By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach for COLlive.com
Not long ago I sat with ten young women, aged 19 to 24, to ask them about their dating experiences. The consensus was that the men who take them out seem interested mostly in their looks before everything else. The girls who are super-thin get asked out first. Being of good character is important but of secondary concern. And you would think that the mothers of these men, being women themselves, would push their sons to dig deeper and see a woman’s beauty as being something other than just her body. But no, they are accomplices in this shallowness. The girls explained that when the mother of a prospective date called one of them to get a reference on a friend with whom their son was about to go out, the first questions usually pertained not to the girls’ character but to her shape and size.
Perhaps most disheartening was hearing about the complete reversal in what once was the natural order of dating. It is no longer the men who pursue the women and ask them out. It is now the women who chase the men, making them appear desperate while the men get to appear dignified.
These conclusions may not surprise you. No doubt you are rolling your eyes even now and wondering why I even bothered to state the obvious. Until I disclose that the conversation was with ten very frum girls who were describing what the Chassidic dating scene has descended to.
We can no longer close our eyes to the serious dating crisis in the religious community wherein a man and woman’s most important decision may be based on values that are inimical to Judaism. King Solomon may have declared, ‘Beauty is misleading but a woman who fears G-d should be praised,’ but we clearly think that he was just kidding when he wrote it.
The purpose of a Torah education is the inner transformation of a human being away from the prevailing mores of the secular culture and toward the convictions of a G-d-centered life. And the only way to discern whether a Yeshiva education in general, and a Chassidic education in particular, is having any impact is whether its products make decisions that reflect the Torah values that are at the center of their education. But we now face a situation in which religious girls feel that putting more time into applying make-up and buying clothes than davening and learning will guarantee them a good shidduch. And that is a conclusion which can forever blight the integrity of Jewish orthodoxy.
Frum Jewish men, often spurred on by their imperial and see-no-imperfection mothers, are becoming increasingly shallow and vain. They may study Gemara and Chassidus for fifteen years but clearly the light of a G-dly life is not necessarily penetrating their souls or altering their world-views.
Every day I receive tens of emails from complete strangers in the religious community asking me if I can suggest a shidduch for them. But the increasing superficiality in the frum dating scene has me often feeling despair, like the story a year ago when I was going to introduce a young yeshiva scholar with a razor-sharp intellect to a brilliant frum intellectual woman who seemed perfect for him. The day before they were meant to go out he called me to tell me he was cancelling the date. He had seen her picture on Facebook and decided he was not attracted to her. I was shocked. First, even by the most objective standards the girl is highly attractive. Second, the bochur did not even feel any shame in telling me that with the glance of a single picture he had dismissed the entire idea. The great intellectual who had written to me of how the most important thing to him was a girl who had scholarly Torah pursuits turned out to be an empty suit and yet another religious charlatan.
And where are the Yeshiva educators throughout this crisis? Can we really be proud of having raised a generation of future Rabbis who see skin and shape in a woman but seem oblivious to personality, mind, and spirit? Yes, I know physical attraction is extremely important in a relationship. But beauty dare never be defined in so corrupt and limiting a fashion as to preclude anything other than body parts. The Torah’s view of a woman’s beauty is glorious because it is holistic. It incorporates the softness of her voice (kol isha), the nurturing of her soul, and the wisdom of her uniquely feminine view of life. So how can a religious man whose years of education revolves around seeing the hidden within the obvious, the G-d who lurks beneath the veneer of nature, be so utterly blind to a woman’s soul? How can we in the Jewish community who love learning suddenly look at a woman and see all cover and no book?
About three years ago a young girl died in a Jerusalem seminary from anorexia. I penned an article that lamented the tragic consequences of poor body image on the part of even frum girls and how the frum community must educate boys and girls to have a much more holistic, and uniquely Jewish, view about beauty and how attraction is a composite between the body’s form and the soul’s light. The head of the seminary later got in touch through an intermediary and demanded an apology. I hade made a Chillul Hashem by writing the article, he contended.
No, I said. The only Chillul Hashem was a girl walking around stick-thin and nobody noticing because we have become so accustomed to a girl’s looks being her primary virtue, even in the Jewish religious world, that there was no other voice to tell her that her real radiance came from her inner beauty which was lost to the world when her luminous soul was tragically snuffed out.
We can and must do better. The Yarmulkes we wear, the tzitzis which swings from our sides, the beards that adorn our faces, are all statements of a belief in a higher truth and more lofty values, values whose highest manifestation lies in qualities possessed by the soulmate with whom we choose to share our lives.
– Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international best-selling author of twenty books. He is the host of a weekly national TV show on TLC called ‘Shalom in the Home’ and is the founder of ‘This World: The Jewish Values Network.’ www.shmuley.com