Gender Relationships In Marriage and Out

Edited by Rivkah Blau Robert S. Hirt, Series Editor


The Orthodox Forum, initially convened by Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University, meets each year to consider major issues of concern to the Jewish community. Forum participants from throughout the world, including academicians in both Jewish and secular fields, rabbis, rashei yeshivah, Jewish educators, and Jewish communal professionals, gather in conference as a think tank to discuss and critique each other’s original papers, examining different aspects of a central theme. The purpose of the Forum is to create and disseminate a new and vibrant Torah literature addressing the critical issues facing Jewry today.

The Orthodox Forum gratefully acknowledges the support of the Joseph J. and Bertha K. Green Memorial Fund at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary established by Morris L. Green, of blessed memory.

The Orthodox Forum Series is a project of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, an affiliate of Yeshiva University

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Orthodox Forum (17th : 2004 : New York, NY) Gender relationships in marriage and out / edited by Rivkah Blau. p. cm. – (Orthodox Forum series) ISBN 978-0-88125-971-1 1. Marriage. 2. Marriage – Religious aspects – Judaism. 3. Marriage (Jewish law) 4. Man-woman relationships – Religious aspects – Judaism. I. Blau, Rivkah Teitz, 1941– II. Title. HQ525.J4O78 2005 296.7’409 – dc22 2007026007 * * *

Distributed by KTAV Publishing House, Inc. 930 Newark Avenue Jersey City, NJ 07306 Tel. (201) 963-9524 Fax. (201) 963-0102 Copyright © 2007 Yeshiva University Press This book was typeset by Jerusalem Typesetting,

Contributors Series Editor’s Preface Robert S. Hirt Preface Rivkah Blau Introduction: The Past and the Future of the Forum on “Gender Relations” Jennie Rosenfeld 1. Of Marriage: Relationship and Relations Aharon Lichtenstein 2. Marriage, Sexuality, and Holiness: The Anti-Ascetic Legacy of Talmudic Judaism Adiel Schremer 3. How Jewish Society Adapted to Change in Male/Female Relationships in 19th / early 20th Century Eastern Europe Shaul Stampfer 4. Sanctity, Sanity and Connectedness: Struggles For Commitment Among Orthodox Jewish Singles Daniel Rothenberg viii xi xiii

xv 1




5. Perfect Person Singular: Unmarried Adults in Contemporary Orthodox American Jewish Communities 91 Sylvia Barack Fishman v

6. Observations on Perfect Person Singular Shmuel Goldin 7. Excerpts from Interviews with Orthodox Singles Koby Frances and Jennie Rosenfeld 8. Premarital Guidance Literature in the Internet Age Yuval Cherlow 9. Thoughts on Teaching Taharat HaMishpahah: The Role of the Teacher Today Abby Lerner 10. Preparing Modern Orthodox Kallot and Hatanim for Marriage Devorah Zlochower

115 121 131



11. “So She Can Be as Dear to Him as on Their Wedding Day”? Modern Concerns with Hilkhot Niddah as Demonstrated by Anonymous Email Questions 225 Deena R. Zimmerman 12. Life Values and Intimacy Education: Methods and Messages Yocheved Debow and Anna C. Woloski-Wruble Orthodox Forum Seventeeth Conference List of Participants Index 243 293 297

Other Volumes in the Orthodox Forum Series Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy edited by Moshe Z. Sokol Jewish Tradition and the Non-Traditional Jew edited by Jacob J. Schacter Israel as a Religious Reality edited by Chaim I. Waxman Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations edited by Shalom Carmy Tikkun Olam: Social Responsibility in Jewish Thought and Law edited by David Shatz, Chaim I. Waxman, and Nathan J. Diament Engaging Modernity: Rabbinic Leaders and the Challenge of the Twentieth Century edited by Moshe Z. Sokol Jewish Perspectives on the Experience of Suffering edited by Shalom Carmy Jewish Business Ethics: The Firm and Its Stakeholders edited by Aaron Levine and Moses Pava Tolerance, Dissent, and Democracy: Philosophical, Historical, and Halakhic Perspectives edited by Moshe Z. Sokol Jewish Spirituality and Divine Law edited by Adam Mintz and Lawrence Schiffman Formulating Responses in an Egalitarian Age edited by Marc D. Stern Judaism, Science, and Moral Responsibility edited by Yitzhak Berger and David Shatz ‫ למדות‬The Conceptual Approach to Jewish Learning edited by Yosef Blau Rabbinic and Lay Communal Authority edited by Suzanne Last Stone War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition edited by Lawrence Schiffman and Joel B. Wolowelsky

Observations on Perfect Person Singular
Shmuel Goldin

I have been asked to offer brief observations on Professor Sylvia Barack Fishman’s presentation, Perfect Person Singular. Professor Barack Fishman’s excellent presentation covers much ground. I will focus specifically on the issue of communal response. Rabbi Leo Jung, zt”l, is reported to have said: “The job of a rabbi is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” After over thirty years in the rabbinate, I have come to the conclusion that Rabbi Jung’s comment not only reflects the role of the rabbi, but also the fundamental tension which lies at the core of synagogue and communal life. On the one hand, the role of the synagogue is to “welcome” and to “include,” particularly in the Diaspora where Jewish identity is so dependent on affiliation with communal institutions. The synagogue’s task on this level is to provide an attractive, warm, 115


