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Women's Issues

Women in Judaism

A Woman Without Marriage

Question: We’re commanded to ‘be fruitful and multiply’, and Jewish life is centered around the family. My daughter has a chronic skin condition that makes her look very unsightly. Although she is already 28, she has not actively sought a mate (largely because of her condition), and fears that if she consciously puts all her time into her business and volunteer work, and forgoes dating, she’d be willfully neglecting this commandment. In fact, she feels that she is evil because of this. I tell her that it’s not as if she has decidedly rejected the prospect of a family, of marriage and children; but to no avail. What would you say?

Answer: The commandment to marry and have children has a number of components. On the one hand, the Torah advises a man (although, this particular advice is not binding) to break away from his parents and attach himself to his wife (see Gen. 2: 24). One might conclude from this that most, or perhaps all, human beings will only find full happiness and fulfillment in marriage. A man (though, according to tradition, not a woman) is actually commanded to marry and have children (at least one boy and one girl) through the passage “be fruitful and multiply”. But there seems to be a further declaration of God’s intent for the world in Isaiah (45:18), where all His creatures are told that creation requires our participation in filling the earth.

The subtle distinctions between these various passages has allowed God fearing people throughout the generations to find a variety of expressions of God’s will. Obviously, the greatest opportunities for happiness will likely be found within marriage, but there have always been individuals, responding to unusual circumstances, who have found fulfillment, and even greatness, in a more solitary existence.

Therefore, I would suggest that your daughter can certainly not be considered evil in any way for considering living her life without her own family. It seems fair that she should make some effort to find a husband – there are, indeed, special young men out there who themselves have experienced challenges in life, and who would be extra sensitive to the important aspects of life— rather than what’s superficial. But if that somehow doesn’t work out, your daughter is fully justified in looking for meaning and success in other fields.

I wish you both the very best in this!

Rabbi Boruch Clinton

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