Thursday, February 14, 2008

What the Rebbetzin Should Say...

A 26-year old single woman wrote to Rebbetzin Jungries of the Jewish Press. She's frustrated and tired of being single.

Even though everyone predicted that she'd be among the first in her class to be married, she has, for whatever reason, failed to find her bashert. Since she wasn't busy raising a family, she decided to continue her secular education, becoming a lawyer. Now, she's finding that having a professional degree is further working against her in the shidduch world, as a professional degree seems to intimidate some men.

Four months ago, she met a guy on her own and they clicked. They share common interests, conversation flows, they enjoy each other's company. As she puts it, he just feels "right."

Of course, there is a fly in the ointment (if there wasn't, she wouldn't be writing to the Rebbetzin). As she writes:

So what, you may ask, is the problem? Why don’t I get engaged? Well, there is a problem, and it’s huge! – He’s not observant of the mitzvot. He did go to a day school through high school, but his commitment is marginal. Sad to say, he’s not really Shomer Shabbos, and while he doesn’t eat treif meat, he has no problem eating fish in a non-kosher restaurant. He certainly has a Shabbos table, makes Kiddush, etc., but more than that, I don’t know.

He tells me that at this point in his life, he is involved in many business dealings and cannot suddenly make a radical change, but he assures me that once we are married, he will become Shomer Shabbos and fully observant. He comes from a traditional background, so it’s not foreign to him. I tried to get him to a Torah class, but he just doesn’t have the time; he promised me that if we marry, hewould attend classes. On the plus side, he is very kind and considerate of me, but can I trust him to keep his promise?

When I discussed the matter with my parents, they were very frank with me and said that they would never have considered such a shidduch in the past, and they have strong reservations about his religious commitment, but they did say that because of my history – the difficulties that I have encountered in the past, my age, and the fact that my younger siblings are already married, they would not stand in my way even though they are very concerned.

In short, she wants to know if she can trust him to keep his word that he's going to keep his word to increase his level of observance after they get married. She's terrified of saying "yes" to him only to find that he can't/won't increase his level of observance, but she's also terrified of saying "no" in that she's afraid she may never again meet someone that she can connect to as she does with him.

I don't know what the Rebbetzin will say. Here's what I think she should respond to the unsigned letter:

Dear Single and Frustrated,

It must be terribly painful to watch your classmates and younger siblings all moving on with their lives, getting married and having children, while you seem to be stuck as a single. I hope and pray that HaShem will help you find your bashert as lead you into marriage as soon as possible so that you can start building a bayis ne'eman b'yisroel.

That being said, let's turn our attention to your current suitor. Off the bat, I have to state that I do not know him personally, and, as such, cannot make any definitive statements about him. What I can, do, however, is hope to guide you in terms of general trends of behavior.

The general rule is that people do not change their basic natures because of marriage. There have been countless brides and grooms who have gotten married to someone whom they knew had a flaw that could be fatal to the marriage, with the understanding that the person would change after the wedding. Sad to say, in the majority of cases, this change does not occur. That's not to say that it's impossible, of course -- sometimes people do successfully change, but the percentage of those who do solely for the sake of marriage is exceedingly small. Since you know your beau far better than I do, you are the one best capable (aside from him, of course) of determining whether or not he will really change.

However, even if you determine that he cannot or will not change, that doesn't necessarily mean that the two of you can't be happy together. There are many people who get married to partners who may not be the "ideal" mate that they thought they were looking for, and yet turn out extremely happy. However, in order for that to work, you have to look deep inside yourself, and decide whether or not his religious deficiencies will cause your marriage to be unhappy. If it will, then you absolutely cannot enter into this marriage. On the other hand, if you think that you can live with his level of religious observance, then, by all means go ahead. You have to look deep inside yourself and decide just how important the level of religious observance is a potential spouse.

In addition, please do not take into account whether or not you will ever find another shidduch. It's a non-factor. If you can go with his level of observance, then you'll be happy. If you can't and you say "yes" anyway, you'll just end up miserable. Would you rather enter a miserable marriage or remain single? Most people, I believe, would choose the latter. Entering into a marriage that has a fatal flaw because you're afraid of not finding another is a bad move, in my opinion.

Lastly, while I think that it's nice that you are going to your parents for advice regarding this particular difficult question, I think that at age 26, you are old enough to decide for yourself. You no longer need your parent's permission to marry. I'm glad to see that they are willing to let you decide and determine your own future.

I wish you lots of success and happiness in the future, whether it's with this particular young man or with another.


Ezzie said...

Basically agree. A simpler way of saying it is "if you'd be able to live with him as he is now and be happy, then it might make sense, with anything he gains or grows in just a bonus. Otherwise, going into a marriage assuming or hoping for change is likely (not always, but usually) a recipe for disaster.

Anonymous said...

I had a bit of this with my husband. He grew up and still is Shomer Shabbat and has no intention of giving that up. It's important to him that our children grow up in a frum home, community and schools. But he doesn't lay teffilin. That REALLY bothered me. I'm definitely MO, but I could never picture myself marrying someone who doesn't at least put on tefillin and say at least a bit of shacharit in the morning.

He promised me he would change when we married. 7 years later, we're still working on it. But I'm happy to say it's not a fatal flaw in our marriage.It bothers me, but in almost every other way, he's a great husband and father, so it's something i can live with.

Wolf, I think your response was really sensitive and honest.

PsychoToddler said...

Maybe YOU should be writing the advice column!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, You can't really blame him. Tefillin is easily the worst part of being an Orthodox man. Almost everything else about the lifestyle, ritual, culture, etc. has some not-explicitly-religious redeeming value (even the shacharit at which the tefillin is donned), but not tefillin. If he's a good father, husband, and Jew but won't put on tefillin, count your blessings and don't make an issue out of it.

Anonymous said...

Tefillin is easily the worst part of being an Orthodox man. You're serious?? Not only is it one of the easiest mitzvot but it is rich in ethical & religious symbolism. That you can make such a statement indicates to me that you know very little about tefillin.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Wonderful response.

Larry Lennhoff said...

Would you rather enter a miserable marriage or remain single? Most people, I believe, would choose the latter.
Not according to chazal, and according to the Rav that is a constant truth about women that does not change. There is even halacha based on the assumption that women would rather be married than single.

I think the way you do, but what do I know? I'm neither a woman nor chazal.

Anonymous said...

Not only is it not a wonderful response, it hardly even qualifies as a response. It's just an unexamined regurgitation of party line talking points. Anyone who can unreflexively refer to something as anachronisticly bizarre as tying painted leather boxes to your arm and head as rich in ethical [sic!] and religious symbolism isn't really thinking about the question. Sure, you can justify it with a vort or three, but if you take a step back and clear your eyes you'll see it's as out of step with any notion of ethical and religious symbolism as animal sacrifice is. And I'd have made the same charge against korbanos--if we still did them.

SaraK said...

Wolf, that was excellent.

Anonymous said...

I should add that Wolf's response was superb.

BrooklynWolf said...

:: blushing ::

Thank you all. :)

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

The reason we put on tefillin is because God asked us to..not because we understand the symbolism behind it or find it otherwise personally meaningful.No mitzvah is completely understood by the human mind.At best,we can only get a taste of the reasoning behind it.That's why the term used to help explain a mitzvah is "ta'am" and not "sibah"...