Friday, January 07, 2011

Introduction to Hasidic Society, Part 1

Many of you have been raising excellent questions regarding Hasidim, marriages that take place after three b'shos and whether a lack of divorce means that the marriage is a happy one. Now, obviously my thoughts are only based upon anecdotal evidence regarding the sect of Hasidut that I see when I visit Boro Park, so with that disclaimer, you may take the following for what it is worth.

In Boro Park, girls are raised up to be mothers. Their role models are women who raise children and simultaneously lead lives of hesed. There are women who are in charge of Bikkur Cholim committees, women who head gemachs, women who are happy to watch other people's children so that the mother can get some rest, women who cook for new mothers, women who are shadchanim and so forth. As a girl born into this society, your focus is on modesty and growing up to become a Jewish mother. You know how to cook and clean because you've helped your mother to do so. You've taken care of children, including little babies, all your life. The accoutrements of marriage that may come as a surprise to American brides of 37 will be no surprise to you. You have been raised within a family unit and hope to perpetuate that family unit.

And there's a lot of beauty in that mentality, that innocence and the purity that comes along with it. Yes, compared to me, these women are sheltered. But in Boro Park they will argue that the children are protected rather than sheltered. I think that protection has to end at some point so that women can assert their independence and right to think. But there are many women who are not so very troubled by the supposed restrictions that are incumbent upon them. After all, this dependance is reflective of the whole society in that all of them, like sheep led by a loving shepherd, follow the guidance of the Rebbe.

A lot of research goes into a shidduch. Each side of the family checks the other one out, makes hundreds of phone calls and tries to determine whether the family suits one another. Then they take the names to the Rebbe, who will offer his thoughts regarding the match. Assuming that all meets with approval, the young man and young lady are introduced to one another at a b'sho, which is an hour to an hour and a half meeting in the house or an apartment. The parents sit in one room and the children speak in the other. What do they speak about, you may wonder?

This is another place where there's a sweetness and a sadness mixed together. In our world, when young men and women date, they will speak about their studies, their planned careers, their breakups and the emotional toll severing ties took on them. They will compare notes regarding their life experiences. To some extent, they can be very weary by the age of twenty. In Boro Park, the children speak about sweet things like their EMT experience or training, the work they do, their hobbies and interests. Important questions and intimate questions are not: How did breaking up with the man you thought you loved affect you? Rather, they take the form of: Would you be willing to eat out (at restaraunts)? Would you come with me on vacation if I happened to visit a different state? Do you want me to shave my head or not? Would you let me drive (most Hasidic women don't drive as it is considered immodest)? And the man may ask: Would you wear a band (a white embroidered handkerchief) on Shabbos? What about an apron? There is no need to ask how each one plans to raise their children; clearly they plan to raise them within the parameters of the Hasidus that they follow.

On the one hand, I am deeply troubled by the idea of a relationship that begins on such (to me) seemingly shallow grounds. Where is the emotional depth, the passion, the understanding of one another? How can a marriage be made based on the fact that a young maiden enjoys a man's company- after all, she has no other experience to compare that with? And yet, having tasted of the frenetic experience of bitterness and joy that encompasses trying to find one's husband in the Modern Orthodox world, I cannot discount the simplicity and honesty in which this match is sought. Is it better to have one's heart broken first, to drink the draught of experience, or to venture into a marriage undamaged (at least in that way) with a commitment to making everything work?

Each youth has the right to say no if they believe the other is not suited for them. Of course, there is a lot of pressure to say yes. But I know people who have turned others down while searching for their husband. They're uncommon but they exist.

Erich Fromm writes in his exquisite book, 'The Art of Loving'-
    Erotic love, if it is love, has one premise. That I love from the essence of my being—and experience the other person in the essence of his or her being. In essence, all human beings are identical. We are all part of One; we are One. This being so, it should not make any difference whom we love. Love should be essentially an act of will, of decision to commit my life completely to that of one other person. This is, indeed, the rationale behind the idea of the insolubility of marriage, as it is behind the many forms of traditional marriage in which the two partners never choose each other but are chosen for each other—and yet are expected to love each other. In contemporary Western culture this idea appears utterly false. Love is supposed to be the outcome of a spontaneous, emotional reaction, of suddenly being gripped by an irresistible feeling. In this view, one sees only the peculiarities of the two individuals involved—and not the fact that all men are part of Adam, and all women part of Eve. One neglects to see an important factor in erotic love, that of will. To love somebody is not just a strong feeling—it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision?

    Taking these views into account one may arrive at the position that love is exclusively an act of will and commitment, and that therefore fundamentally it does not matter who the two persons are. Whether the marriage was arranged by others, or the result of individual choice, once the marriage is concluded, the act of will should guarantee the continuation of love. This view seems to neglect the paradoxical character of human nature and of erotic love. We are all One- yet very one of us is a unique, unduplicable entity. In our relationships to others the same paradox is repeated. Inasmuch as we are all one, we can love everybody in the same way in the sense of brotherly love. But inasmuch as we are all also different, erotic love requires certain specific, highly individual elements which exist between some people but not between all.
Although they certainly haven't read Erich Fromm, I think the Hasidic community recognizes the supremacy of will. They do their best to make sure the families and children are compatible with one another, introduce the children to one another and offer them the opportunity to say no, and then allow them to embark upon this great journey together. The understanding is that this couple will do everything possible, no matter what that entails, to stay together. True, sometimes this is because of societal pressure and this leads to unhappiness. But there is much to be said for that promise, that commitment, that will and that understanding that all men are part of Adam and all women are part of Eve.

Are Hasidic couples happy? It depends on what you mean by happiness. They have very different expectations than we who are doused in Western culture do. They are not expecting happily ever afters. They don't expect perfect kisses, carriages, red roses, romance and expensive gifts (which is not to say, by the way, that husbands don't woo their wives anyway- but after they're married). They were not raised on fantasies of Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. They want companionship with their husband; they want to help him succeed in his studies, believing that this is their path to fulfillment and to the World to Come. They want to enjoy his company. And so long as that is all right, often they will feel contented and happy. The great belief in God and in their Rebbe's guidance that they have also serves to make them feel happy. Not only the man they are marrying but the marriage itself is part of serving God. And they have been taught to feel glad and fulfilled when they serve God.

Also, Hasidic couples often spend time apart. There are so many functions (smachot, brisim, weddings etc) that they are attending with men separated and women separated that much fulfillment is found in the companionship of women (especially fellow newlyweds or young mothers) as in the company of their husbands. Of course this is not true of everyone, but the difference in thought in Boro Park vs. say Washington Heights is the focus on a community-oriented, family-oriented culture rather than an individualistic culture. Here in the Modern Orthodox community, we expect to find happiness as individuals. Two individuals who love one another could live in Antarctica away from all civilized society and still be deeply happy. But this is not the thought in Boro Park. In Boro Park, everyone is a member of my family and thus everyone's business is my business. The husband, the in-laws, the next-door-neighbor, my best friend from school- they're all part of my extended family, in a way. That culture lends itself to feeling included and cared for, even if that is never expressed in the way that it would be in the Western world.

To some extent, I admire the women of Boro Park. I almost envy their simplicity, their steadfastness, their deep faith in God and their Rebbe. I admire the way in which they are so competent in a household at such a tender age. I think the fact that their faith in God is such that they can marry after meeting someone only three times and then make that marriage work and grow in their love for one another is a beautiful thing. It is not something I could do and I would argue it is not something that any thinking rather than faithful person- someone who puts choice above devotion- could easily do. It is not something whose essence is to be an individual- as mine is- could do. But I believe their method has worked for them and I have seen very devoted, happy couples in Boro Park. I've seen the other kind as well. What's true here, as it's true everywhere else, is that we must not judge by shock value or appearances. B'shos seem strange to us, but we are no stranger to Miley Cyrus' provocative photos or GQ's "Glee" shoots where women suck lollipops with their legs spread to show their dainty underclothes. Sometimes I wish I were indeed a stranger to the sex-laden culture of Western society- and that I had the faith and devotion that would have allowed me to wed based on my trust in my parents and God.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

"I am deeply troubled by the idea of a relationship that begins on such (to me) seemingly shallow grounds"

Good that u added the words "to me"

Moshe

AH said...

...and the boro park/hasidic way of marriage is exactly how marriages were arranged for the last couple of hundred years. Thats how our grandparents wed, and their parents and grandparents etc... The MO way is relatively new to the jewish world...

Anonymous said...

The lack of familiarity between the Chosson & Kallah, means the marriage begins with a need for respect.
This respect serves them well as it never truly fades.
They eventually refer to each other as mommy/totty, and speak to each other in a way that rivals the respect (that should be)given to a parent.

Mazal Tov

AF said...

" The MO way is relatively new to the jewish world."

Is the MO way based on non Jewish courting?

badforshidduchim said...

>>The lack of familiarity between the Chosson & Kallah, means the marriage begins with a need for respect.
This respect serves them well as it never truly fades.<<

Is that really true? Because I'm still haunted by one apparently lovely chassidish home I visited where the couple didn't respect each other at all - in front of me, a total stranger, only visiting for ten minutes.

And by "not respect" I mean I was holding a formal interview with the Her, and the Him wandered in talking loudly on the phone and plunked himself down at the table. The Her snapped at him until He rolled his eyes and left, and then rolled Her eyes at me and made disparaging comments about Him. And they both apparently thought this was a completely normal way to live.

So I'm not convinced that all those marriages are loving and respectful.

Anonymous said...

Dear BforS
You need to visit more people.

