Monday, July 20, 2009

A Second Chance

I just received an e-mail from a divorced man who at age 50 (or perhaps a bit older) is experiencing difficulty in finding a new mate. He is considering doing something radical to change his luck. I do not know him personally and cannot vouch for him in any way except to say that in our on-line exchanges he seems like an honest and honorable man with an awareness of his own flaws. Nor do I categorically endorse or completely reject his idea. My inclination is somewhere in-between those two extremes. (Isn’t it always?)

I thought it an interesting and provocative letter. I present it here as a guest post - anonymously for obvious reasons - as food for thought. In my view there is a lot here to think about – among them Halacha, Hashkafa, older Shidduchim, divorce, remarriage… and the religious community's attitude on this subject - as well as his own.

Guest Post

I've been, more or less, shomer shabbat for the past 30 years or go, but lately I've been giving serious thought to starting to attend some "Torah study" classes and the like at a nearby left wing Conservative synagogue, maybe even attend Saturday services there too. Not because I'm attracted to Conservative ideology - its flaws were obvious to me growing up in a fairly traditional C shul.

Rather, I'm thinking of spending time at Conservative, and maybe even Reform synagogues because I'm divorced, could use some female companionship, and from what I've read, there's a huge gender imbalance in the heterodox synagogues.

With feminists like the Women's League for Conservative Judaism pretty much taking over the heterodox movements a large number of Jewish men stopped being involved in the synagogues. In some congregations, services and events have an 80/20 gender imbalance. Take away the "boys' club" aspect of the morning minyan, and reduce opportunities for men to have leadership roles, add spiritual and emotional aridity, and men have little reason to be involved. Ironically, that has created a situation that does have some attraction to men, four women for every man.

It's analogous to college campuses that are now 60% female. Yes the educational system in the US favors girls and women for a number of reasons, and yes, college campuses with their left-wing orthodoxies can be hostile environments for men, but eventually men will figure out that college campuses are where the girls are.

I never really learned how to learn Gemara so in the frum community I'm never going to be taken seriously, even if I wasn't a non-conformist, but at a Conservative synagogue, chances are good that only the rabbi may, and I repeat may, know more about Judaism than I do, so I'd probably get some respect.

It's not that I crave attention or respect, I actually like to hide in plain sight, but obviously if my goal is to impress a woman, being respected won't hurt.I seem to recall something in some Jewish book or something like that that said that it's not good for a man to be alone. The fact that there is even a term "shidduch crisis" shows just how important marriage is in the frum community. Nobody ever has a crisis about something they don't care about. So frum folks are definitely interested in Jews getting married to other Jews.

Well, perhaps not all Jews. I was divorced about 7 years ago. In that time not a single member of the frum community has even mentioned the subject of me remarrying, let alone suggesting someone, or even less likely, introducing me to someone. Add the fact that I'm over 50 now and there just aren't a whole bunch of age appropriate single women in the orthodox community, at least around here, and the truth is that if I'm only going to consider orthodox women, I'm probably going to be single and celibate for the rest of my life.

At the same time, not only has my ex-wife had numerous inquiries from people in the community to see if she was interested in remarrying, she was actually urged by some members of the community to quickly remarry specifically so that I would be halachically prohibited from reconciling with her. I'm not very big on the whole self-esteem concept, it's highly overrated, but I have to admit that finding out about that urging did kind of sting.

Okay, so I'm a paskudniak with particular baggage, but much of my experience is not completely unique. It's not a large sample but every divorced man that I know has experienced some level of alienation, disaffection, isolation, or the like in the frum community. We're fifth wheels, nobody knows what to do with us. People invite families for meals, not single men.

At least one prominent orthodox pulpit rabbi, whose views are mainstream enough that he is now running one of the largest mainstream Orthodox organizations in the US, out of a desire to "protect" women at his shul made it clear that single adult men are not welcome.

On the other hand, with a preponderance of women at Conservative synagogues, and the higher divorce rate in that community, I'm far more likely to meet a single woman there than I am at any of the events or services at any of the orthodox shuls in town.

So Rabbi Maryles, the question that I pose to you and your readers is, why shouldn't I try to meet Jewish women at Conservative or Reform synagogues?