Help! I Can’t Find a Husband Because I’m too Religious for Some and Not Enough for Others

Dear Jew in the City,

I am a somewhat observant Jew in a big city with a decent Jewish population, but I am having trouble finding my bashert. I am not Orthodox and while many of my friends and family members are, and I understand and respect living an Orthodox life, I know certain aspects like being shomer negiah and dressing tznius (modestly) are not who I am.

I keep a kosher home, and observe Shabbos in my own way (I dont drive, but watch tv). My problem is that to the majority of the Jewish guys I am considered too religous as they like to go out Friday nights to get cheesburgers and go to the movies, which I won’t do. The other guys are all Modern Orthodox and want a wife who will wear a sheital and what not. I am 26 and ready to find my husband, but I am starting to think I might have to become less religious or more religious than I am comfortable with in order to do so. I don’t want to change who I am for someone, but I’m out of ideas. What should I do? Should I move somewhere with a bigger and more middle of the road community instead of here where it is all or nothing?

Thanks,

Jessica

Dear Jessica,

Thanks for your question. Perhaps if you moved to a bigger city you’d find more guys who are similarly “somewhat observant.” But then, God willing, you’ll marry one of them, start a family, and have to impart the values of “somewhat observance” onto your children, which will likely present you with a new set of issues.

How will you explain to them why you keep some mitzvos and not others? Why is driving on Shabbos a no no, but tv’s allowed? Why is keeping kosher important, but dressing modestly is not?

I hope that you don’t feel personally attacked by these questions. I was raised in a home where we observed some things and not others too. I, like most Jews, just did what my parents did without questioning any of it. But as I started learning more and meeting Jews who strived to observe everything, some of my family’s practices started to seem pretty illogical.

For instance, we were brought up in a totally tref  home – shellfish, pork products, cheeseburgers, you name it – we ate it all and loved it all! But then on Passover, my mom got pretty strict about what we could eat. Everything had to be marked kosher for Passover in order to pass our lips during those eight days.

So I took the two principles I grew up with – “milk and meat is OK to eat together” and “we only eat food marked kosher for Passover during the holiday” – and I made a matza pizza topped with salami one Passover day! The only thing I noticed at the time was that it was delicious, but years later the hypocrisy of it all sunk in.

Now while I agree with you that Judaism doesn’t have to be all or nothing, my reasoning seems to be different than yours. When I do something that’s not according to halacha (Jewish law), I don’t tell my kids that it’s not “who I am,” but rather explain that although I’m not there yet, I’m working to be there one day.

I think the reason that you’re only finding guys who are either fully observant or fully non-observant is because that place in between lacks a certain consistency, if you think about it. Either the Torah is God given and we should strive to incorporate as much of it into our lives as we can, or it’s man written (and simply claims to be from God) and therefore its laws are no better than any other man-made philosophy.

Where does this leave you in practical terms? I definitely don’t think you should change for someone else. Such a change wouldn’t be sincere and could lead to future marital strife. I do, however, think you should learn more about Judaism and figure out where you stand on these issues. The more you know about Torah Judaism – through both studying and experiencing it – the more educated a decision you’ll be able to make about whether or not it resonates truthfully to you.

A fun way to learn and experience an observant lifestyle firsthand would be to go on an organized trip to Israel. There are many reasonably priced programs for people your age, but one that I’d especially recommend is Pathways Israel. It’s run by many of the rabbis and teachers from the seminary I attended, and they give their participants a beautiful taste of Jewish learning and living in a very easy-going environment.

Hopefully more knowledge will lead to more clarity about who you are and who your bashert might be. (By the way, did I mention the trip is co-ed?)

Best of luck on your journey,

Allison

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Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

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  1. Allison I completely agree with your conclusion; that Jessica should learn a bit more about Judaism and what it means to her before trying to find her mate (or at least get to the perspective on Judaism that you have illuminated a bit). But I am a bit troubled by simplistic, “Why do some mitzvot, and not others?”…when halacha (Jewish law) is very complex as to which mitzvot are required and/or the degree of observance for each one (i.e. pas yisrael, yoshon, chalav yisrael, etc.). It is complex even to those who have been Orthodox all of their lives! Surely it can seem a bit more than overwhelming to someone who was not brought up frum.

    One good example of this is modesty. I personally do not see Orthodox Jewish women who wear pants and (if married) who do not cover their hair as having an illogical approach to their Judaism (and they probably do so because “it is not who they are”!). Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you do judge these women, God forbid. Also I am far from any type of expert on Jewish law, but to me, eating a cheeseburger and being a married Jewish woman who isn’t covering her hair fall into the same category (as being assur {not permitted}). Yet apparently there is an undefined spectrum out there in regards to what is ok to do mitzvot-wise, and what is not ok. As least as far as what it accepted ‘socially’ in the Orthodox Jewish community.

