I am a 52 years old man, raised Conservative, who has had to contend with autism my entire life. Oftentimes it is not the condition which affects me more than it is peoples' attitudes towards it.
For example, back in my early 20's I was back East working on my Master's degree and had ample opportunity to at least consider dating Jewish women. However, the two that I hit it off with dropped me quicker than a hot potato once their parents learned from my parents that I have autism. Back then (30 years ago), it was considered by such families as grounds to be an unsuitable suitor, much like a family history of cancer or mental illnesses also was then in those days.
I had far more successful relationships with women of other faiths who themselves or whose families were a whole lot less judgmental regarding either the fact that I am Jewish OR have autism.
The Jewish families who interviewed me said I was unsuitable for their daughters, and had given me to understand that I was not obligated to marry because my disability had made me expendable, and that my progeny were not essential to maintaining the numbers of their people.
I took them at their word and married out, so I wouldn't live a lonely and childless life. Did I settle? Yes. Because life is unfair, and one can only make the best with what one is given.
I decided that with such a cold reception I would take a cold and hard look at what Jewish life meant to me, and I decided that martyring my chances to be married by waiting for the right one to come, just to sanctify God's name, was far more than I reasonably expected God to ask of me, because the autism issue would come up each and every time I sought a besheret (soulmate/match).
I am asking what Judaism would say to me today in light of the situation I found, and the choices I made.
[Administrator's note: A somewhat related question appears at http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=860.]
I can only say, as an Orthodox rabbi of 33 years, that anyone who can write as sensitive and as passionate a letter, as you have written within your question, is a person who certainly is most marriageable.
First, please understand that the problem not only is about autism. Rather, people carry within themselves all kinds of prejudices. Autism is hardly the only prejudice on the map. I know of parents who ruined their children’s marriage-destined relationships because they wanted their children to marry someone richer, prettier, better academically degreed, and just from a “better family.” I have been privy to too many of these situations, and they are heart-breaking.
Is a prospective groom rich? Many young people, who are not yet rich, one day will be rich. Nor is wealth a guarantee of marital bliss, as spectators of the Los Angeles Clippers can attest. One can play several albums of country music songs that sing of women who married rich men who thereafter never had any time for them. Closer to home, I was rabbi to a gorgeous woman who dated a rich man who never looked at her once throughout a dinner date because he was too busy texting and phoning his business investors. As she ate her 5-star dinner alone, he apologized, put the check on his tab at the posh restaurant, and then resumed texting. So rich is not always the best soul mate.
I do not know you personally. I do not know where you fall on the autism spectrum. But you write beautifully, and you have something beautiful to share. Given all the unmarried women who contact me, asking whether I know of any unmarried Jewish man “out there” who might be willing to meet them, I cannot believe that a great Jewish wife is unavailable to you.
I recommend that you approach your local rabbi — or several of them — and literally pester the daylights out of them until one of them helps make a connection for you, or at least tries. One of the great sorrows in this generation is that so many congregational rabbis excel at sermonizing to the hundreds about Jews marrying Jews, but choose to have no time and personally feel no interest in actually doing something about it when single men and women attend their services. In my own case, after my divorce 15 years ago, I thereupon was a divorced guy attending a shul. There was a divorced woman attending the same shul. Neither of us knew the other. The two rabbis of the large synagogue both knew that I was trying to find someone to marry, and that she was. Neither rabbi ever suggested that she and I meet. Nearly a year later, with us both still single, a person at the shul introduced the lady to me, and we eventually married. Neither rabbi had done a stitch of good to introduce us. Utterly useless, despite sermons about Jewish endogamy. Utterly useless.
So pester the local rabbi. Go to a few of them. Pester all of them. Tell friends you want to meet someone. Network as though you were looking for a long-term job. That’s how it works. Consider two true aphorisms: (1) The squeaky wheel gets the oil. (2) Out of sight, out of mind. Be in sight. Squeak. Let people know you are looking for a Jewish wife. And after a date, write the women letters, so they can hear that side of you.
There are a number of issues in what you raise, but I want to focus on the question now and the relationship that you currently have. There is a principle in Judaism called Onaah B'dvarim - oppressing people through language. Among the prohibitions, one may not insult someone for a decision already made. While that priniciple is most often applied to business matters, I feel strongly that it applies here. You are married. It worries me to have you refer to your current marriage as settling. To quote Rabbi Jack Molines, I am opposed to intermarriage but in favor of marriage.
It worries me to have you refer to your current wife as someone for whom you settled. Now that you are married to her, are there ways of working on that relationship together to deepen your connection? Can you together explore your faith and spirituality? I know very little of the bond you two have, but I hope this question can be a trigger for you to work towards deepening it. Rather than worrying whether you settled, or made the right choice, its time for you to make this choice the right one for both of you. We are drawing close to Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world. Its a day that reminds us of the incredible power we have to create the self. You cannot change how God made you, or how others accept you. But you can choose to invest in a person who has chosen to love you. You can reach back out towards someone who DID marry you and find ways of honoring and valuing the decisions of love and companionship you both have made.
I am truly sorry that Jewish people found you unworthy due to your autism. That is closed minded, sad, and wrong. You are neither unsuitable nor expendable. You are created in the image of God and with that comes challenges, but also amazing blessings. I pray that you find the blessings of those who DO love you, and that you cherish those people and seek for ways of growing with them.
As A reform rabbi I would start by saying to you that there is no “right” answer or one absolute truth to what “Judaism has to say” to you today regarding your choices.
You made your choice in the past, and there is nothing you can do today to change the past. So the real question I would ask you today is: “what choices are you making now?” Are you living a Jewish life? Do you belong to a Jewish community? Congregation? Do you practice Jewish Mitzvot and values? Do you work for the betterment of the Jewish people and the world? Do you have a relationship with Israel? If you have children – what are you teaching them?
Throughout history different people made the same choice you did in the past for various reasons. The question is how did that choice effect your life since? There are many in our movement who married out of the religion and still live a full, beautiful and fulfilling Jewish life regardless of the faith of their spouse.
I do not believe that not marrying falls under the category of “martyring your life and sanctifying God's name,” and thus I do not believe that what you did was wrong. As I stated before – the end result of your choice and how you live your life today is what matters and is the answer to your question, which only you know the answer to.
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