Thursday, May 22, 2008

Socializing between the Sexes

One of the fringe benefits of NCSY is the ability of ‘advisers’ - young people o f marriageable age who are active in their Kiruv work - to meet and socialize. Although this is not the goal of NCSY it is a very positive attribute of this organization.

This fact recently got me to thinking about the increasing numbers of young people who are having a difficult time getting married. I know far too many wonderful young people who are struggling in the Shidach scene.

I’m not suggesting that they all join NCSY and that this would solve their problems. But I am suggesting that the trend away from causal meetings between the sexes ought to be reconsidered. Even in the Charedi world.

It used to be the norm when I was dating back in the late sixties to meet a Frum member of the opposite sex casually, strike up a conversation, and then for a young man to call up a young woman and ask her out. Many of my now very Charedi friends got married this way.

I’m not dismissing the notion of Shadchanim. They are a valuable resource for young people looking to get married. Nor do I think that an introduction by a mutual friend should be overlooked as a resource. In fact, that’s one of the best ways to meet. But in my view, the most natural settings for young men and women to meet are rapidly disappearing. In the Charedi world, this has been the case for a long time. And it seems to be taking hold in at least the right wing modern orthodox world as well - as more and more young people are turning to Shadchanim for dates.

That is really a shame. But unfortunately it is a by-product if the ‘move to the right’. As more and more MO Yeshiva Bachurim don the black hat so too do they don the black hat Hashkafa.

I understand the Charedi opposition to a casual type dating approach. They fear the sex drive will overwhelm people if they familiarize too much with the opposite sex. The goal is to eliminate any and all temptation. To that end they want to completely segregate the sexes. Separate seating at weddings is de-rigueur now at all Charedi weddings - and now even some RWMO weddings.

In increasing numbers the Kallas no longer go to the other side of the Mechitza to sit together with their Chasanim for a “Ketzad Merakdin’ type dance. That used to be the norm at even the most Charedi of non Chasidic weddings. It is now the exception. Mixed events of any kind are now forbidden. In Israel even separate seating concerts are forbidden because some young people of the opposite sex might meet. And there are some who wish to bring that standard here to the United States.

NCSY is looked at by many Charedi leaders as Assur for that reason. The result is that perfectly legitimate avenues for dating are increasingly closing up. And that is just plain wrong. It dries up opportunity and ultimately bestows way too much control to Shadchanim over other people's lives. Shadchanim define the of acceptability their clients - who will and will not make it onto their lists. They can make or break a Shiddach.

This is just one more way that Charedism is taking over. But I submit that we ought not let it. We ought to fight it by encouraging our young marriage age children to join NCSY and other worthy and Frum mixed organizations. And encourage mixed seating at weddings - even for singles. We ought to invite families over for a Shabbos meal where each has children of the opposite sex… giving them an opportunity to interact casually and learn about each other. Starting this out at a young age helps to eliminate the ‘forbidden fruit’ effect.

But there is no better meeting place for young people than at NCSY as advisers. My daughter met her husband at NCSY. He is a pillar of the community here and commands respect from all segments of Orthodoxy.

I know many Frum young couples who met and worked as singles together in NCSY. And to the best of my knowledge they are all still happily married.

Has anything ever happened at an NCSY Kiruv weekend between a boy and a girl that wasn't supposed to? I'm sure it has. But for the vast majority of young people that work there as advisers it hasn't.

The big issue always raised is the following. Our sages tell us Ein Apitropus Le'aroyos - there are no means of guarding against sexual immorality. Essentially this is a warning to stay as far away from temptation as possible. I don’t think anyone would argue that point.

Everyone has a sex drive. And there is a plethora of sexual stimuli in this world. Much of it is universal and will titillate anyone. And I will stipulate that there are abnormal personalities out there that will be aroused by just about any item in existence. In psychology, that's called a fetish.

But they are a very small percentage of the populations. Our sages did not legislate for them. When they speak of Aryaos they speak about normal people, not abnormal people. There is something called societal norms. The Levush understood that principle very well. He said that one may recite SheHaSimcha B'Mono – that the Simcha is in God’s realm - at the bentching of a wedding feast where men and women sit together.

Even though it was not permitted in the past, that’s because it was not the societal norm then for men and women to be involved in any way together in public. Women generally stayed home. Sitting together at a wedding would have been very unusual and probably very titillating.

But by the time the Levush came along that was no longer the case. Men and women were already interacting all the time. It was no longer unusual to see a woman in public. It was therefore well within the parameters of the norm to be seated together at a wedding. Hence such a seating arrangement can indeed be considered to be in God’s realm Sitting at a table with your spouse and other couples - where women are dressed in the typical Tznius fashion of Orthodox women - will no more be a source of titillation than box of cereal.

And this logic translates this to NCSY advisers. Most non Charedi religious young people are quite used to being around the opposite sex. This doesn’t mean that they can’t get into trouble. Anyone can - even Roshei yeshiva. That has happened.

But it does mean that that they can control their urges. They are in an environment where young people get together in a chaperoned atmosphere of Kiruv - and are old enough to get married. They can control themselves. Just as they can when alone together on a Shadchan arranged Shidach date.