Is Being Single Acceptable in the Jewish Community?

SingleBy David Jacobson

I am now a married man. And although I could extol the virtues of being married, and the miraculous transformation of body and soul that occurs with this union, I am dedicating this column to all those singles out there in the various Jewish communities.

At a recent International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Uruguay, I coined the term ‘the tyranny of singlehood.’ I was referring to the Jewish community being naturally and neatly organised around couples, leaving only an uncomfortable space for those who are single. From simchas at shuls, to schmoozing at Shabbat dinners, those of us who are ‘un-paired’ can often feel wholly like a gefilte fish out of water. Although I doubt it is intentional, the intense and consistent concentration in the Jewish community on the importance of marriage does have the unfortunate consequence of rendering those who are not married to being ‘half class citizens’. So much energy is heaped upon how to find a partner, on how to keep a partner, on creating the perfect wedding, on having the perfect marriage, and then on ‘being fruitful and multiplying.’ The Jewish simcha calendar is overflowing with engagement parties, aufrufs, weddings, baby showers, brit milahs and naming ceremonies. This leaves scant energy left to address the increasing growing reality of being single by circumstance or, even those who are happily single by choice. Well-meaning Rabbis and others invited singles to their homes for Shabbat or Pesach, where they are a minority of one in a sea of happy twos. Even though the intention is so very humane, the result can be so very humiliating. I know because I was one such ‘one’ many times.

I am not in any way trying to demean the spiritual significance to the Keddushin of Marriage, and I would happily champion its intrinsic and incalculable merits day and night. I am speaking solely and only about its social consequence.

The Jewish religion’s obsession with marriage, born out of the very first chapter of Genesis and repeated intermittently throughout both the Tanach and Talmud, has created an overwhelming “culture of couples.” Although a great deal is done to create events for singles, the aim of these events is to ‘cure’ these unhappy souls of their half-class affliction instead of inviting them to be part of the community as equals. And the consequence is that many young (and not so young) single Jews, opt to rather stay away from communal Jewish spaces to avoid having their solitary status viewed as the scarlet letter Chai.

We gave the world ethical monotheism and we worship the one G-d – but yet ‘one’ is only seen as half a number when it comes to humans. I wonder why.

David Jacobson is the executive director of the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies.