Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Shir HaShirim illustrates Orthodox divide re dating

I almost forgot to post this thought that occurred to me during the reading of Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs) in synagogue this past Saturday. (It's traditional to read Shir HaShirim in synagogue during Pesach/Passover.)

Note: I'm using the JPS translation.

Chapter 3, verses 2-3:

"' . . . I must seek the one I love.
I sought but found him not.
I met the watchmen
Who patrol the town.
'Have you seen the one I love?'"

This describes the Modern Orthodox and some of the more left-wing Centrists. Those seeking mates must seek them without much assistance. But there's not much interference, either, though there’s plenty of pressure to get married, I imagine.

Chapter 5, verses 6-7:

"I sought, but found him not;
I called, but he did not answer.
I met the watchmen
Who patrol the town;
They stuck me, they bruised me.
The guards of the walls
Stripped me of my mantle."

This describes the Yeshivish and Chareidi, and some of the more right-wing Centrists. It's "pas nisht"( it isn't done), among most folks in this segment of the Orthodox community, for a person to seek a mate independently. Everyone, male and female, must go through the shidduch (matchmaking) system. Every date must be "redt." I'm not sure of the exactly translation of that Yiddish word, but, I gather, judging by the way it's used, that it means "checked and approved as an appropriate person to date, meeting your requirements for a potential spouse." (Nobody in that world dates just for fun.) In that segment of the Orthodox community, it's considered scandalous for an individual to so much as speak to a person of the opposite sex who's not known to be a member of the speaker’s family, unless such a conversation is necessary. The watchmen/shadchanim (matchmakers) "patrol the town." (An extreme and irresponsible minority within the Chareidi community who, apparently, consider themselves “guards of the walls” between males and females, has even been known to strike women who have the unmitigated chutzpah/gall to sit in the wrong place on buses in some neighborhoods in Israel, stripping them of their mantles of dignity.)

I find it interesting that a poem written roughly 2,000 years ago so nicely illustrates certain aspects of the current Orthodox community.



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