Friday, September 07, 2007

Death, Marriage, and Orthodox Judaism

Abandoning Eden is having a bit of a hard time dealing with her father's religiosity following his mother's death. This reminded me of some of the frustrations I've felt over the years regarding deaths and other lifecycle events in the Orthodox community.

Once, I attended a funeral of one of the most loving, cheerful, generous, and entertaining men I'd ever known. Even as he got older and less well, at a time of life when many people become cranky and irritable, he went out of his way to make people smile. One of his children got married when he was quite elderly and having trouble moving, but the way he got out there on the dance floor and put on a show for the kallah (bride) and crowd was something I'll never forget.

During the eulogies at his funeral, I was dismayed to hear nothing about his kindness, good cheer, or overwhelming generosity. All of the speeches were about how religious he was and how devoted to learning Torah. Those things were also true about him, but they didn't reflect what he was like as a human being and I was sad to know that what had been to me his most unique and affecting qualities were not even related to the enormous crowd that attended.

When my paternal grandfather was gravely ill, there were some tough decisions to make regarding his end-of-life care. Instead of coming together as a family and deciding what we thought was best, my father started calling around to find an available rabbi to tell him what halakha (Orthodox law) demanded in this situation. This may indeed have been what my grandfather would have wanted, so I cannot criticize my father's actions, but it felt inappropriate somehow to entrust the most personal of decisions to a man who was a stranger to us, who based his advice on an impersonal interpretation of halakha. This was before I had realized that I was an atheist and I clearly remember thinking, "This is too important to start worrying about halakha stuff." I think that was the first time I realized that I was no longer an Orthodox Jew on the inside.

Even some of the traditional Jewish gestures that had the potential to be meaningful were robbed of their authenticity by the focus on the letter of the law. For example, while I can clearly see the meaning and importance of a symbolic action like the rending of clothes, the fact that the mourners donned old suits, carefully ripping them according to specific instructions, made the action formulaic rather than moving or cathartic.

I found the practice of sitting shiva itself to be profound and psychologically helpful to the mourners. They were forced to face their grief and they were surrounded by people who loved them for an entire week. The adherence to formula raised its head here only when people were leaving, when all repeated the same sentence, rather than using their own words: Ha-Makom y'nachem et'chem b'toch sha'ar aveilei Tzion v'Yerushalayim. May God console you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

That was my father's shiva experience, but it isn't everyone's. A family friend was a convert, who was unable to sit shiva when his father died because his father was not Jewish. Others lost family members a day or two before a Jewish holiday, which cuts the shiva period short, sometimes to less than a day. These, too, I think, are example of the focus on formula taking away from meaningfulness.

At some weddings, too, I've been disappointed in the importance given to the religious over the personal. At one wedding of a dear friend, I wouldn't have even known whose wedding it was if I'd walked in off the street. My friend the groom walked down the aisle (having fasted all day) with unspeakable solemnity, reciting tehillim (psalms) under his breath. The Rabbi sped through the ketubah (marriage contract) in Hebrew, a few distant relatives I'd never met before gave religious speeches in English and Yiddish (a language few in the crowd understood) and the brachot (blessings) were muttered under the chupah with no explanation or elaboration given to the attendees, as is usually done in less right-wing services.

There were few if any smiles and no genuine joy that I could detect during the ceremony. Part of this was no doubt due to the fact that the groom and bride had not known each other very long, as is customary in more right-wing Orthodox circles. It appeared that they were painstakingly engaging in some religious activity wholly unrelated to notions of love and the joining of lives.

During the reception, there was separate seating and dancing for men and women. I could tell that many of the dancers were having fun, but they did not seem to be participants in the wedding of a close friend so much as random yeshiva boys out having a good time.

Make no mistake, I have attended Orthodox weddings that were full of joy and love and Orthodox funerals that were meaningful and heartfelt. It's not that Orthodox ceremonies necessarily miss the point, but that in some of the more right-leaning ones, so much attention is paid to the elaborate rituals and assuring that everything is done perfectly according to halakha that the big picture is almost completely lost.

