Latest update: August 13th, 2012
As an Orthodox rabbi living and working on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, I’m thrilled to see so many single men and women actively involved in Torah and mitzvot. This is also the case in Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island, and wherever else singles are found. Whereas in the not so distant past the observance level of many Orthodox singles dropped the longer they remained single, today there are more scrupulously observant single men and women than ever before.
Sounds great, but let me qualify what I’m saying.
When it comes to ritual observance, there’s a tremendous amount of attention paid to even the most minute details and stringencies. But here’s one religious area, probably the most important, that seems to have gotten lost in the unrelenting quest for the perfect shidduch: faith – better known in the frum world as bitachon.
I recently tried to set up a man I’ve known for years. He’s 38, good looking, successful, and earnestly frum. I had just met a very attractive woman I was sure he would be excited to meet. I started off my pitch and he was interested. Then I told him she was 33.
“Sorry, but 32 is my limit.”
“But she’s only 33, that’s just one y…”
“No, I’m very sorry but I need to stick to my rules.”
“OK, best of luck to you!”
This is not an isolated incident. In my role as a Sawyouatsinai matchmaker, I read through dozens of profiles of men in their late 30s to 40s (and yes, even 50s) who are very blunt in demanding to only be matched with women below a specific age, usually ranging from 32 to 35. The reason they give always relates to childbirth. They want to have big families and they’ve determined that women past a certain age are not biologically qualified.
I’m not going to attempt to debate the scientific factors regarding childbirth and aging because I’m neither a doctor nor a scientist. The large number of women on the Upper West Side, clearly in their 40s, pushing sets of twins and triplets in fancy buggies is obviously not the kind of empirical evidence one brings into the lab. As a rabbi, however, I do think I’m qualified to speak about bitachon. When I hear or read the age and family planning requirements of an older single man who is scrupulous in all areas of halacha my response is, “What happened to bitachon?”
You don’t know what Hashem’s plan is for you. No one does. Do you know how many younger couples are struggling to have even one child? Do you know if you’re even meant to have more than one or two children? Do you realize that the years you are spending in search of someone you believe can bear you a large family are years during which you could actually be enjoying the amazing blessing of a precious child of your own? If you finally do have children, are you going to be young enough to be able to play with them? What about your second child? How old will you be at the bar mitzvah? The Wedding? When grandchildren come along?
The answer to all of these questions is that it’s all in Hashem’s hands. Bitachon. We don’t have ultimate control over our destinies – and when we think we do, we usually learn the hard way that we don’t.
I wonder how many single religious single men above 30 have asked ask a rav whether it’s better to marry a woman they connect with and are attracted to who is 37 – or spend another few years (or more) single in the hope of marrying a 32 year old.
Having gotten married at age 41, I know what my answer is, but I’d like to know what our Gedolei Torah would say. My guess is they would agree with me, especially knowing the range of potential issurim waiting to ensnare even the most scrupulously religious unmarried man and all of the mitzvot, joy, and blessings that these men are missing out on without a spouse and family. Perhaps by clearly articulating their position, our rabbinic leaders could make a significant impact on the decisions of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of single men.
I’ve actually heard that a few rabbis advise their students to only date women who are at least 6 years younger than them. I’m assuming there are qualifications to this rule, but in any case I’m sure these rabbis would not be happy to hear that most of their older students have dated many women below the 6-year limit but have rejected them because they weren’t pretty enough, thin enough, intelligent enough.
Enough already. Men, if you’re that serious about having a large family, then drop your unrealistic expectations and marry the next “young” woman you date. I’m sure your rabbi will agree and be very happy to dance at your wedding. But I guess you don’t listen to everything your rabbi says, only the things you agree with.
Unfortunately, lack of bitachon is not confined to men. Orthodox women are just as guilty. I’ve met with many over the last couple of years and they pretty much all have extremely high expectations regarding the level of parnassah, or financial means, of their potential basherts. Of course, no woman wants to come across as caring too much about money, but the reality is they do, and they do so based on what they feel is solid logic and rational thinking. Here’s how it goes:
I want to have at least three kids, which means three yeshiva tuitions. I need to buy a house in either Teaneck, the Five Towns, or another major New York metropolitan area community.
We’ll need at least two vacations a year – Florida and Israel. Then there’s summer camp for the kids. And of course cars, clothing, food, entertainment, etc.
Am I leaving something out? Probably. But everything I just listed is considered a basic requirement for any self-respecting Orthodox woman in the New York area. You do the math. Men earning less than $200,000 a year need not apply.
I might be exaggerating a bit with my description but, unfortunately, I think I’m well within the limits of reality. The older women get and the more accomplished they become, the more rigid they become about their financial requirements. As a result, many women are postponing or completely giving up the opportunity to marry and have children and are instead waiting for the “right guy” who they feel will give them what they rightfully deserve. What happened to bitachon?
Don’t you know parnassah is MiShamayim? Don’t you know there are people who lose their fortunes and others who make their fortunes at a later age? Just because someone is wealthy today doesn’t guarantee he or she will be wealthy in 10 or 20 years. Are you aware there are wonderful Jewish communities outside of New York with affordable housing and schooling? There’s even a Jewish state that offers free Torah education and a more affordable standard of living!
Being a religious Jew doesn’t only include the rituals we are so careful in observing. It also means having bitachon that Hashem is leading our destiny in a way that is best for us and that He will provide what we need, when we need it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to marry someone to whom you’re not physically attracted or with whom you don’t connect. But be open to giving people a chance – even if they don’t exactly fit your fantasy list, and if you do meet someone you like, don’t let your calculations regarding children or finances stop you from enjoying the awesome blessings and joy of marriage and parenthood.
Rabbi Arnie Singer is a dating and life coach on the Upper West Side, directs the Manhattan Jewish Experience Shidduch Project, and is founder of JCoach.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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