I have recently become more interested in Judaism, and have started attending synagogue. The thing is that I am a single woman, never married, and don’t have any children. I am in my late 40s and really don’t know if I ever will marry. Judaism seems to be so focused around marriage and children that I just feel left out. Is there a place in Judaism for the single woman?
New Haven, CT
I think, regardless of our circumstances in life, every person asks the question as to where is his or her place in Judaism. It is specifically because there are so many different aspects of ourselves that it is sometimes hard to know how it is that we fit in.
There is me the sister, me the friend, me the daughter, me the employee. But the deepest “me,” that is indefinable by external circumstance—that’s the “me” that we need to get acquainted with most.
The sage Hillel said: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then who am I?” On the one hand, we need to spend time getting to know ourselves; at the same time, we need be of service to others. That’s the essence of living a Jewish life, balancing these two polarities.
The same Hillel also said, “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself. The rest is commentary.” That’s Judaism. You don’t have to be married to be a connected, committed Jew.
It is specifically through the mitzvot that we are able to connect to G‑d, and in so doing, we connect ourselves to our essential self, the part of us that that is totally tapped into our purpose in this world. So when you are intrinsically connected with your true self, that will open you up to all kinds of possibilities. You never know where life may lead you. Perhaps marriage is still in your future as well.
And you are correct that Judaism does place a lot of emphasis on family life. But, it is also important to understand that, within a Jewish framework, there is a place for everyone. Our sages teach that there are “70 faces” to the Torah. That means that for every word, every sentence and every concept that exists in the Torah, that there are (at least) 70 different ways of understanding it. Take for example the commandment, “Be fruitful and multiply.” The classic and simple meaning is, “Have and raise children.” But if you expand your conceptual framework a bit, you could also understand this to mean: be creative, work hard and contribute to this world—and your good deeds and effort will be your legacy, the fruits of your labor . . . your spiritual children, if you will.
So, even though you may sense an ideal of a married life with children, it is important to understand that there are many ways to be a wife and a mother. We can wed ourselves to observing the Shabbat. We can sanctify that union with inviting guests into our home; we can celebrate that marriage with prayer and with song. And we can be a mother to a sick person in need of love and attention. We can nurture a community project, and reach out to others in need. There are wonderful opportunities to wed, and worthy projects to mother.
If you are feeling left out, I encourage you to make an effort to put yourself in. “Be fruitful and multiply.” Learn more about what it means to be a Jewish woman. Furthermore, take what you learn and teach it to another. Our sages teach us that whoever teaches Torah to another, it is as if he or she gave birth to that person. Actually, the greatest example of this is the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his wife, who never had children themselves. Yet when the Rebbetzin was asked if she had children, she replied that all the chassidim were her children.
Therefore, I urge you to get involved with your community. Seek out situations where you can contribute your unique talents and attributes. You were put into this world for a very specific purpose and mission. And you are definitely needed. We all are. We just need to try and live our lives in a way for that purpose to be revealed. Much luck and success on your journey!