At least that's how it seems to me.

37 comments:

Frank Walton said...

How can you be Jewish and an atheist?


Granted I think Judaism sucks as bad as atheism, basically they are two false religions.

So basically you have two religions.
Judaism and atheism.
Boy you sure do suck.
You remind me of this idiot:

Sam Harris, An atheist into mystical phenomenon?

*SIGH* when will you morons get a clue.

Holy Hyrax said...

I agree with some, but regarding your description of an OJ wedding with yeshiva boys dancing, I have this to say: In my experience, in secular celebrations, guests think of themselves, their fun, their time, their comfort. The religious care for one thing, and that is to bring joy to the chatan and kalla. Someone shlepped some yeshiva boys to my wedding only for part of the dancing and left. They came to make me happy and danced with me the whole time. The secular people, (not all) sat like bumps after I even brought a band to play music that they would like and appreciate. Nothing from them.

Prometheus said...

Frank Walton,

What a revoltingly ignorant comment. First, atheism is not a religion, by any meaningful definition. Even to call it a philosophy would be extravagant; it's just one position on one issue. Second, and more pertinently, it's entirely possible to be a Jewish atheist. Judaism is a culture and ethnic identity just as much as it is a religion. Indeed, probably more so. There are thousands of atheists and agnostics who identify as Jews.

Also, I read your post on Sam Harris. Contrary to your illiterate rantings, Harris has denied the charges made Gorenfeld's hit piece, in a letter he sent to his email list. As for "Selfless Consciousness Without Faith," I (a staunch atheist) enjoyed it at first, and just reread it. As with the first time, I found nothing objectionable in it. All he's saying is that one's sense of self (of being distinct from one's body and surrounding environment) disappears under scrutiny, which is a conclusion borne out by centuries of spiritual experience.

So congratulations, Frank: You managed to combine extreme ignorance with intense obnoxiousness.

abandoning eden said...

I've also get that feeling at jewish weddings, that there is more attention to elaborate ritual than in being happy and celebrating the joining of two people (who presumably are in love). Not only that, but it seems most of the "audience" are paying more attention to how much money was spent on the catering or whatever, instead of the actual couple. In my parnets circles, jewish weddings have become this elaborate pagentry that has pretty much nothing to do with the couple at all- I remember when I was engaged (the engagement was later broken off), my mother started planning out that kind of wedding, and my input was completely ignored, especailly when it might deviate from the norm. For instance, I HATE jewish line dancing, and love clasical music, so I wanted to have classical music playing during the meal, with no dancing at all. There's no religious rules that say you have to dance at weddings, and i especailly hate jewish dancing. But my parents insisted that I have some generic jewish band and have all those stupid line dancing things, which i wouldn't have enjoyed at all. But god forbid they deviate from the standard jewish wedding, as even stuff like the band has become ritualistic, although not religious. And forget trying to challange Jewish ritual...there is no religious basis for cutoms such as walking around 7 times, beyond tradition...on a religious basis, you are considered married just if you say the magic words in front of two witnesses, exchange sometime of value, and have enough time in yichud that you could have potentially had sex. But when I said i didn't want to circle my fiance 7 times like a lapdog, the shit totally hit the fan.

I remember the first non jewish wedding i went to, everyone was so happy for the couple getting married, and when they said their "i do's" everyone started cheering and hugging each other (and then throwing bird seed at them). Now i've been at some non-jewish wedding since, and they haven't all been like that, but that's what I think a wedding should be...actually celebrating the people getting married. :)

Not every jewish wedding i've been to has been so formulaic and even boring either...but i've never been to a Jewish wedding where the couple was the focus of the wedding. The religion itself was always more important than the couple in question.

abandoning eden said...

holy hyrex...i disagree with your assesssment of secular people...maybe i have better friends than some, but at all my non-jewish friends weddings, the people there were super happy for the couple involved.

And personally I'd much rather have my friends sit around and not dance than have a bunch of yeshivish boys who are total strangers to me dance so that they can get a mitzvah or can get drunk for free...how can they actually be happy for me if they don't even know me?

Motl Zhmotl said...

I don't see why holding hands and hopping around in circles is supposed to make anybody happy. It's not that interesting, really, and a little gay. Not that there's anything wrong with it.

jaded topaz said...

The whole chupah thing is a morbid process and should be done away with.
The orthodox wedding is the purest epitome of ridiculous ritual/overzealous mitzvah lovers and related nonesense.
And the rules concerning the wife and divorce are not comprehensible.
And for those not part of the anti circ movement, why on earth is the circumcision process treated like a celebration for friends and family complete with celebratory food and drink ?
Clearly,orthodox halacha and human emotion do not have the best relationship.

Ben Avuyah said...

my wife's biggest gripe about our wedding was that I was starving and hypoglycemic/exghausted by teh time i got to the chuppah.

"why couldn't you have become an athiest before we got married", is her favorite dig.

Baal Devarim said...

"At one wedding of a dear friend, I wouldn't have even known whose funeral it was if I'd walked in off the street."

I'd hope so! Although, I guess both ceremonies can be equally solemn in right-wing circles, so I see how one can be confused. Here's a tip: if the person everyone is focusing on is still shukeling, that usually means he isn't dead.

Jewish Atheist said...

BA:

"why couldn't you have become an athiest before we got married", is her favorite dig.

LOL.


BD:

Doh! Thanks. I'll edit it.

Jewish Atheist said...

The religious care for one thing, and that is to bring joy to the chatan and kalla.

They care because it's a miztvah, not because they care about the couple, per se. The band also cares about making the couple happy, because it's their job, but if they really care because they know and love the couple, it's a lot better.

Ezzie said...

Sorry, I'm with HH on this one. The religious weddings I've been at are far more focused on the celebration of the couple, the more secular ones (like my cousins') were much more blah. At the Orthodox weddings, the bride and groom are constantly the center of attention; at the secular ones, people are dancing as couples and almost completely ignoring the couple.

Are there certain things I don't like at some frum weddings or funerals? Certainly. People get so caught up in davening at very RW weddings that they forget this is a time of simcha; I don't get that, and neither do many friends and rabbeim I know. Funerals though I see a lot of good reasons for them to be somewhat formulaic; it allows people to grieve properly, but at the same time reminds them that there is still a life ahead of them. The gradation of an avel from when they first hear of the death until the burial, then to shiva, then to shloshim, then to the yahrtzeit is (IMHO) brilliant in its structure. The 'rules' about shiva work extremely well in helping to console the people remaining. Etc.

Ezzie said...

They care because it's a miztvah, not because they care about the couple, per se.

BS

Mo said...

BS

Actually there are two sides to the coin.
They do care mostly because it's a mitzvah, but since it's a mitzah to be happy for the couple, to fulfill the mitzvah they actually have to be happy for the couple.
I doubt that most people actually are intent on making the couple happy per se. They will only consider following the conventions, which are identified as things that make the couple happy.
For instance, nobody will consider showing a funny video at a chasusna, or initing and stand up comedian. Raising the choson on a chair, though, that counts as "making happy".

Jewish Atheist said...

Ezzie,

BS

I was responding to HH:

Someone shlepped some yeshiva boys to my wedding only for part of the dancing and left

Ezzie said...

For instance, nobody will consider showing a funny video at a chasusna, or initing and stand up comedian.

...because all of those place the comedian at the center of attention rather than the chosson. Even those who do really good "shtick" try to toe that line of keeping it centered on the bride and groom.

