Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Can Modern Orthodoxy be defined?

Gil Student tries to pin down what Modern Orthodox people believe (though he mixes the terms “Modern Orthodox” and “Centrist Orthodox”.)

The problem with that is that it's much easier to define people fairly accurately by a label the farther to the religious right they are. Charedim have specific hashkafot in place for the various groups, and complete adherence is expected of members. Centrist Orthodoxy is a little harder to pin down onto a range of individuals and by the time you get to "Left Wing Modern Orthodoxy" or "Open Orthodoxy", there's not much of a party line and the mass of individuals represent quite a spectrum of beliefs.

Personally, I like it that way. It forces people to get to know one another as individuals instead of projecting a label on them.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sex and the single Modern Orthodox

There’s been a lot of blogging lately on Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger’s psak forbidding single women from going to the mikvah.

According to the Jerusalem Post:

"It is absolutely prohibited to allow a single woman to immerse herself in a mikve," wrote Metzger. "And it is an obligation to prevent her from doing so."
I find the second part of that statement especially distasteful.

But this issue has been discussed to death the last few days on Jewish blogs. I want to make a peripheral point.

On several blogs, in posts & comments, I’ve seen the sentiment that one of the reasons that Modern Orthodox young men & women are having premarital sex is because of a culture in the community that is accepting of people being single for years and that the culture is what has to change.

(First of all, there’s far less of this going on than people firmly ensconced in the Centrist Orthodox community think. The Upper West Side is not a den of iniquity. But admittedly, a significant minority do engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.)

I feel that there is already enough stigmatization of older singles in communities where most people are married. They are subtly treated as less worthy and less "grown up" than married people, irrespective of their actual worth as individuals. Thankfully there are communities where this is less so, and communities such as the upper west side where singles can feel like full fledged members of their communities.

Just because some are concerned about premarital sex, that concern is not nearly a good enough reason to turn back the clock and re-infantilize those singles who happen to have not yet met their zivugim.

That touches on the whole issue of the supposed “shidduch crisis” but that’s another post.

Gifts in the yichud room?

Harry Maryles blogs about the new "minhagim" of gifts for chatan & kallah at weddings, as well as more & more lavish weddings, and the takanot that some rabbanim have issued to limit the spiraling expenses and social pressure.

I totally agree with him. Thankfully my wife & I got married in our early 30's and did not socialize with the young couples who have this mindset. We did not give each other gifts in the yichud room. Neither did most of our friends. The attitude of many of these young people, especially the brides, seems to be more excitement about this paraphernalia than the marriage itself. As soon as the first dance is over, the girl's friends all huddle around her giggling while she proudly displays the jewelry she got from her groom in the yichud room.

Is it still a minhag for the girl's parents to get the boy a shas? The truth is, most people who have those big expensive sets of shas rarely use them. They use their old beaten up gemaras from their yeshiva days. What's the point of the big shas? It's just for show.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Single motherhood in Orthodox Judaism

I have 2 female friends who are Orthodox and single, one in her early 40’s and one in her late 30’s. The former recently had a baby and the latter is pregnant.

It’s a tough decision to become a single parent, but other than that, I see no reason why that decision should be stigmatized by Orthodox Judaism. These women are opting for artificial insemination. While there may be some halachic issues, they’re not an insurmountable barrier. These women felt their biological clocks ticking and decided to go for it. They're both successful professionals who can afford to do this financially and they have support systems of friends.

Instead of this being something that is talked about in hushed tones, the Orthodox community should relax its obsession with the supposed “singles crisis” and create an environment where such decisions are celebrated rather than looked down upon.

How about an organization to help older single Orthodox women with this decision? If bringing children into the world is such a Jewish ideal, why not assist women to do so rather than closing off all choices other than perhaps marrying the wrong men because they’re so panicked about their biological clocks? This organization can help them financially, create support systems so they don’t have do do this alone, and guide them through any halachic problems and the process of artificial insemination.

I know a number of Modern Orthodox women who have mentioned over the years that if they reached, say, age 37 or 40, they would take this route. But now that they have reached this age, they’re not taking that step. It’s one thing to talk about it when you're years away from making that decision, but another entirely to make a move that they know will be looked down upon by most of their communities and even many of their friends.

Why should irrational community pressure keep potential mothers from enjoying that aspect of existence and bringing Jewish children into the world? I think it’s time for the Orthodox Jewish community (or at least the Modern Orthodox community) to make a sea change in the way this issue is approached.

*Update @ 2/6/08 12:43 PM:
GoingGoingGone pointed out that there are many reasons aside from community pressure that a single woman would shy away from this path. I just wanted to clarify that I wasn’t advocating this for all single Orthodox women near 40, just saying that community pressure and stigmatization shouldn’t prevent those who are ready to become single mothers.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Happiness is...

This article reports on a new school of thought within the mental health field: Happiness is overrated. According to several researchers our society has stigmatized sadness so much, labeling it “depression” and something to be treated, that we have discarded the value of sadness as a healing and creative power. Happiness, they say, has become an all-consuming passion in western culture.

I think it depends on what you define as happiness. In a consumer culture such as ours, people define happiness as getting everything they want. If things are lacking within their lives, the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of whatever we perceive as lacking. I would go so far as to say that the extreme pursuit of happiness is the very cause of much of the unhappiness. If your goals are always to attain something else then you always feel something missing. (Not to mention the issues that accompany the obsession, such as debt and destruction of relationships.)

If we view happiness as satisfaction, contentment, and acceptance of one’s lot then it becomes so much more attainable. That kind of happiness is within everyone’s grasp.

As Ben Zoma said in Pirkei Avot, (4:1) :

“איזה הוא עשיר, השמח בחלקו”

“Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot.”