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Sep 14, 2011

Dating in the Minority

Since Tania and I began comparing some of our different perspectives and we come from such different places, we thought that approaching a topic from different angles may be interesting... So we've both decided to write about cross-cultural dating.

I'd like to provide some context for my thought process, so I'll start with a conversation I was having with my friend the other day where we brought up the subject of being Sefardi in the "frum" dating world. We had a minor disagreement whether men or women have more stigma and difficulty in terms of dating in the Ashkenazi world, but as we explored the topic, some interesting thoughts came out that I'd like to share.

There's plenty of stigma to go around, and I've personally heard (Ashkenazi) women say they wouldn't date a Sefardi guy (sometimes in reference to myself) because of all the changes and differences, particularly having to change her Tefilah, Kashrut and other day-to-day Halachot that we fit into the routine of our lives. It's interesting to me, having grown up in an Ashkenazi dominated culture and community, to recognize that while I am familiar and have a foothold in both communities (and both sets of Halachah), many Ashkenazim don't dip their pinky toe into the Sefardi culture/community, and the majority wouldn't consider or learn Sefardi Halachah.

Small and large things like differences regarding Eruvin, restaurant and food Kashrut, Shechitah, Minhagim for the Chagim as well as basic differences like Tefilah and Pesach -along with other Halachot -form an invisible barrier that separates us in many ways. I learned to cross that barrier, to walk in both worlds and finding a balance for myself has been a challenge. But when it comes up in dating, I've found it's even more difficult. I've experienced a lot of reticence from Ashkenazi women to entering my world. In a small way, I've felt discriminated against for my heritage.

We are a minority here (with the exception of a few insular communities, whose number compared to the great many Ashkenazi communities provides further evidence of our minority status), and with that means we have a smaller dating pool. (I can write on and on about the ways that Sefardim being in the minority impacts daily life and how much accommodation I've had to make in order to be accepted in -and part of -the Ashkenazi Jewish community around me as well.) If y'all think it's tough to find someone, imagine someone whose dating pool is less than a fraction of yours.

Outside of that small pool, for those who suggest or think about it, there are a whole other set of challenges. Issues like basic cultural differences, about which my Rav once said that Sefardi women who date/marry Ashkenazi men often work out better, because our traditional expectations do not place the same obligation and responsibility for men to help out (in terms of cooking and cleaning) but instead bear a greater burden to support the entire family on his own, and so when an Ashkenazi man helps, he is very much appreciated for it. On the other hand, Sefardi men who grew up in traditional Sefardi households experienced their mothers and women as being home, cooking and cleaning and taking those responsibilities (often with pride), which sets an expectation for his future wife to do the same. The clashing expectations between such men and Ashkenazi women can be catastrophic.

(While I understand that expectations can clash, personally I'm much more focused on how differences are dealt with. Communicating, accepting and accommodating for them is much more important to me than the expectations themselves, because we are all different and have differing expectations. It's how we deal with them in our relationships/marriage that determines the quality of the relationship, not the specifics.)

On the other hand, when it comes to extended families, they are often much more accepting of men who marry Ashkenazi women, since she is expected to take on his Minhagim and Halachot, enter his community and acculturate. In a sense, she becomes part of the family because of the patriarchal structure. But when a Sefardi woman marries an Ashkenazi man, she follows him, and the heritage is often seen as diminished or lost (though that is not always the case, since families are usually still tight-knit and close). And yet, the expectations for child-raising may indicate the opposite. Namely, that a Sefardi woman who spends time and raises her children with Sefardi heritage gives him more of those values than the Ashkenazi woman who imparts her own family's values. It can get very complicated and messy with the expectations and realities. 

Yes, challenges don't spell doom. But the barriers -that invisible line -has yielded a very interesting experience for me. While my parents have much more acceptance of the idea that I may date/marry someone not from my background/community, I have found that many women aren't interested in even considering me because of my heritage.

I acknowledge that I have a preference myself, and I notice that dating women from my own culture and background is -in so many ways -easier. But the struggle then is that -despite my privilege as a man -the demographic is generally much smaller. So searching for a similar (enough) Hashgafah and heritage and everything else I'm looking for... is proving to be an additional challenge for me in dating.

Not to mention that every time a Shadchan asks about my preference and I tell her, she decides that since she knows a total of two Sefardi women and one of them is already engaged, that the other absolutely must be my Bashert. But it's a YIDDISH word! I'm not Ashkenaz, and if experience is an indicator... that word clearly doesn't apply to me, given the way they keep using it with me. :P


  1. Some of the descriptions here regarding a Sephardic background is oddly similar to my Ashkenazic one.

    My mother never really worked while she was married; she raised us kids, took care of the house, and my father seems to be completely incapable of helping around the house without destroying it in the process.

    Of the married women amongst my siblings, none work, except for one who part-times at her leisure.

    It's not that the men expect a hausfrau; in my family's viewpoint, men work to support their wives, who have the option to work if they so desire.

    The cultural differences between Sephardic and Ashkenaz obviously are greater than wives working or not working.

    I am getting rather annoyed when I go on dates and the guy wants me to take the burden of support off of him - guys who say things like they're looking for an "ambitious" girl. "Ambitious"? You want to be supported! Hah!

    I, personally, prefer guys who come from my own background, not just Ashkenazim. My own background's pool is getting a little shallow too . . .

  2. The cultural aspect is definitely there but while ashkenaz mmight be reluctant as you say to marry sefardi, you gotta admit that its often reciprocated. I grew up being one of very few ashkenazi among a sefardi community so don't get me wrong on my appreciation of their culture. But its definitely hard to get in those communities, therefore being an ashkenaz marrying sefardi is not simply done and thats partly because of the strong sense of sefardic culture and belonging to that group.
    Now if a sefardi marries an ashkenaz and diminishes cultural background... like you said, i think that it's a bit of a misleading statement considering that that can also be realated to the male and female aspect. who's marrying whom with what cultural background.
    In general, the cultural background adopted will be the one of the guy, as girls take upon his minhagim.. (unless the guy wants in in the sefardic community :) )
    But like me not being american and that being taken into account while i date, you also have some baggage that makes you different.

  3. @ Princess Lea:

    I hear you!

    I wonder if there is a distinction in your mind between (a guy who is looking for) "ambitious" versus "passionate"...


    My particularly community always seemed open and welcoming when my Ashkenazi friends were around. There are some barriers, such as language, when the community members speak primarily their native tongue instead of English. But my siblings and I had friends who learned a lot of words just be being around us, our family and our community.

    My experience in dating has been a strong resistance to learn. I've felt more than once that a woman was closed off to the idea of being in another culture, learning about it and picking up some of the language.

    I wouldn't call it baggage, per se. I've got a different background. Everyone has a community and background; it does not diminish them or their value, and I certainly hope it's not a burden.

  4. i agree with you on that, not a burden just a hard cultural difference

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