgot who the pirush is, the mishna says to be like the, “hevey ketalmida shel Aharon hakohen.”

David Bashevkin:

You should be like the students of Aharon, the kohen gadol…

Anonymous:

Love peace, chase after peace.

David Bashevkin:

He brought everybody in.

Anonymous:

And one of the pirushim says that Aharon hakohen went around being best friends with all of klal yisrael. And the way that he was able to bring shalom between people was that if he saw Reuven and Shimon in a fight, he would be best friends with Reuven, and best friends with Shimon, and both Reuven and Shimon would feel like, “How can I have this petty fight if my best friend who I hang out with is Aharon hakohen?” We have to have expectations, I think, to a certain extent of our friends. If you have a friend who’s doing something, we have to have an expectation of like, “If we’re going to be friends, you can’t do these type of things.” That’s just my feeling about it. I don’t know how else to explain it, or to think about it.

David Bashevkin:

I think that is incredibly helpful and moving. And I can’t thank you enough for sharing your story. You actually reached out to me and I said, “You know what? This is a perspective that needs to be shared.” I think that you have a wisdom and a healthiness, even through the trauma that you went through. And again, this is only one half of the story, as we said before, but it’s an important half to know what goes through, and the idea of making sure that you protect, not just your spouse: protect yourself from yourself.

And I think that that’s a really, really powerful piece of advice. I always end off interviews with some rapid fire questions, if you’ll stay with us. What book would you recommend for somebody who is dissolving a relationship? In a broken relationship? What are the books that you found helpful or healthy in your own process through this?

Anonymous:

I would say that there’s two or three, but one of them is –

David Bashevkin:

You can give me three. It’s not against the rule.

Anonymous:

One of them is by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World. Maybe I was in an emotional state, but that book brought me to tears multiple times, just thinking about our relationship to ourselves, our relationship to God, our relationship to the world. There’s a fairly famous book called The Road Less Traveled, by Scott Peck.

David Bashevkin:

I love that book. It’s fast. It’s a tough book.

Anonymous:

It’s tough. But the opening sentence says it all. It’s, life is hard, or difficult. I forget the exact –

David Bashevkin:

Yeah. Life is difficult. Sure. It’s a very –

Anonymous:

Right. And then the third one, just in terms of… I know it’s probably the wrong crowd for this, because it’s a little Jesusy, is Game Plan for Life, by Joe Gibbs. It just…

David Bashevkin:

I’m assuming you are not a follower of Jesus.

Anonymous:

I’m not a follower.

David Bashevkin:

Most of our listeners are not, sorry, I appreciate the disclaimer, but our listeners can handle it. If Jesus talk makes you uncomfortable, that’s fine. But this is a book you found helpful. Game Plan for Life, by Joe Gibbs.

Anonymous:

He was, I believe, head coach for, I believe, the Washington football team, I think he was. But I’m not sure.

David Bashevkin:

Okay. If you’ve been listening to the 18Forty podcast this long, then a little bit of Jesus talk in a book is probably something you can handle. My next question that I always ask my guests is, if somebody gave you a great deal of money and allowed you to take a sabbatical and retire to go back to school, get a PhD, or write a book, what do you think the topic of that dissertation or book would be?

Anonymous:

It’s funny, because the week, I would say… You have a PhD David, right?

David Bashevkin:

I am on the cusp of submitting my dissertation. I am ABD. And I’m literally at the cusp right now.

Anonymous:

I was accepted into a few PhD programs, and had to make the decision the week that I was, in the weeks that I was getting divorced. And I said, “There’s no way I can make a five to six year decision this month. I can’t make a long-term decision right now.”

David Bashevkin:

Correct.

Anonymous:

So I deferred it, but it would probably be in the, we’ll call it, consumer behavior survey methodology, or behavioral economics field.

David Bashevkin:

Fascinating. You made it sound very boring, behavioral economics is very cold.

Anonymous:

No, no. It’s somewhere between consumer – But specifically as it relates to the, we’ll call it the shidduch world, we’ll call it the modern shidduch world. And there’s some very popular theories around what caused the shidduch crisis, why it’s here, how it manifests itself. And I think that there’s a missing piece in terms of, it doesn’t describe the behavior of how people act in the shidduch world.

David Bashevkin:

I love that. And you should know, in my Jewish Public Policy class in Yeshiva University, we talk about the shidduch system, but through the lens of information asymmetries, the lemon problem, George Akerlof, you would love my class. And one day, if you ever get that great deal of money and finish that book or PhD, you will come in as a guest speaker. My final question is always relating to sleep patterns, if you’ll excuse me. What time do you usually go to sleep? And what time do you wake up in the morning?

Anonymous:

I usually go to sleep somewhere in the midnight range.

