Means and Ends
by Rabbi Harvey Belovski
Much has been written about the predicament of mature singles in our communities, their frustration, sense of helplessness and feeling of exclusion from mainstream Jewish life. However, the religious fallout of long-term single-hood is less frequently addressed: singles commonly suffer from a lack of inspiration and religious burn-out. I would like to address one aspect of this troublesome phenomenon.
Many men and women use Shabbosos as opportunities to attend singles’ events geared to helping them find their life partner. These occasions are often professionally run and claim a good number of successes. While in principle they are a ‘good thing’, singles who attend them regularly are in danger of turning Shabbos into a means, rather than an end.
The purpose of Shabbos is no more than Shabbos itself: affirming one’s belief that God created the universe and building a joyful relationship with Him through the observance of the Shabbos laws. This tremendous experience is an end in itself, yet for many on the singles circuit, Shabbos has become a means to finding a mate, no longer an opportunity for spiritual enrichment. Shabbos is the cornerstone of Jewish observance and of the Jew’s rapport with the Divine: its proper observance and the integration of its message form the basis of a healthy religious identity. Robbing Shabbos of its power by using it as a means to achieve something else will have devastating religious consequences. A Jewish life lived over an extended period without a ‘real’ Shabbos will feel dull and uninspired; the person concerned may never realise why.
For some the need to use Shabbos in this way is so acute that missing a Friday night event may lead to a feeling of angst: if only I had gone along I might have met the ‘right’ one. The single person seeking a partner is caught on the horns of a dilemma: attending deprives Shabbos of its full meaning; not attending leads to feelings of torment that perhaps one has not explored every possible avenue. By way of example, a woman approached me recently for advice about attending a Purim party. She knew that there was only a slim chance of meeting someone suitable there, yet she felt that not going would leave her wracked with guilt. She took my advice and didn’t attend, instead devoting the evening to Purim pursuits: she later mentioned that focusing on the day alone enabled her to experience her most meaningful Purim for years.
Well-organised singles’ events have proved successful in introducing people who will eventually marry each other. They are often run by dedicated volunteers whose dearest wish is to contribute to the Jewish people by relieving the plight of singles who so wish to marry. Yet by running too many of them on Shabbos they unwittingly rob the day of its majestic potential for their clients. Perhaps more of these wonderful events could be held on weekdays, with just a handful on Shabbos.
One need not feel guilty or sad that a Shabbos has passed without finding a wife or husband. Of course, it would be wonderful to meet one’s bashert (destined one) en route, but it is not the purpose of Shabbos, or for that matter, Yom Tov, Purim or Chanukah. (In ancient times, it was an objective of Yom Kippur and the 15th Av, but that is another story!) To be healthy, holistic Jews we require inspirational, self-contained Shabbos and Yom Tov celebrations. We don’t need to use Friday night dinner to speed-date, Seder night as a chance to meet a girl, or Purim to surf the parties.
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.
“…attending deprives Shabbos of its full meaning”
This is the crux of the entire post, and yet no answer is given to the most basic question: “How so?”.
There is a (halachic) shabbos zemir which has a verse that partially goes “hirhurim mutarim ulishadech habonos.” I think that people have enough problems in this world without being told that finding a shiduch is (somehow) incompatible with the spirit shmiras shabbos.
Perhaps, the strategy of singles only Shabbos events needs some reconsideration. Whatever happened to singles of both genders having a Shabbos meal at a family with no pressure to meet their bashert, but merely enjoying a meal and then deciding whether the person at the table might be worth investing the time in exploring whether such a person was “shayach”, “efshar” for “tachlis”? I recently heard R M Willig advocate inviting singles of different genders to one’s Shabbos table.
“Whatever happened to singles of both genders having a Shabbos meal at a family with no pressure to meet their bashert, but merely enjoying a meal and then deciding whether the person at the table might be worth investing the time in exploring whether such a person was “shayach”, “efshar” for “tachlis”?”
Exactly what we do when we have meals. Most of our friends are single, so we like to have a whole bunch over at a time. Some of them have ended up dating each other, although no marriages yet. We always have a good time, though. 🙂
My wife and I have been doing exactly what you describe informally for many years. In addition, a couple of years ago, I helped formalize a program where 48 pre-screened singles attend a Shabbaton in a host community, and break up into groups of six (three males, three females) for meals at host homes. The setting is much more natural and less pressurized than typical singles Shabbatons (where singles are thrown into a room for meals, looking each other over, figuring out where to sit and who to talk to). Another benefit of this model is that married families feel they are doing something tangible to help singles, and often can network with singles (many marrieds think of someone else they know for a single at their table). We’ve run 15 different Shabbatons in various communities, which has resulted in six successful shidduchim. The model works!
Let me clue you in to what Shabbos is for the average older single. Listening to the creaking of your house. That’s all. All I’m concerned about is that I hope to keep it this week. Now you tell me that by spending time socializing with other singles I am diminishing from the meaning of Shabbos…I guess then meaning will have to wait till later.
Chaim, if I understand Rabbi Harvey Belovski, he doesn’t say that socializing with other singles diminishes the meaning of Shabbat. He says that treating the Shabbat as a tool to find a spouse diminishes it.
If after the socializing you feel rested, energized and holier, then there’s nothing wrong with it. It only becomes wrong if you are so busy evaluating the potential wives in the crowd you feel drained at the end of the day – which, BTW, also makes it less likely you’ll find a wife there. A man who is rested and relaxed is more attractive.
After reading the post and the comments thus far, my vote goes with the idea that creating potential new families is the continuation of the work of Hashem’s creation and hence in the spirit of Shabbos. It is not melacha, creative work, but continuation of the original creation without additional melacha. If it is permissible, and both the halachic authorities and the paytan who wrote the above-quoted song agree, then it is in the spirit of Shabbos. Of course it depends on how you do it, and in this Rabbi Belovski is spot-on. My vote goes for raising him from guest to regular contributor.
I do not believe that any person who has been single for an extended period of time would have written this article. Only one who has experienced the pain of making kiddush alone, of sitting at their shabbos table alone, or of being a guest Shabbos after Shabbos at the tables of families who have been blessed with children and a loving spouse can understand that Shabbos becomes a nightmare – just a more intense reminder of just how alone and unfulfilled one is without their zivug. The singles crisis today is so severe that almost any and every means – as long as it falls within halachic guidelines – should be used to help singles find their bashert. It is not realistic to confine singles’ events to weekdays. Most singles must work to sustain themselves. This virtually eliminates any travel to other cities to meet new people. As someone who has made 10 shidduchim, I can attest to countless stories of singles who experience major depression, feelings of low self-esteem, of despair and hopelessness. Of course, in order to be more “marketable” these feelings are disguised and plastered over and some of these people could win Academy Awards for their “performance” in appearing happy and content. Before anyone criticizes any of these events or the people who attend them, a walk in their shoes is in order. But, personally, I would never wish such a fate on anyone. Singles need our support and our constant engagement in including them in our family life – preferably with many other singles – as others on this post suggest. If one does not feel comfortable attending a Shabbos event, fine. But, PLEASE do not deprive those who benefit from these events. There are enough barriers in the frum world that prevent singles from meeting each other. Shabbos should not be a day of exclusion but inclusion. If singles’ events help just 1 person feel less alone, less distraught over their matsav, then the entire Shabbos event is worthwhile.
Miriam, with all due respect to your empathetic position regarding singles, I think you are missing the point that Rabbi Belovski is making. An earlier post he wrote showed that he is extremely sensitive to the struggles and pain of single people. I myself am single and have attended Shabbatonim and special events held on Friday night, and while I truly appreciate the efforts of people like yourself, I really understand the tortured feelings of the woman who felt obliged to attend a singles party on Purim, even though she was unlikely to meet someone, because not to attend would be to turn Purim into a ‘failure’. In my experience, using Shabbos in this way actually exacerbates (and sometimes induces) ‘major depression, feelings of low self-esteem, of despair and hopelessness’. It’s the feeling that one has somehow squandered or ‘wasted’ one’s Shabbos or Yom Tov by not attending an organized event, or attended and not found someone: this is a real tragedy for the Jewish soul of the single person. I’m not minimizing the obligation of doing one’s hishtadlus, but the gap between the married person who can enjoy Shabbos for its own sake with his or her family, and the single who must regard it as another opportunity to meet someone, is very stark. I feel that Shabbos has become another casualty of what is called the ‘singles phenomenon’ and this is tragic. In my experience, I think that some of the comments above suggesting alternatives — such as inviting single people to family meals where they might meet other single people — are more conducive to allowing singles to enjoy Shabbos as it is supposed to be experienced. I for one am grateful Rabbi Belovski wrote this post.
May I ask an ignorant Chiloni question? Why is this generation different from all other generations in this regard? Why is it so much harder to find a match?
Dear Chava, I understand and appreciate your perspective on “Shabbos for its own sake”. My concern is any kind of movement to eliminate altogether these kind of Shabbos events for those who have a different take on it. My feeling is that one can opt out. I know that when I was single I was criticized for “not doing my hishtadlus” in going to all-weekend singles’ Shabbatons. Personally, I didn’t like those kind of atmospheres where I felt – rightly or wrongly – “on display” or “in competition” with others. I only went to one, had a great time, met lots of new people and never went to another one. But I went with the mindset of really not to meet men but rather to meet women with whom I could share common denominators and network through them. Ultimately, my shidduch was made by a very kind woman who invited me to her family’s Shabbos table. 2 weeks later, my future husband was invited separately to her Shabbos table and finally, after 7 months of trying, she convinced us to go out with each other. As far as feeling that one is “squandering opportunities” by not attending every single Shabbos event: I can’t say that I can relate to that. One must also keep their emunah, their bitachon and sense that too much hishtadlus – i.e, “overdoing it” – is really a statement that one does not have bitachon. People need down time and to just enjoy Shabbos for the singluar sake of Shabbos. Let’s just not go to the extreme of eliminating one of the few avenues available to get singles meeting each other in the orthodox community. Hatzlacha in finding your bashert b’sha’a tova and feel free to contact me off post if I can be of any help.
Ori Pomerantz asks: “May I ask an ignorant Chiloni question? Why is this generation different from all other generations in this regard? Why is it so much harder to find a match?”
Because this generation is unrealistic. Too many demands are made on our expectations and silly ideas of entitlement. Couple that with the nitpicking “checking” done by parents on things that have absolutely no relevance to the long-term viability of the shidduch on issues that don’t matter, and one has a near-impossible situation. As several people of my generation have said, “If we had to go through what singles go through today with all the checking and expectations, we would have never gotten married”.