Identity, Politics, Religion, Sex & Gender

Single Jews: What Will We Do?

Somehow, a copy of the Jewish Week Singles Supplement found its way  into my apartment, and because I am a glutton for punishment, I looked at it. Here’s the breakdown:   There are places other than the Upper West Side to meet people and find Jewish community. Orthodox Jews who are divorced would like to date again, and it’s hard. It’s also hard to be a single Jew when you’re over 40. Also, sometimes, being single makes people sad and they make theatre out of it. Of course, there is nary a gay mentioned anywhere in the magazine, because we all know gay people just want to have a lot of sex and no relationships, ESPECIALLY the Jewish gays.
On the upswing: There is an interesting piece about Jewish women who become single mothers by choice, and another about interfaith relationships and how they might actually galvanize, and not destroy the Jewish people. What I thought was the most important part of the supplement was a piece by Sandy Brawarsky called “Tuesday, the Rabbi Went Out,” about single rabbis and the stigma they deal with regarding their marital status. Apparently, many folks who were interviewed for the article declined to be named, because  “they feared for their rabbinic careers as well as their dating lives.” I’ve heard from a lot of rabbinic students that it’s hard to reveal their chosen field to potential dates, but the idea that one’s career could be jeopardized by not having a partner is beyond ridiculous.
It’s also problematic that both male and female rabbis (again, no one who identifies outside the definitive gender binary was involved in the making of this article) are lumped together in the conversation, because as single folks, they face very different issues with respect to dealing with their situation. A single female rabbi is challenging to our beliefs about women, that women have babies, especially Jewish women. Without a partner, how will this happen? Single male rabbis face a challenge to their masculinity, because in addition to being the head of a shul, they’re also expected to be head of a household, and if masculinity and femininity isn’t demonstrated in the way we’re accustomed to, we’re threatened, and the last place we want to be threatened is in a Jewish space.
Trust me when I say that the organized Jewish community, or maybe all Jewish communities, are lonely places for single people, even (especially?) if you aren’t interested in changing your status. Interviewed for the article, Rabbi Felicia Sol, of Bnai Jeshrun on the Upper West Side, said, “It is a challenge to the Jewish community to create as many avenues for people to find partners and be supportive of all kinds of families, but it is just as important to be inclusive to those who are single.”
Seriously, though, is this ever going to happen? My money is on probably not, because, after all, religion has become about family and we remain inflexible as to what that concept is, and about letting people define that notion for themselves. The article does end with some hope, though. Rabbi Jan Uhrbach, of the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, offered this: “I think we could do more to change the culture where marriage is the highest value.”

14 thoughts on “Single Jews: What Will We Do?

  1. 1/ Am I the only one here who can see the JDate ad on this site?
    2/ Constructive suggestion: http://www.factfinder.census.gov
    Enter a place you might want to live. Check the ratio. If its good, go.
    For example if you look up ‘Manhattan borough’, you’ll find, surprise, surprise a surplus of females. Fargo or Fairbanks, Laramie or Las Vegas, otherwise.
    Oh yeah. Kiryas Joel has a male surplus. Check it out, fine ladies-that is if you really don’t want to be single, or don’t like beards (non-negotiable)
    3/ If you’re gay go to SF. Just a thought. (and yes, yes, it has a surplus of males)
    4/ Its hard to be single and a rabbi? Well I have a suggestion. Stop being single or stop being a rabbi. (Any single who isn’t smart enough to realise that shouldn’t be a rabbi)

  2. A single female rabbi is challenging to our beliefs about women, that women have babies, especially Jewish women. Without a partner, how will this happen? Single male rabbis face a challenge to their masculinity, because in addition to being the head of a shul, they’re also expected to be head of a household, and if masculinity and femininity isn’t demonstrated in the way we’re accustomed to, we’re threatened, and the last place we want to be threatened is in a Jewish space.
    I disagree with your assessment. I think that the reason communities prefer a rabbi who is married and/or has children is a matter of life experience. How can a young, single 20-something be expected to pastor to or counsel or relate to in any capacity a grandparent of 12? How is someone who has never faced the difficulties and challenges of a committed relationship going to be a guide for someone who is going through a divorce? How is one to communicate to a young couple what they may face on the other side of the huppah if that rabbi themselves are still “playing the field”? The fact that the organized Jewish world is biased towards families (and I think many parents of very young children would disagree) is not necessarily the same reasons as to why single rabbis have it harder than married ones.

