I’m super excited to host this installment of “Orthodox Women Talk,” a revolving blog-hosting co-op by some of my bloggie friends. Each session features a different question, and we all pipe in with our respective views. Today’s question is:
How does Judaism shape your marriage?
I met my husband shortly after I went to Israel on Birthright. I had put a note in the Western Wall asking for a good relationship and he came into my life less than a month later. Bashert, right?!? I had wanted to do more with Judaism after I came back and his friend (who set us up) told me he went to synagogue every Shabbat. At the time, I was Reform and he was Conservative. When we first started talking, he asked me if I’d like to go to Shabbat services with him sometime. After we had started dating a few weeks, we went to a Shabbat morning service together and then it just became a regular thing. We also went to a monthly Shabbat dinner program in Chicago called Makor and later tried to start a program like that for the suburbs. While the program we planned didn’t work out as well, we eventually just hosted our friends for Shabbat meals every so often. We also started searching for a synagogue to start attending regularly. While all of this was going on, we had attended his brother’s wedding in early 2003. His brother is Ba’al Tshuva and frum. We liked a lot of the rituals and traditions from his wedding and took on most of them for ours. We also started gradually easing our way into keeping Kosher after we got engaged. Our wedding was completely Kosher, as a symbolic way of how we wanted our marriage to start out. After we got married, I took family purity lessons from a local Chabad Rebbetzin. With family purity, we also slowly eased our way into the process. When we started having children, we gave them all Hebrew names and while we revealed my older son’s name to a few close family members and friends, we didn’t tell everyone we knew and let them first find out at the bris. When we saw how meaningful it was for my mother-in-law to first hear his name at that time, we decided to completely withhold our younger son’s name until his bris. We also let our boys grow out their hair and had upsherins. The other process we slowly eased our way into was becoming Shomer Shabbos. After we moved to a more observant community, we became completely Shomer Shabbos and there was no turning back at that point. Overall, I love that our marriage has been so entwined with our Jewish growth. We grew together at a pace we were both comfortable with, which I feel allowed us to appreciate each step of growth along the way. I sometimes take it for granted how our marriage to each other and our path to our level of Jewish observance is all connected, so it was nice to have an opportunity to talk about it here, drinking in each step of the process once again and looking back at how far we’ve come in the 13 years of our courtship, engagement, and marriage.
Melissa Amster lives in Maryland (DC Metro area) with her husband, two sons and daughter. When she’s not reading and interviewing authors for her book blog, she works for a Jewish non-profit. In her spare time (what’s that?!?), she likes to watch her favorite shows on TV, bake challah and desserts, and host meals and other gatherings. Check out her personal blog and follow her on Twitter.
Judaism shapes my marriage in so many ways, I don’t even know where to start.
OK, I’ll start with the value of marrying young. Not everyone who wants to marry young can, but I was blessed. My husband and I were each other’s first date. We literally grew up together. I mean, I think we’re grownups now… I was 18 and he was 22 when we ventured on our first “shidduch” date – a date set up by family or friends, vetted by parents, for the purpose of marriage.
Here’s another: the value of marriage as a holy thing, a thing of eternity, of supreme, spiritual value. A thing that comes before your kids, before your friends, even before your parents. A thing that’s worth working on every day. There are literally hundreds of classes available in Jewish communities on marriage and working on it. It even has a name: shalom bayis – literally, peace in the home, but used mostly to describe marital harmony.
Our marriage is compared in Jewish tradition to the Holy Temple, to the Divine Presence, to the giving of the very Torah at Sinai. Whoa! How does Judaism shape my marriage?
How doesn’t it?
Ruchi Koval is the co-founder and associate director of the Jewish Family Experience, a family education center and Sunday school located in Cleveland, Ohio. She is also a certified parenting coach, runs character-development groups for women, and is a motivational speaker, author, and blogger. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, putting on an Israeli accent, playing piano while singing loudly, and organizing closets. She does not enjoy cooking or sweeping the floors. She loves doughnuts and is currently trying not to eat them. Ruchi’s first book, “Service of the Heart,” is due out this fall.
Judaism is the foundation underlying our marriage in a huge way. When my husband and I met, we were both ba’alei teshuva, or people who had decided as adults to live an Orthodox lifestyle. We were looking for someone to help us form the frum (religious) family we had never actually been part of, and talking about our religious values and how we wanted to live our lives was a big part of our dating process.
I really admire the way my husband has taught himself so much about Judaism in just a few years–people usually have no idea that he didn’t grow up religious because he has “caught up” so much in terms of textual knowledge. Judaism is the shared dream we had in mind when we stood under the chuppah (marriage canopy) almost seven (!!!) years ago, and it’s the dream we still chase, day after day, even when life has gotten more stressful over the years and that dream can feel far away. Ultimately, the two biggest relationships of my life have been with G-d and with my husband. Both of those relationships have challenges, and ebbs and flows, but they are both the foundation of who I am and what I’m trying to do in this world.
