When I sat down to write this – my first article for Beyond BT – I wanted to phrase it in the plural, as “we,” writing for other women as well as myself. But I don’t know any other women in my situation. Perhaps, as a result of this article, some will come forward.
There are some inspirational stories in Jewish literature about religious women whose husbands are not on as high a spiritual level, though such women are, seemingly, nowhere to be found in our present-day world. There’s a classic story from Beresheet Rabbah (17:7) about a pious man and woman who divorced because they were childless; each married a wicked mate. The pious man’s new wife made him wicked, while the pious woman made her new husband righteous. The moral of this story is that “everything depends on the woman.”
Or, there is the story of Devorah, the Judge of Israel. Her husband, according to Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer (chapter 9), was not learned. So Devorah would make wicks and send her husband to deliver them to the Temple, so he would be exposed to the holy surroundings and perhaps, by osmosis or by interacting with those present, be influenced. She is given the credit for assuring that her husband would thereby have a share in the World to Come.
Through a series of events which would be off-topic to detail, I married my husband 15 years ago. We are an older couple, so some things that would be serious issues for (hypothetical) younger observant/non-observant couples are not relevant to us. But there are still challenges aplenty.
Our kitchen is unique. My husband loves to cook and putter around in the kitchen; I’m probably one of the few women who wishes her husband would leave the kitchen entirely to her. But he has his area of the kitchen (non-kosher), and I have mine (kosher). I don’t know what I’d do without aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and the two self-cleaning ovens I’m fortunate enough to have. My husband likes to joke to people that “we have three sets of dishes: meat, milk, and mine,” or that with our three microwave ovens, anyone with a pacemaker would get zapped if they walked in. Seriously, though, we can’t have any of our observant friends over to eat because I would not want to put them in an awkward position of having to refuse due to doubts. We have been their guests many, many times, but we can’t reciprocate.
Shabbat is unique. I make a point of preparing an elaborate Friday night dinner for just the two of us, and my husband puts on a yarmulke and eats with me at the candlelit Shabbat table – but on his own dishes and with his own placemat. Lately he has even been washing for bread (my homemade challah). I guess for him that’s a giant step; I can’t realistically expect that he will ever sing Zemirot or even Eishet Chayil.
Our house is full of timers. Thank G-d for technology! But, he goes his merry way and puts on lights (and TV and computer and so on) for himself as he wishes. Saturday is his favorite shopping day – did I mention that he likes to shop as well as cook? Meanwhile, every Shabbat morning I am in shul, davening to Hashem. Many of the prayers have extra meaning for me: “Return us to You…” and so on.
It is because of my husband’s love for me that I even have a chance to be in shul at all. For many years, we lived far away from the Jewish community. As I came back to Yiddishkeit, I longed to be near an Orthodox shul. Finally, he moved us to the wonderful community where we now live – even though that meant he would be commuting to and from work a total of 100 miles a day. We are around the corner from my shul of choice, one of five Orthodox shuls within walking distance. To me, that is as great a miracle as Yetziat Mitzrayim, and I often think of my own personal Exodus during that part of the prayers.
But it is only rarely that my husband comes to shul. Most of the time, there is a “black hole” for me as I peer through the Mechitzah and see that he is not there. The husband of one of my dearest friends says a Mi Sheberach for my family whenever he gets an Aliyah; it is usually the only way I will have that blessing. As each of my friends sees her husband get an Aliyah, I embrace her and wish that she will have as much joy from her husband’s Aliyah as I would if it were my husband.
When my husband does come to shul, my prayers really come alive. The words seem like they are leaping off the page in flames of spirituality.
The community has welcomed us with open arms. My husband enjoys the company of many of the men when we are someone’s guests. But, so far, he has not adopted their lifestyle.
He is wonderful to me, thoughtful, considerate, loving and funny. He’s everything a woman would want, but he’s not observant. In fact, one of the “problems” I’ve had was how to stop him from buying me flowers on Shabbat!
Most of the stories on the standard Jewish Web sites have happy endings of how this or that person became a BT. We never hear about the ones who don’t. I constantly hope and pray that my husband will become observant – after all, doesn’t it all depend upon the woman? – but, only Hashem knows, and I have to have faith that this is all for the best.