Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Ideal Husband - and Jewish Love

Maureen Dowd published this piece in the New York Times this week about the qualities of an ideal husband. While it's certainly a nice list of advice, does it strike anyone as interesting that a priest who's never been married is an expert on marriage? Sure he's got years of counseling experience, but what role does life experience have? This reminds me of the halachah that someone who wants to be the shliach tzibbur for the congregation must be at least thirty years of age, and should preferably have (aside from a nice voice) a wife and children. There's simply no way to compare the prayer of a father and husband responsible for his wife and children to the worries and difficulties of a bachelor, no matter how studious, serious and well-meaning.
At the same time, Father Connor neglected the most important aspect of marriage that Hollywood loves to obscure: the difference between love and infatuation. Infatuation is the feeling of excitement, sexuality and obsession that kindles romanticism, sexuality and passion. Love, on the other hand, is a far deeper sense of mutual respect, identity and most importantly, giving and deviotion. Without that sense of dedication to the well-being to one's spouse, a marriage truly has no solidity or foundation. With it, romantic love can grow and flourish even in the absence of infatuation.
The Mishnah in Avot comments on the notion of lasting and ephemeral love, defining for us true love (which endures) and fleeting love (which does not):
(I'm translating in English - my Hebrew isn't working right now. I'll try and add later.)
Any love based on an external factor - if the factor becomes negated, the love is negated as well. [But love that is] not based on an external factor can never be negated. What is the love that is based on [an external] factor? This is the love of Amnon for Tamar. [And the love] that is not based on a factor? This is the love of David and Jonathan.
Amnon doesn't love Tamar. He lusts for her. Once he satisfies his lust, her very presence forces him to confront his terrible behavior and the fact that he could have raped her. So he transforms the lust and "love" he before felt into hatred and disgust. On the other hand, the love - platonic love and respect - that Jonathan and David feel for each-other represents a sense of respect, shared ideals and common goals. Therefore, even when David represents an existential threat to the very life of Jonathan, he cannot and will not abandon the friend he loves so much.
For marriage to succeed, it must be based on the Jewish concept of love. Jewish love is something that can be nurtured and developed, if one really wants to do so. If one has a sense of respect and admiration for another, and shares the same values, goals and ideals, true love can grow, develop and thrive. Give enough to that person, truly from the heart, and love will grow. On the other hand, infatuation, most often based on looks and sexual desire, usually fades. What's there to base a marriage on after that?
Unfortunately, when Hollywood's all you've got to go on - and that's true for most of America - we begin to understand the astounding and troubling divorce rates so prevalent in Western society today.