A letter to the Chronicles in Crisis column in the Magazine section of The Jewish Press a few weeks back (12-24-2010) greatly disturbed me. The writer expressed her opinion that many “older” female singles were not doing what was necessary to maximize their looks. She writes, as an example, that she was at a lecture given by a visiting rebbetzin from Eretz Yisrael and a quick glance at her fellow attendees affirmed her observation that many were “plain Janes” who were not trying to look more attractive – and hence be more marriageable.
I found myself disagreeing with the writer’s generalization. Many single women do make the effort to look their best and are well-dressed and well-groomed.
However what caught my attention – and my ire – as I read the letter was what I feel is a misguided, potentially disastrous statement by the guest speaker which the writer included in her article.
The rebbetzin, according to the writer, had urged these unmarried women – who obviously respected her enough to have come out to hear her speak on a cold winter’s night – to refuse a date with a young man who had Internet access or to stop seeing him immediately if she was already dating one.
I have no doubt that this pious woman had the best of intentions when she encouraged these girls to reject young men whom she felt were too “modern” and whose focus should be on full time learning. However, I feel she was very misguided and very likely undermining their already diminishing prospects of finding a good match. As the letter writer did not mention whether the speaker emphasized the importance of middos and erlichkeit in a potential spouse, I can only imagine that the issue of whether the young man had Internet access took priority.
It is tragic that many of these still young women – despite being intelligent individuals with good jobs and lots of responsibility – will take this woman’s well meaning but ill-advised words to heart. They will assume, because of her piety, that only pearls of Torah come out of her mouth, and will defer to her “wisdom” and refuse to date frum young men who use the Internet: Young, responsible men who live in the 21st century and who know that being computer literate is as necessary for parnassah today as is the ability to read and write.
These girls, according to the letter writer, are already a bit older and not doing enough to enhance their looks. No doubt setting them up is getting more challenging as their competition grows with each passing year. The truth is a young man of 27 has his pick of attractive girls in their very early 20s. “Older” girls on the “wrong” side of 25 are at a disadvantage. Those are the facts on the ground. At this stage in their lives, they should be accepting dates with every mentchliche earner/learner redd to them.
But many won’t, and will feel virtuous in doing so, infused with a sense of righteous sacrifice for not compromising their “frumkeit,” having internalized the values of a relative stranger who feels she knows what is best for their future spiritual well-being. Even if it doesn’t mesh with what their parents want.
Several of my friends have shared with me their deep dismay and confusion over the fact that their adult sons and daughters quickly run to their rebbe or rebbetzin, before or after a date, to get their input as to whether they should proceed or not with the relationship. These parents feel usurped.
Shouldn’t their children confide in them, they ask. Shouldn’t they, as the mothers and fathers who raised them and who have certain lifestyle goals and hopes for them, be the ones advising them as to who and what type of person they should marry, and not somebody – no matter how learned – who has known these young men and women for a short time or just in the confines of a lecture hall.
Often the advice these young people receive – if they are male – is to forgo college and a secular education (often against their family’s wishes) and to learn for as many years as possible. To achieve this, they are advised to marry a girl whose parents will commit to supporting the young couple for many years. The girls are exhorted to marry learning boys with the expectation that they will supplement their parents’ support by getting a secular education and working. The huge question of who will be raising the children as their mothers take on the role of full-time breadwinners seems to be ignored.
Why has the idea of men working for a living become something to be looked down upon? Did not the gaonim and gedolim of the Mishnah and Gemara all have occupations? Many even did menial work or manual labor in order to support their families. According to the Talmud, there are three things a man is required to teach his son: Torah, how to swim and a trade.
How did we stray so far from this concept?