There’s an age-old debate regarding to what extent a beis din (Jewish court of law) should intervene and attempt to save a marriage. While many may question if a beis din is the appropriate forum for resolving marital conflict and contend that the beis din’s role is merely to facilitate a smooth, orderly divorce and get; there are others who, thankfully, maintain otherwise and have taken a stand to save dozens of marriages.
Amudim, an international association and crisis center combating sexual abuse and addictions in the Orthodox community, supports abuse victims and their spouses—and is committed to saving their marriages from collapse. Partnering with Beis Din Vaad Hadin V’Hora’ah in Monsey, the organization, under the auspices of Rabbi Elya Brudny, Rosh Yeshiva of Mir-New York, opens up a world of mediation and therapy for couples on the brink of divorce due to serious addictions or sexual abuse at the hand of a third party.
The pressure evoked by the exacting shidduch (matchmaking) system, along with the eagerness (i.e. desperation) on part of many parents to see their children happily married off, forces a great deal of secrecy and suppression in the Orthodox community. Mental and emotional health deficiencies are frequently shrouded in a desperate web of concealment, and traumas that should be treated and resolved in advance are often swept under the table with the unfortunate means justifying the sacred end of engagement and marriage.
Yet as sexual abuse and addictions are hulking emotional issues that cannot remain forever secreted a dark closet, the truth inevitably surfaces, often sooner than later. In many cases, the resulting maelstrom of anger, betrayal and hurt sends the couples hurtling on a downward spiral toward divorce.
When Vaad Hadin V’Hora’ah interviews a couple contemplating divorce and reveals that the marital strife is rooted either in one spouse’s addiction or sexual abuse that he/she suffered at the hands of a third party, but that the couple is otherwise satisfied, they call in Amudim.
The association’s model utilizes intensive professional therapy and a wide variety of resources to confront painful issues head on, resolve them, and guide the couple to a fresh start.
“Directing victims of abuse or addiction and their spouses to therapy and treatment doesn’t just save marriages; it also saves lives and future generations,” declares Amudim founder Rabbi Zvi Gluck. He elaborates that with the current collaborative model, Amudim facilitates the healing of couples on the brink of divorce, but that the goal is actually to nip the problem in the bud by guiding victims of abuse and addiction to seek help long before they reach shidduch age.
“Only abuse victims and their families are aware of just how profoundly and permanently such incidents can affect their lives, and the same applies to trauma and addiction,” explains Sarah,* an Amudim case manager. “Without proper treatment and guidance, the collateral damage can be deeply injurious to a loved one—be it a spouse or child, whereas the right formula of help can save an entire family.”
One case exemplifying the crucial assistance provided by Amudim regarded a young woman who was unknowingly abused by her doctor for many years. After her marriage, she relocated to a different city, where her new doctor didn’t perform similar invasive tests and she was dismayed to discover the years of abuse that she’d unwittingly suffered. Her marriage suffered terribly as a result, to the point that the couple began exploring the possibility of divorce. The beis din referred them to Amudim, which immediately stepped up to the plate, pairing them with a case-manager who referred them to therapists equipped to handle these painful issues. Following months of intensive therapy and support, including Amudim’s counterintuitive recommendation that her husband see a therapist as well, their marriage, which nearly disintegrated due to prior abuse, was saved.
In another difficult case, a woman who sought divorce due to her husband’s severe alcohol addiction was referred to Amudim. Her case manager paired her with another woman who had dealt with the identical issue and directed her to Al-Anon, an international organization for people living with alcoholic spouses. Thus empowered, she confronted her husband with the scale of damage that his addiction had wreaked upon their family and issued an ultimatum that compelled him to attend AA meetings, save their marriage, and his life.
Since the start of 2018, 81 divorce cases rooted in abuse and addiction-related issues were referred to Amudim, and of these, the association’s successful intervention program saved 57 marriages. Seeking to develop the current model, the association has also launched a premarital counseling department in order to help avoid such unfortunate situations after the wedding. Amudim is currently endeavoring to transplant the collaborative model with Vaad Hadin V’Hora’ah to the beis din’s branch in Israel, which is endorsed by the Chief Rabbinate, and in a later stage, to partner with other batei dinim around the world in order to spare many suffering couples and their children the heartbreak and anguish of unnecessary divorce.
“There’s a heavy price to pay for keeping silent on issues of sexual abuse and addictions in shidduchim,” asserts Rabbi Gluck. “Our trend must not be to bury the pain and trauma of young victims, but to offer them the therapy and support they need so they can pick up the fragments of their emotionally-shattered worlds, heal, marry in a healthy frame of mind, and ultimately be excellent, stable spouses and parents.”