    1. Justin writes:
      I think that the reason communities prefer a rabbi who is married and/or has children is a matter of life experience. How can a young, single 20-something be expected to pastor to or counsel or relate to in any capacity a grandparent of 12?
      How can a young, married 20-something be expected to do so?
      I think the point here is that these attitudes about married vs. single rabbis are independent of the age of the rabbi.

  3. We also have a general tendency in American life to view things like marital status and parental status as proxies for character. Think of how we use the term “family man.” Its not so surprising that we try and use the same proxies for religious character. (not that these tendencies aren’t present in Judaism outside of American culture- think of the custom of not allowing someone to lead services on the high holidays unless they are married).

  4. I definitely agree with this post. As a single, twentysomething female, I often feel left out in my shul. Most people in their 20s or 30s in the congregation are married or coupled, and the rabbi often talks in terms of families and from a parent’s perspective, which I think can be alienating to people who are single, converts, etc. It’s definitely a lonely world for singles, especially in a religion that puts such a high value on (nuclear, heterosexual) families.

  5. Single Jews: What Will We Do?
    I’m hoping to meet the love of my life, get married and raise a bunch of beautiful, G-d fearing Jewish kids. Apparently no one else here is, so I thought I’d share a radical perspective with y’all.

  6. I think BZ is totally right that we look at questions of life experience solely in terms of familial status, when there are really a host of other issues as well.
    Dave Boxthorn: Stop being single or stop being a rabbi.
    Chanel’s point is precisely that one shouldn’t have to make this choice. I happen to think she’s right.
    Victor: Apparently no one else here is [planning to get married and have kids], so I thought I’d share a radical perspective with y’all.
    Whether or not we plan to isn’t really the point. The real question is whether one’s ability to participate fully in religious and cultural traditions they obviously value highly should hinge on their desire to get married.

  7. I’ll also point out that the whole thing – in terms of the rabbinate- is set up falsely. Although congregations say and act on wanting a married rabbi (and expect free labor of the partner that goes with it), in fact, the way the rabbinate is set up actually demands a single person who will subsume their entire life to the congregation- one available 24-7, who will drop everything in favor of the needs of the community and who works minimally 80 hours a week.
    What this really suggests in terms of family life is celibacy. As usual, Americans say lots about families and kids, but make it in actually rather unfriendly for them. so, all you single folks: don’t worry, it’s all lip service.

  8. I don’t feel alienated at all. I want a family, but I’m 21. I feel lonely from time to time because I’m not in a relationship, but never alienated.
    Check back with me in a decade, thought.

  9. The real question is whether one’s ability to participate fully in religious and cultural traditions they obviously value highly should hinge on their desire to get married.
    The Jewish faith considers an unwed person an incomplete person, in fact, not even fully alive. How can you fully participate in religious and cultural traditions as half a person?
    Some of you come from a different cultural and regional context. I can’t imagine what it’s like to not know, or know of, every single Jew my own age within a fifty mile radius, and be attracted to none of them.

  10. Victor, when it comes to rather mystical and not universally held tenets of “the Jewish faith,” please give us some source texts.
    What does it mean, “not even fully alive” or “incomplete?”

