An Unusual Dilemma

Since this is an interesting discussion, we’re going to leave this post on top today. – admins

This is probably not the sort of post that you will accept or run on BeyondBT, but it is very sincere and I would love to see what your posters have to say about my dilemma:

I grew up in a normal American town. The town has about the same percentage of Jews as the United States at-large, somewhere in the range of 3-4% or thereabouts (could even be slightly higher than that). That town, the derekh eretz found in it, my non-Jewish father, and my non-Jewish grandfather, are responsible for my values, morals, and eventually desire for Torah. There are towns like my town all over the United States, but those towns do not have sufficient Jewish populations to attract Orthodox shuls, etc. In the case of this particular town, however, it is extremely close to a town with one of the highest per capita Jewish populations in America, so–save for shabbos itself–all of the resources of a Jewish community (including multiple Orthodox and non-Orthodox shuls, mikvah, etc.) are within a ten-minute drive.

My interest in Torah is solely–but thoroughly–religious. I have never had any attachment to or interest in Ashkenazic (or Sephardic) Jewish culture and, with a few notable exceptions, I have never even felt that I “fit in” in Jewish social circles (no matter the socioeconomic strata of the Jews in those circles). Although I have been sometimes-more, sometimes-less observant for more than ten years, I am not going to move to a modern American Jewish community. I have never been willing to move to one, and this is not going to change. I could move to all sorts of towns similar to mine all over the country, but I will not–for reasons firmly grounded in the intractable problems of the derekh eretz that prevails in modern American Jewish communities–move to a Jewish town. I aspire to provide any children that I might one day have with a Jewish education, but–for the same reasons of derekh eretz–to not do so through the mechanism of a private Jewish day school. Instead, I would seek to use the public schools of my small town (or whatever small town my wife and I ultimately wound up in), as those public schools are entirely consistent with real Torah values (and reinforced the values that I myself acquired growing up). For Torah, nach, kethuvim, gemara, and Hirsch, I will use all available resources (for example, my town is minutes away from numerous thoroughly qualified and credentialed rabbis and arranging comprehensive tutoring, and then reinforcing at home, would be imminently viable) to put together a roll-your-own solution that can work.

The vast majority of Orthodox rabbis, and virtually all baal teshuvas, who I have met have told me that no Jewish girl who cares at all about Torah would ever be willing to live outside of a Jewish town. They insist that I am either wrong about Jewish towns, wrong about normal American towns, bigoted, biased, or that I “have issues.” I laughed at these assertions for ten years and then was vindicated when a potential match, who grew up in a Jewish town, attending day schools, and working in day schools, moved to the town and discovered that my only misrepresentation was understating the case. Her disgust with local Jewish communities (she was from another part of the country) and day schools, and her relentless love and adoration for my family, my town, my schools, and my culture, was absolute. Unfortunately, she got homesick and moved back to the big city from whence she came.

Many baal teshuvas find it very difficult to discuss this problem with me because their own interest in Torah was initially sparked by the warmth of Orthodox families and homes. I, by contrast, grew up in a profoundly warm home in which I had dinner with my family at least six–and often enough seven–nights a week. When I first started going to shul, parishioners would ask “Isn’t shabbos wonderful?” I would say “Yes, the prayers, the sanctification of the day, conformance to God’s laws, etc. Absolutely.” They would say “No, I mean the meal.” I would say “Yes, the blessings over the wine and the bread, the grace after meals, etc.” They would say “No. I mean the fact that I actually get to sit down with my family, uninterrupted, and have a dinner during which, without distraction, we talk about each other’s lives, find out what we’ve been up to, and share what we’re doing.” I could only respond “But don’t you do THAT part of it EVERY NIGHT AT DINNER?” They could only shake their heads and say “No. The rest of the week, we’re too busy working.”

In addition, I was never alienated from my normal American town the way a lot of baal teshuvas were. My small town was my community, is my community, and either it or another normal small town will continue to be my community. I never needed the “Jewish community” (which, frankly, does not comport with what community has ever meant to me, as to me, “community” implied far more than a bunch of people with a common “volk” and a common religion; it is something forged over decades, not weeks, and the price of entry is long amounts of time, not a particular religious faith) because my community has always been my extended family.

In order to offer advice or suggestion to me, you would need to take it for granted that the cultural, values, derekh eretz gap really exists. Do not waste time trying to persuade me that a heimishe Jewish town really has the values that I am looking for. It would take ten densely-typed pages to fully explain the derekh eretz differences. What I am looking for (what I grew up with and still have) is just a normal American small town, with normal American small town values. That’s what I want to expose my family to. That sort of town is what I want my kids to grow up in, so that they absorb those values through their family, their community (which would, of course, be largely non-Jewish), and the positive peer pressure of other kids who by and large come from homes with similar values. To deal with my situation, you need to assume that what I want simply is not available as the predominant derekh eretz in a Jewish town. Please, oh merciful please, do not try to persuade me otherwise.

I don’t need a frum girl. If a girl with normal small town American values, who happened to be Jewish, and who happened to have grown up in a normal American small town (and wasn’t merely desperate enough to try one), was somewhat observant but wanted to drive from a town like mine to a parking lot a half mile away from an Orthodox shul in the neighboring Jewish town, that would work. That would be close enough to what I’m looking for that I could make it work.

But I have been told that what I want–a normal American small town cultural and values derekh eretz, and a commitment to living in a normal American small town community (rather than an American Jewish community)–is simply nowhere to be found among American Jewish girls.

What do you think? If it really is hopeless, then after well more than a decade of very ardent effort, I may have to concede that it just isn’t possible and, with a heavy heart, find another way to pray so that I can marry and have a family. I love God and I love Torah, but I am not enough of a martyr to go through life with neither wife nor children in order to prove how committed I am to Judaism. I am at a crossroads and I could use either confirmation that there just are not any Jewish girls who want to live–fully, completely live–in a normal American small town, or a legitimate claim that there are Jewish girls who want to live in a normal American small town.

Over a decade ago, I figured that I would give it a good hard try. And if I met a girl who affirmatively wanted to live in a normal American small town during that time, but we just weren’t attracted to each other, that would be enough to keep me trying for years to come, because that would at least show me that girls of that sort were out there–even if I hadn’t met the particular one of them who was compatible with me yet. But in all these years, I have never met one who actually affirmatively wanted to live her life, to live her community, to live her derekh eretz, in a normal American small town. And I am just about ready to accept that what I want does not exist among Jewish women.

All I want is what Samson Raphael Hirsch called “Torah im derekh eretz.” I just want it in my normal, good, decent, and fully Torah-compatible small town American derekh eretz. And a wife to live it with.

Please advise.

aspiring father

123 comments on “An Unusual Dilemma

  1. AF,
    I just saw this post & hope you will see this response. #85 touched on what nobody else commented on, but I want to expand on it.

    With apologies to John Mellencamp, “I was raised in a small town….” and remember it fondly. There’s something unique about the whole town showing up to the local high school football game etc. I was the only Jewish kid in (public) school. There was a kosher butcher close enough and a Conservadox shul we attended where about 1/3 of the kehilla was shomer Shabbat to some extent.

    I had friends but my family kept (somewhat) kosher and celebrated different holidays. Although my friends were respectful, this set me apart. That’s an awful lot to ask of a child. As close as I was to my friends, there was always a niggling feeling that I was “different”. That feeling has not prevented me from living but it HAS affected my entire life (I’m in my 50’s). I was not the victim of overt anti-Semitism, but even a child can perceive a vibe, however subtle. Ironically, my brother & sister were raised “in town” (by everyone’s definition), but I was the one who became fully observant. Probably due to that “niggling feeling”.

    The scenario you present sounds idyllic, but I think there’s a bigger issue that may be at play with regard to shidduchim. I have skimmed all the posts and it’s clear that you are rather inflexible. This trait is incompatible with marriage & parenthood. Marriage and parenthood are the ultimate exercise in being flexible and putting aside your dreams for the greater good of the family. It doesn’t sound like you’re ready to do that.

    BTW, I live in the SF Valley and it is NOT a “small town” (3 million people). I think you have romanticized visions of “thousands” of small towns across the US. You have to come to the realization that your town with close proximity to a frum community is rather unique. You would be hard pressed to find what you have anywhere else in the US.

    Your unwillingness to be fully part of a kehilla suggests to me that you need to spend a little more time examining your commitment to Yiddishkeit. I recommend you look for a nice Jewish girl with an open mind & forget about someone who is strictly Shomer Shabbat. It’s hard enough to find the right person, but if you are not willing to look outside your “dalet amos”, you are unlikely to meet Ms. Right. The only frum woman who would l’chatchila choose a scenario like this would have to be not just “out of the box” but in another warehouse altogether.

    That being said, when one finds the right person, much of what is SO important to you, fades into the background. It boils down to making choices. What is MOST important to you? You can’t have it all.

    Hatzlacha raba

  2. Hi Sarah,

    Thank you very much for your suggestion! I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the right sort of girl came from a Southern location, but areas like Toco Hills in Atlanta (to reference your example in Post #121) are part of big cities and/or inner-ring suburbs of big cities. (Is Toco Hills equivalent to Buckhead? Eh, there’s all sorts of debates to be had on that one. But it’s still very much the city…

    Ironically, there once was a time when (heavily Sephardic, but some Ashkenazic) Jews lived in real small towns throughout the South. And that was before New York became the highest Jewish population in America.

  3. In case my previous post was not clear, although, for example, the Atlanta Jewish community is on the outskirt of a city, their actual neighborhood is more like a small town.

  4. I am not sure if the original poster is still receiving updates from this thread, which I just stumbled across.

    But I just wanted to add, it’s theoretically possible that there are one or more small towns somewhere in the USA that have some of the amenities of a Jewish community that most prospective wives would relish, yet have the derech eretz that AF craves. It might be worthwhile to do some exploration.

    Just off the top of my head, I would suggest looking at places like Atlanta or Savannah, Georgia, and Memphis, Tennesee.

  5. Hi Judy Resnick,

    You got it. Yes on all points. Will do every one of those, to the extent not done already. (There are definitely a number of rabbeim and energetic non-rabbi folks in Adjacent Jewish Town who know I’m looking and have their eyes peeled on my behalf!)

    I can’t emphasize enough, though, that it doesn’t have to be my small town. There are thousands of other towns out there that, while not identical to my small town, have the key features in common (though they’re usually not adjacent to Jewish communities with all the fixins, ha ha!). Back during my days with Ms. Also-Ran, I actually went as far as to get my occupational requirements satisfied for her home state (at no small cost in money, effort, and time!). Could have moved there. Just would have had to have been a small town in her state rather than the big city that she was from. But I’m not bluffing vis-a-vis moving. Geography is negotiable. Derekh eretz is not.

    (Though it is amazing how many of my very well -meaning Orthodox friends react to my assertion that I want a town akin to my own as though what I was proposing was to move to the island of St. Helena, most famous as the final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte–a volcanic rock in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean that is one of the most isolated patches of land on the face of the earth.)

    Judy, if you happen to know any rabbis (or, frankly, any Orthodox or Orthodox-leaning or legitimately Serious-Traditional Jews) in more “Jewishly obscure” towns, please feel free to get my personal email from Mark Frankel and get in touch with me. I am more than willing to network any way possible, and if there are folks out there who might occasionally run into a a girl from a similar town with vaguely similar aspirations, I’d be glad to at least toss ideas around with them. Even if they don’t know someone right now, I would be glad to talk to folks, give them a sense of who I am and what I’m looking for, and then see whether, over the next while, one of them happens to meet someone and a light bulb goes off, and they say “Oh, gee, [Aspiring Father] was looking for someone like this!”

  6. Take heart, aspiring father, shadchanim have been saying that there is a shortage of decent available men out there. So the numbers are all working in your favor.

