A single trapped in a religion of married people
For some reason any article I post by Rabbi Rabbs elicits insane responses. Our dear friend Rabbs is going to be interviewed by Luke Ford tomorrow via live stream which means you can watch it and send your questions for him which he will answer live. Might as well check out his craziness. I will be at work during the event.
A Single Trapped In a Religion of Married People: by Rabbi Rabbs
The Midrash tells us, “Man does not fulfill his destiny without woman, nor woman without man, nor the two together without the Divine Presence amongst them” (Beraishis Rabbah 8:9). According to the Talmud, “Any man that has no wife, dwells without joy, without blessing, without good” (Yevamos 62). The Ram’a elaborates that a single is “void of Torah … and considered to be only half a person” (Evan Ha’Ezer 1:1).
From those excerpts and many more similar to them throughout the Torah, we see that the foundation of Judaism is built upon the concept of marriage, with married couples working together to get closer to G-d. As I grow older, I see that our Sages were correct in that those of us who remain single do not fulfill our destiny, suffer without a partner and without joy and without blessings, and find ourselves trapped as outsiders in a religion designed for married people.
I already pointed out in an earlier blog entry how painful it is to be alone and that remaining single can cause people to lose their motivation to learn Torah and perform mitzvahs. Now, we will delve deeper and discover that marriage is so central to Judaism that many of the most common commandments themselves were created specifically for couples. We will learn that the Torah-observant community only celebrates those who are married. And, we will see that anyone remaining single becomes an outcast and is treated as the Ram’a said, “only half a person”. I will explain.
Let us begin by examining Shabbos, one of the backbones of Judaism that contains many commandments in the Torah. Shabbos is a beautiful and amazing day for married people and close families. It is a time for enjoying yummy family meals and intimacy with one’s spouse. It is the day families look forward to all week long. The day that no one in the family is at work or at school, and everyone can enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed atmosphere.
That all works for married people. Now, let us look at how Shabbos is for me and for the many singles that have told me over the years why they dislike the day. Despite all of our efforts to conform and to put our energies into celebrating the Sabbath in the best ways possible, we have become disenfranchised from the day. Although the specifics within the complaints from each one of us might differ, all of us share similar feelings of alienation on Shabbos.
For me, I don’t have a wife to enjoy intimacy with, nor am I part of a close family. I am completely on my own every week. Almost all of my friends from yeshivah days are now married with children, and most of them moved out of town years ago. When I was younger, I spent Shabbos as a guest of various families, but that became old real fast. First of all, I got tired of being the only single person seated at a table full of married people. That always felt awkward. Second, I don’t like being around babies and small children, and frum families usually have boatloads of them, and so do their other invited guests. I recall once hearing a hostess with her hands full and looking for somewhere to dish her child off to say, “I am sure Hershel wants to hold the baby” and moving towards me with her kid, hoping to put it in my arms. Well, guess what? Did she ever ask Hershel? Because I know him pretty well and feel quite comfortable providing this news flash: Hershel doesn’t want to hold the baby! And, if that hostess never sees him back in her house again, she will know why.
So, I stopped going to married people for Shabbos meals a long time ago. That forces me to eat by myself at home every week, and I don’t know how to cook. This is going to sound selfish, lazy, and perhaps even sexist, but I assumed all along that I would be married by now and I was hoping my wife would bring her culinary skills into the marriage. Hence, I never bothered to learn how to prepare meals for myself. I guess I didn’t realize that I would be on my own forever. So, whereas I go to eat from a wide variety of gourmet cuisines at a plethora of fine kosher restaurants here in Jewtown all week long, they are all closed on Shabbos, leaving me with only canned tuna sandwiches for the Sabbath. Hence, my worst meals of each week are on Shabbos.
But, wait there’s more. I also stopped going to shul years ago. Why? For numerous reasons, one of which is that I can’t deal with standing out as single while surrounded by married men my age and younger, nor can I deal with being in a room full of singles, but being twice as old as everyone else. It seems no matter where I go to pray, one of those two uncomfortable situations awaits me. My rabbi suggested that I should buy a tallis and wear it to shul just so I can feel and look married like all of the other men close to my age. The problem with that plan is that people will ask me when I got married, forcing me to not only lie, but explain why I didn’t invite anyone to my wedding.
