Forget Your ‘Bashert,’ God Has Made You Millions To Choose From

One Rabbi Doesn’t Teach About ‘The One’ in the Age of Choice

By Micah Kelber

Published October 14, 2009, issue of October 23, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Massechet Sotah in the Babylonian Talmud is not the best place to look for perspectives that contemporary Jews hold on relationships. In fact, you’d imagine that such a tractate would be about as informative as the book of Leviticus is on contemporary attitudes of dinner etiquette.

Genrikh Bukhsbaum, “Besherte”
Genrikh Bukhsbaum, “Besherte”

But there on the very first page of Sotah is something that many people have been taught from an early age and still believe, despite its roundly antiquated hold on love, dating and committed relationships: “Forty days before the creation of a child, a voice from heaven issues forth and proclaims, the daughter of so-and-so will go to so-and-so….”

This suggestion that even before we are born, God determines the one person whom we are going to marry — the concept of bashert — is unproductive and, quite frankly, oppressive to coupled and single Jews alike.

If you are in a relationship or a marriage, the notion of bashert is liable to make you profoundly question whether you are with your intended. While there’s nothing wrong with such questioning, from time to time, couching it in terms of the notion of bashert can usher in regret or even panic — encouraging you to ignore the failings of a relationship or to celebrate, disproportionately, the present stage of your love.

The emphasis on finding “the one” also creates, unnecessarily, a hierarchy of past relationships. But just because you didn’t end up with this man or that woman doesn’t mean that a part of your life was insignificant — or even that a past relationship was less significant than a current one. That night in Morocco and that morning in Nice can matter independently of whether you have since stood under a chupah with someone else.

It is also important to note that the Talmud brings up another source that suggests the concept of bashert applies only to first marriages. So what if your first marriage didn’t work out? Does that mean that God was wrong? Or wicked? To this end, one cannot help but think about Abraham, Hagar and Sarah. If we buy into this notion at all, who was the bashert for Abraham? Sarah, because she was the first wife and the woman with whom the covenant was fulfilled? Or Hagar, because, according to Rashi, she ended up with Abraham after Sarah’s death?

The Talmudic concept of a single bashert presupposes a disappointingly narrow view of love, people and of God. Beautiful, productive and supporting relationships can surely be made with lots of different people, especially as we change throughout our lives.

Meanwhile, if you’re not currently in a romantic relationship, the concept of bashert also puts unnecessary pressure on you to find “the one.”

While it might be nice to believe “there is someone out there waiting for me,” this belief can also induce terrible loneliness. If God’s responsibility is only to assign people to each other, but not to bring them together, then the fact that you have not found your so-called intended is either quite disappointing or quite amusing to God; it reminds me of the uncle that can’t believe you can’t find the afikomen, when he has taped it to your back.

Indeed, the notion of bashert can also feel like lazy thinking. It is one thing to feel grateful for a relationship; it is quite another to think that you somehow managed to find “the one” just by being at The Edison on the right night or by not getting into Yale. It seems to be too deterministic for a religion whose system of commandments requires a continual confirmation of free will. We wouldn’t say, “The car or job or education I ended up getting is the one I was supposed to have.” So why would we say it with something as important as our love life?

As a fantasy, there’s something nice about thinking that maybe right down the block, sitting in that charming little wine bar, smiling through a book of short stories, your bashert waits. It’s good to imagine the romance of possibility and maybe that’s what the authors of Massechet Sotah were doing as well. But within this notion that God makes only one person for you exists the maddening possibility that instead of being right there down the block, that person could be an expat in Shanghai — waiting and waiting and still waiting.

Does God hand out plane fare to help us get to China? Arrange extra time off from work? Make sure she’s at her table sipping her claret instead of across the street counting out her yuan when you arrive? Does God make her say hello? Does God remind you to match your socks? Or whisper to you to unmatch them because she finds that charming?

“The one” is a fantasy, but the reality that there are so many scenarios from which enduring love could emerge is so much more exciting than the fantasy. So, in this age of quantum physics, can we stop talking about bashert — and start talking about its plural, *bashertim?

All this is not to say that if or when you finally decide to make a different kind of commitment to someone that you won’t reorganize your life in an attempt to derive something that is different from that relationship, and that will feel particularly special; we make people special by making special commitments. But it might just be more helpful for everyone if God kept that “voice from heaven” in heaven.

Micah Kelber is a writer and freelance rabbi in Brooklyn. He is currently writing a screenplay about divorce in New York in the 1940s.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.