I ended up with a copy of the magazine for the umbrella organisation that my shul is part of.  It got pushed through our door, as it usually does; I’m not sure if it’s targeted at me or they just distribute it widely around here to try to drum up trade.  There was an article that really made clear to me why I haven’t been able to adapt to my moderate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul fully and especially why I failed to find a partner in that community.

The article was about the circumstances in which you can reveal negative information about someone else to a third party they are dating, according to the laws prohibiting gossip except in case of significant danger to another.  Apparently you can only do it if the person (a) has an illness, disability or fertility issue that they haven’t disclosed (and this includes if several people in their family have had the same genetic disease, even if they have no symptoms of it; (b) if they have heretical ideas or have significantly broken Jewish law; and (c) if they are “immoral.”  This was left tantalisingly vague, probably deliberately.  There are some Jewish communities where a man saying hello to his sister’s best friend in the street would be seen as hugely provocative and immoral.

I had two thoughts about this.  One, while people should disclose illness and disability to their potential life-partner, and while someone in a religious community intent on marrying someone within that community, but who is also contemplating leaving that community should disclose that to that potential life-partner too, nobody else other than the two people dating really has any business getting involved in either of those situations.  As for the “immorality” situation, that’s hugely more complex, not least because of the way the definition of “immorality” can vary from community to community and person to person (“I think you should know that I saw your male date say “hello” to a woman in the street!”), but I’m not really sure that there’s even a requirement for the people dating to admit to this unless they think it’s likely to have an impact on their future life together somehow (basing myself on something Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said here as well as something my rabbi mentor said – although don’t take my thoughts as psak (a Jewish legal ruling)).

The other thought was realising why I was never realistically going to get married in this community.  When I joined the community, I was aware it was less modern than my theological outlook, but also that it had many advantages in terms of passion for prayer and Torah study and friendliness, which are not always present in other communities.  I think if I had been set up with someone from the community or a similar community and married her, I would have integrated into the community, especially if my wife was more attuned to the standards of the community or was more of a “normal” Haredi maidel (young woman).

That didn’t happen, though, and I think it’s clear why: my mental health issues would have pushed me to the bottom of the pile (I had one date dump me as soon as she found out about my depression, and she was a healthcare professional!), my bookshelves groan with dubious literature (from a Haredi point of view), both fiction and non-fiction, I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and I have a number of female friends (mostly online, but one or two in person), which would be seen as extremely suspect if it was widely known.

I don’t bring this up to berate my lack of a community that really suits me.  I’ve done that before, and it’s frustrating, but I don’t see the need to go over it again, especially as I’m dating E. now and I’m a bit more hopeful that we will one day find a more modern community that suits us both (more likely in the USA than here).

My point is rather about community in general.  I’ve come to realise that the closeness of traditional religious communities, the kindnesses and support, is, on some level, not despite, but because of the judgemental attitudes, nosiness, ostracising of nonconformity and negative views of outsiders.  It is because the boundaries between ‘in’ and ‘out’ are policed so effectively and, sometimes, brutally, that people feel that they can trust the other members of the community, that they have all passed a rigorous test in being Our Sort of Person.  That’s why there are Haredi communities where people trust their rabbis more than the doctors and governmental health officers regarding how to respond to coronavirus (not my community, I hasten to add). I’m not the type of person who can easily pass tests like that, though, in any sort of community.  I like to investigate different ways of thinking and explore different attitudes, and I exist too much on the dividing line between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ rather than on one side or the other.

It’s worth reflecting on as, while I don’t want to talk about politics here, I feel that the extreme individualism that has characterised British and American society since the sixties, and especially since the eighties, is drawing to an end, and some kind of more communitarian outlook is likely.  That’s probably a good thing, but it does make me wonder who is going to decide who gets to police the boundaries and according to what criteria e.g. trial by Twitter, which is the secular equivalent of this sort of boundary policing.

***

I had was a restful Shabbat (Sabbath).  No illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next-door.  It could have been a pre-coronavirus Shabbat if it weren’t for the absence of shul (synagogue).  I read quite a bit.  I didn’t have insomnia on Friday night, but I did wake up around 4.30am and couldn’t get back to sleep until around 6.00am.  I started reading Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith by Rabbi Joshua Berman, the book I bought when I heard Rabbi Berman speak a month or two ago.  I’m also reading another Doctor Who novel and a short book on the Russian Revolution, but after I finish I think I’m going to stick to light fiction rather than serious fiction or non-fiction until the health crisis is over (not counting Jewish reading/Torah study).  I’m too stressed for heavy recreational reading.

4 thoughts on “Community and Outsiders (My Frum Dating History)

  1. This was a fascinating post for me, and I learned a lot. It sounds like it’s difficult to fit into either world, and that you have found a religious home that is sometimes uncomfortable and ill suited to you, but on other levels is what you want and need. Hope you find some escapist lit because that’s what I’m trying to do as well. Lots of mysteries!

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