Should a Single Observant Woman in Her 30s Consider a Non Observant Spouse?

Last week, Rachel, a columnist in the Jewish Press (Chronicles of Crises in Our Communities), published a letter from an older single in which she is considering marry a not yet observant spouse. Here is a relevant excerpt:

Recently I started dating someone who is considering becoming religious, to conduct a Torah household when he is married; however, not at this point in time. This is someone I truly like and can see myself with. He is kind, generous, smart, funny, honest, serious and mature. What do I do? He is not the type of person that comes around often. I am not oblivious to the consequences when children are in the picture; education and lifestyle need to be considered. I would like to raise them in a similar fashion to my upbringing, but I know that I will have to take a chance with their religious education.

I have finally met someone whom I can relate to and admire and can live with what more can I consider right now? I am aware that it is usually the more religious minded partner in a relationship who will end up changing, rather than the “left”-minded one. I just have to make a decision – knowing that there is the realistic probability that I may not have Shabbos Zemiros or Torah conversations at the table. Perhaps I will need to compromise more on the actual halachos than the Spirit of the law.

I am taking the risks quite seriously and the pros on my list do not outweigh the cons. This is something many of the women of my generation are considering and yes, it is sad in a way, that dating has come to this point. But what am I to do?

This week, Rachel published her response to the writer in which she seems to advise against marrying a non observant man.

Here is a relevant excerpt:

You claim to be G-d-fearing, religious and serious. Surely, then, you take your religion seriously. You feel that matchmakers are not as concerned with you (older singles) as with the younger generation. Do you mean to say that you have actually entertained the thought that your Maker, the Arbiter of all matchmakers, is less interested in you than in the younger generation? Believe purely and simply that nothing is beyond His capability; beseech Him purely and simply to guide you in the right direction; rely on Him whole- heartedly to lead you where you were meant to go and He will relieve you of the enormous burden of uncertainty.

If all your friend can offer is a “maybe one day I’ll think about becoming observant,” your projection as to how your future with him will play out may prove prophetic. Notwithstanding that the choice is yours to make, be forewarned that the consequences of that choice will be with you a lifetime − and the hands of the clock cannot ever be turned back.

If it is children you yearn for, consider the option of becoming a foster or adoptive parent to a child who has already been brought into the world but has been shortchanged and is in desperate need of a mother’s love and nurturing. The satisfaction and benefits of such an arrangement can be vastly fulfilling.

I was in a similar situation (although divorced and with kids) and I did marry a non-observant man. He is still not observant. We are an older couple so we have no children together. All our previous kids are now grown up.

Do you agree with Rachel? What would you do?

– Phyllis

17 comments on “Should a Single Observant Woman in Her 30s Consider a Non Observant Spouse?

  1. I too vote with Menachem. With one caveat:

    Not every BT’s religiosity is really a “core” value. Many times they have crossed a certain line in Halachic commitment but in their hearts they’re still working through many values and dreams. Hence if a woman feels she is “truly compatable” with a man who dreams of being eventually in a similar place as she is now, as that letter indicates, it’s not so simple to talk her out of this in the name of avoiding “disharmony.”

    As I’m sure you know, Menachem, there are plenty of couples striding along the same path of Halacha who are far from harmonious!

    So the question is not so much whether this man shares her present religiosity but if that religiosity is a CORE value for her.

    No question that the IDEAL is for all marriages to share as many core values as possible. But this gal is feeling that reality is forcing her to limit the ideal to the bare minimum. Perhaps “true compatability” with the dream to be religios like her is a legitimate b’dieved.

  2. I agree with Nora’s comments. Endorsing single motherhood as an “alternative” to marriage is just downright shocking. Frankly, I don’t understand why the Jewish Press continues to run the “Dear Rachel” column. I wrote about advice she gave to someone worried about families spending funds they didn’t have on Chinese Auctions where she dismissed the letter writer’s valid concern saying “everyone knows his/her own limits.” Anyone who has dealt with a debtor or gambler (and I can count myself in that group now through some employment experiences) knows that certain people do NOT know their limits and need serious help. A person who doesn’t understand such realities really should not be writing a self-help column. I think this excerpt is another reason why this column is not based in seichel.

