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Apr 22, 2011

Details, Details: The Matching Game

At the end of my previous post on comparisons, I alluded to the way some of us date by attempting to match every detail we can, like some sort of human matching game.

It is, I think, a source of much restriction in dating. If I decide that a person has to be pretty much the same as me in the way I think, the way I talk, the way I act... or even just the way I think... can be extremely limiting, and narrows the possibilities down to a very small number of potentials. (Again, don't get me wrong -more similarity makes for fewer sources of potential tension. But the point here is that not everything needs to be so closely matched.)

But nobody has my exact life experience. They won't always think just like I do. Most definitely not for all the little details.

Here's an example (using the concept of hashkafah, Jewish Philosophy) -trying to find someone who wants to cover her hair the way I want her to, feels about movies and music (during sefirat haomer and generally with secular movies/music) the same way I do, prays the way I do, who has the same expectations for my being kove'ah i'ttim (setting aside time for textual learning), and so on... is an exercise in trying to carbon-copy myself.

Never before in history has the choice of mate been so narrowly defined, so artificially engineered. 

Taking into account the multitude of elements that contribute to having chemistry, and the importance of having chemistry to build any meaningful relationship... it crates a problem of probability. I know, many people don't much look at probability, it's the one bashert, or soulmate, that matters.

But think about it in terms of hishtadlut (personal work/input). If the sons and daughters of the great houses of Hillel and Shamai could marry one another -growing up with often diametrically opposed perspectives on Judaism, halachah (Jewish law) and hashkafa, having different attitudes and customs, perhaps even keeping different halachot, then maybe we should consider being a bit more flexible.

Just look at our parents. I'm willing to bet they're not all cut from the same cloth with the same colors and textures, materials and patterns. They don't need to be a couple cut from the same piece of cloth, they just have to work together. Colors and textures and material and patterns can be so different and yet somehow they just work well together. At least mine do. My parents are so different in so many ways (and have many similarities as well), but when you put them together they are beautiful.

In terms of the hashkafah example above, I see that boiling down to one important concern for me: does the woman have a dedication to keeping halachah? If the answer is yes, then the rest is just detail and commentary. From where I stand, specifics can be worked through. What's the difference between a sheitel (wig), fall, hat, scarf... does it really matter?

My heritage and my custom clearly states that sheitels are not considered a valid hair covering, and perhaps I have a small preference. But it's not my hair to be covered, nor is it my place to dictate how someone else chooses to do so. A different perspective, different rituals and customs, even different perspectives within halachah and the meaning drawn from various aspects of Jewish life... are all the little details.

The value (eg. dedication to halachah) has to be there. The meaning may be different.

She doesn't have to love singing z'mirot (songs) on Shabbat as much as I do. If she's got respect for the way I love it, great! If she has an appreciation, even better! If she admires it, we're golden! If she joins in (when appropriate), it's a slice of heaven! The only time it may become an issue is if/when my self-expression and the meaning I draw from it is not tolerated. I will not be stifled. Anything more than respectful acceptance is whipped cream with a cherry on top.

That's the idea. Ask practically any married couple and I bet you'll find plenty of differences between them no matter how hard they tried to match all the little similarities. In fact, most married couples will tell you that regardless of whatever "list" existed, those details often tend to go out the window.

And yet, people make big deals out of small details. Can we PLEASE just stick to the basics, people!?


  1. Rabbi Shafier (from the Shmuz) wrote this great article about how any of the married couples he knows are seemingly mismatched.

    Rabbi Yisroel Reisman says that if you marry someone just like you, you have no incentive to improve. That other person is supposed to challenge you.

    Although you're right about the wig thing - it is really very shvach, but the rabbonim gave a heter because they figured it was better than no hair covering at all. Us Ashkenazim . . .

    Although, maybe your wife won't have a good singing voice and you'll prefer it if she doesn't chime in ;).

  2. I agree with Rabbi Reisman, but I think that being of different genders makes us different enough that we don't have to go hunting for more differences.

    There is nobody just like me - any woman I end up with will have differences and thus there will be plenty of opportunity for growth.

  3. While I agree with the general concept that one should just look for a spouse who keeps halacha and not worry about minor differences, I 100% disagree about the wig thing. Husbands shouldn't be wishy washy about how their wives should cover their hair.
    There's a big difference between wigs and scarves. (Read what Rav Ovadia Yosef writes. The Hebrew -- not the watered-down English version.)

  4. If it seemed like I trivialized halachah -or that particular halachah -I did not mean to. Clearly it's important to you, and I truly admire that.

    I have read what Rav Ovadia Yosef wrote, so yes, I'm aware, and perhaps hold that way myself. I have clear preferences.

    But it's not my hair, and the person is not mine to control. Nor do I think it's productive to cross off everyone who doesn't think like me or do it the way I want to begin with.

