8/25/2008

Shul Rags: Part II

Continued from here.

The second amusing (but in many ways highly disturbing) element of the parsha sheet that I picked up this week involves an “Ask the Rabbi” column dedicated to social and intimacy (a poor translation of the untranslatable Hebrew word “zugiut”) issues. The respondent is a rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva in a community in Northern Samaria. I no longer have the text in front of me, as it is probably now where it belongs, but I will attempt to reproduce the question and answer faithfully.

The questioner posed the following dilemma. He is 26 years old and has been going out for a while. He dates girls and wants to continue, but they have no interest in him. He finds himself considering dating girls who he considers ‘compromise candidates’ – girls who wear pants and who will not full cover their hair. Is it OK to date these girls?

Before getting to that rabbi’s answer, here’s what I would answer:

“Dear X, before answering your question directly, I would recommend that you ask yourself – perhaps with the aid of a professional life coach – why your relationships are not working out. Women who wear bandanas and parachute pants are just as sensitive to matters of personality, habits, and hygiene as the ones in flowing skirts and tightly bonneted kerchiefs. You have indicated that you would have liked to continue relationships with some of them, but that they did not wish to do so with you. Unless you can provide a good explanation as to why you think that girls who you believe adhere to a lesser standard would be more likely to continue a relationship with you, I believe that you are inappropriately dealing with your problem by projecting it outward, rather than inward.

“As to the issue itself, I would call your attention to the fact that there are a number of gedolim whose wives did not cover their hair, or who did so in a manner that you or I might be uncomfortable with. This does not necessarily mean that these sages approved of such behavior. Rather, they understood that there are issues far more important upon which to base a relationship and a marriage. You should not be asking yourself questions about her halakhic standards, many of which are her own business, but about her qualities and character as a spouse, parent, and matriarch of a Torah-oriented household.”

The rabbinic author of the column begins by quoting the Gemara in Sanherdrin and the halakhic codes which determine that “It is a mitzvah to compromise”. He then distinguishes between interpersonal monetary matters, where this halakha applies, and matters of personal principles, where it remains forbidden to compromise.

He then goes on to argue that if this alter bachur would indeed compromise and marry the girl whose standards he deems unacceptable, she would forever feel second-rate and forever know that his dream girl is someone else. This would strain the relationship right from the get-go.

The rabbi then sidesteps what should be the obvious question: since nobody’s perfect, isn’t everybody, essentially, a compromise? Wouldn’t the same logic apply to someone who compromises on, say, looks? So the guy who wants to marry a supermodel shouldn’t settle for anything but a supermodel?

The rabbi gets around this by positing a distinction between “compromising” (hitpashrut) and “sobering up” (hitpakhechut). When it comes to principled issues like hair covering and pants, agreeing to less would be “compromising”, and is thus verboten. However, when it comes to looks, a guy can “sober up” and realize that the important thing is that she’s beautiful to him.

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