I was ruminating on how is a Jewish religious marriage different from a secular one… How specifically does it differ in practical terms? How are the dynamics and the goals different?
I am not sure about this topic, cuz there are many streams and extremes in the jewish religious world, but I can only try to distill this based on my experience, yeshivah studies, readings and on my contacts with various religious authorities, rabbanim, dayanim, and talmidei chachamim.
So, IMHO (in my humble opinion), one of the main tenets of a religious lifestyle is the verse ‘ve’ahavta le’reyecha ko’mocha’- ‘love others as you love yourself’. I think that all our social interactions must be conducted with this teaching in mind.So when a husband and wife interact, both should strive to treat their spouse with consideration for the other’s feelings and with due consideration to the other spouse’s situation and needs.
Another point- IMHO the Torah teaches to consider the psychological and physiological differences between genders, ages and individual needs of every person. Torah has given different tasks to the males, different tasks to the females, different goals to a child of three, and still another goals to a youngster of marriageable age. In the Torah we have different roles assigned to the Leviim (Levites), different to the Kohanim (priests) and still different goals to the Israelites. An indentured servant has different obligations than a day laborer, and a woman has different tasks/desires/outlooks etc than a man.
I think that it is simply being truthful, and does not mean that we are attempting to ‘pigeon-hole’ all males into a certain inflexible form. I think that if someone does not fit a mold, there is no prison term inside such mold, it is simply about recognizing, respecting and appreciating our differences.
Each individual is assigned a role, a task, a part of the spectrum to call one’s own.Therefore, IMHO, both husband and wife should remember that their spouse has different needs, goal, dreams, desires and aspirations in the marriage.
Perhaps in the secular framework, a spouse might be allowed to say ‘well, I am a guy, you cannot expect me to XYZ’. In the religious marriage, IMHO, each spouse is obligated to try one’s best to treat the other spouse in a way s/he wants/desires/expects/needs to be treated.
So, for example, if a wife is not naturally disposed to respect the husband’s need to be heard, she should not say- well, I’m a woman and I am naturally inclined to be more talkative- so if he loves me, he should learn to listen! Since she is obligated to show due consideration to her spouse, (as well as to every person) she must attempt to remember at all times to pay attention to the husband- in a way he considers considerate.So if he needs to be heard as well, he should be given the chance to express himself as well.
And, for example, if the husband is not naturally talkative and not used to sharing his feelings and ideas, he should not say- well, i’m a guy, I have trouble with these things. He must try his best to show his wife that her needs matter to her, and treat her the way she needs to be treated.
Both spouses should be sensitive to the other’s needs and inclinations- not to monopolize the conversation, for example, or to show interest in one’s spouse’s interests.
In today’s world, where both men’s and women’s roles in the society have changed, it is not as obvious what the needs and the inclinations are, of either side. So it is important to have respectful, thorough and caring discussions with each other, with each side being able to express their needs, fears, desires and perceived roles.
In the famous book by John Grey, the author compares men and women to creatures so different, that they could have conceivably have originated on different planets. His book attempts to serve as a dictionary, which decodes the men-speak for the ladies, and clarifies the women-talk to the guys.
But being able to understand a language, and actually using it- are two different things!Since we are religious jews, who live according to the teachings of the Torah, we are obligated to treat others with due consideration- we must take the time to understand the needs of those close to us.
Therefore, a woman in a religious jewish marriage should be treated with consideration as a woman.And she should treat her spouse with a consideration given to men.
Practically speaking- usually women generally pay special attention to their cosmetic appearance. In such case the husband should pay attention to it as well, complementing, helping his wife get appropriate jewelery, showing interest in her efforts to make herself look attractive to him.
On the other hand, the wife should consider her husband’s tastes when considering her various beauty routines. It would be, after all, self-defeating for a wife to attempt some style or make-up, or an article of clothing, with complete disregard for her husbands likes and dislikes.
After all, her mitzva, and her role in the marriage is to increase the intimacy within the marriage as much as possible.
Thus, if she disregards her husband’s tastes, she not only fails to use this aspect of their relationship, but even weakens it, by disregarding his tastes, and by not allowing him to express his preferences and his opinion. Both spouses should attempt to show care in taking interest in each other’s affairs- naturally in a way that does not merely invade each others’ domain without being pushy and steam-rolling over your spouses ideas, plans, etc
If a husband dresses a certain way (for example, wears only one type of suit,not trying anything else, his wife’s attempt to modify his wardrobe might be considered disrespectful. ‘I LOVE YOU THE WAY YOU ARE, NOW CHANGE!!!’
If you like the way your husband dresses, why should he change? And vice versa… So, is there a middle way or not? But, on the other hand, both spouses can try to please each other as much as possible. If s/he finds a particular article of clothing, or a style, more appealing, the other spouse should be flexible enough and caring enough to adapt, as an expression of love and respect and concern for each other…
A religious couple IMHO, should be especially interested in each others’ ideas, opinions and preferences, simply because we were commanded to respect each other and treat each other with care and consideration.
So, in a religious marriage, both parties should take time to listen to each other, value each others’ talents, appreciate each other’s unique input and needs.
If a husband needs to make a decision about buying a new car, or about anything, he should try to involve his wife- ask her opinion, preferences etc. By doing it, she will feel that her opinions, tastes and ideas are valuable to her spouse. And vice versa!
After both parties have really listened to each other , they can discuss how things could be done in a way that takes both parties into account, with some kind of amicable meeting of minds, where hopefully an even greater closeness and mutual appreciation develops…
Another point I’d like to make is about giving…Of course, it goes without saying that in a marriage of a religious, sincere jewish couple, both parties are interested in self-improvement and in doing chesed (kindness) whenever possible. But, at times, the mutual ideas about what constitutes chesed or giving, are not so clear…
For example, one of my friends is a talented piano player. He is able to crank out pretty advanced pieces of classical music on his piano.
If he were to marry a woman who is deaf, or who hates classical piano, she’ll fail to appreciate this facet of her spouse. he’ll resent her for not appreciating his talens and his efforts, while she will resent that he pays so much attention to something she doesnt really care for.
It IS possible to somewhat mitigate such issue if the couple is sensitive to each other’s needs and unique talents. If the woman recognizes her husbands talent for classical music, she’ll at least make an effort to learn more about this topic.
She might find out that there are some composers she CAN indeed appreciate, or at least like more than the others. And the husband can recognize the fact that his wife isn’t really that much interested in classical piano.
But the husband won’t be able to express his love by playing beautiful piano sonatas to his beloved! What can he do? he can show his love in an another way, such as to be appreciated by his wife.Or he might try to play the kind of music she is able to appreciate.
Another example- let’s say that the husband is allergic to nuts. Is his wife going to increase the quality of her marital tranquility by offering her allergic husband a tray of chocolate-covered peanuts?
My point is- our gift must be given with the recipient in mind. If your child does not care for animals, giving him a toy puppy will not be appreciated very much!
If the husband is on a diet, and his new wife insists on offering him rich creamy desserts, her gift won’t be appreciated, just the opposite- it might be perceived as uncaring.
If one spouse cares for a particular type of food or art or hobby or anything, the other spouse should at least ATTEMPT to become interested and knowledgable in such area.
After all, if something is important to one spouse, it should at least be given more regard, for the sposes sake. IMHO it has nothing to do with trying to change each other. it means that we appreciate each other’s differences and value each other’s uniqueness. but if we don’t pay any attention to our partner’s likes/dislikes/talents etc, a major hole will gape in the center of the relationship.
But if one spouse will insist on giving and giving and giving, but not something the recipient appreciates, then the act of giving isn’t giving at all.
Imagine if husband speaks a different language than his wife- if he were to recite his wife the most beautiful poetry in HIS language, it will all be wasted, or even possibly a cause of resentment.
So, whenever giving a gift, let’s make sure it is suitable or desirable and appreciated by the recipient… We would not give a piece of meat to a vegan, nor a beautiful painting to a blind person. Such gesture would simply be wasted. So, whenever we are giving, we should ask ourselves- is this something the recipient will appreciate/find useful???
Another example that I just thought of last night:
I’m a type of person that loves to discuss ideas, concepts, etc. I’m not so much into discussing people (‘guess who I met at the shul today?’), but I AM interested in discussing or at least mentioning the subjects taught about at the shiur.
I know that many husbands and wives would consider it strictly guy’s domain (i can just imagine all the ladies disdainfully turning their noses at the very idea of asking their husbands about his shiur).
Nevertheless, I think it is a nice thing if the wife knows what kind of shiur is her husband attending: is it a chumash shiur? halacha? gemara? What kind of crowd is there? who is the maggid shiur? how many people are there? are the people excited or bored during the shiur?
To me, such questions show interest on the wife’s side, it shows that she wants to know what is interesting to her husband, it helps her understand what ‘makes him tick’ etc.
Of course, a wife should be careful to ask these questions in a way that shows her loving interest, NOT IN A WAY THAT MAKES HIM FELT LIKE HE IS BEING TESTED OR INTERROGATED!!!
Wife should use these questions to accentuate her respect, love and interest in her husband- not a disdain or suspicion, which might appear as such if she asks about the entire shakle v’tarya of the shiur.
It might also be nice if the wife went to lectures, or at least heard tapes/read books about various topics of her interest. She might ask her husband’s opinion on certain ideas, his take on certain issues, and just generally share her experience…
Please feel free to comment and brainstorm… Kol tuv, Z