I hear constant references to the Shidduch Crisis. How are young men and women supposed to meet?
I met my wife through a mutual friend—her college roommate was a friend of mine from Bnei Akiva—and that is a great way. We network for business and we should network for “zivugim.” It is an honorable form of Jewish social capital or what I call, “assets in association.” But to do that, you need to grow a network. And that’s the beginning of our problem. We have done a disservice to young men and women by completely separating them; it’s a false effort at imposing tznius.
Yeshiva University (YU) used to have mixed Purim and Chanukah Chagigas and a shuttle bus that ran from YU to Stern on Thursday nights which was the “nahug”/customary night to date. Many successful marriages were formed from those events and opportunities to mix and meet. Once young people are out of the college environment, meeting becomes even more difficult.
Shuls are where young people should be encouraged to meet over Kiddush, Seudah Shlisheet, or after a shiur. I would like to see events created that are religiously, emotionally and intellectually inspiring—and have time built in when the single men and women who attend can talk to each other. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, in the early days of Lincoln Square Synagogue, [long before he went to Efrat] used to have events like this. He would give a shiur on the teachings of Rabbi Soloveitchik that attracted the unmarried, and the singles would talk to each other at the end of the program over the refreshments.
Weddings are another venue where singles should be able to talk to each other. A well-known rabbi, a relative to the Soloveitchik family, was asked by his granddaughter if she should have mixed seating at the dinner of her wedding. Yes, the Rabbi told her, after all I met your grandmother at a wedding. Here’s another example of meeting naturally in an appropriate context. HaRav Moshe Feinstein’s daughter met her husband, the future Rosh Yeshiva and noted Microbiologist, Rabbi Dr. Moshe D. Tendler, in the library on the Lower East Side by asking him a question about science. They weren’t inaccessible to each other. Why we have created so many artificial barriers is beyond me.
When you get a third party involved, such as a shadchan or a group that matches by questionnaire, people get very picky and rely on empirical evidence to a fault. My mother works at an optometrist’s office in Toronto. A person called the office in an effort to check out a prospective shidduch and wanted the boy’s eyeglass prescription. That is certainly a near-sighted attitude. We reject good candidates if they don’t fit our definition of perfection or if there is any taint of illness. This problem may escalate as genetic information becomes more widely available. If that’s on the table as well it could nix a person’s shidduch prospects. No one leaves this world without a scare or scar. A “nisayon” in the family shouldn’t define us; it should refine us. Challenges make us stronger. Differences also become grounds for rejection when they shouldn’t be. Someone in the Agudah world may reject a compatible shidduch with someone because he or she comes from a Bnei Akiva background. That’s the kind of intermarriage we should rejoice over.
We should maximize opportunities to bring men and women together while they’re still young. And we should be creating wholesome events for the community where single men and women can meet and get to know each other naturally.
How do we keep our marriages strong when our lives and responsibilities are very separate?
Husbands and wives need to carve out time together. My wife and I have used to have standing Wednesday date night even when our children were younger. We still always look for ways to connect and collect our thoughts together, including walking our dog each night. We make it a priority to have dinner together each night. It has been an important sense of modeling for our family. Face time cannot be discounted and it cannot all wait until Shabbos. Young marrieds can take a walk in the city, visit a museum, or see a show. And they should share in the housework as well. Husbands should take out the garbage and not see chores as beneath them. Sharing in the ADL’s —Activities of Daily Living (and Loving) is paramount. My wife and I do dishes together and we enjoy this special time. This kind of chavruta is just as important as what is shared with a regular study partner in a Beit Midrash.
Just as a husband is obligated to provide his wife with food, shelter, and clothing there is the added obligation of intimacy which takes on all dimensions. He should provide emotional time as well. Marriages need to be nurtured. If you meet like ships passing in the night, the marriage will suffer. Shabbos provides some time together. But often, husband and wife are so worn out they’re just napping together Shabbos afternoon.
Some men say they need to spend most of their spare time with their chavrusos. Batei Midrashim with text based learning are flourishing and that is a positive development. But a husband’s learning doesn’t have to come at the expense of his wife and children. You can do both. Our busy lives, especially here in the metropolitan NY area where one or both spouses can get home at 7:00 pm or later, can draw the oxygen out of a marriage. You have to be there for each other and breathe together and keep your relationship organically whole.
When I went into the rabbanut my wife and I met with my Rebbe and Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Tendler, who gave us good advice for the lives of leadership we were embarking on, including an important comment, “that a man needs to know how to balance a Gemara on one knee and a child on the other. There is no mitzvah to take care of the rest of the world but neglect your family.”
When a marriage ends, can anything be done if the husband withholds a get?
The plight of an agunah is intolerable. There are no situations that justify recalcitrant husbands. That being said, in halakha, the husband has to initiate a divorce and a get can’t be forced. But we are making some progress in ameliorating the plight of agunah through the use of the RCA pre-nuptial agreement along with some efforts at social sanction against this cruel behavior towards one’s wife when the marriage is no longer viable.
A couple considering divorce should undergo counseling and we need to remove this internal aversion to seeking professional guidance. Many cases of recalcitrant husbands revolve around custody issues and this is where the halakha can be held hostage given the husband’s special prerogatives here. The agunah situation becomes a rabbinic black eye when efforts aren’t made to pull out all stops to help the woman. One case of agunah is one too many. There is perhaps no greater mitzvah than to free an agunah. It is another form of “pidyon shevuyim,” which we know takes top priority in the hierarchy of religious needs according to halakha.
The use of pre-nuptial agreements is growing. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has been the leader in this area. The agreement a chassan signs obligates him to resolve outstanding barriers to remarriage and as long as he refuses to do so he must support his wife each day he withholds the get. It is pegged to the Consumer Price Index and it has withstood legal challenges.
Social pressure and its newest tool, social media pressure, are having an impact. The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) has made great strides in this area and in educating the public so that recalcitrant husbands are stigmatized by their communities. ORA has organized groups to protest in front of a recalcitrant husband’s home, which can motivate him to give the get. There are unfortunately ways for him to get around this kind of social sanction, especially in our metropolitan area, where the decisions of one community’s rabbis are not binding on those in another community. The husband can move to another community which may not recognize the decisions and sanctions of his previous community. Here we need to recognize our obligations across geographic lines.
Holding a get hostage is contemptible and a real tragedy. And the collateral damage of a drawn out get battle is clearly visited upon the children. Here too we must socialize our communities and congregants to do what is “right and good in the eyes of Hashem.”
When an Orthodox marriage ends, it seems that the wife is hurt most; either the price of a get comes close to extortion or it is withheld in anger. What are rabbis doing—if anything—to prevent this?
It is criminal to have to use scarce communal funds and resources desperately needed elsewhere to buy a woman’s freedom. Sometime we have no choice. But we must step up the social sanctions and, as I noted, create a shared responsibility between communities to respect the decisions of the antecedent rabbinical community so they will be “b’tokef”, have force and gravitas so as to affect the needed outcome. Our decentralized communities are the problem today and we as rabbis must defy the geography and work together.
Rabbi Zierler holds graduate degrees in both Clinical Counseling and Bio-ethics and has previously worked in private practice.
By Bracha Schwartz