Keshet Starr is an Orthodox wife and mom who works as an attorney and moonlights as a scrapbooker, blogger, photographer, baker, reader, writer, and lover of all things creative! She lives in New Jersey with her fellow-attorney husband and two young children. When she isn’t taking care of her to-do list, indulging in a hobby, or sipping a hot latte, she likes to think about the deeper things in life and connect with others. Keshet blogs at www.keshetstarr.com and Instagrams at @keshetstarr.
I met my husband because we were two out of only three people who kept Shabbos in our teacher-training program. The program made a special make-up class on Sundays just for the two of us to replace a class that met monthly on Saturdays.
After the class was over, we stayed friends. My sister and I lived together at the time and invited my now-husband over for Shabbos along with other singles, and for holidays, too. When he finally asked me out, then popped the question, it was only after checking to see if we were on the same page in how we wanted to integrate Judaism in our lives (planning to keep a kosher home, keep Shabbos and all holidays, educate our children in day schools, etc.).
From the get-go, we attended classes about Jewish marriage and read books by rabbis and teachers with expertise on the subject along with the secular titles that our teachers suggested.
I have to say that a big difference in our marriage vs. the marriage a couple whose marriage isn’t Torah-centered is Taharat HaMishpacha (the laws of family purity). Because we cannot touch for half the month (with exceptions like during pregnancy and nursing), we’ve had no choice but to learn how to communicate verbally. If we have an emotional need at those times we can’t touch, it has to be verbally articulated, or shared in writing or in non-sexual action. Taharat HaMishpacha can sometimes be annoying, but more often it adds excitement to the “touching” half of the month.
Also, the existence of Shabbos makes sure we have a day every week to connect without distractions. My husband sings Eishes Chayil, and it makes me feel that the housework and cooking and childcare that I do is truly appreciated by him, even if some people look down upon these tasks as menial.
Something that observant Jews share with devout members of many other religions is that our marriage has a mission. In our case, that mission is to create a home that brings G-dliness into the world and for each of us to help the other develop our unique paths to serving G-d. While this mission-orientation is something we share with members of other faiths, my husband and I have largely worked on our mission through a particularly Jewish tool, the study of mussar.
Rebecca Klempner is a wife, mom, and writer living in L.A. Her picture book, A Dozen Daisies for Raizy, appeared in 2008, and her short stories and essays have appeared in publications including Tablet Magazine, Binah, Hamodia, and Ami. Her current serial for teens and tweens, “Glixman in a Fix,” appears weekly in Binah BeTween.
Honestly, I’m not sure how much it does shape it other than being a marriage made up of two orthodox Jews with certain religious obligations. Judaism shapes our priorities and our actions, but that would happen whether I were single or married. If anything, Judaism has provided the “do we make aliyah or not?” discussion, which continues to challenge us as a couple. If I were single, I could make my decision without worrying about someone else. I don’t think many non-Jewish couples have to seriously face the question of whether they should (or may even be religiously obligated to) move to another country, language, and culture.
Obviously, Judaism does limit our physical relationship, but I think “how does niddah affect your life?” is a different question altogether and doesn’t always involve my husband. Most of the problems there are solely in my head or alone in my bathroom.
Judaism affected how I dated and what I valued in a potential mate, but that’s not specific to Judaism: the evangelical Christian movement for “courtship” reflects many of the same goals and expectations. I think that friends (and even my therapist) are surprised that such a short and non-physical relationship could create such a good match and happy marriage (which I’m very lucky to have!). But when I explain the emphasis on deeper issues and carefully considering whether this person is compatible with your future, they have all agreed that my approach sounded very pragmatic. Maybe not romantic, but practical. And there was still plenty of romance because you can never totally negate the effect of hormones! I’m lucky I found a great husband so quickly, but if it weren’t him, I could have used the same strategies to find someone else I could love and respect the rest of my life and build a great relationship with. I believe love is grown over time, though I didn’t expect to love my husband as much as I did when we married after knowing each other only 8 months. Was that a true love or infatuation? Probably a little of both despite the short timeline, since I knew I had found someone with good character and a compatible personality.
As always, I’ll include the disclaimer that we don’t yet have children. However, I don’t see how children would change the perspective I describe above. We’ll approach parenting in a Jewish way with different priorities and actions, but essentially no different from any other loving parent and no different than we would if we were single parents instead of a married couple.
Skylar Bader is an orthodox convert living in New York City. She wears many hats, which you can check out at www.skylarbader.com. She blogs at crazyjewishconvert.blogspot.com, teaches conversion candidates and kallahs, and is also a lawyer for small businesses. Originally from the South, she has four pets and an addiction to books.