JA - Ah, implied otherwise. But that too is simply to help liven it up, and is really all about making the couple happy. In many places I've been, people would come into the yeshiva and ask if a few guys were willing to come dance at a wedding to help liven it up; this was done completely unselfishly and wasn't just to "have a good time"... and as HH noted, it really DOES help liven it up.

Lubab No More said...

OJ weddings have gotten exceedingly impersonal. At an in-law's wedding in Williamsburg there was a mushulach walking around, with a wad of cash in hand, soliciting money from people. It was disgusting. He came over to my table so I asked which side of the wedding he was on. He muttered something about "all of klal yisroel are cousins". What a douche. I later found out that this practice is common place. How personal can a wedding be if complete strangers feel comfortable walking in off the street to ask the bride and groom's guests for money?

G said...

-What a douche.

Really! Wow.

-I later found out that this practice is common place. How personal can a wedding be if complete strangers feel comfortable walking in off the street to ask the bride and groom's guests for money?

I agree that it is a bit gauche. However, what does one thing have to do with the other?

G said...

it felt inappropriate somehow to entrust the most personal of decisions to a man who was a stranger to us, who based his advice on an impersonal interpretation of halakha..."This is too important to start worrying about halakha stuff."
----
With all due respect, this is because you attribute less value to halachah than some others.

For those who see it as part and parcel of who they are the reasons you menation above are specifically why they ask a non-partial individual for guidance. When things hit close to home it becomes easier to think that "This is too important to start worrying about halakha". Again, for those who place a high value on those guidelines it is a way to ensure that they do not err during times when they might act differently if circumstances allowed.

Motl Zhmotl said...

The real reason people get anal about halacha is that it helps to relieve them of the burden of making their own choices. Not that there's anything wrong with it.

Holy Hyrax said...

>holy hyrex...i disagree with your assesssment of secular people...maybe i have better friends than some, but at all my non-jewish friends weddings, the people there were super happy for the couple involved.

Yes, YOUR FRIENDS. Ofcourse your friends. But what about the people that your parents feel need to invited. They care for nothing but having fun and getting their money worth in enjoyment.

And personally I'd much rather have my friends sit around and not dance than have a bunch of yeshivish boys who are total strangers to me dance so that they can get a mitzvah or can get drunk for free...how can they actually be happy for me if they don't even know me?

Uummmmmmm. no you wouldn't. If your friends did not dance you would be pretty angry and you would be actually happy that someone that does not even know you was willing to come and show you a good time. I mean give me a break here. You went OTD and became a fanatic cynic as well. The yeshivah boys that came did not get drunk or even eat. The danced non stop FOR ME. You and Jewish Atheist REALLY think that just because its a MITZVAH all of a sudden they are not legitetaly happy for the couple? They dance not for them, but for you. And you would greatly appreciate them dancing for you as opposed to your friends not wanting to get up.

>but if they really care because they know and love the couple, it's a lot better.

Nooooooo really? But they don't know you, but they still came out of their way to dance with you and dance for you. Don't throw out in the garbage as if its meaningless.

Its unbelievable how much ex-frummies can pidgeon hole at everything. Finding non stop faults.

Holy Hyrax said...

The whole chupah thing is a morbid process and should be done away with.
>The orthodox wedding is the purest epitome of ridiculous ritual/overzealous mitzvah lovers and related nonesense.
And the rules concerning the wife and divorce are not comprehensible.
And for those not part of the anti circ movement, why on earth is the circumcision process treated like a celebration for friends and family complete with celebratory food and drink ?
Clearly,orthodox halacha and human emotion do not have the best relationship.

Another intelligent comment. Brilliant

Holy Hyrax said...

>OJ weddings have gotten exceedingly impersonal. At an in-law's wedding in Williamsburg there was a mushulach walking around, with a wad of cash in hand, soliciting money from people.

Could you STOP with the generalities as if all OJ is the same? Its like me saying Secular weddings have become exceedlingly meaningless with all the people going to Vegas and getting married at the drive through.