    I do believe that the Orthodox Union also runs a shidduchim service, called Invei Hagafen. Check out the Orthodox Union website at I think it’s only a few clicks from the home page.

    At Purim celebrations in the Big Jewish Community Only Ten Minutes Away From Your Wonderful Small Town, mention to everyone that you meet who is not yet inebriated (because a drunk won’t remember anything the next day) that you are looking for that Ms. Special Someone who is willing to spend life with you in your Wonderful Small Town. Spread the word! Get the message out! Have the rabbi tell the rebbetzin, and then the rebbetzin will tell all the women she knows. Any marketing major will inform you that to promote your product (i.e. yourself) you must encourage brand recognition. That is, when people in Big Jewish Community see you, they automatically think: “Oh yeah, that’s the guy who’s looking to find his basherte!”

  7. Hi Judy Resnick,

    I spoke with one of their folks today. Although she agreed with me that they are probably not going to run into girls of the sort who would fit with my derekh eretz, she will gladly take a thumbnail sketch and keep it around in case a woman who is bizarre in the same way that I am bizarre should happen by them. I will be sending her one within the next few days. Might as well show G-d that I am willing to look as far and wide as necessary, right?

  8. Aspiring Father,

    There is a man named (Rabbi) Aryeh Moshen who has a yahoo group called orthodox conversion to Judaism. Here is his contact info.that I found by googling him. +1 (917) 273-1089 aryehmoshen@yahoo.
    He has a lot of contacts with converts and potential converts and their social circles.

    I think he will have some ideas for you.

    Good luck!

  9. Hi Upsiditus,

    Thank you for your thoughts. Unfortunately, your comment rejects the premise of the question (and also mischaracterizes derekh eretz preference for particular feelings toward one’s co-religionists). I am very glad to discuss the premise with you via private email; please ask Mark Frankel for my email address. However, this blog post & discussion is concerned with the practical aspect and therefore necessitates assuming (even if solely for the strictly limited purpose of the discussion itself) the underlying premise.

  10. Here in America you can call anything “Judaism.” No doubt there may be a significant number of Reform Jews who might be interested in taking up your offer. However, many things you write do not square with [Orthodox] Judaism. You can’t practice Judaism properly without loving Jews, IMO.

  11. Hi Judy Resnick,

    Oh absolutely. I can and do see folks in Adjacent Jewish Town regularly. Don’t even need to wait for Pesach! I’m over on a shabbos here or there (here or there = time-wise, not geography-wise!).

    I am acting on several of the suggestions from the comments to this blog post. Hoping one or more of them move me closer to finding someone similar. It’s very difficult to believe that there would be no Jewish women who want the same sort of thing. (Especially because I know multiple Jewish men, at all points on the spectrum of observance, who do want the same sort of thing. Unfortunately, I am not seeking a man for marriage, so that doesn’t really help to solve things. :-)

    Here’s another thought: You (and the other frequent posters on this blog) obviously know far more BT’s than I do. Not that I don’t know plenty of BT’s–I certainly do, with many of them being iconoclastic folks and often living in relatively unusual places compared to the gargantuan cities like New York. But I am prepared to assume that you know orders of magnitude more BT’s than I do. Do you think that most BT’s are attracted to Torah Judaism more out of a desire for a family life and/or community life that they lacked growing up, than out of a desire for love of G-d and/or observance of His laws for His own sake?

    I ask this because, pushed to the wall, at least one rabbi actively involved in campus outreach has said, after many years of knowing me, “[Aspiring Father], of course it wasn’t the religion that attracted me [that is to say, him–the campus rabbi, himself a BT from decades prior] at first! I came from a broken home! We never had dinner as a family during the week! That’s what I wanted! The Torah stuff? The observance stuff? That all came later.” He wasn’t saying that Torah and mitzvot don’t matter–of course they do. But he was saying that they were not the primary motivating factor in making him want to become observant in the first place. He went on to say, in the same conversation, “Most people would never be attracted to religious observance for its own sake if that was the main thing. That’s a really tough thing to sell to anyone!”

    I often feel as though I’m a BT that kiruv guys don’t know what to do with. They are so accustomed to dealing with BT’s who come from broken homes or communities where they felt out of place, that when a guy shows up and says “No, actually, I’m interested in the G-d stuff. I don’t need help on the family stuff or the community stuff. Got ’em by the barrelful and quite happy with those of ’em that I have, thank-you-very-much!”, they don’t know how to deal with him.

    When I watch a kiruv video, like the “Inspired” videos on the various Aish affiliate web sites (disclaimer: I have never been involved with Aish, have never participated in Aish programs, and I do not believe that I have ever even met an Aish rabbi at any point in my life), I am struck by how heavily the presentation is weighted toward “the shabbos dinner” as the main thing to bring in Jews. Sure, there are mentions of love of G-d, etc., but those generally take a back seat in the kiruv videos to this sense of wonderment that most BT’s seem to have at seeing the sort of family dinner that (save for the special brachot, kiddush, benching, etc.) I pretty much had every night of the week growing up. I always just assumed that, well, of course people have dinner with their family regularly (and the idea of doing it mainly on one day of the week had the opposite effect on me from what folks intended–how could a family stand to only do that sort of thing one day a week?!). Same thing as far as close bonds between siblings, parents, etc.

    When Ms. Also-Ran first met me, many (many many many–she took a long time to make up her mind!) moons ago, one of the things she said very early on was “It’s so strange that you’re a BT but you still have a very strong relationship with your dad and step-mother who aren’t Jewish, with your siblings who are, respectively, Jewish but non-observant [in some cases] and not Jewish [in other cases], and the rest of your family.” I was puzzled. Why on earth would differences of religious observance have anything to do with how close I would be to my family? Or, for that matter, my town?

    What do you think? This question is more of a general question about BT’s. If I’m right that I am motivated in my Judaism by something that is usually secondary to the main thing driving folks to become observant, I don’t know what that says. Just more of a philosophical question.

  12. In response to #110:

    I’m sorry that the Gateways Pesach program is out of your budget range. It still might be worthwhile for you to go to a Passover program that is closer to where you live, and within your budget range. If hotels are just too expensive, maybe you should consider spending Pesach with one or more families in the Orthodox Jewish community which you state is only ten minutes away from your friendly small town. As any shadchan will tell you, singles should aggressively network, get themselves known and out there so that their names get mentioned to those of the opposite gender. Passover is a great time to meet people who will spread news of your eligibility and availability to all of the possibly compatible single women they know.

  13. Hi Judy Resnick,

    It looks like the only location that Gateways is doing for a Pesach retreat is in the greater New York region (with a price to match!). Even if geography weren’t an issue (I am not from the greater New York region and am not familiar with it), there’s no way I can afford something like that. I’m sorry. I would have loved to look into it further, but it’s so far out of my financial reach that it just isn’t possible.

    Thank you very much for the tip, though. And I will be getting in touch with their shadchanim folks to at least kick ideas around and see what their thoughts are. I’ll gladly get ideas from anyone willing to offer them!

  14. In response to #105:

    In the spirit of that great New Yorker magazine cover that shows only a fuzzy outline beyond the boundaries of New York City, there are many well meaning people who divide up the frum world into “Brooklyn” and “Out Of Town.” In that context, “Out Of Town” means anything outside the confines of the Belt Parkway.

  15. In response to #98:

    I’ve never tried a Passover hotel program, there being a cost issue due to having a wonderful extended family. However, for a working single with sufficient heft on a credit card, it might be feasible.

    If I were to go on a Passover hotel program, the one I would pick for myself would be the Gateways Program, since I like their promise of having both “ruchniyus” and “gashmius.” Note that the Gateways program is also advertising a Meet the Shadchanim program for singles, within its Passover program.

    It’s ironic for me to be pushing Gateways since I’ve never gone to any of their programs, nor do I know anyone who has. But possibly Mr. Aspiring Father, you might meet your true Basherta there, the Girl Of Your Dreams (who adores the thought of spending the rest of her life with you in your small town).

  16. Hi Chana Leah,

    That’s funny. I would never even think of the New York region of the United States as a standard geographical frame of reference (virtually nobody I grew up around, including me, had family from New York City–there was never any reason to think of it other than as a place that might be interesting to take a trip to because it’s so famous!). I don’t think I could even find my way around there unaided if I tried! No offense to that part of the country. I would say the same thing of Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Little Rock, St. Louis, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Denver, Phoenix, Baltimore, San Diego, Tampa, Dallas, San Antonio, Omaha, Memphis, Nashville, Washington D.C., New Orleans, San Francisco, Las Vegas, etc.

    And no matter how many times Ms. Also-Ran tried to teach me how to parallel park, I was never able to figure it out. And I don’t think I’d ever be able to! :-)

  17. Sorry, I can’t provide a universal definition for out-of-town. For some I think it means outside of Brooklyn/Lakewood/Monsey area. For others it probably means out of the NYC area in general. For others maybe outside of any city with a large orthodox population. It depends on the context. When I used it I meant that you could look at this website with participants from allover the US and perhaps choose from less built-up locations. Hatzlacha!

  18. Hi Chana Leah,

    That’s a great idea! I will follow up…

    Just wondering, you’re not the first poster to use the phrase “out-of-town”. Is that a term of art? Literally every shul in the world is outside of the borders of my town, but I’m assuming you mean something else other than that…

  19. To the orignal poster:
    Is it possible that on the website you would find hosts in out-of-town places where you can spend Shabbos and network?

  20. Hi Steve Brizel,

    The following might shed some light on Hirsch’s conception of “Torah Im Derekh Eretz,” where “derekh eretz” is understood to be far more all-encompassing than merely a mechanism for earning one’s livelihood. (The latter interpretation of “derekh eretz has no shortage of adherents, but it is categorically not the view embraced by Hirsch across virtually all of his writings.)

    Please understand that I am not here defining the specific characteristics of the normal American small town derekh eretz. That is a separate discussion that I have scrupulously avoided getting into in the comments to this blog post out of a desire to stick to the practical question and none other. That said, however, Steve Brizel did raise the question of how “derekh eretz” as a term and/or concept is to be understood.

    Although Steve expressed a belief that what I am talking about is really something in the nature of “menschlikeit,” I think I am standing on pretty solid Hirschian footing in sticking to my position that “derekh eretz” means what it says: the way (derekh) of the land (eretz).

    Bear in mind that Hirsch, like any German, and especially like any 19th-century German of letters, cannot possibly be expected to use an economy of words even when one might do the trick. So what we get, rather than a concise definition, is a long-winded discourse. (And if you think he waxes rhetorical in the below, go read the full essay! This is merely the climax of ten blistering pages of rhetoric!)

    Here, then, is Samson Raphael Hirsch, from the first issue of his monthly journal, Jeschurun, October 1854, essay entitled “The Jew and His Time,” republished in the Gessemelte Schriften, translated to English in VIII Collected Writings Of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch 1, 9-10 (Corrected Ed., Feldheim 1997):

    “On his long journey through many lands and periods in history, even before he will have attained this goal [of seeing ‘the times become in conformity with Judaism’ rather than the reverse], the Jew, through his Judaism, will not have been, nor will he ever be so essentially different from his fellow man. On the contrary, Judaism itself teaches him to seek the most earnest, the most positive links with every land and every age through which he passes. For the Jew knows that the good and righteous men among nations are working alongside him to build the Kingdom of God on earth. He also knows that the best seeds of the Jewish spirit have been implanted and taken root not only to rescue mankind from heathendom more than two thousand years ago but for the benefit of manifold areas of human endeavor. And then the Jew is heartened to develop all his energies in the service of God. He welcomes each new truth as a valuable contribution to the ever more penetrating revelation of God in nature and history. In each new art form, in each new science he sees a welcome addition to the means for perfecting the service and worship of God.

    “Hence the Jew will not be opposed to any science, any art form, any culture that is truly ethical, truly moral, truly contributing to the welfare and progress of man. He will measure everything by the eternally inviolable yardstick of the teachings of his God. Nothing will exist for him that cannot stand up before the Divine Will. The more firmly he stands on the rock of his Judaism, the more conscious he becomes of his Jewish destiny, the more he will be inclined to accept and gratefully absorb all knowledge, wherever he will find it[.]

    “Never at any time will the Jew sacrifice one iota of his Judaism, at no time will he bring his Judaism in conformity with the times. But he will gladly accept all values that his time will have to offer as long as they conform with the spirit of Judaism. In every age he will regard it as his task to evaluate the time and its conditions from the Jewish viewpoint in order to develop the spirit of his ‘old’ Judaism to ever-fresh vitality, applying the new means produced by every age, with the new circumstances created by every period of history. Thus, with ever-renewed faith and devotion, he will be fully equal to the great tasks of his beloved Judaism.”

  21. Fair enough. Even more reason for me to not second-guess my rav’s judgment!

    At any rate, it now being past noon, I hope everyone here at BeyondBT has a terrific shabbos. I will see if I can plunder Hirsch for the stuff referenced a few comments back, and I hope everyone in the Northeast weathers the blizzard okay!

  22. Hi Mark Frankel,

    I would respectfully amend that to “Rebbeim’s answers as to *hashkafa* are often dependent on the person asking.” Halacha does not so shift. Conduct is in conflict with halacha or is not in conflict with halacha as an objective matter. Now, there are all sorts of hashkafic preferences and prioritizations among various modes of conduct, all of which modes being in the first instance halachically permissible. But the initial *halachic* question (“Is said conduct in violation or not in violation of Torah law, i.e. halacha?”) does not vary based on the individual.

    As to you last question: I cannot put words in his mouth, but for my own part I can tell you that I have the immediate ability to readily and easily daven with a minyan as many as 18 times every single week if I want to, living exactly where I live. And there are multiple such minyanim simultaneously, and they are all Orthodox.

  23. AF said “As to your suggestion that “he saw that there was no way [I] could be convinced otherwise,” I can only state that the rav in question would never state that certain conduct can be consistent with halacha and Torah values merely to pacify the man asking the question. He would never say such a thing unless it was true in and of itself, regardless of the man asking the question.”

    Rebbeim’s answers to these types of questions are often dependent on the person asking. As you yourself said, “Would he be overjoyed if I came to him and announced that I have seen the light and will be moving lock stock & barrel to Adjacent Jewish Town with all deliberate haste? You betcha.”. So if someone would ask this question, and was flexible, and either possibility was practical, he would tell them to move to an Orthodox community, but for you he says it’s fine to stay in your non-Jewish small town.

    When you do speak to him, I’m curious why he thinks there’s no halachic issue whatsoever in missing Hallel, leining and davening with a minyan on Shabbos and Yom Tov on a regular basis.

  24. Hi Judy Resnick,

    Thank you very much! I will give them a call, hopefully at some point in the next couple of weeks. Worst thing that could happen would be they say “You’re too much of a meshuganer for us, man!” :-)

    (That said, of course, my one nagging concern about shadchanim is that they wouldn’t take the town thing seriously. In other words, that they would say “Hey, this guy thinks he knows what he wants, but once he’s face to face with a gorgeous girl, he’ll forget about all of that meshugas and move to Long Island!” Which, of course, would lead to the lady being very disappointed upon realizing that I’m not nearly so pliant as such an assumption would indicate… But hey, might as well put my cards on the table and see whether the folks over there would consider kicking my profile around. Thank you!)

    Never done a Passover program as a hotel (I can’t imagine I could afford one, ha ha!), but just so I can look into them further, what are some reliable organizations (in your opinion) that run them?

    Thank you again.

  25. Hi Steve Brizel,

    I am not familiar with the different geographical subdivisions of the New York area (only been there a few times in my life, and I didn’t know where I was relative to the rest of the city for most of each visit!), but I’ll take your word for it.

    Orthodox communities are generally very warm, very inviting, and possessed of tremendous values. I have never challenged that (because it is true), and I never would challenge that. It is very easy for me to understand why a BT who grew up in the modern secular Jewish American community would see the Orthodox community as peerless in those regards. I have enormous–enormous–respect for the values and middos of many, if not most, Orthodox communities.

  26. Aspiring father-many of us live in either communities or neighborhoods that have the communal superstructure that we need as opposed to what sociologists call “cosmopolitan” communities such as the Upper West Side precisely because we want to live in a neighborhood or community that helps reinforce our values, as opposed to staring in our face as if we are sociological oddities. When we walk to shul on Shabbos morning, one can almost sense much less traffic in the streets and see one’s neighbors also walking to shul.That just isn’t present in Manhattan.

  27. Hi Mark Frankel,

    Re your first paragraph:

    Yup. The vast majority of Orthodox rabbis, and virtually all baal teshuvas (the implication being that there are a few BT exceptions who I know, and that more FFB’s have taken a more optimistic view) that no Jewish girl who cares at all about Torah would ever be willing to live outside of a Jewish town.

    I get a much warmer reception on the point from FFB’s, and from more iconoclastic BT’s, who have taken a “Of course you can do it! It’s just tougher and you’ll have to make darn sure you’ve got a strong and very intact family with a strong and intact and vibrant Judaism in it.”

    Re your second paragraph:

    I certainly have a personal relationship with him. He certainly knows me exceedingly well. As to your use of the word “advisable,” here’s what I would clarify it with: Would he be overjoyed if I came to him and announced that I have seen the light and will be moving lock stock & barrel to Adjacent Jewish Town with all deliberate haste? You betcha. That said, has he made it unambiguously clear to me that what I am seeking to do does not require any violation of halacha, or of Torah values? Absolutely. I’m sure he would love it if I moved to a Jewish enclave. But he has also made it clear that what I seek to do does not require anything inconsistent with either halacha or Torah values.

    Re the third paragraph:

    I described myself as “sometimes-more, sometimes-less observant” for the over ten-year period since I first began exploring Orthodoxy because I believe it appropriate to be frank about the fact that the road of Torah (and, as we know, it is a road, not a destination) has many twists and many turns. While I have generally moved forward on the road, I am not ashamed to admit that, like almost any BT, I have occasionally moved back a bit. I am not a perfect tzaddik, and I would never pretend to be one.

    As to your suggestion that “he saw that there was no way [I] could be convinced otherwise,” I can only state that the rav in question would never state that certain conduct can be consistent with halacha and Torah values merely to pacify the man asking the question. He would never say such a thing unless it was true in and of itself, regardless of the man asking the question.

  28. Mr. Aspiring Father, I feel I owe you something, as my initial comment set off a torrent of criticism, which you accepted with unusually good nature (I suppose that’s thanks to your small town upbringing).

    The Gateways organization has a special Shidduchim division called Gateways Connections. Maybe you can find that special person by contacting them. Their telephone number is 845-290-8722. Their email address is connections @

    Also you might possibly want to consider going to one of the many recommended Passover programs at a hotel. Some of these programs have been advertising that they will be running a Singles or Shidduchim program as well as the more family based events.

  29. You wrote in your post that “The vast majority of Orthodox rabbis, and virtually all baal teshuvas, who I have met have told me that no Jewish girl who cares at all about Torah would ever be willing to live outside of a Jewish town.”

    You never mentioned that you have a personal relationship with a recognized Posek, who said that what you’re doing is advisable.

    Perhaps you got that decision because of your self description as “sometimes-more, sometimes-less observant” for more than ten years. Or because he saw that there was no way you could be convinced otherwise.

  30. Hi Mark Frankel,

    Oh believe you me, I have acquired for myself a rav and he (and multiple other ravs whose halachic fortitude is beyond impeachment) has assured me that nothing that I want to do (please distinguish “want” from “am willing”) is contrary to or incompatible with Torah or halacha. None of it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know rabbis in the parts of the country where he thinks my kind of girl is to be found. But he doesn’t think it is either impossible or contrary to Torah. And he would never give his hexure to something like this frivolously.

    (I ask that, in the interest of protecting my privacy, you please not demand a name. I do not want to identify myself or the part of the country that I am in.)

  31. Hi Mazal Z.,

    I love this idea! My only question, though not an insurmountable one: Would a girl who converted and then ceased living inside a Jewish enclave in order to be with me thereby cast doubt on the halachic validity of her own conversion? Does anyone know?

    If that was not a problem then yeah, I’d love to pursue that angle further. What are some of the best sites & fora to meet such giyoresim on?

  32. There are Gemoras and Poskim which discuss the issue of where to live in detail. You really should have someone take a look at them with you if you’re interested in what the Torah says.

    And if you really want to know what you should do from a Torah perspective, as opposed to a non-Jewish small town perspective, you should acquire for yourself a Rav.

  33. Aspiring Father,

    I was thinking that maybe you could find a giyores who loves and appreciates what she gained from growing up in small town America, like you.

    There are yahoo groups and facebook groups for people interested in conversion and many potential converts have friends who have sincerely and successfully converted and are living as Orthodox Jews.

    Ironically, a pre-requisite for a person in the process of conversion is living in an establislhed Jewish community. This shows the beis din that the person is committed, knowledgable and has lived a full Orthodox Jewish life for at least a year before the conversion.

    So the person would have to be someone who truly loves and misses small town living. I don’t think it would be impossible to meet someone like that through some networking. It surely is a better bet than cold-calling Chabad houses :)


  34. Hi Mark Frankel,

    With all due respect, you appear to have applied your hashkafic preference as though it were a halachic obligation. It is a long and hyper-attenuated stretch to get from point A to point B in that path of reasoning.

    Regardless, suffice it to say that if a woman was ardently set on living in a frum community that hapoened to be located on the Las Vegas Strip, because she grew up in Nevada and her secular brother is a pit boss at a major casino, a responsible man with a fundamentally different derekh eretz would recognize that this woman’s preferred community, while peopled with frum folks impervious to the moral toxins arouns them, would be a grave threat tothe values that he needs to transmit to his children. Therefore, as a responsible man and aspiring father (ha ha), he would recognize that this woman’s town/community, while not making her a bad person, simply renders her incompatible with him.

    And so it is with me. There are plenty of wonderful frum girls who want to live in Jewish enclaves. They have great values and they are wonderful women. But they are incompatible with me. Does not make them bad, just as the type of normal American small town that I need does not make me bad (and does not even make me a bad Jew). Just means that we’re two good and decent Jews who happen not to be each other’s bashert. I could never and would never be interested in or capable of giving her what she and her children need, and she could never and would never be interested in or capable of giving me what I and my children need.

  35. I accidentally posted a response on the wrong post, so I’m re-posting it here, along with Mark Frankel’s response thereto:

    Hi Fran,

    What would be the reason why, in your view, it would make more sense for a husband to move to his wife’s type of town than for a wife to move to her husband’s type of town?

    Mark Frankel then responded:

    The basic reason is in Torah halacha and hashkafa a man has a greater obligation to honor and take care of the needs of his wife, then a women has for her husband. Therefore she gets precedence in picking the town.

  36. “A lot of men live where the wife wants to live, often near her family where she grew up.”

    As I’ve been taught, that’s actually the general rule of thumb, with the notable exception of when the husband is still in Yeshiva.

    Excellent points, Fran.

  37. I respect your opinions, beliefs and goals in life, but truth is you sound very inflexible.

    Life is about compromises. There is more than one way to go. I don’t know how old you are, but you’ve been trying to meet the right girl for 10 years! If you meet someone you can love and raise children with you shouldn’t really care where you live. A lot of men live where the wife wants to live, often near her family where she grew up. Of course no community is perfect, but you can be as happy as you want to be. If you like a small town life, with simple values you can find that in the US or Israel, probably not so much in NY. Really if you want to be happy then be flexible. You will be happy when you have a family to be with, and G-d willing your children will put a smile on your face!