Shmuel Goldin

enriching environment in which Jews from disparate backgrounds and with disparate viewpoints can find solace, support and continued spiritual growth. Such a community not only seeks to address the personal needs of its members, but attempts to actively offset attrition from our ranks. On the other hand, the synagogue role is to “afflict the comfortable.” Standards of halakhic, personal and communal observance must be defined and encouraged; messages of mussar must be conveyed from the pulpit (in a fashion which works – often not easy to find); and a general positive push towards continued religious growth must be maintained. Only those who conform, at least in spirit, to the halakhic norms of each particular synagogue community will truly feel part of and be fully accepted into that community. The balance between these two facets of communal obligation is often uneasy. I have commented on many occasions that “open” Modern Orthodox communities, such as the one in which I am privileged to serve as rabbi, are, to quote the famous rabbinic dictum concerning the Red Heifer, m’tamei et hatehorim even as they are m’taher et hatemei’im. Individuals who might be uncomfortable in more rigid Orthodox settings feel comfortable joining communities such as my own and often experience tremendous religious growth. At the same time, however, other individuals who would never consider certain behaviors were they to live elsewhere find themselves comfortably bending the rules when they live in a Modern Orthodox community such as mine. “Tolerance” is often confused with acceptance of a lower standard of observance and the rabbi and the community must work doubly hard to keep “pushing the envelope” of halakhic practice. The problem is exacerbated when the lines between the “afflicted” and the “comfortable” are blurred. Consider the internal struggle often played out within Modern Orthodox communities as we attempt to define our attitude toward homosexual couples. On a gut personal level, we are pained when individuals who deeply desire to be part of the community are forced to be outsiders (often, they would claim, through no choice of their own). At the same time, however, lines of halakhically acceptable behavior must be clearly

Observations on Perfect Person Singular


drawn, even if these lines defy the liberal approach of so many in the world around us and even if some individuals will be made to stand outside those lines. How much greater the challenge when the halakhic lines are not so clearly drawn. At the core of the “singles phenomenon” lies a community that through a confluence of circumstances finds itself living a life that is not “optimal” from a Jewish perspective. The non-optimal nature of single-hood derives both from the emphasis within our tradition on family, and from a genuine fear of potential loss to the Jewish community, are these individuals not to marry and have children. On a personal level, as Professor Barack Fishman points out, this reality creates tremendous personal stress for singles themselves, great angst for their parents and families and gives rise to frightening aberrations in priorities set by the shidduch process and the dating scene. The conundrum which faces the Orthodox Jewish community today derives from the dual need to keep the members of the singles community close without conveying acceptance of their single status as a halakhic norm. A misstep in either direction can potentially lead to frightening consequences. If singles feel ostracized, if they find no place within Orthodoxy, they may well choose to opt out. The West Side of New York is replete with stories of young men and women who no longer feel connected to the observant Jewish community and who, as a result, have become unobservant themselves. As one young woman put it at one of the Orthodox Caucus’s meetings with singles, “I am forty and single. In my workplace that is ‘normal.’ Among my secular friends I am considered ‘normal.’ Within the Jewish community I am ‘abnormal.’ Why should I continue to affiliate with a community that views me as ‘abnormal’?” At the same time, however, if in our desire for inclusiveness we send the message that single status is acceptable, we run the risk of encouraging the further development of self-perpetuating singles communities such as those which continue to grow on the West Side, in Passaic, and in Washington Heights. It’s almost a catch-22; increased pressure towards marriage may well force singles to develop their own communities where they can feel comfortable, while


Shmuel Goldin

increased acceptance of their single status will encourage others to remain single. We have been told again and again at meetings with representatives of the singles community that pat answers will not work; that pressure is counterproductive and that creativity is essential to the development of healthy, non-threatening environments in which singles can meet not only each other, but also married members of the communities around them. One individual poignantly commented at yet another Orthodox Caucus meeting that many singles on the West Side have no real association with families around them. At the same time, visits by the singles to their own nuclear families become increasingly infrequent as they find such visits to be uncomfortable and tension-filled. The singles, therefore, create their own substitute family structures, communal meals, kiddush, havdalah, the ‘whole nine yards’. While the singles certainly feel continued angst over their non-married status, a degree of stability and practical comfort in the status quo is achieved. Such a separation between singles and marrieds can only be countered by the conscious “mainstreaming” of which Professor Barack Fishman writes at the end of her presentation. Mainstreaming, however, will not develop automatically or easily. Singles themselves must be involved in the planning and in the process. Without such participation anything the general community does will be perceived as condescending and may be misguided. Open and clear dialogue must be established between rabbinic and lay leadership, singles and marrieds within the community. Mechanisms for inclusion in synagogue programs and governance must be accompanied by natural social interaction between families and singles. Events and simchas must be structured to optimize the opportunities for meeting and socialization. Above all, singles must come to feel appreciated and valued as individuals who contribute in their own right to the communal fabric. At the same time, however, such appreciation must stop short of even an implicit approbation of the single lifestyle as an accepted halakhic norm. In short, our goal must be to strike the balance which so often characterizes synagogue life. We must find a way to make singles feel

Observations on Perfect Person Singular


welcome as participating members of the community even as they understand and accept our own not so subliminal desire to see them all married (a desire which almost all of them share).

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful