Thursday, October 15, 2009

It is not good for man to be alone

The Creation story is famous for its list of things that are “good,” but it’s less often noticed that there is one thing in creation which is not good – Genesis 2:18 tells us that “it is not good for man to be alone,” and that’s why God makes Eve. We are not made to be solitary; we’re meant to be with a partner. A mate. We were made for marriage, literally.

I love that teaching (which is why some of you have heard it before!), but I don’t remember ever connecting it with the realization that other religions don’t share this view. I recently read a d’var torah which pointed out that, for example, Catholicism sees marriage not as an ideal, but as a concession. In Catholicism, celibacy is the ideal.

So, to my Catholic friends who read this (or anyone to whom this applies), I have two questions: firstly, is this a fair representation of Catholic doctrine, or did the Rabbi get it wrong? And, if it is accurate, can you explain it? I don’t meant that in an accusatory way, it’s just that I’ve never thought too much about how far apart we are on this. I’ve always known that Judaism and Catholicism have very different views on sex, marriage and the like, but I never realized how fundamentally this issue might speak to our view of human nature. Any of you care to shed some light on why the Catholic church holds this view?


StefWiss said...

As a Jew who is not married and not at an age where I see many prospects in the near future, this teaching always troubled me. How do the Rabbis justify this? Or is it just justification for depression?

Missy said...

Okay, I'll bite if you want to open that can of worms! First off, let me say that I am defnitely not a Catholic scholar, but I am Catholic and have had MANY discussions on this topic, so I'll share my understanding.

I think we may have an issue of semantics. It is not celibacy that is the ideal, but chastity. According to the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" (2349), "'People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are mmarried or single.' Married people ae called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence..."

We read the same book of Genesis that you do, and therefore our views are actually not different. Again from the Catechism (1605), "Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: 'It is not good that man should be alone.' the woman, 'flesh of his flesh', his equal, his 'helpmate'; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. 'Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.' The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been 'in the beginning': 'So they are no longer two, but one flesh.'"

You didn't ask about the Catholic views on sex, divorce, etc., so I won't go into those here. They are probably not what you've been led to think, though (okay, the divorce thing is true). For a complete explanation, you can wade through Pope John Paul II's "Humanae Vitae" or read Christopher West's "Theology of the Body", in which he tries to go through the pope's writings in layman's terms. I understand the teachings, I don't necessarily agree with all of them, but I see his reasoning and the Catholic Church's reasoning on the hot-button topics of today. We can debate those, if you'd like, and my guess is that we'll likely agree on many of them.

Rabbi Jason Rosenberg said...

Stef - there's no doubt that our tradition has a "couple-centric" view of life, which is often painful to those who, through choice or circumstance, find themselves with a different kind of life. I've spoken with a lot of people, over the years, who are not part of a couple, and who don't plan to be, and there seem to be a few responses.

One is anger at a tradition which excludes, or at least marginalizes, them. That's an honest response, obviously.

One is to acknowledge that Judaism is speaking to the "average" case; it can't cover every situation in every teaching and every text. In other words, they acknowledge that they are an exception to the norm. So, some acknowledge that they aren't "normal," and try to see that as a neutral statement, rather than a judgment.

And, I've spoken to some who use this as an opening to talk about, and deal with, their own pain. Some are single because they chose to be; some find it painful. Whether you accept that marriage and "couplehood" are ideal and necessary, I don't think anyone finds loneliness to be a positive in life. So, some I've talked to have read these teachings somewhat wistfully - as an expression of an ideal that they can't reach, and and a chance to talk about how that makes them feel.

Rabbi Jason Rosenberg said...

Missy - thanks! I knew I could count on you!

Missy said...

Happy to oblige!

If you're ever interested, here is a searchable version of the catechism online: