This article initially appeared in the April 1, 2011 edition of The Jewish Press:
As an Orthodox Rabbi living and working on the Upper West Side, I’m thrilled to see so many single men and women actively involved in Torah and Mitzvot (religious commandments). 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 lessened 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. There’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 Orthodox world as bitachon. I’ll explain.
I recently tried to set up a man that I’ve known for years. He’s 38 (which these days could really be anywhere from 38 to 42, depending on what your rabbi considers a permissible lie), good looking, successful, and earnestly religious. I had just met a very attractive woman who I was pretty sure he would be excited to meet. I started off my pitch and he was interested. Then I told him she was 33 yrs. old. STOP.
“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 30’s to 40’s (and yes, even 50’s) 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 evidence behind childbirth and aging because I’m not a doctor or a scientist. The large numbers of women on the UWS, clearly in their 40’s, pushing sets of twins and triplets in fancy buggies is obviously not empirical enough to bring 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 that you are spending in search of someone who 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? Wedding? Grandchildren?
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.
Most observant people are quick to ask their rabbis halachic questions. I wonder how many single religious single men above 30 ask a Rabbi the following sheila (halachic query): Is it better to marry a woman that I connect with and am attracted to who is 37, or should I spend another few years (or more) single in the hope of marrying a 32 year old? Having gotten married at the age of 41, I know what my answer is, but I’d like to know what our Torah sages would say. My guess is that they would agree with me, especially knowing the range of potential halachic prohibitions waiting to ensnare even the most 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 that there are qualifications to this rule but, in any case, I’m sure that 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 rabbis 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 parnasah, 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 that 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 3 kids, which means 3 yeshiva tuitions.
I need to buy a house in either Teaneck, the 5 Towns, or another
major NY Metro community. That’s at least $800k.
We’ll need at least 2 vacations a year – Florida and Israel.
Then there’s summer camp for the kids.
And of course cars, clothing, food, & entertainment.
Am I leaving something out…probably. But everything I just listed is considered a basic requirement for any self respecting Orthodox woman in the NY area. You do the math. Men earning less than $200k 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. So, 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 that Parnassah is MiShamayim (divinely decreed)? Don’t you know that 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 that they’ll be wealthy in 10 or 20 years. Are you aware that there are wonderful Jewish communities outside of NY with affordable housing and schooling? There’s even a Jewish state that offers free Torah education and a more affordable standard of living!
Are single Orthodox women asking their rabbis the following shaila: should I marry a guy who I like and connect with but who has a career that earns less than what I feel I need, or should I postpone marriage and children for an indefinite period of time until I find my Mr. Right? I’m almost positive I know what the answer to this one will be.
Being a religious Jew doesn’t only include the ritual 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, be it children or parnassah. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling anyone to marry someone they’re not physically attracted to or who they don’t connect with. But be open to giving people a chance even if they don’t exactly fit your fantasy list, and if you do meet someone who you like, don’t let your calculations regarding children or finances stop you from enjoying the awesome blessings and joy of marriage and parenthood.
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