Can a Girl Just Say No?

Did this story happen? Yes.

Did you change any details? Not really. Except for names.

~~~

“His Rav wants to talk to you.”

“What do you mean he wants to talk to me? What is there to talk about?”

“I don’t know,” my mother replied with a shrug. She walked away. 

I had gone out with Dovid 4 times and then told the shadchan that he was a great boy, but not for me. In a non-yeshivish galaxy we probably could have remained good friends. Perhaps with benefits? Who knows. He was 5’7”, slim, and with a dark trim beard that suited him well. We had some good conversations and mostly connected via our shared interest in the outdoors and his emotional transparency. But the chemistry was meh and I didn’t feel like we were in the same intellectual league. I didn’t say that to the shadchan, of course. Because highlighting a need for intellectual compatibility was ok on the guy’s end, but not quite right for a girl to insist on. A girl was supposed to understand that none of the Tanach, meforshim, Rav Dessler, or Maharal that she learned would ever reach the toes of learning gemara. Even men who weren’t smart were smart. That was the magic of learning in Yeshivah. That’s what Rav Wolbe said. He cautioned women not to be “disappointed” if they discovered that they knew more than their talmid chacham husband. Because nothing a girl learned came close could bring her to the heights afforded a man who toiled in the Talmud. (Can someone please help me locate where I read this?)

I was angry. I had an exam that week, papers to grade, and stuff to do up to my eyeballs. Talking to this Rav would take an entire evening away from me because he wanted to meet me in person. It didn’t cross my mind to say no. Who was I anyway. 

He had a standard balabatish living room; big crystal chandelier, giant breakfront with numerous silver menorahs and esrog holders. The gabbai motioned for me to sit on a mahogany, plastic-lined chair. 

I suddenly felt very lost. What was I doing here? I didn’t know this Rav. What did he want from me? I stared at a fancy becher in the breakfront. A few minutes later I was summoned into the Rav’s chamber. 

He sat behind an enormous desk with a giant sefarim shrank behind him. I sat down gingerly and finally got a look at him. He looked very young, in his 30’s, with a chestnut beard that reached at least to his waist. He hadn’t said a word and I already surmised that he would be disturbingly charismatic. He had incredible blue eyes that would typically make me think of a Swiss lake, but in that moment I thought of Windex.

“So Dovid tells me that you’re a great girl.”

I looked at him. He was making full-on eye contact, something I hadn’t seen Rabbonim do often. 

“I asked him why the shidduch ended and he said that he thinks you won’t respect him.”

I sat there not knowing what to say. There had definitely been a mutual respect between us as two humans who got along and could have been friends. But I knew what Dovid meant. 

The Rav leaned over and lowered his voice. “Dovid is a brilliant boy, one of my closest talmidim. Can you explain to me what he meant?”

Uh-oh. Was he really doing this to me? 

Sigh. Did he really want me to puncture the image he had of his alleged protege?

I took a deep breath. “I think it’s important for a couple to be intellectually compatible. Dovid and I both felt that that was lacking.” I zipped my lips before the slew of words in my brain had a chance to tumble out. My cheeks burned red with anger and I’m certain the Rav mistook it for an embarrassed blush. He looked at me like I sprouted horns and I just kept steady eye contact. 

The rest of the conversation went in circles with him trying to extract why-exactly-does-this-girl-think-she’s smarter-than-my-protege and me trying to remain calm and not scream at him. 

I left his house in tears feeling humiliated, dehumanized, and questioning my decision-making. Did I really know what I wanted? Maybe the Rav was right. Maybe Dovid was really a brilliant boy and I just couldn’t see it because of my preconceived notions. Maybe I was sabotaging myself by over-prioritizing intellectual chemistry. Men were more logical, after all. My doubt lingered for a few days before morphing into anger. At the time, I didn’t know what the anger was. But today I understand. In a world where every critical decision was bumped up the ladder to a man – Daas Torah – someone was trying to take away my last vestige of choice. 

A few months later, Dovid was engaged to my friend’s sister. I felt relieved. Windex Rav wouldn’t be after me. 

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3 thoughts on “Can a Girl Just Say No?

  1. Intelligence being at a similar level and intellectual chemistry are not at all the same thing. You may be thinking of the latter.

    You also may be misjudging his actual Intelligence, but who cares. Intellectual parity isn’t important, it’s important that a couple feel that can talk, and respect each other’s minds. How you feel is what decides those things, not objective stats.

    I’ve learned with a lot of top level guys, and they don’t always feel as smart some mid-tier guys.

    Other possibilities include that it could well be he has a very high IQ but doesn’t apply it in every day life.
    Or the rav might not be so smart himself, or is just but at judging character.

    If the issue really was intelligence, if you wanted to give it a shot you could learn a daf with him or something.

  2. As an aside, you should really talk with some intelligent, compassionate, intensely religous people you know about your issues with what seems to be resentment against men, and the relative power between the groups “men” and “women”.
    That resentment may cause issues in creating a healthy relationship, that lens of power- with men and women as opposing groups – poisoning attempts to create a unit where a man and a woman are the team, and everyone else is outside that team.
    This is just armchair psychoanalysis based on a line or two, but if part of it rings true maybe chew on the rest of it.

    (Of course you should be able to just say “no” to a match, for any or no reason. You may not want a reason solved, because then you’d have to say no for no reason, or say yes. This is okay too)

  3. Rabbi: “Can you explain to me what he meant?”

    How about, “Rabbi, can you explain to me why you’re asking me instead of him? Can you explain to me why you think he’s brilliant, maybe give me some examples, and why you see it and I didn’t?”

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