She Who Deserves Her Privacy – SWDHP

I’ve been divorced for a while. I don’t like to say the expression ‘ex-wife’. I usually refer to her by name as I would any acquaintance. I do mention that she is my ‘ex-wife’, but only to establish our relationship.

In this blog I will call her She Who Deserves Her Privacy – SWDHP.

An idea for this comes from the British television series Rumpole of the Bailey that was broadcast on PBS. Horace Rumpole is a barrister who refers to his wife as “She who must be obeyed!”

If I had been Rumpole, I would have abbreviated this to SWMBO when writing. It’s one thing to give his wife a long title when speaking. It’s another for me to want to write out such a long phrase often.

Similarly, the woman who I was once married to and now am divorced from deserves a name that protects her privacy. But, as I wrote above, calling her my “ex-wife” leaves a distaste in my mouth. She is, after all, still our son’s mother. Note how I wrote “our son.” In certain contexts, he is certainly my son. However, he came to be born as “ours,” and he didn’t change when we got divorced. We both raised him together, under the same roof, for about thirteen years.

Actually, there is no full divorce when you have children. The children bring you together when they get married, when grandchildren are born, and so on. This is something to consider if you entertain the idea of getting divorced.

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A single or divorced man making do with only a little kosher body contact

Empiric evidence strongly correlates a baby’s failure to thrive with not being held. Also a lack of eye contact.  An anti-Torah stance of scientists doesn’t seem to skew the studies of failure to thrive.

My leap here is to see body contact as essential for our entire lives. My evidence is anecdotal. I’ve done no research. As I often suggest, here’s a thesis for post-grad research.

However, rushing into a marriage or a second marriage has drawbacks that may outweigh the benefits. Granted that “a man who is not married lives an aggravated life.” (This is my really loose rendering of a Midrash.) However, an ill-advised, first marriage or a rushed second marriage are liable to be aggravating or to just plain falter without being resuscitated.

I rarely dovven Kaballat Shabbat anywhere but in a Chassidishe shul. I can’t imagine such a congregation without circling into dance after L’cha Dodi. My straightforward body contact is by putting my hands strongly on the shoulder of the guy in front of me. At the same, the guy behind me puts his hands on my shoulders. Kosher body contact for a single or divorced man.

For some men there’s an issue of homophobia. If I had it, I got over it. I’m an American “ba’al teshuvah” with plenty of the baggage that comes with growing up in what I’ll call, if I may, “Goyland.” I mean nothing disparaging about them or the use of the word ‘goy’. We have a culture that strongly overlaps with theirs, but we’re still distinct.

(Some sociologists call this “persistent ethnicity” for those of us who are not first-generation Americans. I’m fourth generation on both grandmothers’ sides and third on the side of both grandfathers.)

My son often wanted to get up on my shoulders during a dance. He saw this when he was really young, and I helped his confidence that he wasn’t going to fall. When he became too heavy for me, I stopped lifting him. More kosher body contact, both when I was married and after a divorce.

It wasn’t unusual for a forlorn boy to watch but not have a father in shul or to have a father who couldn’t handle this maneuver or this body contact. I often did the boy a favor by taking him up on my shoulders — not at the expense of my own son, though.

Then there are little, innocent girls who don’t sense that boys and girls are different in Halachah. I’m now going to speak only for myself. I have knowledge of only the Orach Chayim part of the Shulchan Arukh, so I can’t be a Rav (ordained Rabbi). At the same time, those in shul who are older and wiser than me never chastised me for doing what follows.

I now have a little granddaughter. (I don’t have a daughter.) I take her up on sitting on one shoulder. She doesn’t notice the difference. I shouldn’t have to explain to readers why I change how I carry her.

It gets a little dicey when a forlorn girl looks up at me with wide-open, expectant eyes. Sometimes I wipe my brow and tell her that I’m simply worn out. On the other hand, I’ll make an on-the-spot decision to include her. She’s up — sitting on one shoulder, of course — gets a couple dance bounces, and I put her down. I might then show her the face that reads, “Now I’m really pooped out.” Also, by this time, the dance may be over.

What about the issue of a slippery slope? We now have concerns even about men molesting boys and homosexual behavior between males, and in the frum community too.

“Ha’ayin ro’ah v’ halev chomed.” Note how Chazal use the singular — ‘the single eye’ but not ‘both eyes’. I hope that an element of a Day School and a yeshivah education conditions us to use only one eye casually — in a utilitarian way — and the other seriously focused Upward.

For those of us who find ourselves a bit too close to the slippery slope, we have to really pay attention to “fences around the Torah.” There is a safe Torah domain on one hand, and on the other hand, a domain that is clearly outside Torah observance. A well-known adage is, “Know yourself.”

Making do with only a little kosher body contact — sometimes “less is more and more is less.” Getting married but not being able to handle many of the responsibilities does begin with a lot of body contact, but may end with messing up several lives including one’s own. On the other hand, we can try to appreciate quality without large quantities.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches: “The entire world is a narrow bridge,” but primarily we need to take this in stride. My sincere apologies to Rebbe Nachman for not quite repeating what I heard. At the same time, Chazal teach that “m’sayimim b’tov.” Conclude on a positive note.