Holy Hyrax said...

>Yes, YOUR FRIENDS. Ofcourse your friends. But what about the people that your parents feel need to invited. They care for nothing but having fun and getting their money worth in enjoyment.

Sorry, I misread your comment. But my point stands. Most of my life I have been secular and I have seen with my own eyes who wants to bring joy to the couple more. Ofcourse everyone is happy for the couple, but are they dancing around cause they want to show the couple a good time, or are they dancing for their own amusement? In my experiences at celebrations, its the latter.

Jaded Topaz said...

Holy Hyrax,
Thanks for the cynical non- accolades.
Its difficult to compare your experiences with mitzvah lovers to for instance my experience with mitzvah lovers.Specifically cuz the emotional processing systems experiencing the do-gooder's good deeds belong to individuals originating from opposite ends of the judaism o meter .
Like if you would have graduated from my high school, you would probally have hired your favorite strict bouncer for your wedding to stand guard at the door ,to be certain none of the holier than thou self rightous do-gooders decide to crash your wedding and ruin in it in the process with their "weddings are for mitzvah lovers" efforts.
I'm still having a hard time understanding why you would appreciate the kind of "artificial caring" that originates from a religious command ?
If I was taught aka commanded to care about you, would my caring about you make you feel cared for ?
If I cared about you on my own cuz I care like the care bears would that make you feel cared for ?
Wouldnt it be more of a real caring if I cared for you like the care bears cuz i care as opposed to caring about you cuz i was commanded to by religious leaders ?

Also, after crying your heart at a chuppah can you just switch emotions and start dancing in circles for the bride and groom all happy go lucky ? There are too many extreme emotional parts in too short a space of time.

Holy Hyrax said...

>I'm still having a hard time understanding why you would appreciate the kind of "artificial caring" that originates from a religious command?

Because even from a religious command, there is still caring. Believe it or not, these are still human beings that come dancing for you artificially. And they do care to give you a good time. Noone is paying them. It's not a service. It DOES come from a middat of carring. And when it comes to having a great simcha, they help out. Some of my other guests did not seem to eager to get up and dance for the the couple, perhaps someone should have told THEM that this day was not about them but about the bride and groom. When I go to peoples wedding, I make sure to dance nonstop for them and to show them that this night is all about you.

>If I was taught aka commanded to care about you, would my caring about you make you feel cared for?

Its your problem that you think these yeshiva boys are just robots and they do not get affected with this rule to go make a bride and groom happy. They learn to care for others, and I am proud to be in a community that generates that.

>Wouldnt it be more of a real caring if I cared for you like the care bears cuz i care as opposed to caring about you cuz i was commanded to by religious leaders?

So lets go to the other extreme. WHere people simply don't do crap for anyone. Ofcourse its better that everyone cares for one another as a father has for a son. But not everyone is related and it is hard to 'just care.' So these people are instructed to care. Geez, as if this is something bad. I mean, do you teach your children to return lost things to people or do you wait for them to figure it out on their own? Do you teach your kids to say thank you and your welcome or hope it comes naturally? So yes, we push others to do the right thing which is what these bochurs do. They come, they dance till they drop for the chattan and kalla and not for themselves and they leave. No getting paid, not food. They ask nothing in return.

It seems your way of thinking, is that unless someone naturally wants to do good for someone, he should not pushed in that direction.

>Also, after crying your heart at a chuppah can you just switch emotions and start dancing in circles for the bride and groom all happy go lucky ? There are too many extreme emotional parts in too short a space of time.

Ummmmm, ya. This happens in Christian weddings too. Those aren't tears of sorrow but of happiness. Nobody died here.

Anonymous said...

Ok. Let's make a thought experiment. Let's take yeshiva bochurim and have them dance at a christian wedding. Will anyone say the wedding was made more lively? No. Let's take a christian who has never been to a jewish wedding and place him in a circle with dancing yeshiva bochurim. Will he feel happier because they are dancing their tzitzis off? No. Rather what? Everybody takes a dancing bochur as a symbol and sign of increased joy.

Holy Hyrax said...

>Will anyone say the wedding was made more lively? No.

Who here is discussing a wedding being made more lively??? We are talking about the notion that YB's come into a wedding (or least, when they are brought to one) for the expressed agenda that they want to mesameach the chattan and kallah. Which they do.

Anonymous said...

Now, to an atheist like myself, upon whom the meaning of religious symbols is lost, the bochurim are just a group of sweating boys, whose presence does not arouse increased joy. Why? Because I don't see a mitzvah in mitzvah dancing. The joy of a mitzva is foreign to me. Your experience of joy at a mitzva dance depends on your interpretation of a mitzva. I can appreciate their efforts, and the energy expanded. But they don't have to dance like maniacs to express their joy in klal yisroel marrying shechina, they could have just as well sent a mazal tov post card to the Wailing Wall. Would they make me happy if I was the groom and none of my friends were dancing? A little. So what. What does it prove? Would I call it that they are showing me "a good time"? No. I would still see them as performing a mitzvah, doing a kindly act for totally wrong reasons. What's that worth?

Anonymous said...

The situation is similar with kibudim given in the synagogue. You can ask, if nobody respected you, and everybody was cursing you, wouldn't it be a pleasant relief if they all of the sudden gave you kovod by calling you to the Torah? A little bit. Still, I don't get an ego trip from being called to the Torah. The action is meaningless to me. I would get kovod from getting awarded honorary degrees from Harvard for lying on this blog. Lying in the synagogue is also good, but the Rabbi enjoys it better.

jaded topaz said...

Holy Hyrax,
I understand the learned caring thing, maybe i'm just hypersensitive sometimes and dont process artificial man made concerned caring and related learned do-gooder overtures very well.
Cuz fakery doesnt affect me much.

I'm also especially wary of the whole concept of "learned lovingkindess" or "force fed lovingkindness" cuz my high school was overflowing and full of holier than thou do gooders with the actual sincerity of self rightous slugs perched on zinnia leaves tryin to make their pious marks in the leaves of life.
I still remember my mandatory chessed must do's from high school.
It was awesome caring about the less fortunate dysfunctional families and assisting with their daily routines.
Thats cuz i care about the less fortunate with no prompting and prodded needed.
But one thing I will never get over was being forced to scrub other people's houses for passover.
I once had to spend four full hours washing a never ending tubful of toys in addition to makin sure there were no crumbs .
I've never cleaned for passover since.
I dont have an innate caring thing for scrubbing stranger's large tub full of toys for passover.

So the question is are the bochurs and bochurettes doing their prancing and dancing cuz of the preachings teachings and commandments or cuz they care and want to make others happy.
If they dont really care about the happiness of strangers getting married and are just doing it cuz they are listening to the rules and regulations their teachers drummed into their rigid pea sized brains resistant to any sort of plasticity , i'm not sure that means anything other than they have a rigid holier than thou i can change the world with my pious prancings at strangers weddings miss or mister goody two shoes attitude they live by .

Learned lovingkindess does affect the person practicing this lovely pastime.Its just a question of in what way.....

Holy Hyrax said...

>What does it prove? Would I call it that they are showing me "a good time"? No. I would still see them as performing a mitzvah, doing a kindly act for totally wrong reasons. What's that worth?

I can't beleieve you don't take this for its face value. That someone came to your wedding and wanted to dance for you and with you. What do you mean for the wrong reasons? Its the greatest reason. FOR YOU. Other guests dance for themselves. They want to have fun or bitch about the music not being good enough. Like I said above, we as a society teach our kids to do many good things for others. It does not come naturally.