  38. Hi Gary,

    I myself am about 3 miles from the nearest Orthodox shul, which is not in Adjacent Jewish Town but in Adjacent Other Town that happens to have an Orthodox shul in it. (And the situation becomes even more unique than it was before!)

    The shuls in Adjacent Jewish Town are probably about 5-6 miles from me at the moment.

    That said, there is a residential neighborhood in my town that would put a homeowner 1.6 miles from the Orthodox shul in Adjacent Other Town.

    Ms. Also-Ran was aware of that, but that wasn’t the issue for her. The issue for her was that she was homesick and, even if she could have lived in the center of Adjacent Jewish Town (which, once she got a good strong taste of the derekh eretz therein, she actually refused to do anyway), it would not have made a difference.

    Yeah, I’m ludicrously close to all of the amenities. I’m not living on the moon. For all I know, the shul in Adjacent Other Town may open up quarters closer to the center of Adjacent Other Town and further from my town, but even that would only put it maybe 2 to 3 miles from the nearest part of my town.

    I have never felt isolated.

  39. Hi Amrilusaguy,

    Thank you! And kol ha kavod on having found the combination that works so well for you in Israel!

  40. Hi yehoshua,

    Unfortunately, your comment questions the underlying premise of my question. While I am glad to have a private conversation over email (please ask Mark Frankel for my email address) on that point, my post and comments here are concerned solely with the practicalities. In order to address the topic of the post, one must accept, even if solely for the strictly limited purpose of discussion, the underlying premise.

  41. Hi AF,

    If you are 1.6 miles from an Orthodox shul, would it be correct to assume that you are 1.6 miles from Orthodox friends, too? If so, that’s a 30 minute walk to either. I often walk a mile or more to pray on Shabbat or to visit friends, and that’s in Brooklyn, NY. Some might say that you have the problem of carrying or eventually pushing a stroller on Shabbat, but there are thousands of people in Brooklyn who do not utilize an eruv (I do.)

    Rather than saying that you live outside of a Jewish neighborhood, could it be said that you live on the edge of one? As suggested, if you some day feel the need to have a shorter walk, you could always move closer to the neighborhood’s center.

    I have a question about your prior engagement: You stated that your fiancee was upset at the prospect of living hundreds of miles from her family. Would she have seen things differently if you and she ended up living in the center of a Jewish town, rather than 1.6 miles away?

    It seems to me that you are in a position to receive benefits from, and be of service to, both communities.

    In the New York City suburbs, many people drive everywhere, except on Shabbat. On Shabbat itself, they often walk over a mile within the Jewish community. Could you point out to a potential spouse that other than the neighborhood that you pass through during the drives and walks, your situation is not very different than the ones that I have described?

    Best wishes for success.

  42. Aspiring Father
    You are in fact truly lucky.

    I understand and agree with your sentiments both about the lack of derech eretz in many Jewish communities and the incredible abundance of derech eretz in so many small towns all across the USA.

    I used to work in a position that allowed me the chance to see this first hand, up close and personal. Many people, not just observant jews have no real clue as to what the US is really like.

    I think though that even being an american and feeling strongly about that should not keep you from finding the best of both worlds here in Israel. I am fortunate to live in a community in Israel that has the derech eretz you speak of and all things Jewish as well.

    I wish you much success in your quest

  43. One needs to look through the lens of Torah to understand what is derech eretz, whilst people outside the Torah world do have a secular concept of this, one needs to look into the Torah to find the Jewish concept of this.

    Not living in a religious Jewish community and deciding to raise children there, all because it shtems with that which one has always known is not fair on the kids.

    We have mesoirahs which are passed from generation to generation – the Torah is necessary for the neshamas of little yiddisher kinderlach in order for them to grow and develop. This is best found in the private Jewish schools.

    Derech Eretz is taught in school, but the best place for these values to be taught is in the home – that home needs to be in a good strong Jewish area.

    We have been blessed with Rabbonim and Rebbe’s who we can turn to for advice. Rabbonim and Rebbe’s who have learnt the Torah and see the world through a Torah lens – why not find someone you connect to and start to learn what the Torah wants from you – and not what you think is best. You always have to align everything with that little voice inside… but if you never had a real Torah exposure yourself, then it’s very hard to make Torah decisions.

    Judaism is not a religion, with ticks for every level of observance, it is a bris/covenant with the Creator of the world – part of this bris is finding out what the Creator wants from us – sometimes it takes a while to see how that sits with us and readjust our own ideals… but that’s the very purpose of this world, to come close to our Creator.

    You should have much hatzlocha in your journey

  44. Hi Steve Brizel,


    I cannot say this strongly enough: I am convinced that most Orthodox Jews, because even if they are BTs, their “old secular culture” was the American secular Jewish culture, have no idea how much closer their derekh eretz is to the derekh eretz of small town America than it is to the derekh eretz of inner-ring suburbs and urban centers where Jewish enclaves are found.

  45. Hi Mr. Cohen,

    I should, actually. I’ve got the English translation of the Hirsch Tehillim sitting on my bookshelf and every time I try to cut through the whole thing, I get bogged down reading his commentary! Need more discipline and maybe I’ll actually manage to avoid being seduced by that gloriously long-winded German prose!

  46. AF, G-d should bless you with finding an appropriate wife and giving you the clarity to understand the Torah based necessity of aligning yourself more closely with the Jewish people, even in the face of the tremendous kindness shown to you by non-Jews.

  47. Aspiring father=those of us who live in Torah observant communities can appreciate the fact that our communities in no small way have values that are comparable to small towns, in distinct contrast to the urban centers that we work in.

  48. Mark-Take it from someone who grew up in a small town. Small town living has its pluses and minuses. I never saw or heard of a Jew working on YK in my small town. but I certainly have encountered the phenomenon in NYC.

  49. Aspiring Father, I suggest that you recite the entire Sefer Tehillim, at least one time, as a prayer for guidance.

    I specifically recommend The Metsudah Tehillim by Rabbi Avrohom Davis.

    You do not have to say it all in one day; you can stretch it out over a month.

  50. Hi Belle,

    I owe you a sincere apology because, in order to protect my privacy and that of Ms. Also-Ran, I have deliberately attempted to obscure my identity and the identities of the relevant towns (and even the identity of Ms. Also-Ran’s city of origin). I do not believe that it would be sound judgement to pull back the mechitza at this time. I’m sorry–I really am.

    I would consider a discussion involving more specifics via private emai (Mark, could you facilitate this if Belle requests it?), but I need to protect my privacy and those of others.

  51. Hi Steve Brizel,

    I am in meetings tonight. When I get a chance, I’ll flip through Der Gessemelte Schriften Auf Rabbiner Samson Raphael Hirsch for the appropriate citations. Please forgive me if I’m not able to get the chapters & verses cites to you tonight. Wednesday is a very busy night for me! :-)

  52. Hi Mark Frankel,

    You omitted the fact that my town–my normal American small town–gives to me and gives to me and gives to me without end. The Orthodox community of the Adjacent Jewish Town also gives to me. But the difference is orders of magnitude. I am very grateful to my neighboring Orthodox community, but I owe virtually everything that I have or that I am (including my Judaism) to my normal small American town. I can be a part of both, but I can only make my home in one of them.

  53. Re: Gary #55

    Thanks for the link. I haven’t read the whole page yet, but it answers my question.

    Re: aspiring father #63

    Thanks for the offer to answer privately, but the link in reply #55 suffices.

    Re: Belle #67

    Based on my understanding of the Derech Eretz issue, wouldn’t your solution corrupt the small town’s Derech Eretz? :)

  54. AF, I get it. The Jewish community serves you now with their services, while you serve the non-Jewish community. I guess I’m just having difficulty understanding small town Derech Eretz ;-)

  55. At the risk of exposing a hidden treasure, is there anyone else dying to know where this ideal town is??? Would aspiring father be willing to spill the beans?

    Maybe he can get a core group of say 10-15 families who are flexible and seeking a better way of life to set up shop there and create a minyan. Esp. if the job market is strong!

  56. Hi Mark Frankel,

    I am serving my community. I live in it. I serve in it. And I love it.

    It just happens to be a normal American town.

    Got a long stretch of decades to go before I’ll be able to pay off my debt to the normal American small town community (or, at the very least, a town quite like it) to which I owe virtually everything. Including, by the way, the values that led me to Torah Judaism.

  57. Aspiring father-I came from a much smaller community than Harry Maryles and I fully agree with his take on the issue.

    Would you be willing to substitute mentslichkeit for Derech Eretz, which in the Talmud and in the view of RSRH has a definite meaning? If your answer is in the affirmative, I can fully appreciate , even if I differ with your POV for the reasons that I stated previously.

    As far as TIDE is concerned, like it or not, there is much evidence that TIDE in a de facto, as opposed to a de jure manner is being practiced in the Charedi world, as opposed to a hashkafic option. Look at the Charedi English language media-there are ads for lunch and learn, job fairs, networking-all for those who realize that their career is beyond the four walls of a Beis Medrash.

  58. AF,

    There’s a big difference between being near an Orthodox community and being a part of an Orthodox community. In one case the community is serving your needs and in the other case you’re also serving the community.

  59. Hi David_L,

    I must apologize, but your question concerns the underlying premise of the question. If you would like a bullet list of the major aspects of the normal American small town derekh eretz, please send Mark Frankel an email and request my personal email address. Mark, please send my personal email address to David_L. I am glad to take that topic up via private email. My blog post here is solely concerned with the practicalities of it, and to have a productive discussion of my question, one must assume–even if solely for the limited purpose of the discussion–the validity of the underlying assumption.

    As I say, though, please do email me and I will gladly discuss the derekh eretz factors with you. It is a discussion that I enjoy having. The comments to this blog post, however, are not the place for it.

  60. Hi EPA18,

    I live in a town where one residential neighborhood is 1.6 miles away from an Orthodox shul in the next town over. I live in a town with a kosher bakery in its supermarket (that’s in my town–the Jewish town next door has so much kosher food available that it makes a mere kosher bakery look trifling by comparison!). I live in a town that borders an Adjacent Jewish Town with kosher grocery, multiple kosher bakery departments and multiple grocery stores, multiple Orthodox shuls, plenty of other non-Orthodox shuls, an eruv, and more Orthodox rabbis than I would know what to do with.

    I am by no means isolated from the Jewish community. My residence just happens to not be inside of one. Maybe that makes me spoiled. I get to live in a normal American town, with my normal American town derekh eretz, but I also get to have all of the amenities of Jewish life so close that it’s almost cause for amusement.

    Don’t necessarily need all that, of course. If a girl is from another part of the country where a situation like mine just isn’t possible, then I can do without the proximity to the nearest Jewish enclave. But at least where I live, it’s so easy to make it work that I often scratch my head and wonder “Seriously, why on earth would anyone consider THIS to be isolated?”

  61. Hi JoshD,

    I like your idea. My one note of caution, and I’m curious what you think about this, is that my experience with Ms. Also-Ran was one in which, no matter how many times I said “Don’t do it for me; only do it if you want this life for your own personal reasons,” it took her several years to decide whether she wanted it or whether (as ultimately proved to be the case) she was too homesick to live hundreds of miles from the city she grew up in. I don’t want to sell a city girl on this. If she wants it, for her own reasons, I’m certainly open to the possibility that she actively wants to become a “small towner giyuris,” but I’m definitely not in the kiruv business.

    Also, believe it or not, the Adjacent Jewish Town near to me is actually not a big city. Most of the folks in it originally came from big cities, but it is a town barely at all larger than my own. I can guarantee that 100% of the readers of this blog would consider it a small town. Just happens to have a different prevailing derekh eretz.

    And now, as I tread dangerously close to giving away the store on where I am from, I will look forward to your thoughts on the above.

    Oh, and one other thing: You asked how old I am and about possible matches. Could you email Mark Frankel and ask him for my private email address? Mark, please send Josh my email. I would like to follow up with him privately.

    Thank you, and I look forward to emailing further on this!

  62. Hi Shmuel,

    I can, whenever I feel like it, literally daven thrice daily with a minyan every single day of the week other than shabbos without expending any significant additional amount of gasoline during the drive over and back. I can literally take part in as much or as little Jewish communal life as I want to. It’s not on the other side of the earth. It’s minutes down the road. There are parts of my town where the nearest Orthodox shul is actually 1.6 miles walk (and a very pleasant walk, actually) away. And that’s from a residential neighborhood!

  63. Hi Gary,

    With a few variations, you just described my life! It has never left me feeling deprived. I have my town, I have my community, I have my extended family. But cross the town line, and I’ve also got my Jewish friends, shuls to daven at, resources galore, etc. In fact, even in my very own town, the supermarket has a kosher bakery! So yes, it’s very fulfilling, I have never felt deprived Jewishly, and I am quite happy with the arrangement. Goes to show, I suppose, that G-d does a pretty good job of giving us what we need to get the job done. Now could somebody please tell me where he put that shidduch of mine? I seem to have misplaced her…

  64. Hi Menachem Lipkin,

    I think we’re speaking the same language, more or less. Yeah, I’m pretty much looking for someone who doesn’t want to cram herself into a box and doesn’t need a guy who is himself crammed into a box. I would have skepticism about Reform or Conservative folks, because usually they come at it with an attitude of “I’m going to redefine halacha to suit my needs” rather than “I may not be doing all that halacha calls for, but that’s my fault, not halacha’s fault.” That said, though, a girl who was in the traditional ballpark and “on her way up” would probably be almost spot-on compatible, at least as far as observance goes. At least it would be workable.

    If you’ve got any leads on one, I could sure use the help! :-)

  65. Hi Mark Frankel,

    Well, what I’ve usually found is that the less-observant girls on Frumster are often moving in the right direction, whereas the girls on jdate are often looking for what Mel Brooks called “ein roll in ze hay.”

    And, frankly, my relatively minimal dealings with jdate girls have led me to believe that if I don’t speak, shall we say, JAPanese (“Lexus,” “BMW,” “Long Island,” “Beverly Hills,” “doctor,” “lawyer,” “Ph.D.,” “I want someone who is really smart,” “I went to Columbia, where did you go?” etc.), then it is as if we are two completely different species.

    For those reasons, I can’t believe that there’s anyone realistically compatible with my derekh eretz on jdate. There may be on Frumster, but I am very tired of one conversation after another with girls with terrific values who think that if they just work at me enough, sooner or later I’ll come around and realize that there are wonderful places to live on Long Island, or in the San Fernando Valley, or…

    This gets back to the fact that my real derekh eretz incompatibilities are far more with the secular Jewish community than the Orthodox Jewish community. I have many, many wonderful Orthodox friends. I daven at Orthodox shuls. I read Orthodox books. And, while there are vestiges there of the secular Jewish culture, those vestiges don’t get in my way in terms of being an active participant in Orthodox life when I am around Orthodox folk (Mark, would it prompt you to whip out the 50,000-volt cattle prod if I were to say “other” Orthodox folk? ha ha ha).

    Sadly, those Orthodox communities arise inside of towns where the prevailing derekh eretz is that of the secular Jewish community. And it’s not enough for me to be in a wonderful island of heimishe frum values in a sea of modern American secular Jewish derekh eretz. I need to live in a place where the sort of narishkeit that wealthy offspring of Lexus-driving Long Island plastic surgeons are generally raised with would be vomited out like the avodah zarah that it is–not tolerated as the misguided habits of a pintule yid.

    Don’t get me wrong. There are still distinctions that make me unable to make it work living inside of a Jewish town, even within the Orthodox community of one. But those distinctions, while sufficient to be a permanent barrier, are but trifles compared to the ocean that separates me from the modern American secular Jewish community.

    Often I have wondered “How many Orthodox Jews out there understand how much closer their values really are to normal American towns than to their secular Jewish brethren?” But, as I say, I am not in the kiruv business. It is a question I have pondered, but I’m not going to try to sell anyone on my life or lifestyle.

    Anyway, this is why I say, whether you like it or not, I fit in far better in an Orthodox shul than I ever would in a Conservative or Reform shul.

  66. @JoshD – Now I remember, because of tav lemeitav tan du, mah sh’ein kein living the way that an almanah lives (single).

  67. In comment 53, David L wrote:

    “The original post refers to the “intractable problems of the derekh eretz that prevails in modern American Jewish communities”.

    What, specifically, are these problems?”

    This issue has been addressed before on by a regular contributor/commenter:

    Although Ron Coleman addresses the matter differently than Aspiring Father does, it is a question of legitimate concern.

  68. Bt, the comment is in the gemara Kiddushin. The discussion is whether one can be married via a shaliach without meeting the other people. RL says a woman may have kiddushin even without meeting the man first. Because her desire to be married is such she won’t find fault with him once they meet.

  69. The original post refers to the “intractable problems of the derekh eretz that prevails in modern American Jewish communities”.

    What, specifically, are these problems?

  70. As has been discussed by others above, the Jewish religion, as depicted in the Torah, and as followed by its adherents, is a COMMUNAL religion. The Jewish religion is highly and necessarily communal. You share both the simchas as well as the tragedies of your fellow Jews, you pray in a minyan, etc. What it seems you are trying to do is follow the Jewish faith without that communal element. Without an appreciation of the concept of peoplehood, that you are an integral part of the Jewish community, your efforts will leave you sad and frustrated.

  71. Another question is, how old are you? I live in the NYC area and i definitely know single girls here in their late 20s or 30s, who would be more than willing to live elsewhere if they found the right person, even if they have never before. Reish Lakish’s comment on shaliachs for marriage comes to mind.

  72. Af,

    You don’t need to find the girl on jdate already living in a small town. I’d suggest you go and find one who currently lives in the big town next to you (Atlanta, Houston?) and when you meet her (most likely in her big town) you can get a feel for whether she’d be interested in making a life where you currently live.

  73. Aspiring Father:

    Without trying to convince you to move to an established Jewish community, I think it would be worthwhile to make a philosophical point that is worth thinking about.

    Mark Frankel wrote to you about the importance of living in a community. He cited various examples of reasons for doing so (“…for starters you’re missing public leining on Shabbos, davening with a Tzibbur on Shabbos and Yom Tov, missing saying Hallel with the Tzibbur on Yom Tov and many more halachic and hashkafic considerations”). I don’t disagree with any of that, although as I said I am not going to try to convince you to move.

    But much more fundamentally than any of that is the fact that a Jew is meant to serve God in a communal framework. By this I do NOT mean that the community facilitates the individual observance of each of its members, by allowing for minyanim, communal resources going toward a mikva and yeshivot etc. Rather, I mean that each Jew is obligated to serve God, and the Jewish people as a unit (not merely as a collection of individuals) is obligated to serve God. Part of the individual’s avoda is being a member of a community and ultimately being a member of the entire Jewish people. This means that a Jew, no matter how individually observant, who doesn’t function as part of the larger Jewish community is lacking a component of his service of God. This point is so obvious it is sometimes overlooked.

    Again, I am not trying to convince you to move or change your position. I just want to bring up this idea as something to think about.

  74. Hi AF,

    Since you are a ten minute drive from a nearby town with an established Jewish community, I offer several suggestions.

    1. Drive in to the Jewish town several times a week in order to attend shiurim and prayer services, and to utilize shopping, dining and social activities.

    2. For some Shabbats and for major holidays, stay in a hotel within walking distance of your synagogue and friends’ homes. (This will not create the tension for you and for others of being a “perpetual guest.”)

    3. Establish a group of friends who would be willing to spend some Shabbats at your home, so you wouldn’t feel isolated from the community. While you won’t have a minyan with a Torah scroll, you could pray together with a break to discuss the weekly portion at the point where the Torah is usually read.

    If this works for you, keep it up. Perhaps other observant Jews may gravitate to your town, with the development of an Orthodox synagogue, etc.

    At a later date, if you decide you want to be more permanently attached to the larger Jewish community, you could move there and still be a frequent visitor to your home town, which will still be only a ten minute drive in the other direction.

  75. AF,

    If you’re asking those questions about Chabbad then you should do more research before getting involved. I’m not just “picking” on Chabbad, but Chassidic movements in general require a lot of special “adherence”. Enough said, caveat emptor.

    I think you have Reform and Conservative confused. What you describe is the origins of Reform. Conservative started more as an attempt at modern orthodoxy. Regardless that wasn’t really my point in making those suggestions. Yes, I do know very committed Conservative Jews who believe in God and keep many mitzvot. My point was that Jewish observance exists on a continuum. If you can try to see beyond the necessary evil of our labels you may be able to find someone like yourself. As you can see by some of the responses here some are implying that you’re not really “in” because of your unique ideas. My guess is that there are some women out there who are similarly “out” but who would be interested in your way of life.

  76. Hi AF,

    Frumster would not be the right place. I think you’ll have more success looking for a girl who is not currently observant, but is interested in moving in that direction. Perhaps JDate.

    The benefits of the Internet is that you can put int he time required to do the search work yourself.

    I think you’ll have difficulty in the networking arena because your requirements fall outside of the normative orthodox world and the non-orthodox world does not have a large dating network infrastructure. They rely more on boy meets girl in a social setting type of matchmaking and on the Internet.

  77. Hi Mark Frankel,

    Fair enough. I am not going to drag in names of the authorities who I have consulted, and if that is fatal in your eyes, I would rather accept that than drag them into this discussion. Don’t worry–I always make it quite clear where I am (and where I am not) in terms of all of this stuff. Nobody would ever accuse me of misrepresenting myself on issues of observance or related topics. I don’t think that would be a productive way to find a match anyway–it would only lead to disappointment when we both realized that we weren’t actually as compatible as we had thought. :-)

    Over the years I have come to wonder whether perhaps the sort of girl I am looking for wouldn’t be on a site like Frumster in the first place, because she might live in a place where she figures there are no guys near her who would bother to be on Frumster. I’m trying to come up with a way to circumvent the internet sites and network directly through “Jews in places where it is unusual to find Jews.”

    Know any Jews in Fargo, North Dakota? Spokane, Washington?

    I really, really want to break through the natural sifting process that occurs just in order for single Jews to choose to list themselves on the sites in the first place. I’m trying to get straight to the sort of person who doesn’t think there would be a guy for her on the site and therefore chose not to list herself.

    Does that make sense? It’s proving a real tough needle to thread! :-(

  78. Hi AF,

    As you know I spoke to Rabbi Welcher, my Rav and one of the Beyond BT Rabbinic advisers about this post, and he spent time reading it and discussing it with me. He made it clear that from a hashkafic and halacha standpoint living outside a Torah observant community is below normative halachic and hashkafic standards.

    Even if you don’t drive, for starters you’re missing public leining on Shabbos, davening with a Tzibbur on Shabbos and Yom Tov, missing saying Hallel with the Tzibbur on Yom Tov and many more halachic and hashkafic considerations. Anonymous Rabbis without sources are not part of the discussion. And I would agree it would not be fruitful to continue this aspect of the discussion here. I only raised this point to make it clear to everybody reading that you’re Torah understanding is outside that of named and accepted Torah authorities.