    Whether or not you or I agree with these inconsistencies is another topic for discussion (I personally don’t). However the reality that exists in the Jewish community is that there is a contingent of Jews, some who consider themselves Orthodox, who pick and choose among the mitzvot. Years ago, I asked about what differentiated the Orthodox from other Jews, and the response was ‘Torah Min HaShamayim’; the belief that the Torah was divine. Normally if a person believes that the Torah is the direct teachings of Hashem, then they will do all that they possibly can to do whatever it entails. That is the goal anyway. But many of us (most of us?) are a work in progress.

    The Jewish dating pool is small to begin with; it is even more difficult when trying to find someone that keeps any particular level of observance. Nowadays it is just to easy to not do anything Jewishly; I think that anyone who makes a pointed effort to observe any mitzvot on a regular basis has quite a bit of koach (strength).

    So to Jessica; try to find some Orthodox kiruv organizations. Aish HaTorah, Chabad, and the like. There you are most likely to find Jewish men how are at least interested in growing in their observance. I hope you find your bershert in the right time, and not a moment later, bezrat Hashem!

    • Thanks for your comment, Rishona. There are a couple things I’ll say in response. First off, I didn’t feel like I could launch into a whole discussion discussing the differences between “chumras” (strigencies), “kulas” (leniencies), “minhagim” (traditions) and just basic mitzvos in this post. I plan on writing such a post soon. There’s just only so much I feel like I can cover in one Q&A.

      The truth is, though, the things Jessica mentioned she doesn’t observe – keeping Shabbos fully and dressing modestly are not stringencies or mere traditions – they’re basic laws. If she had said to me that she keeps kosher, but doesn’t keep “pas Yisrael,” my Q&A would have been very different! It was also the way she framed her reasoning that prompted such a response on my part. The Torah is not meant to be kept in our own ways outside of Jewish law. There are of course different opinions about how strict to be with certain commandments, but an attitude of I refrain from doing “what’s not me” has no backing in the halachic approach.

      In terms of the Orthodox women who wear pants and don’t cover their hair if they’re married, this issue gets more complicated than what you’ve mentioned. There are those who are careful to wear baggy pants and sleeves that come to their elbows, while there are others, who although they observe Shabbos and keep kosher, would wear a bikini on the beach! So the first group is observing the laws of modesty in that they’re covering up (since there is a minority opinion that baggy pants are permitted) while the second group is ignoring the laws of modesty completely. I’m not here to pass judgement on people, but if someone believes in the Torah and it’s laws, totally disregarding a category of mitzvos and just because it doesn’t “feel” like them is inconsistent. Just because it’s socially acceptable doesn’t make it right. It unfortunately is socially acceptable in many Orthodox circles to gossip about people even though it’s one of the most serious transgressions within Judaism.

      Because no one is perfect, every Orthodox Jew is picking and choosing to an extent – the point I wanted to highlight is that there is a divide about how a person feels about the picking and choosing. Some say, “it’s just who I am and I’m not planning on changing” while others (the side that I believe is intellectually consistent) say “I’m not there yet, but I want to be.”

      How to define an Orthodox Jew gets very complicated. There are those who believe that the Torah is from God yet they are totally non-observant. There are others that keep Shabbos and kashrus yet they waiver in their belief. I tried to avoid labels in the post because they get too confusing. I think it ultimately comes down to what you believe and then once you determine that, are you striving to make yourself in a person who lives up to those values or not.

  2. Michael Makovi says:

    I pretty much agree with Allison’s opinion, and I second much of it. Nice article.

    But I have a few comments: I notice that Jessica seems to be confusing different issues of different importance. She speaks together of her watching TV, and her not wanting to wear a sheitel. What we witness here, is the very dangerous issue of confusing different prohibitions of differing severity. Here, we should realize: there is no requirement to wear a sheitel! First, you can also wear a snood, or a tichel, or a hat! So this is aside from Allison’s excellent and completely correct argument for consistency. Aside from consistency, it is also important that we do not simplistically view everything as 100% forbidden or 100% mandatory. There are different opinions out there, and you should not think that just because you’re not wearing a sheitel, you’re automatically in pork-eating land.