  11. There are a number of individuals considered as if they’re dead. It would be a big imposition on my time to collect all the sources for you, because they are numerous and litter multiple texts. A few come to mind off the top of my hand.
    An individual without children is considered “as dead”. We learn this from Rachel, who says to Jacob, “Give me children – if not, I am dead.” (Vayeitzei 30:1) Rashi explains that, “From here we see about one who has no children – that he is considered as if he is dead.”
    In Nedarim 64b, there are several individual listed “as if they are dead” – someone who is poor, childless, a metzorah (an individual afflicted with tzaaras) and the blind. However, I don’t have it with me to give you a quote. The metzorah in included based on a passage in chumash, though, and that I remember.
    Towards the end of parshas Behaaloscha… maybe 12:xx… alright I’ll look it up… 12:12. Aaron is speaking to Moshe, “Let her not be like a corpse…”, referring to their sister Miriam. Rashi explains that someone who is afflicted with tzaraas transfers impurity, like a dead person. Also, earlier, when G-d tells Moshe to go back to Egypt, He says that Dathan and Abiram have died. Rashi explains that they were not dead, just deprived of their possessions, and one in poverty, it is as if he is dead.
    I once read a nice explanation for this from Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz. To paraphrase heavily, each of these individuals is missing something so significant that its absence renders these individuals figuratively dead – the ability to give and share with others.
    A poor person, for example, is constantly on the receiving end of society, and even if he manages without support, he is so preoccupied with his poverty that he is unable to make a contribution to the community. Even with the advancements made in our age, one who is blind, due to their disability, is largely cut off from others, unaware of the needs or others or unable to fill them. A metzorah, due to their impurity, must live outside the camp, and so cannot contribute to the community. Having children is an act of giving life, not to mention the selfless and unconditional care and attention they require.
    R. Shmulevitz wrote that these types of people are lacking something intrinsic to life, the ability to give of themselves, and to channel their giving in specific ways. They lack the opportunity to participate in olam chessed yibaneh – building the world through acts of kindness. As a result, they’re missing an essence of life, and are considered as dead.
    Regarding someone who is unmarried, that they are not a full human being, it is not some strange concept, nor does it have to be some “rather mystical and not universally held tenet” of our faith, although it happens to be so that the spiritual girds the physical.
    Bereishis 1:27: “And G-d made Man in his image, in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them.” In the associated commentary, midrash and chassidus, it explains this strange sentence. The woman was supposed to have been created much later. This is a passage about the creation of Adam, so why is there a reference to “male and female He created them“>?
    The very purpose of marriage is to unite the masculine and the feminine, to heal the separation enacted when Adam, created first as an androgynous being, was torn apart (on a physical and spiritual level), into masculine and feminine halves. A marriage is a union of conflicting opposites, a resolution to a paradox reflecting the greater paradox of unifying the physical and the spiritual, of G-d and Creation. We unmarried are each are half a soul, waiting to be completed. Perhaps this is why it says in Talmud (Rav Yehudah?) that forty days before a male child is born a voice announces in heaven whose daughter he will marry.
    But you say you want a source regarding an unmarried person being incomplete, and probably a specific source at that, more specific than anything I’ve yet posted. After all, one doesn’t NEED to be married to conceive children, although they would be violating other commandments to do so. And all that spiritual soul stuff… meh, it’s not your cup of tea. Perhaps even the simple but clear Torah injunction that, “A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” (Bereishis 2:24) is not enough.
    No, you are a scholar with a thirst for real geshmackte sources, and you demand nothing less of yourself and of others.
    Yevamot 62b: “R. Tanhum stated in the name of R. Hanilai: Any man who has no wife lives without joy, without blessing, and without goodness.”
    What does it mean to live without joy? Or without blessing? Or without goodness? The commentary is priceless, on this and the following two or three sentences, and I suggest you pick up Yevamot, flip to 62b and read to your heart’s content.
    We all should, we single Jews. And then we should purify our hearts, focus our minds, beseech G-d with supplication and seek out our spiritual half with determined desperation, the way we would search for what is most precious and important in our lives and to our life.

  12. 1. There is no such thing as ‘the rabbinate.’ There are rabbis.
    2. The Jewish community is right to help the single become partnered. It is wrong to ignore and be unsupportive of the non-partnered and child-free lifestyle. I was taught that teaching Torah to a child is akin to parenting them. How can we support more adult/child relationships not based on blood relations?
    3. When we have fewer socially coerced partnerships (marriages) we’ll have fewer unhappy partnerships.

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