Why I Am A Boring Guest

by Rabbi Harvey Belovski

What do the following four women have in common?

· Andrea: management consultant, graduate of a seminary in Israel, summa cum laude graduate in business management, volunteer for a Jewish outreach organisation.
· Channah: Kodesh teacher in a Jewish Girls’ High School, graduate of Beis Ya’akov seminary (classic Jewish higher-education college) and talented musician.
· Sara: freelance computer programmer, Ba’alas Teshuvah (late-comer to religious life) of 12 years standing, graduate of Harvard and seminary in Israel.
· Trudy: university lecturer in psychology, graduate of modern-style seminary in USA and gifted artist.

While the connection may not be immediately obvious, they share the facts that they are sophisticated, attractive, deeply committed to lives dedicated to Torah and Mitzvos, and, wait for it, in their 30s and single.

Although the women are fictional (albeit loosely based on real people), the scenario is not. I (and many of my colleagues) observe this phenomenon in London, but it is happening everywhere. All over the world, there are hundreds of older observant single women who would love to get married, yet have been unsuccessful in finding a partner. I am not suggesting that there are no single men struggling with the trauma of single-hood, just that there seem to be a lot more eligible women around than men.

There is enough to fill a book about this situation, but on this occasion I shall confine myself to three brief observations.

The pain and frustration felt by older singles is barely appreciated by others in the community. Being 34 and unmarried in our community is not like being 22 and just a few years older: it is often an emotionally and religiously devastating experience. The long-term effects of living without a life-partner, devoid of the love, intimacy, support and sharing of life goals a successful marriage should provide, are immeasurable. It is seldom appreciated that remaining single impacts on many other areas of one’s experience and particularly one’s religious life. A common observation made by women in this situation is that they feel spiritually burnt-out and uninspired. They may find personal growth insurmountably difficult and struggle with other aspects of their Jewish lives: davening, learning, and enjoying Shabbos and Yom Tov are among the most notable casualties.

Older singles also feel disenfranchised by the observant community. Our communities tend to compartmentalise people – there are girls, newly married women, mothers, divorcees, widows, but mature singles scarcely appear on the religious community’s radar. The existence of these women disturbs the happy, simplistic vision of community shared by many within it, in which everyone falls into an idyllic marriage before the age of 23. It is assumed that there must be something wrong with those who didn’t or that they are ‘too fussy’, which avoids facing the reality of their existence and the need to treat them as functioning adults. Singles even feel that people speak to them differently from the way they speak to married women. This is especially painful for women who take important, often life-changing decisions in their professional lives. In short, the community gives vibes that infantilise unmarried women, contributing to their feeling of exclusion and failure. While conjuring up husbands may be extremely difficult, this aspect of singles’ distress is the responsibility of the community and is completely unnecessary.

The consequences for the Jewish community are also significant. A growing group of older women, all of whom would love to have been married years ago, are marrying late and subsequently having fewer children. Some otherwise fertile women may have no children at all. This is going to have a catastrophic effect on future Jewish demographics. Dealing with this issue must be considered an international Jewish priority.

These issues trouble me so much that I have become a boring guest, because wherever I visit, I ask the same question: do you know any eligible men? I invite you to share in this project and become a boring guest too.

Rabbi Harvey Belovski, a musmach of Gateshead Yeshiva and graduate of Oxford University, is the rabbi of the Golders Green Synagogue in London, a lecturer, author and counsellor.

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14 Responses

  1. Gary Shulman says:

    Dear Rabbi Harvey Belovski,
    Cite to these young ladies The Gemara Kidushin 41 a “Damar Reish Lakish Tav lmaisav tan du mlamasiv armalu. Rashi explains this as such,It is a parable to what women say about any man that it is better for 2 bodies to sit together than sit as a widow. When I saw this the first time in 11th grade I felt that this opinion is dated. I still think so today. Is Reish Lakish’s statement a das yacheed, a single opinion that carries little weight in Jewish thought or is it mainstream? An inquiring mind wants to know. Should the girls settle with a guy below their social or religious madrega, step or should they hold out for Mr. Right??????

  2. Michoel says:

    In shul last week I happened across a new collection of maasim involving or said over by Rav Shach, arranged according to the parshios. I apologize that I don’t remeber the name of the sefer. By the pasukim of Amram and Yocheved, the sefer tells the following: A 26 year old girl was suggested to a 23 year old bachur. He asked his Rosh Yeshiva what to do. The RY suggested they go to Rav Shach together and ask him. Rav Shach said that Rav Isser Zalman’s rebbetzin was older than him, that his own rebbbetzin was older than him and that Rav Ploni (the sefer doesn’t say the name) was 10 years younger than his rebbetzin. From 23 to 26 is nothing to worry about.

  3. Will Choose says:

    It is not easy for the eligible young men either. The system in place is known as the “madness” system. It was so much simpler in earlier times (60’s-70’s).

  4. Michoel says:

    The opinion may be outdated as a description but it is not outdated as a proscription.

  5. la costa says:

    maybe in fairness disclosure, we should [at least] warn potential female BT’s that they will often be gauranteed spinster status, especially if they go the haredi [vs MO] route…. if there were only male BTs might it not restore the demographic balance—-or maybe as BTs, FFB basi yaakov girls would rather stay single than with a yuchas free shidduch….

  6. Single Females 30+ says:

    Thank you for writing this! It’s comforting and reassuring to know that others not in this situation understand some of the issues so well! These difficulties are real and truly need to be addressed by the community at large.