David Bashevkin:

That’s a good night for me. If I’m asleep by midnight, I can’t remember a time that that’s happened. When do you wake up?

Anonymous:

Depending on the kids and whether I hear my alarm or not, somewhere between, I would say, 6:30 and 7:00.

David Bashevkin:

Okay. That’s a good chunk of sleep. That’s nice. Nothing too fancy.

Anonymous:

I’m also a big napper, so I will take like a nap or two during the day.

David Bashevkin:

Can I tell you something? I love a good nap. There’s nothing like it.

Anonymous:

I can do a five minute and I’m ready to go for hours.

David Bashevkin:

I love a good nap. My father, he deserved his naps, because he actually only slept four hours when he was working. I don’t deserve my naps. I take them anyways. It is my God-given right. My friend, thank you so much for joining us, especially the sensitivity and the personal component of this. It means a great deal to me. Thank you so much.

Anonymous:

Thank you, David.

David Bashevkin:

I remember when I was single and I would think about what life was like married. How you knew those feelings were enough to make that commitment. And I would peer in with some sense of mystery and angst into that world. Now that I’m married, I mean, God forbid, I certainly don’t have any thoughts of divorcing my wife, but I definitely try to understand what that process looks like. I know so, so many people who have divorced, and I do look with some sense of mystery at that process.

How do you have a divorce that unwinds that commitment and those experiences in a healthy way and emerge in a way that will allow you to rebuild your life? And I think that that’s part of the holiness and mystery in divorce itself, that it gives people that opportunity. And why so much of marriage emerges from conversations of divorce. Because we allow people that opportunity to reclaim their autonomy and rebuild their lives.

And I think that’s something quite beautiful and quite important that threads through the entire Tractate Gittin. And something that we need to understand better, and I hope that through this conversation, the process of divorce, the emotions that bubble up through divorce, and the ability to rebuild a life following divorce, is all something that emerged through this conversation, and more broadly in all of the conversations that we’ve had on this subject.

I think a poignant part of the conversation was when he said, “And if I had children, I didn’t know what I would do.” And I think that’s the point that we are trying to drive home, which is that, number one, the whole notion of signing a prenup is to protect you from yourself. You don’t know what mindset you’re going to be in when you are unraveling this, you don’t know what’s happening. And you need to take that early insurance now, not just to support your spouse, but really to protect you from yourself, not knowing what mindset you’re going to be in, God forbid, if the marriage needs to be dissolved through a proper get process.

And I also think back to what Keshet Starr said in our conversation, which is how infrequently even these custody battles play any role whatsoever in get refusal. It’s really something that happens so rarely. But regardless of the frequency, I think the underlying point is, it’s not a numbers game. It’s protecting you from your own baser instincts, not knowing what mindset, what space, God forbid, you can be in.

As loving as a marriage begins, we need to make sure that that early love also implores you and motivates you to take those early protections that, God forbid, if it were ever to unwind, that it’s done in a loving way, so to speak. What I think I’ve tried to do is explore this very old issue in many ways of agunah, but through a contemporary but substantive lens. I have seen things as recently as yesterday on this conversation of agunah that I have found just a total misreading of how Jewish law and Halakha works. And I think that’s important to note.

But I’ve also seen things that are incredibly inspiring. And seeing the modernity, the modern world that we live in, unlock a sense of advocacy and urgency to an issue that far too long has gone ignored or unnoticed. And the ability that we have here in our conversations is to explore these extraordinarily sensitive and delicate topics of old and new coming together, and find a way to construct meaning, significance, and hopefully, some substance that allows you to explore and understand this issue with a little bit more depth and meaning.

So I hope that we were successful on that. And as I’ve been mentioning this month, we’re coming up on our one year anniversary for 18Forty. And we’ve been asking you, our listeners, to call in, leave a message, give us some feedback, give us some questions, give us some criticism, all the good stuff. Don’t just email it. We want your voice that we can weave into a topic. Of course, feel free to not leave your name, to leave your name, leave a fake name, whatever works for you. Our number is 917-720-5629. You’ll get a voicemail. Again, that’s 917-720-5629.

Thank you all so much for listening. It wouldn’t be a Jewish podcast without a little bit of shnorring. So if you enjoyed this episode, or any episode, please subscribe, rate, review. Tell your friends about it. It really helps us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, or some of the other great topics that we’ve covered in the past, be sure to check out 18Forty.org. That’s the number 1-8, followed by the word “forty,” F-O-R-T-Y.org. 1-8-F-O-R-T-Y.org, 18Forty.org. You’ll also find videos, articles, recommended readings, so much great stuff. I hope you’ll enjoy. Thank you so much for listening, and stay curious, my friends.