By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
There was a remarkable Talmid Chochom who, by all accounts, represented serious Rosh Yeshiva material. He plummeted the depths of Gemorah and halacha. He was fully fluent in Chassidus and the pathways of Litvishe Mussar. He authored numerous seforim, had exemplary midos, and had all the qualities of great leadership leadership.
But, this remarkable individual was unjustifiably marginalized like so many others in our community. Why? Because he was single and faced a dirty little secret that exists in our community. That secret is best explained and understood with a term from the lingua-franca of the yeshiva world:
We are not “gorais” single people – both “single women” and “single men.”
And just in time for Rosh HaShana, and the aseres yemei Teshuvah, the OU has issued a remarkable and ground-breaking study, telling us just how to address this problem.
The authors who conducted the research were Matt Williams, Michelle Shain, Guila Benchimol, Channah Cohen and Elisha Penn. They also conceived of the study, design the study, collected and analyzed all the data, wrote it, revised it and revised it again and again. And, to use contemporary parlance – “they nailed it.”
These authors (and the OU itself) deserve a tremendous yasher koach. What they discovered could be a new set of “al chaits” in vidui – all involving an abnegation of the remarkable mitzvah of v’ahavta larayacha kamocha.
- Al chait that we have caused single men and single women to feel a sense of loneliness during their search for a shidduch and thus negated this Mitzvah.
- Al chait that we have made the single men and single women in our community feel invisible, blamed, and judged.
- Al chait that we have treated them like children.
- Al chait that we have inadvertently hurt them and have criticized, degraded, and dismissed them.
These four “al chaits” could actually be put on a Post-It note when we recite the vidui for the Mitzvos assei and lo saaseh. [This is what the Chayei Odom essentially did when he applied contemporary examples for the other al chaits.]
The OU report respectfully has brought this issue front and center and seeks answers to five crucial questions:
- How can we recognize single men and women as full, adult members of our community, rather than treating them like “boys” and “girls”?
- What changes to language and behaviors, on both an individual and communal level, would convey this recognition?
- How can we create a place for belonging within the Torah community for those who are searching for a spouse, and for those who perhaps may not find one?
- How can we expand communal structures and roles to include single people?
- How can we offer single men and women opportunities to learn more about relationships, as they so desire?
Essentially, the report’s recommendations are:
- We need to increase the conversation. We have organizations for addictions, for fertility issues, (even for people in prison) – but this issue has not been adequately addressed
- We have to first appreciate who they are and not refer to them disrespectfully by calling them “boys” or “girls.” Even the term “singles” identifies them by this one description – and they are so much more.
- Invite single men and women for Shabbos and Yom Tov meals more frequently and to do so with much greater and more attuned sensitivity. It should not be a “chessed project” but as friends, and it should not be an after-thought, chalilah.
- We should avoid offering unsolicited advice betachlis harichuk.
- We have to realize that “I am happy to have you, call if you ever need a meal” is not the way to go.
THIS AUTHOR’S SUGGESTION
If possible, at the very first shul and school board meeting of the year 5784, this issue should be placed on the agenda. Every board member should read the report and try to create programming to address this long-ignored issue. It should also be the topic of conversation perhaps at our Rosh haShana meals.
The full 27 page report can be read here:
Oh, and what happened to the individual mentioned at the beginning of this article? He did get married, Baruch Hashem.
The author can be reached at [email protected]