R Shlomo Wolbe student said...

HaRav Shlomo Wolbe Zt”l
The Torah tells us that Bnei Yisroel left Mitzrayim in a hurry and did not even prepare any provisions for the way. Rashi (Shemos 12, 39) comments that from here we see Bnei Yisroel's greatness; they followed Hashem into the wilderness without an inkling of where they would procure food for themselves. Referring to this occasion, Hashem declared, "I recall for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me into the desert, into an unsown land." Rashi adds that the reward for this blind faith is mentioned in the following pasuk, "Yisroel is holy to Hashem."
Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) says that it appears from the pasuk that because Bnei Yisroel had bitachon they were rewarded with kedusha (becoming holy). We tend to think that bitachon and kedusha are two concepts that are entirely unrelated. However, the Navi is enlightening us to the fact that these two middos are interdependent, and Bnei Yisroel merited becoming holy due to their complete bitachon in Hashem.
We can explain the connection between bitachon and kedusha as follows. Kedusha means to be devoted in an absolute manner. Hence, the Torah refers to one who is dedicated entirely to Hashem as a kadosh, while a man who is devoted to promiscuous activity is referred to as a kodeish. In a similar vein, Hashem is described as Kadosh because He is totally set apart from all of humanity. We are therefore commanded, "And you shall be holy (kedoshim) because I am Holy (Kadosh). Just as Hashem is completely set apart, so too, Bnei Yisroel should set themselves apart from the rest of mankind and be absolutely dedicated to Hashem.
How does one reach this level of kedusha? It can be reached through bitachon. He who has absolute faith in Hashem relies on Him entirely, and does not place his trust in any human being. Bnei Yisroel, with their bitachon, followed Hashem blindly into the wilderness and showed that they were devoted totally to Him. This complete devotion raised them to the level of kedoshim.
Accordingly, kedusha is not as difficult to obtain as many may think. A few minutes a day spent studying Sha'ar Ha'bitachon in the Chovos Ha'levovos can add greatly not only to one's menuchas hanefesh (peace of mind) but also to one's level of kedusha.

Anonymous said...

Of course, many modern orthodox courtships are more innocent than you describe. Yes, they're all looking for love and an emotional connection before engagement, but not every couple begins with baggage of previous relationships. Your construct of hasidic couples courting in a framework of innocence while Modern Orthodox couples date within a framework of broken-hearted experience is somewhat simplistic.

Anonymous said...

Meeting the other half of your soul, can perhaps also bring the spontaneous essence-love.

Perhaps the more in touch you are with your essence and soul the more this plays its role.

When going towards a Shidduch one should have the attitude that Hashem probably sent the right one.

Josh said...

What still seems terrible to me is how awful the experience of having sex must be for these Hasidim on the Wedding night, and for many, for their whole marriage. I have read certain blogposts (see http://hasidic-
feminist.blogspot.com/2008_12_01_archive.html
and http://livingintwolanguages.blogspot.com/2010/02/first.html ) that confirm that it's an awful experience for these women.

Anonymous said...

I dont think that is what they discuss at b'shos. They usually know in advance what type of 'clothes' and headgear the woman is likely to wear.
I would think they would discuss other people common to both of them.

The Shipper said...

To the first commentator, Moshe, who seems to take umbrage that Chana finds a b’sho to be shallow:

In the Torah, we find that courtship is based on actions, not words. Rivka does tremendous chessed, Yaakov rolls the stone off the well, Moshe saves Yisro's daughters. Non-b’show courtship allows each side to witness how the other reacts in certain circumstances. Is the waiter treated properly? Does the person say a bracha achrona? Are people treated respectfully? Does a person keep his word? Does the person act with humility, or is he a show-off? Compare this to a b'sho, where everything is based on words. It’s hard to distinguish a smooth talker from a sincere person. That's why I think a b'sho meeting can only yield a shallow understanding of the other person. People have a better chance of seeing the true nature of a person if they can observe their actions.

To the Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe student:

Your dvar Torah is very nice, but your seeming willingness to apply this to these new young couples is nauseating. What happens to this bitachon when it comes to money? Most of these young couples are taught to go onto Public Aid, Medicaid, and Food Stamps. Instead of learning to be givers, they are taught from the first moment of marriage to be takers. I doubt that Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe approve of that.

Anonymous said...

By Yitzchak and Rivka it says that he first married her then loved her.

We see many couple who date (often for years) and are "in love" and a few a few years after marriage they get divorced. You can't really love someone till you're married. At least regarding young people living at home, while single there aren't any major issues. No mortgage, no tuition, etc. After marriage, you aren't free to just have a good time. There are many responsibilities and obstacles. Each spouse many not be as physically attractive as they once were, there may be financial issues, etc., etc. The list goes on and on. We can only put in so much human effort. The rest is up to G-d. I'm not suggesting everyone should do this but I defiantly understand it. As a whole, the people I know that got married in such a way are at least as happy as the ones that dated in "regular" fashion. The main thing is to remember that G-d decides who is the intended one for everyone, and to keep that in mind whether we go to meet someone at a singles event, get set up a a shadchan or any other way.

Anonymous said...

WOW shipper aren't you stereotyping? You know nothing of these people, you stand afar and ridicule something you don't want to understand.

The Shipper said...

"WOW shipper aren't you stereotyping? You know nothing of these people, you stand afar and ridicule something you don't want to understand."

Your assumption is incorrect. My knowledge is based on personal experience. I truly wish I didn't have the knowledge that I have, but I do.

This is the new mesora being passed down from parent to child in Boro Park; how to manipulate and maximize government benefits. Gone are the values of not taking from tzedaka.

It's interesting that AH is so proud to say that the Boro Park/Hasidic way of arranging marriage is a tradition of 200 years. He neglects to say that the willingness to live off government tzedaka is the new tradition that is now practiced widely in Boro Park.

I've always wondered about the yisschar / zevulun relationship being forced on the American people, and if all Americans will reap the schar of the mitzvos these people do.

Noam said...

Actually shipper you are wrong the 'new mesora' is not an approved way of life. Is it just often done. No posek would approve, and they know it. Sadly it becomes less wrong as time passes. עבירה הגררת עבירה
Psychologically it becomes OK because its done.
But none will say it the right thing to do.
On the other hand there are lots of young couples whom are indeed eligible to receive these program as per the states criteria.
Once upon a time, I had lived in a charaidi area nobody was proud about being on the take.

Anonymous said...

Noam, your response to The Shipper makes no sense.You state:"Psychologically it becomes OK because its done".The parents and the grandparents of these young married couples should break the habit of "being on the take" and go out there and get jobs . It's that simple.

Anonymous said...

Naive.
Never are money matters simple.

The Shipper said...

I agree with the latest comment; this is not a simple matter.

Part of the impetus to go on Public Aid derives from the tremendous community pressure for these frum teenagers to get married at 18 or 19. On one hand, this is a terrific solution to fulfill one's sexual needs, live in kedusha, and to replace the millions lost in the Holocaust.

On the other hand, it is usually fiscally irresponsible, as the wife works a job (probably a cash job) till she gets pregnant, and the husband continues learning in kollel. Without Medicaid, the costs of giving birth would be prohibitive.

So what's the solution? Even if the boys had a great high school secular education and didn't learn for 2 more years, they probably couldn't get a job at 18 that would pay decently and get insurance. And birth control isn't considered acceptable.

Something has to change, but I'm not sure what.

Notanon said...

Well done, Chana,I love this post! However, I would change the title to "Hasidic Society in New York". I'm as chasidic as they come and don't live in the USA (so please excuse my English :-)) , and I couldn't really relate to some things described in this post. Anyway, I'm looking forward to part 2!!
Bad 4, I'm a HUGE fan of your blog but frankly, now I'm disappointed in you. I honestly thought you were more open-minded than that, judging a whole society based ONE encounter. I've also had some negative experiences with yeshivish and MO couples, but as Chana says, there are happy and unhappy marriages in every society. The chassidic way of getting to know each other might seem strange to some people, but please keep in mind that each shidduch is eventually made by the Master Shadchan, no matter what way the couple meets.

Anonymous said...

One way in which hchassidish couples are different from very frum litvish couples is that the wife and husband will go on vacation- to florida or a shabbos away, with their friends and without their spouse

Anonymous said...

The difference between the two philosophies (sarcastic parody, but very true):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1sZu1u3BMI&feature=related

Anonymous said...

Not sure if your conclusions are true. I attended a lecture where the speaker, a doctor of psychology outline 6 kinds of marriages - the ones that are stormy, romantic, calm. All marriages can be classified in these ways. Surprisingly, his research showed that amongst chassidim, the same 6 kinds of marriages exist with the same percentage as in secular society. So just because the couple had bshos doesn't mean that they won't end up being the cutesy couple that makes you sick.

Stephaniedsnf said...

I agree with the latest comment; this is not a simple matter. Part of the impetus to go on Public Aid derives from the tremendous community pressure for these frum teenagers to get married at 18 or 19. On one hand, this is a terrific solution to fulfill one's sexual needs, live in kedusha, and to replace the millions lost in the Holocaust. On the other hand, it is usually fiscally irresponsible, as the wife works a job (probably a cash job) till she gets pregnant, and the husband continues learning in kollel. Without Medicaid, the costs of giving birth would be prohibitive. So what's the solution? Even if the boys had a great high school secular education and didn't learn for 2 more years, they probably couldn't get a job at 18 that would pay decently and get insurance. And birth control isn't considered acceptable. Something has to change, but I'm not sure what.