In Rendezvous with G-d, twentysomething blogger and journalist Monica Rozenfeld explores what it means as a young Jewish woman in New York City to have a relationship with G-d.
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The Infamous Shaindy
In May, I wrote a piece about a new website called Shaindy.com. You may remember reading the article “Unkosher Sex” here on Busted Halo. The article and the interview with the founder got a lot of attention, and a lot of response. But more than love or hate mail, I got a lot of “Well, what do you think?” mail.
For those who are unfamiliar, Shaindy is a website created by an ultra-religious Jewish man which ultimately fosters extramarital affairs. This website is tailored to the religious Jewish community, who not only seek affairs, but are involved in forums which speak of the benefit of having extramarital relations plus a section to upload pornography which can only be viewed as a member. Luckily, I was given VIP access.
Some of you right now are asking how a religious man can justify creating such a platform? I asked those questions too which you can read on my blog at The Jew Spot. Sadly, the guy wasn’t just looking to sell something, he was looking to fill a need — one that was very apparent when you search the term “frum” in Craigslist’s casual encounters. How does he justify it?
“I was ‘brought’ up religious but I believe in sh** basically. So, I have no GUILT in me whatsoever. I find many, many, many people sharing the same beliefs as myself.” He also says people always like to think that “we are holier than thou” and it [affairs] does not happen here. “But that’s not the case,“ he says. “Our community has the same needs as any other community let it be dating, drugs, cheating or whatever and it’s silly to think we are ‘different.’ Yes, in deed, there are lots of miserable people here.”
So OK, I just retold the story once more. But the question was what do I think about it, which is a much harder question to answer. The truth is, at first, I was entirely creeped out. I couldn’t believe a community that was built around Torah, commandments, family and education were also building websites to sleep around with the entire community. And what if you knew the person’s husband, or rabbi, or what if he were a rabbi? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. But after speaking with Jerry, the founder, as well as a friend who left the community and Paula Winnig who works as Executive Director of Footsteps, an organization that helps religious people assimilate back into modern life after leaving their community, I got a different kind of perspective — more of a ‘I wonder what I would do if I were in their place’ perspective.
It became clear quickly that all the values surrounding Judaism — love, being in the world, finding oneself and relationship with G-d — was chiseled into such a strict structure that leaves no room for being oneself. Many of the people in these communities are married at 17,18 or 19 without understanding the concept of love, or understanding their sexual bodies since they were not given proper sex education. My friend who left said he decided to go when he saw his first movie ever at the age of 21, Titanic, which shook all of us so imagine someone who has never seen a film before. He said the emotions he felt, the longing, love and lust, was something he never felt before even though he is married. He was told to stay and have affairs as his friends did, but he decided to take the more noble route and leave altogether.
I think the most profound thing I learned was from Paula at Footsteps who made me realize that the people leaving these communities are not leaving Judaism necessarily, but leaving that form of Judaism — one we both agreed was very antithetical to Jewish values. How can Judaism shun neighbors for not davening, praying, three times a day but encourage affairs as the escape or solution to their unhappiness.
I do want to make it clear that this does not apply to all religious people. Some are very happy in the structure of religious law and in their families said my friend who left, and is now trying to keep kosher again after five years. But in my opinion, as I said in my previous post, there is no one way to become close to G-d. For some it is the strictest form of religion in insolated community, for others it is being with the world. The lesson is to each their own, but that at the end of the day, I do hope these communities find a healthy way to express their escape and not through affairs and pornography. For that to happen though, first, a lot has to change inside the system.
When I told a mentor of mine, a young religious woman who is an amazing role model, about Shaindy, she said “This is why we have mitzvot [commandments]. If it were easy to be kind to your neighbors, honor your parents, not commit adultery, we would not need laws for it. This is why they are there. So we strive to work toward it.”
So my opinion. Yes, I one hundred percent do not agree with the mission of Shaindy. And I don’t agree with it for non-religious people either. On the other hand, I do sympathize. I hope that these communities get the education they need to understand themselves sexually, are able to connect with therapists who can give them advice outside of strict interpretation of the law, and find a community of friends they can be opened with about this. As you may know, gossip, including about one’s relationship, is not permitted. Many of these women cannot talk to other women about their relationship issues, even their own mothers. So my hope is that things change, that the community understands there is a problem here and allows for room to breathe, and maybe, even allow more individuality in the confine of living by G-d’s book.
If you have more questions about this post, or would like me to address other issues, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading.