Sunday, October 17, 2004

Ai du

The Torah is all for the marriage unit. The classical English translation of one of the first mentions of man reads; “…therefore a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife and they shall be as one flesh”. Apart from the fact that ‘cleave’ is hardly the word I would have chosen as the translation for ‘Vedubak’, there is no word in Hebrew for spouse so the question as to whether that works both ways remains open.

Chassidim will argue that the Torah has no need to tell a woman to leave her father and mother; she has to do that anyway. Indeed it is true that the laws regarding obedience to one’s parents do not apply to a married woman. She is supposed to give precedence to her husband at all times. In practice these are moot points in my opinion. The theories of dominance by right or subservience by law anyway are overridden by the plain family dynamic. I know families where the wife rules with a high hand and families where the husband is a true despot. Personality types and the atmosphere in the parental home seem to define the interpersonal relationships far more than what is taught in school.

What interests me more is the cleaving part. It seems that the Torah expects the couple to love and cherish each other in a way that is hardly possible within the rules and regulations we put out as law. The male of the species typically sits in kollel or goes to work for most of the day while the other half either works or looks after the king-size brood. In the evenings, most males will go back to shul after supper for Mincha Maariv (evening services) and are encouraged to learn some Torah then. When you remember that maariv in the summer can be as late as 11pm. it is clear that there is not much time left for cleaving.

With Yomtovs at the Rebbe taking a further bite out of any quality time and the separation of the sexes at weddings and functions now starting at the car park I sometimes wonder whether some of these couples would recognize their ‘other’ in a crowd.

The late Rabbi Shlomo Baumgarten was the Rav of a yekkishe shul on the Hill and a great man. He would greet the ladies of the congregation, waiting to walk home with their cloven, with a polite Good Shabbes as he left the shul. With the Chassidisation of the Hill today, no Rav would risk being drummed out of town for that. In fact one the commenters on the previous post brought to my attention a paper urging women to leave the shul as soon as the davening ends so as not to be seen by the men when they leave.

In my opinion it is some of the elders’ obsession with visual temptation that is stifling the cleaving of many young families. I do not believe that the generations before us, where couples walked home from shul together, went together to sheva brachot and barmitzvas, that were celebrated at home and in rooms with no mechitza (partition wall between men and women), were more likely to cleave with the wrong mate than we who are so well insulated from any potential pitfalls. Nor do I believe that the reason five year old girls are no longer allowed to enter the men’s shul even on Simchat Torah is because there is a real problem of anyone being led astray by their good looks. I have never noticed any risk of cleavage with a five-year-old girl and if the strict segregation we practice leads to impure thoughts about kids then it might be high time we abolished either the rules or the kids

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