Today we have a guest post from ElectricAngel:
I am clearly a goy. Not just because I don’t know Hebrew, or wonder why there is no cheese on the condiment tables. No, that’s obvious from my uncovered head, glinting without the gratis yarmulke from the check-in desk to cover it. But then, as I learned from my friend, I still might not be considered properly Jewish.
All around me are men wearing black hats, long coats, and black pants and white shirts. These, then, are the Orthodox Jews. As I was told by my friend, they do not like their children to marry Reform or Conservative Jews, as these latter are much less likely to keep kosher, and are more likely to assimilate and lose their Jewishness in a larger culture. Ironically, he tells me, ordinary Orthodox Jews are considered too liberal for the Ultra-Orthodox, Hasidic Jews who live in the next county over.
My friend is a beta, through and through, a very smart, funny, short, meek man. He has invited me to his daughter’s wedding. The daughter is a star, bright, deferential to her father who she clearly adores, positively beaming towards him in the few times I have seen them together before tonight. If she is to look like her mother in 20-odd years, her husband will be pleased, for my friend’s wife is a pleasant woman, good looking for her age, with hair for this occasion demurely covered, as is the fashion for the married Orthodox woman, whose crowning glory is for her husband’s eyes only. Clearly, again, the star of that couple, she nevertheless submits to his leadership in all things.
My wife and I are somewhat at a loss in the hall. We do not understand most of what goes on, or the customs. I cannot locate my friend at first, in the forest of black-hatted men, so we settle into noshing before the ceremony. The hors d’ouvres are a mix of pedestrian and extraordinary, with sushi and a variety of meats and fruits. The thin slices of pear that my wife thinks are cheese turn out not to be so: all the food is strictly kosher.
My friend locates us at last. He is busy, but gracious, and glad to see me and meet my wife. He has to get ready for his part in the ceremony, so he introduces us to an aunt. She agrees to be our Virgil, and explains some of what will happen. Soon, she tells us, there will come a rolling team of men, blowing horns. They will surround the groom, who will go up to the bride and peek under her veil, recalling that Jacob was once fooled by his father-in-law into marrying Leah, the older sister, instead of the more desirable Rachel. This groom will not be forced to wait 7 years to marry HIS betrothed. After the unveiling, the guests will be called in to the ceremony, with men strictly seated on one side of the room, and women strictly seated on the other. Following the ceremony, we will go in to dinner and dancing; as we are not Orthodox, we are seated at a “mixed” table for the dinner, with men and women seated together.
And so the evening proceeds. We are soon treated to the spectacle of a young man and his entourage barreling into the hall like that pack of fox-hunting hounds in Bugs Bunny, in the midst of a roiling group of similarly-dressed young men. Horns blaring, they sweep him along to where the bride is sitting, their mood triumphant, dominant, even. Her identity verified, they retreat from the hall, and lead him to where the ceremony is to take place.
One thing is immediately obvious. In Roissyist terminology, this young man (my wife said “boy”) is CLEARLY a “beta.” His friends all seem the same way, too, courageous as a group, but otherwise undistinguished. There is little about him that suggests he is even close to a SMP match for the young woman he is marrying. And yet, at the behest of her father and his father, they were introduced and agreed to marry.
We proceed into the hall where the ceremony is to take place. I take my seat on the far edge of the right-hand side; my wife moves over to a seat on the nave on the women’s side of the hall. Gradually, Orthodox Jewish men filter in to sit near me, but with a distance of a couple of chairs. No one strikes up conversation with me, perhaps because I am an outsider, but more likely because the young men are using smart phones to quietly keep themselves occupied, and each older man within eyesight has his attention focused on a sheaf of hand-written Hebrew pages that he is intently studying, some rocking back and forth as they do so.
