This is the story of my very dear friend Alicia*. Alicia and her husband Charlie found Orthodoxy together. They had two beautiful boys, which they raised in the faith.
And then everything fell down the rabbit hole.
Unbeknownst to Alicia, Charlie was not faithful. Charlie was abusive. Alicia had enough and filed for divorce.
And now Alicia wants to leave Orthodoxy, taking her two sons with her. While she is devoted to Yiddishkeit, and will remain within some bounds of Torah practice (the exact nature of which is still undetermined), she is through with the community. As she put it, “Had I known that by becoming Orthodox I might someday lose my kids, I would have walked right out again.” Unfortunately, in the looking-glass world of the community, she is extremely close to the mark. In a divorce mediated by a din Torah, boys over six often go to the father. Even if the father is abusive. Even if the father is unfaithful. Even if the father breaks Shabbos. To complicate matters, Alicia is a giyoret, while Charlie is merely a BT. Charlie would be favored for reasons completely unrelated to his parenting. This has made Alicia so desperate that she wants to possul her own conversion, thus declaring both herself and her children not Jewish.
And that is a great loss.
As Jews, we are all one. If one of us cries, we should all cry out. But we care more about some bizarre, 14th-century interpretation of the law than we do about the well-being of a family. We would rather curse the darkness than light a candle. We would rather put our own Torah through the looking-glass until it is distorted beyond recognition. And in doing so, we affect real lives. People like Alicia, who is a great contributor to any community. People like her children, who could have become the sort of husbands and fathers we need more of. Instead, we have turned them into a korban. And we will be the ultimate losers.
Now, the Torah makes provisions for divorce. But, in the text itself, it only says that if a man wants to send his wife away, he has to give her a get. Nowhere does the Torah (and I’m referring only to the first five books here) state any laws about custody. It is only our sages, great but still fallible men, who have made this policy. And it is the passage of time that has calcified this rule into an unbreakable part of our mesorah. The rightness or justice in the eyes of Hashem is never the issue. Only holding on to a past that may never have existed.