    That being said, both Rabbi Welcher and myself are sympathetic to the spiritual plight of you and literally millions of other Jews who truly want to come closer to Hashem, but can’t or won’t move to a normative observant community at this point, or perhaps any point in their life. I have a lot of non-observant friends who I’ve reconnected to on Facebook and I’m marinating the idea of starting a new site on spirituality for Jews who might never become fully Shabbos observant or move to an observant community.

    From your comments and emails, it’s clear that you’re smart and have given much thought to your find-a-wife situation, and I think it’s unlikely that anybody will come up with something you haven’t thought of. Personally I think the online dating sites are the way to go, but you will need to spend hours and hours of time on them to find that needle in the haystack that you’re looking for.

  79. Hi Menachem Lipkin,

    I am a bit confused on what you mean by “don’t mind buying into their whole ‘package’.” Do you mean the Rebbe-Moshiach stuff? Although I am comfortable davening at Chabad locations, I have never bought into the notion of a deceased Moshiach. But that has never been much of a barrier to me as far as davening at Chabad goes. I just walk out of the room when they start in with the “y’chi” business.

    I’m also confused on the concept of necessarily having to buy into a complete package in the first place. I have never been a “fit yourself in one of the available boxes and stay in your box” kind of guy. And I don’t think I very easily fit into any box anyway. I didn’t get into Torah as a means of building an identity for myself, so I have never felt deprived for lack of being able to identify myself as falling into Box A or Box B, etc. I’ve always (since getting into Judaism in the first instance) been quite comfortable davening alongside folks who are at very different levels of observance from my own, or who practice very different branches of observance from my own.

    As far as Conservative goes, if talking to a Conservative “rabbi” would lead me to a girl who actually believed that G-d gave us the Torah, then terrific. I am very leary of doing that, though, because virtually all Conservative girls that I have dealt with don’t really care about Torah, mitzvot, or G-d. It’s more of a cultural/identity thing to them. To me, Torah is entirely about G-d; I derive no culture/identity from it at all.

    Beyond that, I think we’re all probably familiar with the history of the Conservative movement; I have a great deal of difficulty respecting attitudes that originated in a desire on the part of a bunch of wealthy German Jews to ape the Church practices of their Lutheran neighbors, celebrate a “sabbath” on Sunday, and savor the taste of bacon.

  80. Hi AF,

    If you feel you know Chabbad well and don’t mind buying into their whole “package” then that might work for you. But make sure you fully understand what you are getting into.. for yourself and your future children.

    I think you should also consider going in a different direction as I and others have mentioned. In the states, unfortunately, “orthodoxy” has had to narrowly define itself against the perceived onslaught of Conservative and Reform. While labels are also all the rage here in Israel, since neither Conservative nor Reform are a strong presence here, once you look behind the labels you see the reality that Jewish observance is very fluid.

    If you can transport this thinking back to the states, you may be able to free yourself of only seeking this special person among the ranks of those with the “orthodox” label. Give a call to the local Conservative rabbi and tell him what you’re looking for or maybe reach out to JTS. There are many non-orthodox Jews whose observance would work for you and yet who might not be shackled with the need to live in a “frum” community.

    Since your outlook and needs are very unique, you need to work outside the box.

  81. Hi Mark Frankel,

    I’m not going to get drawn into a debate on the premise of the question in the comments to this blog post. I disagree with your proposition that my understanding of Torah Im Derekh Eretz is “not in line with Torah true thinking” and I have had numerous unambiguously halachic Orthodox rabbonim of a range of styles of Orthodoxy confirm and re-affirm that nothing about my town or my town’s derekh eretz is incompatible with Torah Judaism.

    However, this is not the place to have that discussion. While you appear to have assumed that my unwillingness to engage in these comments in a discussion of the underlying premise is tantamount to a concession that my derekh eretz (or my accurately Hirschian understanding of “derekh eretz” in the first instance) is “not in line with Torah true thinking,” I am unwilling to use the comments to this blog post to engage in that discussion.

    I request your understanding that this is a matter of context for where and when to have the discussion. I do not concede the point and I request that you do not act pursuant to a concession of the point. I would very much appreciate it if you did not further attempt to coerce me into a discussion of the underlying premise. You need not accept that premise, but it will not be productive to try to have that discussion here, in these comments.

    To touch on the point in your last paragraph: I do not need a woman who would compromise Torah adherence. Ms. Also-Ran and I made shabbos at one or the other’s kitchens for a year straight. The lack of a shul within an easy walk did not require either of us to drive. We just davened and did shabbos in our town. No halachic violation there, and none called for. My willingness to do otherwise is not a desire to do otherwise; it is merely a recognition of the fact that the right woman may want a normal American town but may herself want to drive to an Orthodox shul. That is not tantamount to a burning desire in the depths of my heart to drive to shul (G-d forbid!).

  82. I think it’s important to point out that your definition of Torah In Derekh Eretz which is different then Derech Eretz referenced in the Mishna and Gemora, is not in line with Torah true thinking.

    And unfortunately your opinion can not hold weight against Rabbinic Torah authorities. Torah adherence is based on the opinions and decisions of those who are experts in Torah, namely learned accepted Rabbis.

    So we have to frame the question as it is because anybody who would consider making a Shidduch here would have to know it would involve a compromised Torah adherence. Which might make sense for some young lady, but it needs to be clear that is what is involved here.

  83. Hi Mark Frankel,

    I am trying to avoid that longhand discussion in the comments to this blog post because it is a thoroughgoing one. Please do not mistake my reluctance to drive off on that tangential route for a lack of ability to discuss or defend it. I respectfully request that, within these comments, we confine the issue to the practical question.

    Per my prior comment, I have emailed you on the more long-winded topic of the derekh eretz distinctions themselves, and I am glad to have that conversation over email with you. In fact, I look forward to doing so.

    Again, I am not now and I have never been (apologies to Senator McCarthy’s House Committee On Un-American Activities) in the kiruv business. I am not trying to convince you or anyone else that the context in which I can best live Torah Im Derekh Eretz is the context in which you can, or should, do the same.

    For purposes of the discussion, it is necessary to assume the premise. Otherwise, we would spend so much time discussing the premise itself that we would never get to actually discussing the question.

  84. Hi AF (I like the greeting style)

    The problem is you framed your question beyond your particular limited practicalities with an implication of “I think small town communities that I have experienced are better than so-called Torah communities”. You have also repeatedly misused the Torah term “derech eretz” and all that it applies.

    If your dilemma is that you need to compromise on a full Torah adherent lifestyle which requires living in a Torah community, because of your particular unchangeable preference for small town living, and you are looking for a wife who wants to make the same compromise, that’s a reasonable question. Although I think the standard response would be to try to explain why a fully Torah community adherence is preferable.

    But if your claim is that your non-Torah community living is better then living in a Torah community, then that is both unsupportable and a little rude to make in Torah community oriented forum like this.

  85. Hi Mr. Cohen,

    I do not live in “a place where it is impossible to practice the Jewish faith[.]” It is imminently possible, viable, and realistic to practice the Jewish faith in my town and innumerable other towns like it.

    Ms. Also-Ran, a born & bred day school grad, her siblings (well, most of them–one can never convince all of the people all of the time!), and her parents all saw that. In fact, depending on what part of the country you are from, you might consider it ludicrously easy to practice Judaism in my town, given the vast resources so easily accessible but one town away! :-)

  86. Hi Mark Frankel,

    I can assure you that what I mean by “derekh eretz” is far, far more all-encompassing than “the friendliness, cordiality and good manners of a small town” or “just good manners”.

    Although I am trying to confine the discussion in this comments section to the limited issue of the practicalities (for which it must be assumed, for purposes of discussion, that a normal American town is a non-negotiable necessity), I am more than willing to have the discussion with you via email.

    I will be in touch via email!

  87. Hi BT,

    G-d forbid that I should ever do such a thing!

    The only times that I have been inside of Reform or Conservative buildings have been in order to attend functions of family members. And I think I’ve only been to maybe two of those (that is, only maybe two of those that involved a Reform or Conservative building).

  88. Hi Bob Miller,

    Absolutely! And that’s why I am looking for that wife who wants it, for her own reasons and not just as something to “tolerate” because she likes other things about me. Funny, that’s a similar threshold to what we expect of a ger, isn’t it? A conversion for marriage is not a halachic conversion. It is only a halachic conversion if the ger affirmatively wants Torah for his or her own reasons, free-standing apart from any marriage, engagement, or relationship. And I ask for nothing less from a girl who wants a small town. It had better be because she wants it–not because she wants me.

    And it need not necessarily be my town–as I say, there are thousands of small towns across America that have the key components that made (and still make) growing up in my town (and living in my town) such a wonderful experience. That said, I do recognize that it’s pretty darn uncommon to find all of that within a stone’s throw of a Jewish community with all the amenities one could reasonably ask for! :-)

  89. Hi Yakov Spil,

    I harbor no ill will whatsoever against you or anyone else who chooses a Jewish town. I am not in the kiruv business and am not trying to convince you or anyone else to adopt my derekh eretz, move to my sort of town, or even believe that what works for me could ever work for you.

    That said, to have a productive discussion of the issue, it is necessary–if only for the strictly limited purpose of the discussion itself–to accept the premise of the question: “Taking for granted (for the limited purpose of the discussion) that Aspiring Father cannot live a life of Torah and mitzvot, consistent with his derekh eretz, in an American Jewish town, are there Jewish women, with some amount of genuine love of G-d and Torah, who also come from a small American town, or who have since moved of their own volition to a small American town, and who affirmatively want for their own personal reasons to live their lives in such a small town?”

    I hold back completely on a longhand discussion of the differences between the derekh eretz that tends to prevail in modern American Jewish towns and the derekh eretz that tends to prevail in normal American small towns because that is a much longer discussion and much more far-reaching. It is a discussion I could certainly have, but I am trying to keep this discussion within the narrow issue of the practical.

    I do respect that you made the choices that you needed to make in order to move you toward your goals. I admire you for that and I hope that I too will, with the aid and comfort of G-d (and only therewith), make the choices that are necessary to do G-d’s will as best I am able.

  90. Hi Menachem Lipkin,

    We all need a different cocktail of factors, and I’m very glad that israel has given you the land that best lets you live in the community and life that you want. Kol ha kavod!

    I love Chabad (although I actually did not get interested in Judaism through Chabad–I intentionally avoided walking into a campus Chabad House as my first introduction to Orthodoxy because I specifically did not want to be on a college environment when learning about a religion that I knew relatively little about at the time; so I first went to a Modern Orthodox shul in the Adjacent Jewish Town that borders my hometown), and I’m equally comfortable in Chabad Houses or in Modern Orthodox shuls. I’m very come-as-you-are. I do my thing, others will do theirs. I don’t need a room full of people all practicing Torah Judaism exactly as I do.

    So yeah, I could be comfortable in a town that was near to another town with a Chabad House in it. Happens to be that the Adjacent Jewish Town near my own not only has a Chabad, but several other Orthodox shuls and plenty of other amenities, too, but I could most definitely get by with less.

    Do you think I should go ahead with my “cold-call dozens of American Chabad shluchim” idea? At this point I would do it if it was really the most likely way to cast a wide net. The internet has not proven particularly availing…

  91. Hi Chava Canales,

    Your post was music to my ears! Yes, I would gladly disregard the “labels”! (G-d only knows that I don’t fit conveniently into a label or a box myself!)

    Yeah, Jews in other parts of the country are often astonished that one could live in a normal small town and also be immediately adjacent to a Jewish town with all of the amenities, too. It’s apparently more uncommon than I thought growing up around here. The things we take for granted sometimes…

    So do you have any leads on small town Jewish girls in your neck of the woods? A girl who could ask the question “Y’all wanna take a shabbos walk in the woods” would just about make my day! I’m looking–but I need help to find them!

  92. Hi JoshD,

    I sure hope so! The traditional girl would work–that’s enough within my range that it could work if the other stuff is right.

    Problem is jdate is virtually all urban and “Jewish town” suburban, and most girls of the sort who would fall into the “small town traditional” range aren’t on Frumster.

    So where do I find them? I am very, very interested in doing so!

  93. Rambam, Iggeret HaShmad, page 19:
    “If a Jew lives in a place where it is impossible to practice the Jewish faith, then he must move to where it is possible, whatever the expense or loss.”

  94. I think you’re confusing Torah defined derech Eretz and the friendliness, cordiality and good manners of a small town. They are not the same thing.

    Yes, the good manners of the average person in your small town might be totally consistent with Torah, but Torah is much deeper and nuanced then just good manners and Torah Derech Eretz can only be approached through a lifetime of learning and practicing Torah.

    If your truly interested in listening, hearing, learning and discussing the differences, let me know.

  95. But what are the halakhic ramifications of marrying a spouse who might have positive dispositions toward Reform or Conservative hashkafos?

  96. When you do meet a potential new wife, remember that living in your town also has to be a net plus for her, as seen from her perspective and objectively, too.

  97. I have a very simple premise when it comes to issues like this. Yidden who say, I love Torah and Hashem, but the Yidden today-“YOU CAN HAVE ‘EM!” I tell them there is a Zohar that refutes this way of thinking to it’s core- Kudsha B’rich Hu v’Yisroel v’oraisa chad hu.” Hashem, Yisroel, and Torah are one. Whether you translate Yisrael as Eretz or as each individual Yid- it really doesn’t matter- you can’t have any part of the equation with one part missing.

    You are entitled to your own standards of derech eretz as you see them. You are entitled to your own whims of how Jewish life should be. But we all learn how to grow with other Yidden and be patient with everyone’s shortcomings and tremendous maalos.

    This may not be as much a Jewish issue as a much as a people issue, I feel. Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk wrote a tefilla where we say, “Help me Hashem to only see the good in others and not what they are lacking.” If the Rebbe wrote that, he knew there is a Jewish bein adam l’chaveiro issue involved as well as a generic one.

    You need not feel compelled to respond. I could’ve stayed in my very American town as well, but I aspired to much more. And with every choice comes it’s advantages and disadvantages. I wouldn’t have traded any part of it. Much hatzlacha to you in your journey.

  98. I can very much relate to what you wrote. I grew up in a wonderful suburban NJ town. Though my parents sent me to a Jewish day school, I went to the local public high school afterwards. I loved those years. My town probably had a higher percentage of Jews than yours, but I was still able to become friends with “other” people. The advent of Facebook as allowed me to reconnect with quite a number of my high school classmates. It’s such an important “window” for me now to see how terrific ALL kinds of people can be.

    I now live in Israel. There are many wonderful things about living here. However, I’m not sure you would be able to replicate the life you have there over here. Especially living here in Israel, the world’s largest Jewish ghetto :), that “window” take on even greater importance. Jews, as a people, do some wonderful things, but I often find myself cringing at the phrase “mi k’amcha”.

    While I think you might be underselling some of the nicer out of town “frum” communities, I totally understand your desire to hold on to something so special.

    Chabbad may be one way for you to go, but there’s a LOT that goes along with it. Another route for you might be to seek out a nice “traditional”, but maybe not orthodox, woman who has both small town and Jewish values.

  99. I see nothing wrong with your wants/desires. I don’t believe many orthodox girls would want to live away from their community, however, I could be wrong. For a variety of reasons, my family moved out of our Jewish community. We moved down south to a nice town, and have to drive half an hour to the closest Chabad. We are definitely the only orthodox where we live. Have you ever considered a nice Jewish girl, and forget about her “label”? There are lots of nice girls in the conservative and reform sector, that it wouldn’t matter where you live. I think you’ve got the best of both worlds. Small town, but close to amenities. You’re actually lucky. We’ve got to drive over an hour to buy kosher meat. Good luck to you!!

  100. Aspiring, what you seek is definitely possible. There are lots of girls, who either grew up small town and became religious, or come from traiditional backgrounds and like the rural/small town life. There are many small close knit jewish communities around the country. The difficulty will be actually meeting them (not b/c they are so rare, but b/c young jews are generally congregated in a few major population centers). What I would encourage you to do is try a dating sate, perhaps jdate or something frummer if it’s to your taste, and search for ladies living in your area, and then get to know them and see if they’d be up for a small town life. Or maybe try the chabad events in your area or others.

    Another area for you to look into might be a girl who grew up traditional or conservative outside a major jewish center and now lives near yours. She may not like an orthodox shul but you can cross that bridge when you get there. And who knows she may just surprise you.

  101. Hi Harry Maryles,

    Kol ha kavod! I am very glad to hear that your journey continues (for does it ever really “end”?) so happily!

    I should note that I would consider Toledo a VERY big city! :-) Just goes to show it’s all relative…

    I am not set on my particular town. There are thousands of towns out there with the same sort of derekh eretz that my town has. That said, there are any number of towns without that derekh eretz, for a wide variety of reasons.

    I am not seeking to embrace secular culture. My town is a place where people of deep and abiding faith are perfectly normal. There is nothing unusual about people who take G-d and love for Him seriously here. I did not go running to Torah as a means of escape. I ran to Torah because I saw the work of G-d in my town.

    There is nothing in my town, other than a mere lack of an extremely high concentration of observant Jews, that would deter someone from a life of sincere faith in G-d and action on that faith. My town reinforces my love of Torah and G-d. I am not pulled by “a non religious society” at all. The society that I am pulled by is the society that introduced love of G-d to me in high school and reinforces it in my daily life.

    My understanding is that this is often not the case in cities (I use the word as a term of art, meaning a larger municipality than a “town”), where the surrounding culture is virulently secular and pulls one away from faith in G-d. Not the case in my town.

  102. Hi Miriam Peromsik,

    I would respectfully ask that you take my word that it would be an extensive discussion touching on a vast breadth of cultural, values, and priorities factors. I do not begrudge you your choice, and I am not in the kiruv business. I am not trying to convert you or anyone else to my derekh eretz. But for purposes of this discussion, I would respectfully request that one just assume (solely for discussion purposes) that the differences exist and are consistent and real enough to draw the distinction in a meaningful way.

    I would also note that Ms. Also-Ran confirmed my analysis of the dichotomy through direct, comprehensive, first-hand knowledge of both my normal American town and nearby modern American Jewish communities. The distinctions are out there and real. I’m not out to change them. I just have to select between them, and I have made my choice of derekh eretz.

    What I mean by derekh eretz is what Samson Raphael Hirsch meant: derekh (the way) eretz (of the land). The derekh eretz is not a small group of close friends with similar values. The derekh eretz is the prevailing wind. I have many, many dear friends who live in frum communities that are by and large filled with decent, kind, wonderful folks with terrific values. Unfortunately for me, those communities invariably deposit themselves in larger Jewish communities where the secular values are dramatically inconsistent with those of the Orthodox veldt.

    I grew up in a place where the sort of values that I got from my dad, from my grandfather, etc., were reinforced by the normal values that prevailed among most folks I encountered in daily life. Were there exceptions? You better believe there were exceptions. But those exceptions stood out like sore thumbs. And that’s the distinction between “derekh eretz” and “derekh of my small group of close friends.” I have a town where my values (including love of G-d, even if not my particular faith) are normal. I don’t need to insulate myself from the predominant values of those around me. I don’t need to take care to confine myself to a relatively small group of folks with similar values to mine. My values are normal, regular, and ordinary. I share the derekh eretz of my town. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  103. Hi Mr. Cohen,

    Ha! I’m sure it won’t surprise you that a number of my frum friends have made that comment over the years to me.

    That said, I am an American. Don’t get me wrong–when Moshiach shows up, I’ll be on the plane to Yerushalayim with everyone else (you will never hear me say any such thing as “America ist mein Yerushalayim,” because there is only one Yerushalayim, and it is in the same place that it was in one thousand years ago, two thousand years ago, and centuries upon centuries before that!). But until that day, I owe a debt to my family, my town, and my nation that I could spend a lifetime trying to repay and still fall short of. I have been blessed to have the family and the town that I have. Whether in this town or another comparable American town, there’s good soil for planting roots in out here. And I’ve got a whole lot of debt to pay back–debt that money cannot pay back. Debt payable only in time and sweat equity.

  104. I have had a similar desire. I too come from a small twon – Toledo Ohio. My family was also very warm much like yours. I never wanted to leave Toledo because that was the home I loved. My parents lived there… The small town life was there. The closeness of the community was there. The corner drug store… the neighborhood movie. I swore that I would do my level best to make it happen… and find a girl that shared that worldview.

    To my great fortune it never did happen. Had I stayed in Toledo I would have never gained the inner beauty of becoming what you seek to become – a man of Halacha.

    That is God’s mandate for His people – to encounter the world in all of its glory and interact with it Halachicly in every way. Halachic man is the result of religious interaction with the corporeal.

    But without at least a minimal reinforcement by a religious community, the ideal of the Halachic man will very likely not happen.

    The pull of a non religious society will eventually hold sway over you. This is what happened to me. I was slowly being pulled into the secular side and away from Halacha. If not for the religious environment I eventualy found, I doubt that I would be observant today.

    You would be surprised how easily and insidiously that happens no matter how idealistic and determined you are.

    I’m not trying to dissuade you from your dream. I’m just telling you about mine and how it ended – for the better.

  105. Moti,

    I would distinguish between someone who considers a small town to be a “test she can withstand” versus someone who considers a small town to be a community that will lift her up, support her, and nurture her. For me, my town is the latter. My faith in G-d and the Torah is increased, reinforced, and revitalized like a bottle of Geritol every time I see my town come together, and even when I see my town bicker over some issue of zoning or taxation but then, once the argument is done and the votes are in, mend fences and go back to normal.

    When someone has a tragic health problem or an accident in my town, and word gets out that they aren’t able to make ends meet, my town comes together to support the family in question. Because when you let your roots reach deep into the earth, you earn–over long years of living with and for your neighbors–the respect and love of those around you.

    Some people call this “extended family.” Others, in the term most commonly used among our co-religionists, call it “community.” I just call it “a town.”

    A girl who would want this sort of town would embrace it as it embraces her. I would never want to force someone to live out her days in this sort of town if she viewed it as a prison; neither the town nor the girl would deserve that sort of treatment.

  106. shmuel,

    Yes! Do you have any suggestions on how I can find such small-town American Jewish women (traditional/observant/some variation on the theme)? I am desperate for ways to locate them. I have actually considered cold-calling Chabad Houses around the country and asking the rabbis whether women of that sort have wandered in, but then I thought that might start to get silly after a fashion.

    You hit the nail on the head for what I’m looking for. Where are they?

  107. Here’s “Response To Judy, Part III”:

    5) You state that I have “dislike of American Jewish culture and [] affinity toward American non-Jewish culture[.]” I cannot say this strongly enough: I am not in the kiruv business and I am not trying to convince Jews perfectly comfortable in modern American Jewish communities to move out or change! If someone living in a modern American Jewish community likes the derekh eretz there, or even if they don’t like the derekh eretz there but believe that it is worth making the trade-off for the other amenities (easy walking distance to shul, etc.) then kol ha kavod!

    Further, I am not rejecting Torah. I am not rejecting Judaism. A hundred years ago, the derekh eretz of American Jewish communities was very different. A hundred years before that, it was very different still. And a hundred years from now, it will be very different from that. All that I am saying is that, relative to my derekh eretz–the derekh eretz that I want to give to my children as a great inheritance along with Torah and love of G-d–the derekh eretz that at this time prevails in most modern American Jewish towns is not compatible.

