Monday, August 18, 2008

Staying in the Haredi World is Good for Your Sex Life (Part II)

I can easily imagine my own life and the paths I did not take. I grew up identifying myself as Haredi. I started high school in Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. Now even at this point, I was hardly a poster child for the Haredi world; I had a library card to the Brooklyn Public library and I read loads of secular literature. I also read R’ Avigdor Miller and listened to his tapes, but that was mainly to yell at him. In essence, I was, at that point, not that different from my two Haredi friends; I lived within the Haredi world and more or less behaved myself, though, on certain relatively minor matters, I bent the rules. Now over the course of my high school years, as I came to the realization that I was separated from the Haredi world, I made a decision to cease to identify with the Haredi world and to openly break with it. This is an ongoing process, one that, even today, I am still coming to terms with. (Much of my thinking can be classified in terms of I have rejected the Haredi world and now have to figure out where to go from here.)

I could have made a different decision. I could have, like my friends, continued to operate within the Haredi world, saying the right things and going through the right motions. I am certainly capable of living up to the Haredi lifestyle. Like my friends, I could have done all this while bending certain rules and continuing to read secular books to my heart’s content. My rebellion was very minor; it is not as if I was interested in watching explicit television shows and listening to rap music.

If had done this, come my early twenties, I would have been down in the Haredi matchmaking system as a nice smart yeshiva boy from a good family, a nice catch for any Haredi girl. The Haredi matchmaking system would have been particularly beneficial to me since it could have avoided the problems that arise due to my Asperger Syndrome. I am a smart, funny, and charming person, particularly over short periods of time. There is no reason why I could not have charmed a Haredi girl for a month or two, enough that she would have agreed to marry me. (What might have happened next is a different matter. She would have probably realized, after a few months of being married to me, that I did not relate to people in a normal fashion. At best I could hope that she would stick with the marriage as long as I never gave her a concrete reason to divorce me. As for me, one of the advantages of having Asperger Syndrome is that, while relationships are difficult for me, I do not need human relationships to the same extent that other people do. Admittedly, this would hardly be an ideal situation.)

I did not follow this path and I have paid a price for it. In another fifteen years, I can be the butt of the punch line of a certain film starring Steve Carrell. I do not regret the choices I have made. I wonder, though, if my teenage self would have made the same choice if he knew where it would lead. I have a hard time justifying telling moderately rebellious Haredi teenagers to disassociate themselves from the Haredi world and enter the nebulous world of the various Modern Orthodoxies; the price is simply too high.

If you think I am going over the top here, I will point out that the yeshivas themselves openly play on this. In high school, I constantly heard rabbis tell guys that if they learned and were good bnai Torah they would get a good shidduch, marriage match. Let us translate this phrase into teenage boy: play along with the system and do what you are told and we will help you get laid in a few years. For moderately rebellious teenagers, people doing things that outside of the Haredi world not even count as rebellion, this is a hard deal to turn down. Keep in mind that we are dealing with observant Jews here, who are not considering going outside of Orthodoxy, so their sexual opportunities are limited. If they leave the Haredi world then they are going to have to play by Modern Orthodox rules and that means that they are likely going to have to delay sexual gratification. Furthermore, we are likely going to be dealing with people who lack the social skills for conventional dating. I certainly did not have them. (I still do not have them, though I like to think that I am learning.)

To clarify matters, I am not arguing that my Haredi friends stayed in the Haredi world simply for sex, though sex is a big enough issue that one cannot pretend innocence. Particularly, considering the tactics used by rabbis to keep people in line. I would see the issue of sex as simply one example of the Rodney Stark model of religion at work. A clearly defined society, such as the Haredi world, offers certain social advantages to those remaining in the fold that has nothing to do with ideology. To the extent that it might even be in one's interest to be part of such a society even if one is not a full believer.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you have an e-mail address where can reach you...I'm the anonymous commenter who is researching Venetian Jews...

Izgad said...

Beezeenc@aol.com

anon said...

Izgad,gow do you id yourself religiously? Also,are you not planning to form a relationship with a woman who will understand you/your needs in the future?

Izgad said...

Anon
I think of myself as someone who is right wing Modern Orthodox in practice, but left wing Modern Orthodox/Conservadox in my thinking. I am Shomer and if I see someone immodestly dressed or engaging in a PDA I will turn away. My theology, though, is probably pretty close to Godol Hador, though I would try to explain things in a less aggressive and a less polemical manner. No, this does not put me in a good situation in terms of finding someone. I would like to find a girl and get married. Until very recently there was someone I thought I was going to be marrying, but she had other ideas. The fact that I also have Asperger Syndrome and depression certainly does not help either.
I am always open to suggestions.