Thursday, December 08, 2022

Reviewing: “Unmatched: An Orthodox Jewish woman’s mystifying journey to find marriage and meaning” by Sarah Lavane. Sifria Publishing. 2022. English. Paperback. 226 pages. ISBN-13: 979-8218010324

The Talmud recounts the horrific and irreconcilable torture and murder of Rabbi Akiva. When Moshe himself asked God how such a ghastly act could take place, God responded to Moshe with a brusque response of “Be silent.”

The message to Moshe, and us, was that God runs the world, and some things make no logical sense, but happen under a divine decree that is humanly unfathomable. If there is a consolation to the story of Rabbi Akiva, it is that he lives forever in his Talmudic teachings, which is studied to this very day.

In “Unmatched: An Orthodox Jewish woman’s mystifying journey to find marriage and meaning,” author Sarah Lavane (a pseudonym) has written a brutally honest memoir about her struggles and unsuccessful attempts to find a life partner.

All Rabbi Akiva wanted to do was learn and teach Torah. He had the misfortune, though, to live during the Bar Kokhba revolt and was murdered by the order of Turnus Rufus. All Lavane wanted to do was find her bashert and build a family. Yet she is living during a time when too many single women cannot make that happen.

Rabbi Akiva died by having his flesh slowly flayed off him. For Lavane, and many single women like her, the dating process, while not physically tortuous, was akin to having their souls flayed.

When one of my children was young and wanted an item beyond what we could afford, I told her we did not have the money for it. She naively replied, “Just go to the bank.” Many people do not understand single women’s struggles, and naively (but in fact, closer to cruelly), say things such as “You are being too picky,” “You are not getting any younger,” and the like.

Lavane writes of a conversation she had with a rabbi who made such a comment. She unleashed her pent-up frustrations and explained her situation to him. To which he replied that he was sorry and did not understand her plight. This book is to help understand that plight.

“Unmatched” is superb in that it illustrates the quandary of the single women that most of us simply do not understand. Lavane shares her struggles and bares her soul of her frustrations and challenges, and it is a heartbreaking read. Some of the dating stories are funny and par for the course. Others are devastatingly brutal.

There are countless stories of people who leave Orthodoxy and then write indictments of the communities they have left behind. This book is nothing like that. Lavane does not play the blame game or launch irrational rants. She shares her struggles and challenges in an honest and often humorous manner. I have never read anything like this before.

The book has no happy ending. In fact, towards the end, she finds herself on the operating table for a seemingly innocuous procedure, one that ultimately ends her chances of motherhood.

Rabbi Akiva was the proverbial optimist. Where others cried, he laughed. For all the struggles that she went through, Lavane, too, is an optimist. This is a book that everyone should read, as it gives the reader an understanding of the pains and struggles that so many single women are going through, which very few of us understand.

Lavane asks at the start if sharing her story would lead to more awareness, compassion and empathy in those who are matched, while providing validation and support to the unmatched. To which she has succeeded masterfully.

Ben Rothke lives in New Jersey and works in the information security field. He reviews books on religion, technology and science. @benrothke

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