2007 Living a Contradiction
Chananya Weissman
July 13, 2007, The Jewish Star

You work for a living, and you work hard for your living, at that. You spent many years and many more thousands of dollars to receive a higher education, and you value the fact that you are a worldly, well-rounded person. You follow the news in a variety of media. You enjoy the many wonderful advances in science and technology of our modern world.

Your wife either does not cover her hair, covers it grudgingly, or covers it with a very expensive shaitel that is designed to make her appear stunning and the envy of all who see her.

When you grew up, and certainly when your parents grew up, it was normal for people to meet and go out on dates. You met at school, in camp, in shul, at chessed projects, at political rallies, and in general through being open to meeting new people. Friends introduced one another. Shadchanim offered their services, but you hardly knew anyone who wanted or needed their services. Personal ads were something you would get a chuckle out of.

It was generally pleasant to meet people, go out on dates, go steady with someone, and ultimately find someone to marry. The men were gentlemen, the women were ladies, and people acted appropriately. This was how rabbis met their future rebbetzins, too. It was nice.

One glorious day your child announces that he is getting married. Chances are that his dating experience was far less pleasant, and that he relied primarily on shadchanim and online personal ads to find people to date. You understand now that this is more religious, this is what Hashem wants, and this is in fact the way it probably was throughout Jewish history. You accept what you hear. After all, that’s what people are saying, and who are you to question?

Your first reaction upon hearing that your child is getting married is not joy, but relief. Your darkest nightmares — which have come true for so many others — have been averted. Your child will get married after all.

You plan a wedding. And plan, and plan, and plan. There are lots of details to consider, but one thing is certain from the outset: the husbands will not sit with their wives, and the single men will not sit with the single women.

First of all, you have suddenly become concerned that someone may dress or act inappropriately, despite everything else about your upbringing and background.

Second of all, you heard that some rabbis with a mystique about them, a certain aura, and a large devoted following are against the idea of men and women interacting unless they are married or planning on marrying one another very soon.

Third of all, you don’t want to fight over it. Your kid is getting married. So what if the singles at the wedding would like the same? Besides, maybe someone of the same gender will set them up, or something like that. That’s right. Hashem can work it out if He wants. They just have to daven and believe. It’s not your headache.

Fourth of all, you want your chassidishe cousins to be comfortable. That’s the most important thing.

You don’t ask yourself why you are suddenly taking an extreme approach regarding the separation of the sexes, one that does not manifest itself in any other aspect of your family, social, or professional life.

You don’t ask yourself why you are so vitally concerned with what certain rabbis think about this issue when these rabbis are not your poskim, do not share your philosophies and values, and in fact would consider pretty much your entire lifestyle to be outside the pale. They would accept nothing about you and how you live, they would hurl insults at your religious outlook, and they would accept your children only as reclamation projects, not as good Jews. All they would accept of you is your tzedaka dollars and that you have a yiddishe neshama. But you don’t ask yourself why their opinion on mixed seating at weddings is suddenly so important to you.

You don’t ask yourself why you don’t follow these same rabbis when it comes to watching an occasional movie, having an Internet connection, reading a newspaper, reading a book, having colors in your wardrobe, working for a living, allowing your wife to pursue ambitions outside the home, and so much more.

You don’t ask yourself why your local rabbi is suddenly no longer good enough to rely upon.

You don’t ask yourself why you aren’t living in Bnei Brak and learning in a kollel, if that is what you REALLY believe Hashem wants of a good Jew. You don’t ask yourself why you are being so inconsistent by following these extreme opinions on matters like mixed seating, shidduchim, certain matters of kashrus and the like, yet live a lifestyle that suggests you have a religious outlook that isn’t always black and white, one-size-fits-all, don’t ask questions, just say no.

You don’t ask yourself any of these things. Maybe then you would realize that your religious observance is based more on social expectations than religious values, tradition, and compelling teachings. Maybe then you would realize that you are dancing from doorpost to doorpost, desperately hoping only to be accepted by your neighbors.

You have separate seating at your child’s wedding because that’s what some people expect of you, not because you really, truly believe it’s right.

But you say nothing. After all, you want your grandchildren to be able to get a shidduch.

Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness (www.endthemadness.org). His collection of original divrei Torah, "Sefer Keser Chananya," can be obtained by contacting him at admin@endthemadness.org.