    God told Adam not to eat from the tree, but Eve told the Snake that she had been told (apparently, by Adam) that it was prohibited to touch the tree. So, says the Midrash, the Snake pushed her against the tree, showed her that she didn’t die (as God had promised as a punishment), and that therefore, the whole prohibition regarding the tree was entirely fallacious.

    So Allison is correct that we should be consistent. She is also correct that whatever we do violate, we should not justify it as “that’s who I am,” but rather, as “I’m just not ready for that yet.” When Franz Rosenzweig was asked whether he puts on tefillin, he answered, “not yet.” I completely agree with Allison.

    But as I said, we should not be simplistic about the nature of the various prohibitions. It is liable to lead to Eve’s logic: “Well, I already touched the tree, so I may as well eat from it too.” No, a thousand times, no!

    As an aside, I sympathize with the feeling that you’re not consistent enough with what everyone else is doing, and that everything satisfies one half but not the other. Myself, for example, my theological opinions in Judaism tend towards the left-wing side of Modern Orthodox, but at the same time, I am politically on the far-right of the “settler” type movement, and I generally have a culturally conservative perspective amenable to that of the “yeshivish” and southern Evangelical Christians. I’m a Conservadox individual who believes women can be rabbis but who attends Tea Party rallies and squats on hilltops in the West Bank and believes in abstinence until marriage! Believe you me, I’ve found it very difficult to find anyone I feel compatible with! That’s why the Talmud says that making a shiddukh is as difficult for God as splitting the sea!

  3. As a practicing Conservative jew, I can honestly say that I relate to her somewhat. I do observe Shabbat by avoiding tv and driving and cooking. I avoid pork and shellfish. There are somethings that I do not observe; I wear pants, eat meat from kosher animals from any restaurant as long as there’s no visible dairy, and I shake hands with men who are not in my family. I feel honestly that I am striving for a more observant lifestyle yet I also need to respect other aspects of my identity and my destiny. In order for my Jewish life to be fully sustainable and fulfilling in every way, I need to be able to fully participate in the workplace and in social situatons. Hashem has given me a destiny to fulfill and if I let tiny details of observance obstruct my desity, I have comitted the greatest sin of all.

    • Thanks for commenting, Shoshana. It is certainly commendable that you have incorporated parts of Shabbos and kashrus into your life (as a side note, it would be halachically preferable to avoid non-kosher meat and instead eat dairy.) I became kosher in several steps as you can see here: http://www.aish.com/j/fs/48930697.html

      I trust that you believe you are being sincere when you say that you are “striving for a more observant lifestlye,” however, the moment you qualify that statement by adding that you must also “respect other aspects of your identity and destiny,” it appears that the growth you’re interested in doing is not the open-ended kind, i.e. striving to keep the whole Torah, but rather the kind that you decide is worthwhile.

      I totally undestand your desire to feel “normal” in the workplace and in social situations. You should just know, however, that many fully Torah observant Jews are able to strike this balance. It might mean not participating in events that are held on Shabbos or holidays or eating different food than your friends, but people in this day and age are actually pretty understanding and respectful of different cultures and traditions.

      You end your comment with the statement, “Hashem has given me a destiny to fulfill and if I let tiny details of observance obstruct my desity, I have comitted the greatest sin of all.” I think it’s really beautiful that you feel so connected to Hashem, but shouldn’t the statement actually be “Hashem has given me a Torah to fulfill and if I let the tiny difficulties that sometimes come about while observing obstruct my observance, than I have committed the greatest sin of all?”

  4. Allison, thank you for your response and for this website. It’s really good information and very helpful. I liked your article and I think an incremental approach to kashrut is a good idea for me. I really want to become better and I’m working on putting myself in a position where can observe more and more mitzvot with lower personal or social costs.

    Thanks!

  5. D Neumann, UK says:

    Hi Jessica,
    I understand where you are comming from. I am a oberservant Jew (Keep kosher ,Dress modestly, keep shabbat ect)but I am a member of a Reform Shul. (Reform in the UK is like USA Conservative.) At my Shul we seem to have a good balance of Traditional and Modern most of the service is in Hebrew and no filming or photography is alowed on shabbat but we have female Rabbies and men and women can sit together if they wish. I am 27 ready to find a husbend and finding one who is at the same level of observance as you can be difficult. Alot of people ask me why I am so observant yet a member of a Reform shul my answer is because the two are not mutualy exclusive. There is alot of miss conseption that Reform/conservative dont follow Halakah this is untrue we simpley look at certain Mitzvot in a different way. I agree with Alison that the best way to find a husbend is to get involved more in your local jewish communaty. Alot of shuls have Young Adult events and thats always fun Iv met some lovely guys that way. When it comes to becoming more observant you do not need to change who you are but just try and see the beauty of the mitzvot and what was intended point of it. For example I keep kosher because I want to observe the Mitzvot but also because I am a humanitarian and believe animals should be reard and killed in a humain way. I dress modestly because I want to observe the mitzvot but also I have enough self respect and confidence to want to be judged on my character not my body ect.
    I would like to say dont worry to much God has a match for eat of us and when you are ready you will find that person. Getting involved in the communaty and study groups are the best way to go I think