Side point: I am extremely tired of being asked the rude question, “where do you daven?” by so many Jews that I meet. No one should ever ask that to a stranger, because doing so inquires into one’s private life. What could be more personal to an individual than how and where one chooses to pray? I should not be put into the awkward and humiliating position where I must confess to total strangers where I pray or whether I pray at all. Those subjects are strictly between G-d and me.
Unfortunately, most Jews I meet can’t deal with the answers I give to them when they ask that question to me, whether I reply by saying that I daven at home or whether I tell them it is none of their nosey yenta business. Either way, they can’t deal with the truth. They fully expect me to reveal which shul I attend regularly, and any other answer I provide will not meet their requirement. That almost forces me to lie just to get those terrorist Jews off of my back.
Similarly, there are other popular rude questions that frummies frequently ask total strangers, such as:
“Why aren’t you married already?” (I answer that with, “because you never found anyone for me”)
“When are you getting married?” (I reply with, “a week from Tuesday”)
“When are you going to have kids already?” (that one gets asked to couples the day after their wedding)
“Which kind of Chasid are you?” (that question assumes I’m Chasidic, so it would make more sense to first verify if I am in fact Chasidic before determining to which group I belong. Just because I learned in Chasidic yeshivahs and still wear the Chasidic battle gear doesn’t make me a Chasid. If you can understand the difference, then you’re way ahead of most Jews that ask me that question, because they often can’t accept my simple answer of “I’m not”)
“Are you ba’al tschuvah?” (big sigh … if the answer is “yes”, then the person that asked the question violated the Mishnah (Baba Metzia 4) that says we are not permitted to remind a ba’al tschuvah of his past, because by asking the question, a ba’al tschuvah would be reminded of his past. Therefore, that question should never be asked to anyone)
Yet, I would gladly welcome all of those annoying questions if the same people asking them would finally learn how to drive and not let their kids scream their Jewy lungs out from the restaurant table next to me while I’m trying to eat my chicken strips.
Getting back to the point, because it is too awkward for me to go to shul, and because I will not eat by families, I spend almost every Shabbos by myself. Because I am not allowed to drive a car nor ride a bike, I spend almost the entire Shabbos at home. Because I am not permitted to watch TV, nor listen to music, nor use a computer or phone, nor write, nor work out on my Nordic Track, I spend almost the entire time going out of my mind, bored to death, with nothing to do, no one to communicate with, and nothing but canned tuna to eat. For me, it is 25 hours of pure hell spent in solitary confinement in which I climb the walls thinking about how much I hate my life and how much I look forward to being dead already. Occasionally, I use the time to learn Torah – usually looking up answers to questions posed to me on MySpace – but more often, I just end up talking to myself.
Sometimes I venture outside of my jail cell to go on a walk for an hour, but doing so often leads to more mental anguish as I see frum Jews in my neighborhood. Almost all of them walk with their spouse, their family, or in a group of friends. When I see them, I am reminded of how alone I am. It ends up that I can’t decide which is worse, staying inside and living like a prisoner in isolation or going outside and feeling the loneliness of not having a wife nor friends and the alienation of not fitting into the community. It is in situations such as those that I need to break away and go surfing – the only times I ever enjoyed true peace of mind was when I was in the ocean.
But of course, surfing is forbidden on the Sabbath. I suppose if I never marry, I will never experience peace on Shabbos until after I die.
I have absolutely hated Shabbos for a very long time. It is a family day and a mitzvah that was clearly not designed for singles at my very late age. But, I can see that if I had a wife, the day would be awesome and I would look forward to it. Until then, it is by far the worst day of each week for me. I especially disliked that when I was working full time, one of my two days off each week was wasted on just sitting around doing nothing. Plus, all of my vacation days issued to me were always eaten up by Jewish holidays, which are even worse than Shabbos. Why is Yom Tov worse than Shabbos? I will explain.
Yom Tov is just like Shabbos except that it usually comes in pairs, meaning that it lasts for two straight days. So, I am forced into seclusion for 49 hours instead of just 25. The worst is when Shabbos either falls directly before or after a Yom Tov, forcing me into a whopping 73 straight hours of solitary confinement. I am usually completely suicidal by the end of that torturous period. It also bothers me that I must go that long without exercising. Meanwhile, I am expected to chow down on big meals. What are we supposed to be, the religion of out of shape people? It is no wonder so many frummies are overweight. In addition, each Yom Tov brings with it unique features that sadly remind me that the holiday is designed for married people and families, and that those of us who are still single find ourselves as outcasts. The classic example is Passover.
Passover Seders can be wonderful experiences when shared with close family members. I imagine that Seders might even be nice when shared with friends. But, sitting by oneself, reading the Hagaddah alone, and looking forward to a kosher for Passover can of tuna absolutely sucks. That describes my Seders for the past few years. I hate Passover, but I know Seders would totally rock if they were shared with my wife.
Sukkos, which has timely significance because we celebrate it next month, is another Yom Tov that doesn’t work for those living alone. Sukkos is when families build huts on their property and then eat their meals inside of them for a week. I can see how Sukkos could be a great experience for entire families. But, that holiday especially blows for me, because I cannot build a sukkah where I live, forcing me to eat elsewhere for a week. More precisely, forcing me to eat by families every meal of every day for an entire week! I don’t like to eat by families even once in a Jubilee, and Sukkos comes and forces me to eat by them all week long! As a result, I dread Sukkos. But, again, if I had a wife, I know it would be great, because even if we were forced to eat elsewhere, at least we would do so together and have each other’s support. And, I would no longer suffer as the only single in a room full of married people. Hopefully, though, she and I would move into a place together that would allow us to build our own sukkah, and then we could enjoy the holiday on our own terms without the invasion of any little kids or babies in our hut. That would be awesome!
For a long time, my favorite day of the year was the holiday of Purim. I loved it because I would dance up a storm at the band parties in my neighborhood, dress up in costume,
exchange shloch manos gifts with friends, and enjoy a festive meal by a young married couple I was close with. Plus, Purim doesn’t carry the restrictions of Shabbos and Yom Tov, so I could still drive and listen to music during it. Purim was a holiday to which being single didn’t pose problems.
But times have changed. My neighborhood stopped providing band parties, I have no friends nearby to exchange shloch manos with (this year, I did not receive a single Purim gift – not one), and that young couple I was close with two decades ago now has a house full of 10 kids. Worse, they invite other families with a zillion kids each to their festive meals. I stopped going over there because it becomes like kids central, with all of the other adults up to their head coverings in parenting, and I become the one older single loser guy in the room. No thank you. I would rather stay home and flirt with women on MySpace. So, now I hate Purim, because it has become nothing more than a reminder of how being single sucks in this religion. I stopped going to sheva brachahs ceremonies for similar reasons.
Basically, I try to avoid any situation where I will feel like the older single loser guy, and in this community where it seems no one else my age is still single, such situations happen quite often. So, to maintain my sanity, I tend to remove myself from the community. However, all of that would change if I was married, because I would no longer be “the single guy”, and my rebbitzen and me would gladly open our home and our sukkah to host our own Shabbos and Sukkos meals, Passover Seders, sheva brachahs ceremonies, and Purim parties for singles of all ages. Married people would also be welcome to attend, provided they leave their little kids elsewhere. If that seems harsh, well, fortunately for those parents, there are countless frum families they can go to instead. Whereas, us non-kids people have few choices. I can see how Purim, Shabbos, and all of the other holidays would be great if I was married. But until then, wake me up when they’re finished.
