Today, Sunday, our daughter Rochel Leah will – God willing – wed Itamar Taktuk from Ashkelon, Israel, who serves as a rabbi to the Israeli Chabad community in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Organizing a wedding during the coronavirus is a challenge. Of course, it has to be outdoors, social distanced, and limited in numbers. The wedding we are planning is all those things. And even so, many of our friends and family are concerned about attending and we’ve told them we, of course, understand. The last thing we want to do is make anyone feel uncomfortable, pressured, or, God forbid, exposed.
But neither will we postpone the wedding and I’ve been heartened to see how many small, intimate weddings – from every denomination of every religion to those who practice no religion – have gone ahead during the coronavirus.
Of all the things that demonstrate the human desire to choose life and happiness even while the world battles a global pandemic, marriage is at the top of the list.
As a marriage counselor I have been pained to see the spike in divorce that has accompanied the coronavirus and that is being widely reported throughout global media. The analysis is pretty straightforward. For a lot of people, marriage works specifically because of separation. You both go to work, you have to drive the kids to school, and you have a social life with friends, all of which mitigates spending so much time together that you’ll drive one another insane. Many husbands and wives have structural deficiencies in their marriages that are mitigated through the business of life, with the emphasis on busy. But as soon as your job is being done from your living room by Zoom, the schools are shut down, and the last thing your friends want to do is see you, you’re stuck together – with the kids at home as well – the entire day. You grow on each other’s nerves and slowly drive each other insane.
It seems incredible that during the coronavirus, when you would think people would really value family time, so many families are being torn apart.
This exposes a crack in our society that we never wished to address before, namely, the decline of love, romance, and marriage.
To be sure, it was there before. Why else would we all need to binge on Netflix at night rather than make love? What else would explain how marital sex has dropped in America, on average, to once a week for about ten minutes at a time. And that’s for the couples that are still having sex. One out of three aren’t having any at all. Platonic marriages are all too common even among young people in America. There is a sexual and romantic famine in the American marriage and the coronavirus has pulled the lid off, releasing a Pandora’s box of loneliness and divorce.
When the Pandemic first hit, I received phone calls from the media asking me to comment on the sudden spike in the sales of sex toys. My daughter Chana runs a company called Kosher Sex, based on the teachings of my 1998 book of the same title. Chana has become something of a celebrity as the modern-Orthodox young woman who is bringing Kosher Sex to the millennial masses. Her company experienced a boom as well.
The first thing I told media outlets is that we should not calls them sex toys. It degrades what is otherwise a serious subject. Marriages need novelty. And that newness should not come from husbands looking at porn or wives fantasizing about strangers. Rather, it should derive from within the marriage. And if couples at times use novelties – from lingerie to erotic playthings to intimacy enhancers – more power to them. Who cares? Marriage is not a game. It is a serious and significant endeavor. Items that can increase passion in marriage – however shallow they may appear – are not to be cavalierly dismissed as toys.
But I also knew that the spike would be temporary. I recognized that at some point married couples would revert to their addiction to Netflix and Amazon Prime to distract them from the erotic boredom that has come to characterize modern relationships. The more deep-seated problems of loss passion and the diminishment of romance have not been addressed societally. Rather, we have only found more effective diversions.
Systemic marital realignment can only emerge from a society that determines once and for all that feelings of significance do not come from acquisition but intimacy. Not from owning property but from relating to another soul. Not from from career but from connection. And not from money but from love.
Which is why I am so heartened at this one, huge, positive sign about marriage, that more and more people continue to wed during the coronavirus. They have determined that the second greatest curse of the virus – after the affliction to health and even death – is the loneliness it imposes on individuals, pushing us apart into isolated cocoons of the pandemic’s making. While the coronavirus has forced so many to die alone, that does not mean that we have to live alone. We can choose to put in the hard but incredibly fulfilling work of marrying, building families, and raising children who embrace and promote life.
My father passed away during the coronavirus. For weeks we could only watch him through an iPad as the hospitals shut down and barred all family and visitors. And while he eventually came home for a few days prior to his passing, his isolation in the last weeks of his life both magnified his loss and also reinforced to me that there is no greater blessing than family.
My daughter is a young Chabad woman and her bridegroom a young Chabad Rabbi. We are a proudly Orthodox family. Much has been said about the Haredim during the coronavirus, almost all of it negative. We have read about how the “ultra-Orthodox” flout coronavirus rules. We have seen how the media promotes the fiction that all have contempt for masks. And we have seen political figures like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio specifically target the Orthodox for condemnation, even as the science – from the official New York forward.ny.gov government website – now shows that the New York hotspots were never in the Orthodox neighborhoods and they have been unfairly maligned, defamed, and abused.
We even witnessed, at the beginning of the coronavirus, how Netflix aired a limited, Emmy-Award-winning series called “UnOrthodox,” which portrayed Orthodox sex as backward, passionless, and primitive.
But the one thing we have not heard is how, even during the coronavirus, Orthodox couples continue to marry in huge numbers; how they continue to believe in life and in love. Those who condemn religious Jews overlook the fact that while the whole world fixates on death, we Jews continue our obsession with life. After 3,000 years of suffering and persecution, we have not only survived but flourished, not only subsisted but increased, not only refused to perish but have chosen to dance.
Yes, dance. Social distanced. Outdoors. Without touching. But rejoice. And dance.
Mazel Tov Rochel Lean and Itamar. May you always be healthy. May you always be safe. May you always respect the rules set out by doctors and medical professionals. And in the midst of all those rules, may you always find love in all of the cracks.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is an internationally recognized relationships expert who has authored the best-sellers “Kosher Sex,” “Kosher Adultery,” and “Kosher Lust.Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.