    • Thanks for your comment, D Neumann. Of course there are observant Jews within the Reform and Conservative movements. I grew up Conservative and had a few friends who were far more observant than how I was raised.

      The point that I was trying to make, though, is that observant non-Orthodox Jews are hard to come by because in the non-Orthodox movements the approach towards mitzvos is generally about “finding the ones that feel meaningful to me” as opposed to the Orthodox approach which is “I must strive to keep all mitzvos since God commanded me to.”

      Don’t get me wrong – it’s wonderful when a mitzvah feels meaningful, but just like with every relationship – there are ups and there are downs. The traditional Jewish approach is that the Torah requires our committment even if we’re not feeling completely inspired at all times.

      The philosophy of picking and choosing leads most non-Orthodox Jews to choose less observance, since – let’s face it – mitzvos can be inconvenient at times. In addition, this philosophy is also harder to pass on to children since the next generation could just decide that nothing’s meaningful to them.

  6. D Neumann, UK says:

    This is the miss conception I was talking about there is no taught philosophy of picking and choosing in non orthodox movements. some people may behave that way but there are othodox jews who behave that way too not just in non orthodox circles. The whole my Torah is bigger than your Torah is so upsetting when will it stop?

  7. D Neumann, I’m sorry if my comment made it seem like I think “my Torah is bigger than your Torah.” We all share the same Torah and though we may disagree about ideas, ahavas yisrael (loving all Jews) no matter what they believe, is very important to me.

    With that intro, though, I will continue to debate ideas with you (and please don’t take it personally!)

    I mentioned in my last comment that Reform Judaism was founded on picking and choosing and here’s why: In the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform, which dismisses “such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity and dress” as anachronisms that only obstruct spirituality in the modern age. The platform stressed that Reform Jews must only be accepting of laws that they feel “elevate and sanctify our lives” and must reject those customs and laws that are “not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.”

    Because of such a philosophy, the follow changes were made in how Judaism had been practiced for 2000 years prior to that:

    1) Circumcision was not practiced, and was decried as barbaric.
    2) The Hebrew language was removed from the liturgy and replaced with German.
    3) The hope for a restoration of the Jews in Israel was officially renounced, and it was officially stated that Germany was to be the new Zion.
    4) The ceremony in which a child celebrated becoming Bar Mitzvah was replaced with a “confirmation” ceremony.
    5)The laws of Kashrut and family purity were officially declared “repugnant” to modern thinking people, and were not observed.
    6) Shabbat was observed on Sunday.
    7) Traditional restrictions on Shabbat behavior were not followed.

    I recognize that in the last couple of decades the Reform movement has decided to take on some traditions it had previously gotten rid of, but the idea that Reform Jews must only be accepting of laws that they feel “elevate and sanctify our lives” is still very present in the movement and reflects the philosophy of every Reform Jew I’ve ever spoken to who knew enough to know his movement’s philosophy.

  8. D Neumann, UK says:

    Yes alison I know the Reform movment history but unfortunatly the orthodox seem to think that we still practic and believe what the founders of the movemnt did. This is where the miss conception comes in. I would also like to point out once again that Reform UK has more in commen with Conservative USA. The problem nowadays is that some orthodox Jew uses the history to devaluate and mock the Conservative/Reform shuls today as I call it “my torah is bigger than your Torah” attitude. I recently read an artical in a uk jewish publication that called Reform judaism DEFORM judaism isnt that just awful and disgraceful?
    let me just address a few things
    1) Circumcision was not practiced, and was decried as barbaric.
    This is no longer true circumcision is a requirement and not debatble to males born jewish and converts

    2) The Hebrew language was removed from the liturgy and replaced with German.
    This is no longer true reform/conservative shuls in the uk all use Hebrew in the service the amount varys from shul to shul but we all use/study and learn it
    3) The hope for a restoration of the Jews in Israel was officially renounced, and it was officially stated that Germany was to be the new Zion. This is no longer true reform/conservative jews on the most part are Zionest however we do not want to got back to a time of temple sacrifice as we believe prayer is a better way to connect with god
    4) The ceremony in which a child celebrated becoming Bar Mitzvah was replaced with a “confirmation” ceremony.
    This is not true we have bar/bat mitzvahs almost every week at my shul