  7. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    A major part of the problem is that a lot of the older frum single guys are single because they are in some way dysfunctional and poorly socialized. Women from an early age are more skilled in communication than men. Girls jabber and boys play with toy trucks and klop each other. The socialization process has to compensate for this. The Torah world used to do this in the family setting in a way that was instinctive and unobtrusive. That stopped working somewhere along the way some number of years ago. Those who fail to marry or marry and divorce do it because of communication problems. Good Torah-based coaching would help solve the problem. The woman feels she can’t bear to marry a guy she couldn’t talk to, and she is right if the situation can’t be remedied. She goes out with the guy and he is totally unreachable and she says no. The other scenario is that he goes out, finds her scintillating to the extent of intimidating. How, he wonders, could I spend my life with a woman who is that much smarter than me? So he chickens out. So the women stay single because they think most of the men are dorks except those who got married years ago. The men stay single because they are not ready to be married to someone above them (male ego).

  8. One Christian's perspective says:

    Maybe, we need to get back to basics. Did not G-d create man in His image ? Why do we see a need to improve on the original package to be OK in the eyes of others ? On our own do we have the ability to develop G-d given skills and gifts that glorify G-d or do they become a snare to ourselves and others when they do not measure up to some human standard. Moses was very educated but it took 40 years in Midian for him to develop a relationship with G-d and a true education of G-d. His recovery process revealed 1) his human fear/inability, with all his education, to do what G-d asked while 2) his heart/mind/soul knew without G-d he could do nothing – not even speak – and yet I AM provided the words and led him for another 40 years in the desert.

    If Moses would not go into a desert without G-d’s presence, why do we ?

  9. Michael Feldstein says:

    It is not easy for the eligible young men either. The system in place is known as the “madness” system. It was so much simpler in earlier times (60’s-70’s).


    Indeed it was simpler in the 1960s, 1970s, and even the 1980s, when I was dating. Nobody talked about a shidduch crisis back then. That’s because there were many more opportunities for Orthodox singles to meet and mingle in natural and less pressurized settings.

    There is a very sensible and rational movement to alleviate some of the hardships encountered by Orthodox singles today, appropraitely named EndtheMadness. See http://www.endthemadness.org

  10. Shira Schmidt says:

    A woman who had become observant in her late 20s was our guest and she said that an Orthodox single friend, a writer, in her 30s was encouraging single girls to follow her (the writer’s) example and have a baby out of wedlock (through AID). The guest asked me what I thought. I made a strong pitch that she compromise, compromise, compromise, and not wait for an amorous knight in shining armour. She stopped being choosey, married a widow with several children, they had some children together, and she is very content. Another friend with a PHD in physics married an Israeli who was a mentch but had not finished high school. They are happy and have 7 children. A third friend was a Yemenite woman with a PhD in genetics, to whom I suggested a BT musician. She said,”What do I have in common with a composer?”. I browbeat her into meeting him.They now have grandchildren and great working relationship and marriage. I myself was a widow with 6 children,agreed to meet anyone and pestered people night and day to suggest shidduchim. I married a wonderful widow and we try to convince others to compromise.

  11. Rudy Wagner says:

    Rav Belovsky, the facts completely contraddict what the Rav is saying. I used to live in London and know plenty of single men in their thirties there. All of them Mitzva observant (single or divorced, ashkenaz, sefardi or hassidish, Baale Tshuva or Cohanim, with or without university degree, rich or poor). Most of them live in the Golders Green area and are desperate to find their zivug. Are they not “eligible”? If you extend the search beyond North West London the number raises exponentially (although the level of observance may be lower). If you just call the Rabbonim of the local shuls they will tell you their names. I find absurd that you are not aware of them and that nobody mentioned them to you. I suspect it boils down to what the Rav (and the honorable guests and the single women) consider “eligible”.

  12. Jewish Observer says:

    ” I married a wonderful widow and we try to convince others to compromise.”

    – doen’t sound like you had to compromise

  13. Doni says:

    I think part of the problem are the times we live in. Marriage is no longer a priority in the western world as it used to be. As such, it has enmesshed itself into our own hashkafos, where we even cannonized such hashkofas as valid shidduch critera.

    From various anecdotes I’ve heard in my travels, it seems that orthodox women of 2-3 generations ago would marry a non-frum, even occasionly a non-Jewish man if she were still unmarried at age 25, 30, or older.

    Contrast that with today. Case in point, I recently tried to set up a 33 year old frum girl, with a respectible parnassa, looks, etc – with a 34 year old frum man, with a great job, descent looking, clean-shaven, nornal social skills, etc.

    She declined because his minhagim are different from her. She then went on to complain how bad the men are who she normally dates. I was beside myself with disbelief as she disallowed a very good potential husband because she doesn’t want to change her minhagim. Anyone who really wants to get married will do what it takes to make it happen. Life doesn’t come served 100% how we expect it. She never even gave him a chance, even though he had all the big things she was looking for.

    I believe that if the drive towards marriage was as strong as it was 40-50 years ago, many single women and men would have already been married sooner, and would be willing to “settle” to a degree unimaginable for today’s frum single. Unfortunately, it seems like the opposite where many good opporunities are rejected without valid cause.

    Perhaps the most helpful thing to see would be to know that we, as a generation, have been so influenced by non-Jewish outlooks, that we could benefit by reflecting on the true Torah priorities in these areas.

  14. Rabbi Harvey Belovski says:

    I would like nothing more than to be proven wrong by Rudy Wagner. Please forward me a list of observant men in London over 30 who are emotionally stable, reasonably solvent and capable of establishing and maintaining a relationship and I’ll happily set to work. If Mr. Wagner doesn’t like my definition of ‘eligible’, he is welcome to suggest which of these criteria I can remove.

    Respond in confidence to [email protected].

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