    Here is my post on the other piece of questionable advice:

  3. From personal experience in counseling baalei teshuvah in their dating experiences as well as people already married and trying to grow in yiddishkeit without the support of their spouses, I must submit that first and foremost, a marriage partner needs to share our values and dreams more than anything else. If there is no compatibility in our core values, we are heading into a life filled with disharmony.
    Don’t make the mistake of marrying someone who doesnt share your core religious and moral values. To feel that you are compatible in every area but religion is a blind blunder. Because your values permeate every facet of who you are. It cannot be compartmentalized.
    My two cents, based on my experience.

  4. Veering from the main comments discussion for a moment, I have to say I was pretty taken aback at the suggestion that this woman, probably in her early to mid-30’s, consider single motherhood as a rational alternative to marrying a Jewish man she was mostly compatible with (save for the matter of religious practice). Is this really the route we want to travel – suggesting that intentional single parenting is a preferable choice to a somewhat imperfect in-marriage? Perhaps she should and perhaps she shouldn’t marry this fellow. But to suggest that single unwed motherhood is a preferable choice is thoughtless advice at best.

  5. In the book Lieutenant Birnbaum, he discusses the fact that his mother was frum and his father was not. And he mentions that such marriages were quite common in those days, pre WWII. His mother stipulated that she must have full discretion regarding their children’s education and he agreed. I think that such a precondition could go a long way to making things work.

    One also needs to be careful to not have too much “yesh” in their own ruchnius. Sometimes we imagine that we are entitled to lots of things. We might need to learn to settle a little bit more. This goes for all people looking for a spouse.

    Without knowing more details, my feeling is that if a woman is getting older, and really wants to have a family, she should be open to a non-frum man. Provided that he allows her to educate the children religiously, and of course keep hilchos niddah, and won’t otherwise interfere.

  6. When they met,my mother a”h was religious, my father a”h was not. He really wanted to marry her, and she wanted to marry him as well, but she felt that she could not marry someone who was not shomer shabbos. My father agreed to keep shabbos, kashrus, and taharas hamishpacha in order to be able to marry her, ending her objection. Over the many years of their marriage, my father became a true baal teshuva, for whom Torah was more important than anything,and their children are all frum.However,had my father not been willing to keep Shabbos for my mother’s sake, the marriage would not have happened.

  7. I am inclined to think such a marriage could work, but it’s hard to say so without more details — will this man commit to learning regularly with a rabbi? Will he keep taharat hamishpacha? How will religious disputes be addressed? There are so many variables.

    However, the advice to adopt seems misguided. If this woman truly wants to get married, would becoming a single mother help or hinder than goal?

  8. He sounds like a really nice guy and it would be too bad to pass him up. Maybe try setting some ground rules, essentials like day schoool for the kids, no public hillul shabbos, a kosher home etc and see how he feels. I have a friend who became frum late in life without her husban and they remained married for close to thirty years that way. Sadly two out of three of their kids aren’t frum but the one who is has given her six grand children plus a great grandchild. Good luck

  9. Rishona–I was (and am right now) typing from my iPhone, which is more difficult than normal keyboards. I wrote FFB because it was easier to type and it’s what I assumed the single person in question was. But you’re right. I would advise an established BT the same way as I would a FFB. I mentionedderech because that’s the scenario in question. Someone who is not or is no longer frum wouldn’t be concerned with what the single person in question is concerned about.

    DY–I mentioned my own situation only to point out that unlike many people who are considering how to advise similarly situated singles, I live the scenario the single is considering every day.

  10. I don’t have any easy answers, but I would like to suggest that DY’s strong opinion that the letter writer is not really strongly frum, does not seem to take into account that the letter writer already understands that she is in a less-than-desirable (bdi eved) position, but she has to balance out compromising on “identity” issues with the very real and frightening possibility of never marrying anyone else if she continues to hold out for what she really wants. She said she connects with this man very strongly, as opposed to the other, more frum, men she has dated.

    I would not conclude from this that she is not strong in her identity. Rather, she is entertaining this possibility out of a sense of desperation and desire to build a Jewish family, an inherently positive impulse.

    My suggestion would be to date him longer and see if he would at least agree to Jewish education for future children. Why not take him to a Gateways or Discovery seminar or at least a Shabbos event, and see if it strikes any chords? So many people “reject” Judaism without really knowing what it is they are rejecting.

    I do not agree with Rachel that her best choice is to foster or adopt a child, without being married. If she can, she should marry a Jewish man and bring children into the world.

  11. Fortunately for me, my wife didn’t listen to the advice she received about me, since I was non-observant at the time, and never said I’d become observant. Now she jokes that I’m more observant than her. But of course that doesn’t happen for everyone. For me, it was the addition of kids that made the difference ( But again, that’s no guarantee that it works that way for others.

    Sorry, I guess this doesn’t really provide answers, but just wanted to say that sometimes it does work.

  12. Fern –

    Just curious; why does it matter if someone is FFB, BT, ger or anything else? If they are on the derech, and living a Torah observant life, I don’t think that should make a difference in the response for this situation.

  13. with sympathy to all the older singles, young singles, and those who are already married to people who are less observant/interested than they themselves are: such a decision before the fact – to continue considering such a person as a prospective spouse – as opposed to staying married to someone who did not evolve in the same direction as you have through the years jewishly, is a different matter entirely.

    to my mind, this is about a crucial indentity issue more than anything else. meaning that it’s about how connected a person is to his or her own judaism.

    if your prospective spouses’s observance is on such a totally different wavelength than your own and you think this might be ok, to me that means that you yourself see observance as a nice add-on as opposed to something so entrenched in your life that it isn’t extraneous. as rishona put it,
    “How could I possibly share a home and create a family with a man who had no regard for something that guided each of my days?”
    it doesn’t sound to me like the letter writer would say that judaism guides her every day. it sounds more cultural than that. the difference between rishona’s POV about what judaism means to her and the letter writer’s POV is like the difference between adding salt in the recipe for cookies as opposed to sprinkling some on top once they are baked.

  14. I do not agree with how the answer is given; but I would also say “no”. I myself was in a similar situation. I am not a BT, but a convert however. At first, I was encouraged by the fact that he was nice, intelligent and did have frum Grandparents at least (so a Jewish family!). Also he seemed to enjoy the programs put on by Aish HaTorah, Chabad and the like. However he was making no real moves at all towards taking on any observances. He used to joke and say that “I was Jewish enough for both of us”. I then realized that it would not work in the least. I was committed to go from gentile to Jew which meant acceptance and observance of all of the mitzvot. How could I possibly share a home and create a family with a man who had no regard for something that guided each of my days?

    When I was going through this, I had another friend who was a BT and in a similar situation. We used to confide in each other regarding the frustrations of dating a man who wasn’t on the same page. Who didn’t like going to shul, would check the cell phone for text updates on the baseball game, etc. I broke up with my boyfriend within a few months. She was actually engaged to hers and I was sad, but not surprised, to hear they also broke up about 9 months later.

    Despite the first hand experience I’ve had and seen with this situation, I remember there was a woman at my shul who was in her 60s and married her whole like to a non-frum man. He did not object to her keeping Shabbos/Yom Tov or sending their children to religious schools. Of 4 children, 3 are frum themselves now. So ultimately each situation is different. However, the odds are stacked against you it seems.

  15. As someone married to a non-observant spouse, I would be very hesitant to chose such a spouse for a FFB person who is still on the derech and wants to stay there. That being said, I realize that many “older” singles may not want to cross off an otherwise good match because they feel the number of “good” potential mates is dwindling. I think if I was in the single’s position I would date for longer than normal to make sure the non observant person is sincere in his desire to grow in his observance and also to make sure he knows what’s involved in frum life, and still agrees to have that sort of home and raise his children accordingly.

    I’ll be interested to read what others think on this topic. Neither choice is ideal.

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