    5)The laws of Kashrut and family purity were officially declared “repugnant” to modern thinking people, and were not observed.
    This is no longer true
    6) Shabbat was observed on Sunday. this is deffenatly no longer true and that only happened for about a year after the movment was formed
    7) Traditional restrictions on Shabbat behavior were not followed. This is no longer true

    Consevative/reform Judaism today is a highly ethical and moraly basied tradition. Thouse ethics and morals are taken directly from Halakah and also our own history of persicution and the universal ideals of equality,humanity,loving kindness and respect which are conceps all taken from Torah

  9. The comment about Reform Judaism being referred to as “deform” Judaism is obviously not very nice nor is it helpful. But just to be fair, there is no shortage of vitriol against Orthodox Judaism, especially “ultra-Orthodox” Judaism in non-Orthodox Jewish publications.

    The reason I brought up the founders and the history is because even if they un-changed most or all of those original changes, the reason the changes were allowed to happen in the first place – and the reason they could happen all over again – is because of two things that have not changed:

    1) Reform and Conservative Judaism do not believe the Torah is from God but rather that it’s either man written or divinely inspired. In either case, such a tenet gives the ability to make changes to traditional Torah law that’s been around for thousands of years without much rhyme or reason.

    Why do I say without much rhyme or reason? Because Reform Judaism believes that the process of reinterpretation of the Torah to the language of today is ongoing, and that every Jew has a stake and a role in that restatement and extension.

    In other words, no matter how much or how little a person knows, according to such a philosophy, everyone has the same right to reinterpret and restate the Torah. That sounds an awful lot like picking and choosing to me.

    You’ve take that tenet and chosen to live a life filled with mitzvos. I think that’s wonderful. I don’t doubt your sincerity. I just have an issue with a philosophy that considers mitzvos to be so expendable.

  10. (Allison: With all due respect, the proper spelling is “tenet,” not “tennet.” Spellcheck should have caught this, but sometimes spellcheck misses uncommonly used words.)

    I come from a completely non-observant background, and have been studying Judaism for many years. I currently learn with a Partner in Torah and struggle with many of the issues other readers raise. That said, here is what I’ve come to understand through my own experience about Reform (and to some extent, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements, too):

    A major problem with Reform, to which you (Allison) have alluded, is that it allows for each individual to make an “informed choice”; yet, the movement up until recently didn’t provide education in Jewish tradition and history that would help Jews make truly informed choices. Many Reform synagogues focus on assimilating a minimal amount of observance into mainstream American culture, offering classes in subjects such as “Jewish yoga,” and book groups that focus on non-Jewish popular books. It gives popular American culture a Jewish “ta’am” (taste) but offers little Jewish substance, and prizes synagogue membership numbers over the building of solid Jewish lives. It tries to create comfortable American Jews, rather than proud Jews who know themselves and their tradition, and who come to know G-d as a reality in their lives.

    Reform was created at a time when Jews were desperate to fit into European and American Christian culture, and therefore is apologetic at its core.

    While I know that some (certainly not all) leaders of the modern Reform movement are attempting to introduce a higher level of Jewish observance, Reform as currently taught and practiced at the local level remains stuck in the “suburban Jewish center” synagogue model. This is a remnant of the growth of non-local communities that began in the post-World War II period. People drive on Shabbat because they live too far from their synagogues to walk. The breakdown of closely knit Jewish communities outside of cities is partly what has led to the breakdown in observance. That’s why a “Jew Out of the City” who wishes to observe the Torah has a difficult time finding a spouse who feels the same way.

    Some writers have called suburban Reform congregations “bar mitzvah mills,” because parents join just until their children have done a bar/bat mitzvah. The attempt to keep families past that point has resulted in an emphasis on the social, not on the spiritual.

    Liberal synagogue leaders often wonder why they cannot hold on to many active members past the “bar mitzvah kid” threshold. They seem utterly blind to the reality that they have helped nurture Jews who are unprepared or uninterested with regard to making seriously considered Jewish choices. Unless they offer programs that aim toward helping people establish an inner core that is founded on a connection to G-d (such as those offered by Aish HaTorah and Chabad), they will remain clueless.

    Thank you, Allison, for your work and much success with JITC.

  11. Thanks for your comment, Beth – and your spelling help! 🙂

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