The ceremony begins. First, the groom proceeds in, along with his parents. He is seen more clearly now, and is very young, no more than 22. The beta description is accurate; he is overwhelmed with emotion and cries as his father speaks words blessing him. He is not physically fit but not overweight; not tall, but not short; he does not project a masculine confidence, to me; he is, in a word, nondescript. Now the bride enters, along with my friend and his wife. She approaches the raised Chuppah where the groom awaits. When she gets to him, she must circle him 7 times (Brief divergence for an explanation: “One of the many explanations for these seven circuits is that they represent a seven-fold bond which marriage will establish between the bride and groom and their families. This act also recalls the seven times that the Tefillin straps are wrapped around a man’s arm. Just as a man binds himself in love to G-d, so is his bond in love to his bride. The number seven represents the completion of the seven day process in which earth was created. During these seven days, the earth revolved on its axis seven times. Since marriage reenacts the creative process, the Kallah’s encirclement symbolizes the repetition of these seven earthly rotations…Also, on the day of his wedding, the groom is compared to a king. Just as the king is encircled by his legion, the groom is to be encircled by his bridal entourage.”) before standing at his right side for the ceremony.
Like the Amish that the black dress recalls to me, the ceremony is largely English, sprinkled with a goodly amount of blessings in a mother tongue, German for the Amish, Hebrew for the Jews. A parade of speakers comes up to offer blessings, with the highest honor given to the oldest male relative, the bride’s paternal grandfather. I don’t know most of the words, but by the end of the blessings, I know that a Kallah is a bride, and a Chosson is a groom, as each speaker is called as “mother of the Kallah” or “uncle of the Chosson.”
After the blessings, the bride is presented with a ring by her groom. Like Tridentine Catholics reciting a Kyrie Eleison, the Jewish ceremony now switches to yet another practically dead language. The marriage contract, the Ketubah, is read out in Aramaic, in front of the whole crowd. (Explanation: “The signing of the Kesubah shows that the bride and groom do not see marriage as only a physical and emotional union, but also as a legal and moral commitment which delineates the human and financial obligations of the husband to his wife according to Jewish law and customs. The Kesubah also protects the special rights and dignified status entitled to the wife in the marriage.”)
After the contract is read, there are more blessings, and it appeared some wine drinking. Then the ceremony ended, and the bride and groom recessed from the hall. Now they were surrounded by a raucous group of ecstatic young men, with women on the left side of the hall offering congratulations to the bride, when they could penetrate the protective circle of men around the couple. We proceeded to the reception hall, and the tables for dinner, making polite conversation before excusing ourselves for the night. We would later find out that ceremonies went on for hours after we left.
On the drive home, I had a chance to talk with my wife about her experience in the segregated hall. She had sat amongst a group of non-Orthodox women (some non-Jewish), and being women, they did what women are especially good at, chatting with other women. First, the universal reaction of the women about the “boy” as they called him: Meh. But, a number said, “He’s rich!” They told my wife about the marriage contract, and what a “good deal” it entails for the bride. He promises to feed, clothe, and shelter her, and also provide for all her sexual needs. The contract appears to go in one direction, from male promises to his bride. They also filled in little nuances about how the ceremony is designed to bind the wife to her husband, and how all the young men in the rolling pack are to serve as guardians of the wedding vows. My wife comments to me that the two young people seemed AWFULLY young; presuming them to be 22, I asked her if that was not the same age as her own, til-death-did-they-part parents’ wedding, and it in fact was.
I catch up with my friend a few days later. He is tired, as Orthodox tradition requires celebration of the marriage on each of the next 8 nights, sometimes at the groom’s family’s house, sometimes at the bride’s family’s house. He has been partying for days, and is clearly happy at the union his daughter has engaged in.
He fills me in on some background on the groom’s family (and corrects ages: both bride and groom are 21.). The groom’s father was a typical Orthodox man, living in near-poverty and dedicating his time to study. At one point, he saw an opportunity that involved an existential financial threat, and took a very large gamble. With the support of his wife and family, the gamble paid off, and he became quite wealthy, enough so as to supply many of the nicely turned out food items I had eaten. The boy, as my friend called him, was a “nice boy,” a “good boy” who was very smart, and a great scholar. He was going on to higher education at a distinguished school, and was aiming towards an upper-middle-class profession. He had liked my friend’s daughter on meeting her, and promised my friend to take care of her, earning his approval. I think the married couple will have a long life together.
