When Your Spouse Loses Faith

What if your spouse changes? What if you married one person and they turn out to be someone else? Should you stay married? The simple answer is no. Deceit is always a deal breaker.

But let us take another similar scenario. Let us say that when you got married, you and your spouse were on the same page religiously. But then things started changing. At first the changes were subtle and minor. But eventually the changes were such that one spouse became unrecognizable from what they were when they got married. And what if there are children? Is divorce the best option? Or tolerance? And if tolerance is advised, how much before one considers divorce?

There is an article in Mishpacha Magazine supplement Family First on just this subject wherein a prominent Orthodox rabbi and a social worker were interviewed. I thought I would express my own views here.

My guess is that this scenario happens a lot more these days than it ever used to. That’s because access to information on any and every subject is available instantly to anyone at the click of a mouse.

I have noticed that there are more than a few people commenting on this blog that were once believers and unquestioningly observant – that have changed after having questions raised by what they saw on various websites. Websites that deal with contradictions between science and Torah or websites dealing with modern scholarship of the Torah have caused more than one observant believer to stray. Those unprepared to deal with these matters often erroneously conclude that everything they were taught and took for granted – is not necessarily so.

While this topic is an important one it is not really the subject of the post. I am not here to counter those mistaken conclusions other than to say that I have had similar questions raised by my own encounters with these things and came to different conclusions. I seek both Emes and Emunah and have been able to find the former without the expense of giving up the latter. Unfortunately that is not the case with far too many people. Especially those who have been sheltered from these issues and then come upon them suddenly.

Back to the issue at hand. What does one do when a spouse concludes that everything they were ever taught about God and Judaism is a big lie? And because of that, they no longer observe the Mitzvos of the Torah?

According to the above mentioned article, it seems that the predominance of rabbinic opinion on this subject is that divorce is not necessarily the answer. If the parent that lost their faith is willing to accommodate the parent that hasn’t, and the marriage is otherwise loving to both the spouse and the children, the best advice is to stay together, be tolerant and compromise.

This means that as long as the changed non observant spouse understands that they are the one that changed and respects the observant spouse wishes to keep an observant home, the observant spouse should allow the non observant spouse his space.

For example, the home would be expected to stay Kosher. Shabbos would have to be free of any overt violations by the non observant spouse. But the nonobservant spouse should be allowed the freedom to no longer be observant on a personal level in areas that do not affect the children. So for example if a non observant husband no longer wants to put on Tefilin or Daven, he should not be harangued about it. If he chooses to eat Treif outside the home, it’s his business.

One thing that should be quickly abandoned is insistence on various Chumros if they become a contentious issue. Here are some examples:

If anon observant husband starts bringing non Chalav Yisroel products into the home, the wife should look the other way.

If a husband chooses to no longer wear a Kipa, the wife should look the other way. (Although a caring husband should at least wear one around the house in front of his children).

If a television was once taboo, and a nonobservant spouse wants to bring it into their house, that too should be tolerated. (Of course good parenting is still required of both parents in terms of controlling what the children are allowed to watch and how much. Here too the changed spouse should give way to the unchanged one about what is and isn’t appropriate content.) Same thing with the Internet.

Even Halachos that do not affect one personally should be tolerated. If for example a non observant wife no longer wishes to cover her hair, the husband should look the other way.

There are of course lines than cannot be crossed that can end a marriage. But there is plenty of room for compromise.

Obviously this is not ideal. The children will pick up when say a father is no longer observant. Especially as they get older. But the alternative is a broken fatherless home. If there is no abuse and the father is a loving caring individual that is good to his children and wife, the family should remain intact. That seems to be the preponderance of rabbinic opinion and it is mine too.

What about the possibility that somehow the children will pick up the father’s doubts about the Torah and start questioning its veracity? That danger does exist. But in situations like this compromise requires that the changed spouse retains his original commitment to raise his children a certain way and keep his doubts to himself as much as possible.

Nonetheless questions about why their father is no longer observant will surely arise and require a serious response at some point. When children are very young they can be told that the reasons are too complicated for them to understand but that their father is a good man and still loves them.

As they get older, they might want better answers. And who knows where that will lead. But to break up an otherwise good family relationship over this is an even more dangerous to the spiritual health of a child. That is why I think that it is the better part of wisdom is to tolerate a non observant spouse than it is to be rid of him and his religiously negative influence on the children.

That this situation is not ideal is obvious. But when it comes to your children – compromise in the religious area in order to save the family is the better way to go.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.