I should say that “right” and “left” here refer to more or less traditionalist Jewish rather than politically right and left.

Yesterday my therapist encouraged me to stay in the present, to think about being able to succeed in my current job rather than worrying about my future career and to try to build a connection with someone rather than worrying about marriage. This is easier said than done. She suggested I “check in” with myself every few hours (I decided on every four hours) to see if I am staying in the present. I am not doing very well. Worries about marriage kept surfacing.

Early this morning I was thinking about a Jewish idea — possibly a popular spirituality idea rather than something in major primary sources; certainly I don’t think I’ve seen it there, but I’ve seen it on popular sites like Aish.com — that you have everything you need for your mission on earth. This is problematic when you think about people who lack the basics of life (historically, many important rabbis lived in extreme poverty at one point in their lives e.g. Hillel, Rabbi Akiva and others). Fortunately, my parents are supporting me financially, but, if I have everything I need, why do I feel such a need to give and receive love? It is a basic human need and I can’t pretend I don’t feel it. Maybe I need the need, but still, I don’t know what to do with it.

On the way to work, I was overtaken by hordes of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) primary school-aged girls on scooters, going to school. I see them every time I go to work. I found myself wondering where they would be in ten years time, how many would still be in the Haredi community and how many would be married. Statistically speaking, the answer to both questions is “Most of them.” The retention rate is much higher in the Haredi world than the Modern Orthodox one, and early marriage is the norm.

Thinking about the Haredi community and its higher retention rate, I found myself wondering if I should be looking for a moderate Haredi spouse. After all, I go to a moderate Haredi shul (synagogue) and have some friends there. I can, apparently, “pass” on a basic level, even if I’m not a complete match for the ideology, and even if I worry a lot about being caught out. I feel a bit like I may not get the choice, as there are not many frum (religious) young people in the Modern Orthodox (United Synagogue) community in the UK, while the Haredi community is booming, and is younger (thanks to a high birth rate and high retention rate). There is also a tendency in my family for the men to marry “up” religiously and the women to marry “down” i.e. more religious women marrying less religious men. My previous girlfriends have mostly been less religious. Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong?

That would involve being set up on dates with Haredi women. The sex therapist from Intimate Judaism who responded to my email the other day offered to try to find a shadchan (matchmaker) specialising in people with “issues” for me. I’m not sure that she’s going to be able to do so, as I tried to find one myself some years ago, without success. But if she does manage it, I would imagine they would be more to the Haredi end of the spectrum, as shidduch dating (arranged dating) is more common there. So, again, that might push me in that direction.

Nevertheless, there is an issue here, which is my reliance on Doctor Who and other British TV science fiction as a coping mechanism as an autistic special interest and a coping mechanism for life stress. This is a bit weird even in the Modern Orthodox world (my Modern Orthodox rabbi mentor doesn’t even have a TV) and in the Haredi world TV is viewed with suspicion and even people who have one tend to keep it hidden. Being so into a TV programme (bear in mind I have even written and self-published a book on Doctor Who, for love rather than money) — well, it’s weird and geeky even in the secular world, let alone the Haredi world. I fear it would be a deal-breaker for many Haredi women and maybe even some Modern Orthodox ones.

I thought about the other obstacle I have to frum marriage, the fact I haven’t been to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary). Realistically, not going was probably the right decision for me, although if I hadn’t been in the depths of despair, a gap year after university instead of before might have worked. I worry about not being attractive to frum women by not being able to study Talmud, and potentially teach it to my children.

My parents think that I’m a good person and should therefore find a good wife, sooner or later. I’m not strongly convinced that I’m a good person (I think it’s more that lots of other people are subpar, and society is OK with that), but I worry that the type of woman I’m looking for will be looking for a good Jew rather than a good person, and that I’m not a good Jew because of my problems studying Talmud. I don’t think a frum woman would be faced with a choice between me and a bad person, but between me and an equally good person who can also study Talmud. This pushes me to date more non-frum women who wouldn’t care about Talmud studying ability, despite the problems I’ve had there. Then again, I could also say that a woman (frum or otherwise) would be faced with a choice between me and an equally good person who doesn’t have a shedload of other “issues.”

Which brings me back to the “special needs” shadchan. I haven’t tried this, but I worry that I would not be set up with the right sort of women. My one brief attempt at dating with a shadchan ended badly when, possibly because I had mentioned my depression and autism, she set me up with someone with learning disabilities who simply was not on my intellectual level. Admittedly, it didn’t help that there was zero chemistry between us, but I do wonder what would happen if I go down this route. Asperger’s is frustrating as it can involve being extremely intelligent and functional in academic areas, but absolutely not functional in basic social skills, which doesn’t make finding a compatible partner any easier.

So, for a day when I was supposed to be in the present and not worrying about my future, I was worrying a lot about my future. It didn’t help that work was quite slow. The morning was OK, but the afternoon was largely spent on fairly mindless work that left my brain free to worry about things. Being at work probably didn’t help, as I couldn’t really write things down to get them out of my brain until I got home. I’m going to post now, rather than before I get ready for bed as I usually do, to see if that helps me get rid of the thoughts and lets me sit in the present more this evening.

