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Single Woman

Single Woman


Dear Rachel,

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

Dear Janice,

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!


“Dear Rachel” is a biweekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sarah Zadok.

Sarah Zadok is a childbirth educator, doula and freelance writer. She lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, with her husband and four children.

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Discussion (24)
January 20, 2013
Seeking Your Shalom
Many good comments from many different perspectives, all of which are valuable. I notice it all comes down to perspective & attitude.�
Do you truly long for a husband & kids of your own as a desire of your heart? Or have you been comparing yourself to others, thinking the life they have will fill the emptiness you feel? You can focus on the emptiness and be perpetually upset or you can choose to be thankful for the emptiness as a Potential space; to be filled with love for G-d, friends, hobbies, even (borrowed) children. Focus for a week on your blessings, positive aspects of present circumstance & write every positive down. Find a silver lining for every disappointment. (dont write down any negatives) Notice as you do that whatever you focus on grows in your mind. You can choose to be content in any circumstance. Or not. It's up to you. This is what I have done (as a single longing for kids, so I borrow them) and I find I'm a happier me. (and the parents I babysit for get a break too).
Jacksonville Fl
November 23, 2012
This is great advice, even for senior citizens.
At 66 years old, I find the loneliness often not bearable, and I sleep nearly all day. The sadness of not seeing the grown kids is often too distressing. Before I fell and the hip went goofy, I was helping other seniors. Now, I need the help. It is hard to adapt.
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
River, CA
September 23, 2012
Marriage in your 40s
I have friends who have married for the first time in their 40s. Many of them have married older or men of the same age who have previously been married and in many cases already have adult children. These are some of the happiest marriages I have seen. No, dating isn't easy once you reach a certain age in Judaism but I do know people who have married in their 40s. One friend and her sisters was raised primarily by her older childless stepmother. She calls this woman her mother because she raised her after her father remarried when her mother died.
Married but childless
Los Angeles, Ca
September 4, 2012
single woman
Here am I, also a single woman, also older. I wonder soemtimes if I regret not having had children but to be honest, when I am with families and children, I am glad I can go home and have my peace with G-d
I love my art. I love people; and I travel alot. I meet people from all over the world. I can reach out to people that a person burdened with family duties cannot.
I can take the time while on vacation to interrupt plans and go help some stranger even. It is my choice.
Had I a husband and children, i would not be doing that.
For example, we would go to a City like Paris and go out to dinners and spend an inordinate amount of time entertaining each other.
When I travel, I got time to stand before a painting that moves me and let it infuse me with wonder and meditate on all the gorgeous beauty and life G-d has given us.
It can hurt, too, when you see the boundaries. sometimes, thought, I have to say, their life seems so mundane and routine
and I feel very blessed
agoura, ca
August 24, 2012
Feminism and the 70's
Can I just say that I believe the Feminism mandate of the 1970's - zero population growth, biology is not destiny, our bodies, ourselves, birth control, abortion rights, free love, etc...did me personally, and many generations, a disservice. I was completely managed by the value system prevalent in my young adulthood and marriage/ childbearing years. I did not grow up in a traditionally observant Jewish home, although I did receive "basic training" of lighting candles, Hebrew school and keeping major holidays. In my family a woman's identity and role was to blaze a trail in the working world, which I did. Today I have no husband, kids, extended family - all my friends are in the same boat. I look back and rue the circumstances of the 1970's.
August 22, 2012
Staying single effects more than me.
Am in much the same boat and find myself thinking of it this way: As a single religious Jewish man my choice to remain single and celibate doesn't affect only me. I'm denying some single religious Jewish woman out there in the world a good husband. And by not marrying and having children more or less deliberately it's in a sense like abortion and thus murder - I choose not to have children much as someone might choose to have an abortion. In my case the only defense is a question of temporal mechanics. But when we make it a conscious choice not to wed and have children we rob our people of yet more potential spouses. Projected over time, who knows how many we effect with this choice we believe is only effecting us?
Jeff G.
Springfield, MO/USA
August 16, 2012
You answered this question with sensitivity and emes.Thank you!
i am an older single who instinctively did many of the things you speak about, only now I find myself watching all those children i cared for and the families they are creating. It is not fun and relationships change, especially those with my friends who are grandparents over and over again. They are busy with "their" families and the boundaries hit hard.
There are many forms of chesed and it is true, we do not have to feel alone. Still this is a major challenge to those of us who live it. May we all be blessed to see the revealed goodness in our lives and to pass along the message of love and acceptance for all.
August 16, 2012
This was a wonderful answer to a sincere question, Sarah. I loved the sensitivity you put forth in your answer.
Ruth McCoskey
Silverdale WA
August 16, 2012
Hillel Haazaaken also said: if not now,when ?
So firstly it is great that you started connection with the community. Second-start looking at yourself as a needed and appreciated person who through giving fulfills a great mitzvah The duality of feminine/masculine/ exist in any human being. Be sure you are not alone !!By presenting the issue, you made the right step to knowing yourself better and sure enough you will find a great partnership sooner than you can imagine. wishing you happy &interesting purposeful life- JUST OPEN UP TO GIVING AS WELL AS RECEIVING !!!- IT IS OK TO RECEIVE TOO...
Jerusalem, Israel
August 16, 2012
Single and Observant
I was married for many years and have been divorced for many years. I am lucky enough to have children and a new grandchild. I am okay and accustomed to going at it solo. My home is open to my family during the chagim and I am busy being hostess and matriarch. But, I have noticed, that if I wanted to connect and re-marry, Chabad has not been active in supporting potential matches with adults in their 50's. There are continual celebrations when shidduchs are made which is wonderful.The non-verbal message seems to be that when a woman can no longer conceive, why get married? I respect that some people do not want to marry and have children. And, Judaism still offers much to all people because there is a divine purpose in everyone. But, many times I think I'd like to be considered more relevant, rather than being seated at the divorced and single women's table.
Rancho Mirage, CA/USA
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