    I am not in the kiruv business. I am not trying to sell my derekh eretz to anyone other than my kids. All I am looking for is a wife who also has that same derekh eretz and who also wants to live in a town that embraces it.

    6) You state that I say “What I want doesn’t exist among Jewish women.” Not yet, I don’t. I am fighting with every ounce of strength I’ve got to find someone who wants it. I have not given up, I don’t want to give up, and I am doing my utmost not to give up. That is why I have posted the dilemma on a public BT blog. I am hoping that folks out there can point the way.

    And do not for a second imagine that my difficulty in finding someone who wants the same kind of town in any way reflects disrespect for the values of frum girls. I have met countless–and I do mean countless–wonderful frum girls with wonderful values. Values that would fit in almost perfectly in my town (as proven by Ms. Also-Ran, who did fit in perfectly in my town!). It just happened that they knew, as do I, the type of town that they wanted to raise a family in, and it was fundamentally different in derekh eretz from the type of town that I want to raise a family in. But my respect for them did not diminish one whit merely because we weren’t looking for the same derekh eretz.

    Phew! Feel free to reply to my reply.

  108. Here’s “Response To Judy, Part II”:

    3) I did not state outright that I “don’t want a frum girl.” What I stated was that I don’t “need” a frum girl. I say that in order to recognize that, realistically, the sort of girl who would want to live in a town that is not a Jewish enclave would probably not be totally frum. That said, my ex was frum (FFB, actually). She loved my town. Hordes of people in my town loved her! But I am realistic: I recognize that finding a girl who actively wants my kind of town will most likely be less than 100% frum. My comment about not “needing” a frum girl is merely to recognize that I am fairly realistic about this.

    4) You state that “The reality of small towns in the twenty-first century is more like this: sky-high unemployment rates; businesses closing down; young adults who can’t wait to leave for jobs in the big city; crumbling Main Streets and boarded-up houses; spiraling drug and alcohol abuse; domestic violence and child neglect behind closed doors.” Judy, I shed tears to think that so many out there believe that sentence accurately describes most small towns in America. Perish the thought that it ever should! All I can tell you is that my town is no such place. My town is not blighted with sky-high unemployment rates, it has a quite solid business tax base, and its young adults may leave for a tour of duty in the military or to attend college, but often enough they return to this town or a nearby town by their late 20’s to raise children of their own.

    Crumbling Main Streets and boarded-up houses? Hardly–at least not here. Admittedly, the main streets in the center of town take a beating every year during our big town parade, and the shrapnel from the annual fireworks show probably crumbles and smolders… but nobody would mistake my center of town for a shanty-town! Drug and alcohol abuse? Domestic violence? Child neglect? All I can tell you is that my ex characterised the high school that I attended, and that my younger relatives attend today, as a mensch factory. As to “domestic violence and child neglect,” I can only give you my word that my ex, who grew up in a frum household, literally sobbed with admiration whenever we would leave after visiting my folks and she would see the kind of family and home life that I had growing up, whenever she would drop by unannounced and see my dad and stepmother making dinner or having dinner with my younger relatives (as they do virtually every night), etc.

    And when her mother saw my town? I will never forget when Mrs. Mother Of Ms. Also-Ran looked me straight in the eye and said “[Aspiring Father,] you have no idea how lucky you are to have grown up in a town where you can take it for granted that you and most kids you grew up around had dinner with their family every night of the week. That is so special.”

    And when her father saw my town? I quickly lost town of the number of times that Mr. Father Of Ms. Also-Ran looked off wistfully over a little lake, or a town green, or a woodland opening up across the street from the house I grew up in, and said “You live in an idyllic paradise.” (His words, not mine.)

  109. Hi Judy,

    Thank you for your very thoughtful reply! I will try to respond to your points one at a time–forgive me if I miss one or two of them en route.

    Here’s “Response To Judy, Part I”:

    1) You state that I am remembering an idealized version of Norman Rockwell America that no longer exists. I am honored to tell you, and I thank G-d for this fact, that when Ms. Also-Ran (my ex, who was a born & bred day school grad) moved out and rented an apartment in my town to see whether it really was as I had described it, her only criticism of my portrayal of it was that I had understated the case!

    You state that my sort of values were “quite commonplace back in the nineteen-fifties.” I will have to take your word for that, because I was not alive in the 1950’s, nor in the 1960’s, nor in the 1970’s. In fact, I have much younger relatives growing up in the same town today who are having much the same sort of time that I had back in 1990’s. And I am actively involved in my town, working as best I can to help steer it. (After all, any community–modern-Jewish-America or small-town-American, can crumble if not well maintained, so we do our best to keep our little town on an even keel.)

    Believe me, it exists. It exists and it caused Ms. Also-Ran to cry crocodile tears when she left to move back to The Big City, because both she and her folks came to adore the town. They all agreeed that it was the sort of place that they had thought disappeared a hundred years ago. It broke Ms. Also-Ran’s heart to see that it is still alive and well.

    2) I do not idealize all Americans categorically. The values that bind me to a small American town do not exist in every American town, and that is why it is so important to choose a town (I use the word in lieu of “community”) very carefully. No question about it.

    It’s a distinction of derekh eretz. There are many derekh eretzes in America. It just so happens that at this particular point in history, American Jewish towns tend to be characterized by aspects of a derekh eretz that is inconsistent with the one that I was raised with. Those derekh eretz issues don’t really have much to do with Torah. That said, though, I take a town as I find it; it may well be that a hundred years from now there will be a very different derekh eretz prevailing in most American Jewish enclaves. But I’m not living a hundred years hence. I’m living today.

    Again, I do not begrudge any Jew who prefers an American Jewish town. It just is not, for me, compatible with my derekh eretz and the derekh eretz that I want to impart to any children that I should happen to have.

  110. To the original poster:

    Your posting makes me suspect that you don’t have a grasp of the breadth of the orthodox Jewish communities in N. America today. But since you don’t want to be convinced you could find a community you’d be comfortable in, I’ll leave it at that.

    As to what you are looking for, it doesn’t sound unreasonable at all that there would be a single Jewish woman who wants to live a traditional life in many ways but doesn’t want to be fully observant and who also wants to live in a small town. It’s a matter of figuring out where to meet such a person who is compatible with you and making it work.

  111. I think I’m not understanding what you mean by derech eretz and why you think it isn’t possible to achieve in a Jewish community. my small out-of town Jewish community produces children with excellent middos. people comment on it after school trips, etc. surely there are other such places? Okay so we have no kosher restaurants, no butcher shop, and only one kosher grocery store — we still have a small but vibrant community with mikveh, tiny kollel, day school, girls high school, and beis medrash.

  112. Obvious answer – marry someone with Chabad values or leanings who values the idea of “shlichus” living out of the big cities and has the strength to withstand the test.

  113. One more point-many BTs, including myself, will tell you that without a supportive spouse who shares your values, the FFB world where everyone went to the same camps, schools, etc, and has known each other for a long time, is a tough place for BTs to get acclimated to without a spouse with similar values, great friends, and mentors. The elements of a great spouse, friends and mentors are probably IMO the greatest means of integration available to a BT, and which I reccomend and underscore to all raise your question and similarly rooted questions.

  114. Steve- If you’re indicating that I should live in (rather than adjacent to) a Jewish community, I’m afraid that is contra the premise of the question. I live adjacent to a Jewish community and could certainly continue to do so, but I cannot live in one. My community is the normalAmerican small town, though I harbor no ill will toward any of my co-religionists who prefer a Jewish town. That’s just not compatible with my derekh eretz (i.e., the derekh eretz in which I would need to raise any kids that I should ever have).

  115. Let me suggest an obvious solution. There has been a lot of ink spilled re BTs and Shidduchim. A BT with solidly rooted “out of town” values should think of a person with similar values or someone who respects the same .Such a shidduch will enable you to emphasize the midos that you value so dearly, while making the most of living in a major Jewish community, and disregarding the nonsense that passes for social and religious conformity.

  116. Not at all! I live in a normal American town that is immediately adjacent to a town containing every amenity necessary for living a Jewish life of however much observance one would like to undertake. My town has a far lower per capita Jewish population than Adjacent Jewish Town primarily because AJT naturally tends to draw Jewish population that might otherwise be more evenly dispersed.

    But make no mistake about it: I live in a normal American town that puts me within a 10 minute drive of every sort of kosher grocery good, plenty of kosher supermarket bakeries, a stringently supervised mikvah (that is within the eruv of the town that it is in), a variety of Orthodox shuls, other non-Orthodox shuls (though those are of no interest to me and never have been), G-d only knows how many Orthodox rabbis (both congregational & just guys who happen to have smicha), etc.

    I live one town away. Takes me 10 minutes to drive from the center of my town to the center of that town.

  117. I think that in order to live a life today as a Torah committed Jew, you need both a familial and communal infrastructure. You have to have a spouse who is hashkafically committed to building the reality of a Bayis Neeman BYisrael, as well as live in a community that has all of the communal superstructure-kosher shopping, shuls, yeshivos k-kollel and girls schools, lay learning, mikveh and eruv, that is welcoming of BTs, regardless of the hashkafic orientation of the community.

    Look at it this way-I grew up in a small town. When you are the only kid in a public school who puts on Tefilin and keeps Shabbos, the only way that you can be sucessful is with NCSY or a similar support group . As an adult, you need friends and mentors, which you will invariably not find in a small town, unless there is a Chabad or community kollel in town. Small town life is less hectic than that of the big cities and suburbs, and you may even find a Jewish community like my home town where noone worked on YK, but IMO, unless you are a rav or mchanech, small town life really has too many challenges for the average BT to handle.

  118. Call me confused. You say you’re from a “normal American small town” in which “multiple Orthodox and non-Orthodox shuls, mikvah, etc.) are within a ten-minute drive”??? That’s a contradiction!

  119. Maybe normal American small town values were quite commonplace back in the nineteen-fifties, when people in general were more decent. Certainly when you were growing up things were different. Nowadays in the twenty-tens, when the outside culture is so saturated with immorality and selfishness, it is difficult to imagine that such a thing as “American small town values” even exists anymore.

    I’m not knocking your upbringing or your preferences, but please recall that German Jews went down the path of assimilation because they admired the German Gentiles so much. And don’t forget that the German Jews generally looked down upon the “Ostjuden,” the Eastern European Jews, rejecting their lifestyles.

    You state outright that you don’t want a frum girl, you want a “somewhat observant” Jewish girl. You don’t want Ashkenazic or Sephardic Orthodox Jewish culture. You want American small town culture, or what you idealize as American small town culture. You don’t want your future Jewish children to attend yeshivas: you want and hope that one day they will attend a small town public school, where the dedicated teachers work hard to transmit what you consider to be real small town values.

    This is a free country. You are perfectly welcome to your wants and dreams. However, to be frank it sounds like a Norman Rockwell fantasy. The reality of small towns in the twenty-first century is more like this: sky-high unemployment rates; businesses closing down; young adults who can’t wait to leave for jobs in the big city; crumbling Main Streets and boarded-up houses; spiraling drug and alcohol abuse; domestic violence and child neglect behind closed doors. Is that really the culture you want your future children to admire and grow up in?

    Don’t forget that any future children you may have will absorb your dislike of American Jewish culture and your affinity toward American non-Jewish culture, just as the German Jews rejected East European Jewish lifestyles for what they considered to be the finer and better German non-Jewish culture.

    Sadly enough, usually when a single Jewish man says as you do, “What I want doesn’t exist among Jewish women,” it becomes, in the words of one well-known Jewish speaker, an excuse to “marry out.” If your priorities are such that “possessing small town values” and “enjoying life in a small town” comes before “Jewish observance” in your search for a wife, then what is stopping you from assimilation and intermarriage?

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