I recall reading a few articles a while back in the Family Issues section of The Jewish Press about inviting single parents (widowed or divorced) and their children for a Shabbos or Yom Tov meal as they are very lonely. This was brought home to me during the month of Elul when the rabbi of our shul on a Shabbos spoke about easy mitzvos that we can do, and he mentioned inviting the lonely single families to our holiday table.
We have a few divorcees with children and a widow in my shul, so I set up each one of them for a different meal during our holidays this past month. I thought everything went very well. My husband gave beautiful Divrei Torah and also included all the guest children in the Torah riddles he always asks our children. Each family told me how grateful they were for the invitation and how happy they were to be with us. My children also enjoyed having some of the children over, as they were friends from school.
Imagine my surprise when my husband told me after all the holidays were over that he would rather that I not invite any widowed or divorced women to our Shabbos or holiday table. I asked him if anyone specifically upset him and he said not at all. I thought our marriage was strong and he said that it is, but this makes him feel uncomfortable. I reminded him of the speech our rabbi gave during Elul about what a mitzvah this is, and he said not every mitzvah is appropriate for every person.
I feel terrible since I know that each of these families hopes to be invited again at some time, and I can’t imagine what I can say or do about it. I am too embarrassed to speak to our shul rabbi and I don’t know how to handle this. My ten-year old son already told me that after Rosh Hashana his friend who had been with us (with his mom) told him how he couldn’t wait to come to our house again. What has come over my husband? I don’t want anything to come between us.
Sometimes the picture is easier for an outsider to decipher… perhaps this is why I clearly sense your husband’s dilemma.
I’ll venture to go so far as to suggest he is a sensitive sort and a G-d-fearing soul. He honed in on the loneliness of these women and prefers not to be exposed to their longing (for male companionship) and to the possibility of arousing envy or other inappropriate feelings in their hearts.
It is not at all unusual for certain households to host men and women who are unrelated to one another at separate tables, often in separate rooms. The pious consider the social gathering of men and women to be antithetical to their religious beliefs.
You might be thinking it’s only one woman, hardly a gathering. Yet your husband obviously felt uncomfortable in their presence and, in fact, explicitly stated so. As his devoted wife, your role is to honor him, respect his will and to try to understand where he is coming from.
All is however not lost. You can invite your son’s friend(s) for an afternoon kiddie Shabbos party. As an alternative to a family seudah, if your husband is in the habit of having shalosh seudos in shul, you can invite the widow or divorcee for the late afternoon meal, in a less formal setting.
Perhaps when entertaining extended family or other relatives for a Shabbos, you can arrange for separate seating; the men and boys in the dining room and the women in the kitchen, among them your single neighbor.
If you still can’t wrap your head around this latest development in your home, I suggest you take your dilemma to a rabbi you both respect. Don’t go it alone. Discuss this with your mate and consult the rabbi together, as a team.
Maintaining shalom bayis should be your top priority. Your life-partner comes first. It always helps to remember that charity begins at home.