Sunday, February 3, 2019

Divorces in the Shtetl - Reasons

Last week I wrote about the number of divorces in the town of Nezhin in the Russian Empire--and how it was so much more than I'd expected.  As a certified (certifiable?) geek, I ran the numbers.

But first, I did note why people were divorcing.  And there were some interesting reasons.
Nezhin Divorce:  He was unable to earn a living

The vast majority of divorces had reasons like, "they couldn't get along" and "they mutually agreed to divorce," which are reasons similar to many divorces today.  Another common reason was financial, where the husband was unable to support his wife.

Some were more one-sided, where the reason for divorce was either that she hated him or he hated her.
Nezhin Divorce; She had been abandoned "for many days."

There were instances, such as the one above, where the woman had been abandoned.  In other cases, wives said husbands "treated (them) with cruelty."
Two Nezhin Divorces:  A bigamist divorced both of his wives

Two sequential 1892 divorces were because the husband was married to two women.  A 50-year-old man gave divorces to his two wives, ages 28 and 35.  That must have been quite a story!  There was another bigamist involved in an 1895 divorce, but only that one divorce was recorded.  Perhaps the other wife lived in another city?  Or perhaps she stayed married to him!
Nezhin Divorce:  Because he was sick

Many couples got divorced because the husband or the wife were sick.  One couple divorced because the husband went blind.
Nezhin Divorce:  Because they hadn't had children

You had men divorcing women because they hadn't had children.
Nezhin Divorce:  Because he was a big drunk

There's even one where they divorced "because he is a very big drunk."  And there are multiple others where he was just a "big drunk."  I'd love to know what the difference was in the level of drunkeness!
Nezhin Divorce:  Under suspicion for evil behavior

One woman was divorced "because she was under suspicion for evil behavior."  Another divorce was because the husband "turned from the path of good."
Nezhin Chalitzah
There were sporadic chalitzahs recorded in these records as well.  Chalitzah is a ceremony that absolves a childless widow from having to marry her husband's brother.  A more detailed explanation is here.
Nezhin Divorce:  He had converted to Christianity, and she didn't want to live with him any longer

There was an 1887 divorce where a 20-year-old woman no longer wanted to live with her 21-year-old husband.  The name of the husband likely explains why--he is described as "Andrian Kavinsky (who was formerly Mendel son of Yirmiya) who changed religions."  That was one of two divorces because of conversion that I found in these records; in the other, the wife was the convert.
Nezhin Divorce:  He was going to his out-of-country birthplace and wanted to leave his wife behind
You had the gem of a man who divorced his wife "because he wanted to leave her and return to his birthplace in another country."  Another man divorced his wife because he had gone to America.  He divorced his wife by proxy via her father!
Nezhin Divorce: This man was drafted for 20 years so divorced his wife

Of course, there are some reasons which thankfully aren't applicable today.  For example, "He was drafted for 20 years and the military wouldn't let him stay with his wife."  So he divorced her before leaving so she would be free to remarry.

Other than the military conscription, most of these don't sound much different than reasons people divorce today!

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  1. Thank you. I find this fascinating, and I am not Jewish, so I couldnt ever read the documents. Your site is so interesting to me.

    1. The documents above appear (to me) to be 1/2 Russian and 1/2 Hebrew (or Yiddish), fwiw . . .

    2. Yes, the majority of Russian Empire metrical records were written in both Russian and Hebrew.

  2. Just goes to show that throughout history, people have always been flawed and love is never perfect!

  3. Imagine divorcing your mate because they were sick or much for loyalty!