A mitvah is not evil. They are not here to steal money from you or charge you later. Do you get that they just want to be happy for you. Is that soooo wrong in a society that often cares about their own enjoyment first. I think this is just another example for some people to tear down at religion, ,knowing FULL well inside this is an incredible thing that our community does for one another.

Holy Hyrax said...

>Cuz fakery doesnt affect me much.

Why is anything that is taught, fake?

>Thats cuz i care about the less fortunate with no prompting and prodded needed.

What about those that don't care automotically. I mean, we LIVE in a society that does require sometimes pushing toward loving kindness. Its just how humans are. Maybe you are traumatized by scrubing for so much, as I would be too I think, but lets stop with the generalities.

The yeshiva bochurs that came to my wedding we the most pleasent teens. I know the guy that brought them. He just thought we can use some more excitement. Thats it. They diden't discuss the minituas of the halachas here. They heard about my wedding and decided to come dance with me. You can't be so cynical that EVERYONE is just doing this because of some robotic programming of their minds.

And why stop here? Are all chesed groups mindless twits that don't care about any of their goals?

>So the question is are the bochurs and bochurettes doing their prancing and dancing cuz of the preachings teachings and commandments or cuz they care and want to make others happy.

Ofcourse they are initually taught that they should do this. People do need to be taught things in many cases. This is just how the world works. Now if they were doing it with frowned faces and acting like they were doing you a favor, I would accept your point. But can you honostly tell me they are not legitimetly happy for your simcha?

Moishe said...

Lissen holi hyrax, many iriliguous people here are telling u that yeshiba bochurim dancing feels funy to them. It's a subjective decison. Maybe to religuous people lik you it feals good. To us it's not.

Holy Hyrax said...

First of all, I am not as religious as you think I am.

Second, I was merely respondin to this by JA:

but they did not seem to be participants in the wedding of a close friend so much as random yeshiva boys out having a good time.

Regardess if you like them there or not, my point was that its unfair to portray them as just a bunch of kids trying to have a good time or how Abandoning Eden says, just to get drunk.

It just seem when people go OTD they just pick at any of the Jewish practices for revenge as having some devious motivation behind it.

Anonymous said...

i am with HH on this one.
if taking pot-shots is what you want to do, than anything is a legit target.
bochurs come and dance -- you don't like it. we get it.
something to ponder that HH wrote: is anything that is taught, fake?
we live in a post modern world...so the answer is "maybe."

Anonymous said...

Actually, the 'grounded' approach to a lot of things is something I miss a lot, and wish I could have without the beliefs. We can make fun of shadchanim all we want (or rather, we can't because there's not enough time) but what's with the difference in divorce rates? If you ask me, the haredim have a system that works only because of a fact that they wholeheartedly deny - there is not one absolutely perfect person out there who is the only one for you. Marriage is not about perfection; it's about love and commitment. They can't acknowledge that there is more than one person I could marry - they think it was decided at Sinai. Yet, is there any chance their system would work as well as it does if they were right? If God decided that there's one person for me, why should they happen to live in the same Brooklyn neighborhood (I know, I know, because naturally they'd have the same rebbe...) If there is one person for me, why should I not search forever for perfection, as is so popular in the secular world, as caricatured on, say, Seinfeld? (She's perfect in every way, but I can't stand the way her hand looks, so I dumped her.) There are some hard lessons here that religious people seem to implicitly accept - the world is not a fairytale, perfection is not an option, life is hard work, love is hard work... It's always easy to walk by the ocean or have sex. Paying bills is hard; being told that you have to give something up because of this person you committed to is hard. As M. Scott Peck says, real love happens when you realize they have their own desires and their own goals, and you're willing to do the hard work of compromising to be with them. Too much of the secular world expects perfection and will deal with nothing less.

Here's an experience from when I first got involved with religion. I would sit with my friends (we're in our late 20s) and they would talk about how, of course, they don't want to get married anytime soon or have children - they first have to do everything they want to do, and not be held back. This struck me as insane, and still does.