    It's not about being wishy-washy. It's about flexibility and respect.

  5. Ish Yehudi - I would agree with you, in general, about certain other halachot. But when it comes to wigs, according to many poskim, the difference is not just that mitpachot "higher level of tzniut"
    rather - it's that wigs don't even COUNT as a valid hair covering.
    So it really boils down to whether your wife will bichlal be covering her hair or not. Pants vs. skirts kind of thing.

  6. Perhaps a better way to word it is chumra vs. clear cut halacha. One should ever say no to somebody just because they don't adhere to the same chumrot.

  7. Sefardi Gal - Chumrot according to whom? Halachah according to whom?

    If I'm dating an Ashkenazi woman, and her Poskim tell her that a wig is a valid hair covering, I should tell her it's not acceptable? Or that I won't date her unless she covers her hair in ways that I find acceptable?

    Or let's say she's Sefardiyah, but she's not willing to, not yet comfortable enough, or works in a setting that covering her hair in other ways may lead to much difficulty for her. So she struggles with it. For that I should not date her? I recognize in myself that I struggle, Halachah is not easy for me, and there are many places I can improve. To be rejected for such a thing, I believe, really misses the recognition of who I am, placing the focus externally. It's one thing if I absolutely didn't care, but it's another when I care and work on myself. I'm not perfect and I don't expect perfection, even in the realm of Halachah. There are other indications to look for, like motivation, devotion, and growth in spirituality and observance alike.

    Unfortunately, the Jewish world doesn't have a single version of Halachah, we don't have a Beit Din Gadol to determine a universal Halachah. Perhaps even if they did, it shouldn't get in the way of Zivugim.

    As much as Halachah is important to me, I think flexibility is just as important when we're talking about dating. Otherwise, a woman can say she won't date me because I eat Kitniyot on Pesach (or perhaps she would because she'd like that for herself, which I think is self-serving when it's for her own ease). Or because I wait six hours between meat and dairy.

    Perhaps I shouldn't date any woman who doesn't completely cover her legs (which is a machloket between Ashkenazi and Sefardi Poskim in defining the word "Shok," which Sefardim interpret as both upper and lower legs), either with long skirts to her ankle or (dark) tights, because Rav Ovadia is quite adamant about that too. For many, this may be considered a chumrah, while Rav Ovadia is very clear that it's basic Halachah of Tzniyut.

    It's just not that clear cut, even when it seems to be. And, as always, there's a danger of going too far (in either direction) -where's the end to flexibility versus observance?

  8. Regardless of the woman's ethnic background, the way it usually works is that she follows her husband's minhagim.
    I'd say there's a very big difference between saying "I know that wigs aren't the best way to cover my hair, but it's difficult for me now. I'm hoping to later on adapt mitpachot/cats." vs. "wigs are the best way, and there's nothing wrong with that"
    A person with the first outlook is growth oriented.

    I'd say as long as the person is willing to grow and adapt to change, then fine. It's great to be open minded, but if you're flexible towards everybody, where do you draw the line? We all need standards. We all need to be somewhat closeminded because if we're too open-minded, our minds can (B"H not literally) fall out.

    Regarding "shok b'isha erva", if I recall correctly, Rav Ovadia writes that al pi hadin, a woman only has to cover till her knees. The lower leg is not erva. However, as a chumra, stockings (that are not clear) should be worn.

  9. Oh man. Way too many typos in the above post. I need to learn to proof-read BEFORE I post.

  10. I recognize that women usually follow their husbands ("usually" being the operative word). In that sense I'm privileged never to have to change, and appreciate when a woman chooses to wholeheartedly follow her husband.

    But it's not easy to change and learn different or new Halachot, nor is it easy to keep all Halachot. Clearly, as I stated in the OP, the dedication has to be there (which includes, of course, growth).

    Being adamant that a woman has to do things my way or by my preference is inflexible and counterproductive. That tends to come from a place of expectation and entitlement, and can create a lot of resentment or anger. It can also seem coercive and the other person may feel controlled. She has to WANT to follow my heritage/traditions/Halachah, and then if she asks of course I'll tell her what I believe and what my preferences are!

    But I won't tell her that she absolutely must do it "my-way-or-the-highway" style. I won't smack her in the face with it, I won't create an issue out of it and I won't let it prevent me from dating a woman, loving her or building a meaningful relationship. I'll be flexible where she needs me to be.

    I hope that the woman I end up with embraces my traditions and follows my Poskim, but I'm learning not to let that get in the way -either in dating or in a relationship. Certainly not in marriage. In that sense, Shalom Bayit trumps everything.

    I draw the line at values. Dedication to Halahah (even if that's a different source than mine) is one, as I mentioned in the OP.

    Perhaps I should double check, but I'd remembered differently regarding the meaning of "shok" and the status of covering the lower leg.