Also, the Talmud thing is a big issue for me (you may have noticed…), not just with dating, but with self-esteem and social conformity generally, and I don’t know what to do about it. Actually studying Talmud (the obvious solution) doesn’t work as I struggle so much with it. I’ve tried all kinds of different ways: different types of classes, chevruta (one-to-one) study, private study, all without success (actually, I did have some success with the LSJS class, but that was years ago and it hasn’t run since). I’ve been told it’s not an issue and I shouldn’t worry about it, but it seems like a big thing to me. I don’t know how to fit in comfortably to the frum community, whether looking for friends, community or a wife, without it. But my brain seems not to have been designed for Talmud study and now lacks the plasticity to learn.

15 thoughts on “Dating to the Right and Left

    1. I haven’t come across one. Ten years ago or more I did chevruta (paired) learning with the rabbi of the shul I was going to at the time, but I was too shy to say much and his teaching style wasn’t really for me.

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      1. That’s the thing, it would have to be someone you feel comfortable with, whose style did work for you. Maybe it would be worth asking around to see if there might be such a person?

        This may be a stupid question, but do adults ever take, like, a sabbatical and go to yeshiva? I have no idea if that a). is done at all, b). would hold any appeal for you, and c). is logistically feasible, but maybe it’s not too late to have some of the experiences you didn’t have as a teen.

        I mean, I’m not so young and am seriously considering going to sem or something, although I’m in a pretty different place than you on my religious journey, and I also have the not inconsiderable advantage of a job that could probably come to Israel with me.

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        1. I can look and see if there is such a person.

          It’s not a stupid question. I’m not sure of the answer. I think yes, in theory, but it would usually be people who weren’t religious and were becoming religious going to study basic Judaism, which is not where I am. I’m not sure about this though.

          I actually looked into this a bit a number of years ago. I was thinking of spending some time in a yeshiva in the summer (I think I was working in further education at the time and had long holidays), but now I’m doubtful that I could cope with the whole yeshiva experience of communal living and the noise of a beit midrash (study hall), where dozens of people are basically yelling at each for ten hours a day (the thought of ten hour days alone is off-putting). So if I did go to yeshiva, it would have to be somewhere (a) where I wouldn’t be too old and (b) that was willing to make adjustments for Asperger’s. I’m not sure if the latter is even possible. This is aside from the work question — if my current job gets made permanent, I doubt I could take time off to study abroad. If it doesn’t get made permanent, I don’t really have the money (actually, that’s not true, but I would feel guilty for using it).

          In some ways it would be easier if I was married, as I think yeshivas for older men have married accommodation which would at least avoid some of the communal living aspects. Shappell’s has a married programme for men and women. However, their admissions state that although open to all adults, most people are under 32. Although I should say that I don’t really know much about yeshivas. I just know Shappell’s as a name because a number of people I was at Oxford with went on to study there afterwards and in some cases were ordained there (also their then Rosh Yeshiva gave a shiur I went to in Oxford which massively changed my outlook on Judaism, which I guess is a good recommendation).

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          1. You’d think these days there would be an autism-friendly yeshiva somewhere – although that doesn’t mean it would be a fit in other ways. It’s definitely tricky balancing something like this with work, though, and if I weren’t in the particular situation I’m in I doubt I’d be able to consider it.

            The women’s part of Shappell’s is one of the places I’d be considering. I don’t know anyone who’s gone there, and I’m really still at the point of just Googling and browsing websites, but it’s encouraging that you had a positive (if vague) experience with the institution. If their Rosh Yeshiva massively changed your outlook on Judaism (in a good way, I’m assuming), that sounds like a pretty great recommendation to me.

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  1. Ah, the new erotica:

    “What is the meaning of “chipping”? Said R. Jehudah: It means notching. R. Je’hiel said: “It means the boring of the centre-hole in the millstone.” R. Hama lectured: “Millstones may be cleaned during the middle days.” In the name of R. Meir he said: Even the hoofs of the horse and ass may be pared, provided they are used for riding; but not the hoofs of an ass employed in a treadmill. R. Jehudah permitted to pare the hoofs of an ass employed in a treadmill, to place the millstones in proper position, and to build a new mill; to erect a foundation for the millstones, and also to erect a stall.”

    Perhaps I shouldn’t mock, but I’m not seeing the attractiveness, although that could be the lack of Aramaic.

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    1. Well, to be fair, it’s not meant to be picked up and read like a book. It’s meant to function as an aide memoire for a tradition that is passed on orally, with its deeper meaning, by a personal teacher.

      When I did a Talmud course at the LSJS, the rabbi there did make it come alive, and it felt like I was finally finding out how Judaism works rather than just what to do. But they haven’t run that course for six years or more.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe you could try reaching out to the rabbi who taught that course, explaining your situation, and asking if he can recommend either another class that might be similar or an individual you could hire for private Talmud tutoring?

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  2. The upside about working with a shadchan is that you can be matched up with someone you might not have met otherwise and the shadchan does that prescreening step. The downside about working with a shadchan is that the prescreening/compatibility criteria might not be the most relevant for you or for the girl or for long-term marital happiness. I am clearly not from the Yeshivish or Haredi world so yes I am biased, but reading Imamother, you read about a lot of marriages in which excellence and prestige in Talmud scholarship does not necessarily correlate to being a good husband or father. The secular world is also guilty of valuing dumb criteria in dating (eg. all the women who want men of a certain height – seriously, why does that matter?)

    The TV/Doctor Who acceptance must be regional. I’ve been in Modern Orthodox circles where I’m the oddball because I’m not interested in science fiction, comic book based movies, fantasy, video games etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I am sceptical about good Talmud scholarship correlating to good behaviour (too many stories of scholars and rabbis who turned out to be sexual predators), but it’s the measure the community uses, so I just have to hope I can find someone who thinks differently.

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