My lack of enthusiasm is even more pronounced when it comes to simchahs. Us Jews, we have three big celebrations, and each one of them alienates singles: brisses, bar mitzvahs, and weddings. People who get married and have multiple kids never stop being celebrated by the community. Meanwhile, the last thing I did that was worthy of celebrating, according to the community, was way back in the dinosaur era when I turned 13. Most of you reading this weren’t even born yet back then. If you don’t know the difference between UHF and VHF, trust me, you weren’t alive when I had my bar mitzvah. And, as how my life appears to be headed, that may be the last time I will have a simchah. I would love to get married and have a wedding, but that wish has become nothing more than a fantasy, and I know I will never have kids, so brisses and bar mitzvahs are completely not relevant to my future.
I cannot express enough how deeply upsetting it is for me to constantly celebrate everyone else’s joyous occasions while knowing that I will never have my own. I am the world’s greatest Chasidic dancer and I have danced my brains out at weddings, and I have been the life of parties for the past quarter century.
Meanwhile, despite my efforts to celebrate everyone else, the community couldn’t give a flying hoot about my own accomplishments made during that time, such as abstaining from alcohol and drugs for more than 23 years and cigarettes for five years (I will celebrate six years, G-d willing, on Rosh Hashanah). Trust me, in the frum world, no one cares.
It is a much greater achievement in my mind to avoid the temptations of alcohol, drugs, ciggies, and even sex (as I have done) than it is to create a baby boy. In fact, the latter is the complete opposite of avoiding temptations. Think about it. What are we celebrating at a briss ceremony? What did the couple accomplish? In my mind, all they needed to do together to qualify for the celebration was to act on uncontrollable sex urges while being too lazy to use contraceptives. And, for that I need to inconvenience myself to be part of their big shindig each year? No thanks! I’m not waking up early for that. I stopped going to brisses years ago.
Bar mitzvahs are even worse. Every boy who turns 13 gets a big party, and I’m supposed to attend? What did the kid accomplish to deserve that party other than stay alive during those 13 years? Nothing. Meanwhile, I worked my buns off for the community during much of that time, but no one even says thank you. But, some kid did nothing more than stay alive – he could’ve been the bully on the block, stolen kids’ lunch money, and beaten up all of the other little boys his entire life — and I’m supposed to give up my Sunday and buy him a gift? No thank you. I will stay home and watch football on TV. I stopped going to bar mitzvahs a long time ago.
I will still go to weddings, though. I love dancing and being the life of the parties, and at weddings I don’t have “the joy of kids” theme shoved in my face as I do at other simchahs. I just pray that one day G-d will allow me to celebrate my own wedding, and everyone who I entertained for the past quarter century will return the favor by dancing their hearts out for my one and only simchah that will ever be recognized by the community.
Judaism would be so awesome for me if I was married. However, right now the reality for me is that this religion has become a huge burden. Once again, it is a modern miracle that I am still frum today considering everything I have dealt with in my own lifetime. If not for my knowing that the Torah is the absolute Truth, as I proved in a prior blog, “Rabbi Rabbs offers 200 Proof that the Torah is True”, I would be out of here like a bat out of Gehinom. Perhaps I serve as greater evidence that the Torah is the Truth — it must be true, otherwise why in the world would I stay with it?
Because the Torah is the Truth, I can never leave it. But as a result of my commitment to the Torah, I don’t exactly live the most glamorous of celebrity lifestyles that one might otherwise imagine, nor am I living like other rabbis. And despite all of my efforts, I am not even fulfilling my destiny, nor am I as close to G-d as I should be. Instead, I am decaying in a pool of isolation, alienation, and loneliness. Although my experiences and viewpoints that I shared in this essay are a bit extreme and unusual, I believe that the many frum singles that have complained to me over the years will relate to the feelings I described of not fitting into the community, feeling second-class, and being treated like half of a person.
When it comes to dealing with singles, the Torah community spends a lot of energy preparing us for marriage and has published millions of words on how to become a good spouse. Unfortunately, the community offers next to nothing for singles that will never be married and there aren’t a whole lot of words written on how to face a lifetime of being alone. As marriage may not be in my future, clearly, I have become a single trapped in a religion for married people.