There are some conclusions for the Patriactionary to draw from this ceremony, especially for traditionalist Christians. In no particular order:
Religions whose ceremonies are entirely or mostly in the vernacular cannot in form display the mystery that religions that use obscure, dead languages can. It cannot be coincidental that growing faiths, like Islam, Traditionalist Catholicism, the Amish, and the Orthodox Jews, rely so heavily on mysterious and reverence-inducing languages, at odds with the modern vernacular.
A religion that creates a community holds a high place of honor for the elderly, as voices of wisdom: they are most definitely divorced from the youth-obsessed culture about us. For women, especially, this is important, as they can trade the beautiful stage for the honored grandmother stage.
Segregation of men from women does not harm their ability to pair bond for a long time. More importantly, it preserves an area of male privilege unbreachable by women, where men can coordinate actions together. Again, traditionalist religions KEEP WOMEN OUT OF THE PRIESTHOOD but assign them a special place of their own to run.
Beta men can win women of higher SMV by banding together to exclude interlopers who might try to game the sexual marketplace so as to monopolize a young woman’s most attractive years between 18 and 24. Each beta man does so in the knowledge that enforcement of community norms means that he, also, will gain access to the great bounty that is feminine youthful beauty.
Traditionalist religions, like Orthodox Judaism, recognize the difference in sex market rank between young men and young women, and design structures to balance these out. She must surrender her youth, virginity, and beauty to a man who ranks lower than he does; in turn, he must promise to provide material support to her, and also continue to serve as her sexual partner long after she has passed her “Wile E. Coyote” moment, and her sexual market value has plunged off a cliff.
The religious community must maintain a strong community life apart from the mainstream society, so strong that threatening to be expelled from that society constrains the behavior of women and men. Orthodox Judaism permits secular divorce, but, like Catholicism, holds back one stricture: a divorced spouse does not have to grant a “get,” (similar to a Catholic annulment) permitting the other spouse to marry again in the Orthodox faith. Sometimes, this “get” is the only leverage a Jewish man will have to get a better deal in secular family courts. Since the government has not yet decided to tell religions who they can and cannot excommunicate, a strong, self-identified community is the only route to enforcing such things.
Marriage ceremonies should be an occasion for feasting, over several days, rather than a princess fantasy of one special day. Orthodox know this now; Christians once did, as the origin of Oktoberfest shows. This prepares bride and groom for a life of living together, and reduces the focus on one day.
Marriages must be seen as the bringing together of two families, not two people. Grooms must seek approval from brides’ fathers, and fathers must protect the chastity of their daughters. My friend’s daughter could honestly wear white at her wedding.
Marriage must be in accord with man’s biological nature. Female fertility is at a peak plateau from 18 to 24, and declines inexorably thereafter. Encouraging women to use that time to pursue careers or graduate school means that their chances of bearing healthy children will be lower, forever.
Following these ideas, there are a few conclusions we can draw. Marriage is the heart of society, but community is the critical foundation for successful marriage. Orthodox Jews have much lower divorce rates than Reform or Conservative Jews. This family strength is what gave my friend’s daughter’s father-in-law the courage to take a gamble that worked out well for his family, his community, and himself.
Most importantly, the future belongs to those who show up for it, and that means religions that can reproduce themselves by having a greater-than-replacement-rate fertility, and holding on to members. The Orthodox do this well, perhaps because they know that the lower the number of sex partners a woman has (barring 0, of course), the higher the number of children she bears. To whit: “Not only do the Orthodox suffer many fewer losses from intermarriage, but their fertility rate is far above the Jewish norm. As against the overall average of 1.86 children per Jewish woman, an informed estimate gives figures ranging upward from 3.3 children in “modern Orthodox” families to 6.6 in Haredi or “ultra-Orthodox” families to a whopping 7.9 in families of Hasidim.” Christianity did not conquer the Roman empire with the sword, but with higher fertility rates, not being focused on material aspects and the “doubtful doom of mankind.”
*Update: Since ElectricAngel has joined us since this was originally posted, I have moved this officially to under his authorship, removing it from under my name, for classification purposes – WS.