Sharing the Joy of Separating the Sexes

By Wendy Belzberg

Published March 14, 2003, issue of March 14, 2003.

I used to be promiscuous in my dress and behavior. I have since embarked on a religious journey and have discovered the benefits of no physical contact with men and modest dress. This has boosted my self-esteem and confidence and helped me form meaningful relationships with others, particularly with men. I’d like to suggest a similar philosophy to a non-Jewish friend of mine, but I’m not sure how to do so without proselytizing.

— A modest proposal?

If Calvin Klein or Nicole Miller were having a sale, would you tell your friend or would you worry that she might think you were suggesting a makeover?

The good news is that your friend is not Jewish. Therefore she cannot interpret your message as a push to (re)discover her Jewish roots. You can share your change in behavior and your new feelings of self-esteem just as you pass along a good read. And if it helps, the press is full of headlines about young people choosing to abstain from sex before marriage. This choice often has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the cheapening of sex and its impact on the individual. Your intentions are good. Your friend will recognize your advice for what it is — genuine concern and the desire to share your newfound self-respect — even if she does not choose to follow your advice or example.

* * *

Our family belongs to both the Orthodox and Conservative synagogues in our city. I feel more at home in the Orthodox shul and have been on the board for the past four years. My wife is uncomfortable with Orthodox Judaism because of the mechitza and the distinction between the roles of men and women. Occasionally I attend services with her at the Conservative synagogue. We have let our children decide for themselves. Our two older children chose to have their bar mitzvahs in the Orthodox shul; our youngest daughter became a bat mitzvah at the Conservative synagogue.

I have been approached to put my name forward for the presidency of the Orthodox shul. My wife does not want me to take on the presidency and says she will not attend services with me. I would like her to go along with me on this one for a two-year term but am reluctant to do so without her support. What do you think I should do?

— Split decision

Good marriages are based on mutual respect. You have been splitting your time between the two synagogues until this point without conflict and are wise enough to have allowed your children to do the same. Why does this have to change? I would strongly advise against giving up something that is important to you (that does not rock the foundation of your marriage) for the sake of your wife.

That said, your situation is a messy one. Attending one shul on Jewish holidays while your wife attends another does not strike me as a viable plan. The board members will have to accept that the president’s seat on the bima will be empty on some high-profile occasions. All this would have to be discussed and agreed upon up front — a feat I would rank somewhere between negotiating a peace treaty in the Middle East and your family’s annual budget. Good luck.



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