In my last column I posed a simple question: Why has that short walk down the aisle become such a long arduous trek and so painfully difficult for so many?
The question becomes even more troublesome for those, like myself, who survived the Holocaust. Although just a child, I vividly recall how, after the liberation, people were so anxious to marry. Broken and shattered, bereft of family, without a roof over their heads, without a penny to their names, they married. Often the oddest shidduchim (matches) were made.
Those survivors had one common goal – to give a name for loved ones, who had perished and to bring new Jewish life into the world and rebuild the nation. Amazingly, despite all odds, the great majority of these shidduchim worked and a beautiful generation emerged from them.
In contrast, the majority of today’s singles are blessed with family and the ability to earn a livelihood…. to be sure, some less, some more. But no one is homeless – no one has to wonder where on this planet he/she will be able to find sanctuary. Today’s singles have an entire infrastructure at their disposal, from the Internet to shadchanim, to myriad chesed programs – all designed to ease their transition from the singles state to marriage.
But despite all this, marriages are not taking place. Jewish babies are waiting to be born, but there aren’t enough mommies and daddies to bring them into this world. Perhaps never before has the Jewish community been confronted with such singles crises. So the question still remains – “Why?”
To be sure, there are no pat answers. Many contributing factors come into play, and with G-d’s help, in future columns, I will try to explore them.
On Their Own
Years ago singles lived at home until they married. Parents were actively involved in helping their children find their mates. At the very least, they pressed them to get on with it and establish their own homes.
Today however, things are different. In the more secular Jewish world, as soon as young people graduate from high school, they are on their way – from college to their own apartments. And even if they should move back home, parents are advised to adopt a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to their children’s personal lives.
Often mothers and fathers contact me and say, “Rebbetzin, could you please speak to my daughter/son. As the parent, I cannot get involved.” There is a tragic irony to such requests. Parents have no right to speak – but strangers do? Is there anyone who cares more for their children than their own mothers and fathers? Yet they are muzzled. How very sad. Moreover, our culture encourages young people to focus on their careers and place marriage on the back burner. This has taken a devastating toll.
Immersed in their professions, young women have seen their biological clocks tick by. They have been misled into believing that they have all the time in the world, only to discover that the years that have passed can never be retrieved. Although this is a tragedy that afflicts both genders, women are hit hardest, not only because of their biological clocks, but because basically, they are nest builders. Their very bodies cry out the supplication of the matriarch Rachel (who for many years was barren), “Give me a child lest I die” (Genesis 30:1).
The promise of modern science, assuring women that it is possible to have children in their 40s, is more often hype than reality. Yes, from time to time there are some wonderful stories that make great copy, but reality is quite different. Even if by some stroke of luck a woman in her 40s finds her mate, the road to childbearing can be filled with much heartache and painful, expensive medical treatment, resulting more often in frustration than in babies.
A successful young woman in the corporate world came to consult me about finding a mate. “Rebbetzin,” she said, her voice full of emotion, “I always thought I could have it all – a successful career, marriage, children, the works – but I’ve discovered that there’s a double standard out there. Men can combine marriage and parenthood with a successful career, but it’s not so simple for a woman. We’ve lost the best years of our lives. We’ve been misled.”
Whose fault is it? It doesn’t matter. An entire generation has been led down the garden path. Although it may be true that there is a double standard and that men fare better in the singles world, experience has taught me that men are also suffering. Many sincerely desire to marry, but can’t. Again, there are many factors that render them phobic (and this can apply to women as well).
Relationships – The New Morality
With our new morality men feel that they no longer have to get married. They can just as easily have relationships. These relationships however, come with a high price and leave indelible marks on the soul. You cannot be intimate with someone and then cancel that person out without consequences. Even if one is in denial, the heart, the mind, and the soul have long memories. It is little wonder then, that today’s singles carry heavy baggage, and with each passing year pick up more shtick, all of which works against commitment to marriage.
In short, no one can outsmart the Torah that does not countenance relationships or prolonged dating and calls upon all singles to enter into holy matrimony. Couples are advised to make up their minds, get engaged and married or move on. The endless dating and living together that has become vogue in the secular world is anathema to marriage and simply unacceptable to Torah Jews. Physical contact is a magic gift, reserved for husband and wife, but if that gift is abused, the magic is lost.
The relationship that bonds a man and a woman must be different from that which prevails in the animal kingdom. The lion and the lioness can also connect physically, but humans, if they are to marry and have a lasting relationship, must have a “soul connection.” If husband and wife are to establish a true Jewish home in which serenity and love abide, they must share common aims and goals. They must be on the same page and gaze in the same direction. Passion, on the other hand, is blinding and obscures reality.
Thus, two people can be totally wrong for each other, but their physical desire can be so overwhelming that it blurs their judgment, and only after investing many precious months and years, do they discover that their relationship took them down a dead-end street and left them with much pain and disappointment. These failed relationships inflict deep scars that cannot be easily erased…. that turn into heavy baggage that the victims often carry throughout their lives and make marriage so much more difficult.
To be sure, many singles reading this column may protest that I’m not realistic -that what I advocate is simply not 21st century America. I am the first to concede that they are right. Twenty-first century mores have created a sick, immoral society. Thank G-d we the Jewish people march to the tune of a different drummer. Our values, our mores, were proclaimed at Sinai and are not subject to the vagaries of time.
I always advise single girls to explain to their dates that they are preserving their physical selves for the man they will marry – the man who, please G-d, will one day be the father of their children. In order however, to determine who that man might be, it is essential to get to know him intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Only thus can two people decide whether they are suited for one another or not – whether they are soul mates.
But if girls sell themselves short and live with a man without the sanctification of marriage, then it is likely that the marriage will never take place, and the relationship will terminate with, “I love you, but !” and with that “but,” the girl is politely told that she has just wasted the best months and years of her life.
Still, you might protest and ask, “What about all the girls who come from observant homes, who are very discriminating in their dating, who would never compromise the Torah’s laws of tznius? Why are there so many singles among them? Why do they have so much difficulty making that short trek to the chuppah?”
(To be continued)Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis