The miracle of Purim owes much to a superficial, womanizing male who set about dating as many women as possible to find the one that was the most beautiful. Ahasuerus is like so many shallow men today who reduce women to nothing but a slim figure and a pretty face. But in the end, the story of Esther makes it clear that the secretly Jewish queen was chosen not for her looks, but because she "found grace and favor" in the eyes of all who beheld her. There was a womanly dignity, a sublime feminine majesty, to Esther that the rest of the harem lacked. They were empty suits, packaging only, without substance or personality. They were the kind of women who attract attention with low-cut blouses rather than high intelligence, short skirts rather than a lofty spirit. But Esther is a woman possessed both of outer and inner beauty, a heroine who exhibits uncommon wisdom, courage and dedication to the helpless. In short, she is a woman of outstanding character and her story is that of the triumph not only of the Jews over their enemies, but also of a woman's ability to win over a man with her brains rather than her bust.
How tragic, therefore, that Jewish men today have adopted the dating mores of Ahasuerus. And I'm not just talking about secular Jewish men whom we might expect to have adopted less lofty criteria in their choice of a mate. Rather, I am speaking especially of Orthodox Jewish men who have become so obsessed with the three modern virtues of a real woman - large chest, long legs, slim figure - that heart, mind, even the sparkle of her eyes, count for almost nothing.
I once served as matchmaker-in-chief for JDate. But I now find matchmaking nauseating thanks to the dispiriting superficiality of today's Jewish men. I now know that the countless men who tell me how desperate they are to find a really nice girl are lying through their teeth because what they really mean is a woman who looks like a model. At my weekly Sabbath table, where I host many singles, I watch as the men immediately dismiss even the most interesting women with the warmest hearts if they lack a bombshell body.
If she's short, she's out, and if she's overweight, well, that's the kiss of death. I'll set up men with women who I know to be attractive and charming, only to have the guy call me back the next day and complain of a lack of chemistry, by which he always means, "She wasn't pretty enough." The poor woman never had a chance. Before she opened her mouth, her body did her in.
BUT WHY would we expect anything different? Superficial people seek superficial qualities, and men today are about as deep as a crack in the sidewalk. They have been given one criterion for success, money, and they use that money as a commodity to purchase a woman's chief commodity, her physical beauty. Today's religious men are trained to appreciate little else.
I know a 20-year-old Jewish girl who developed a dangerous eating disorder because her very religious parents told her that unless she lost weight the type of yeshiva student they wanted her to marry would not take her out.
But weren't Jewish men, especially Orthodox ones, supposed to be different? The nation that gave the world's Solomon's Ode to a Woman of Valor, where a woman's God-fearing qualities are what make her beautiful, have betrayed that ideal utterly. If you are a woman in the Jewish singles scene who isn't stunningly attractive, you're going to wait a long time to get married. And once you're married, you better keep your looks up, because the women who are going to be praying with you in the ladies' section spend five hours in the gym for every hour they spend in the synagogue. They're not fools. They know that their husbands are trained to appreciate muscle tone rather than piety. And don't have more than two children, even though we need as many Jewish babies as possible, because kids will make your figure go to hell and your breasts droop almost as far.
I NEVER believed that I would witness a time when even marriage-minded, Orthodox men would become womanizers, giving themselves the latitude to date as many women as possible so that they can find "the best." In yeshiva I was taught one did not date a woman the way one shopped for a car. Rather, you focused on one woman completely and tried to develop a soulful connection with her without worrying about what else might be out there.
Recently, I had a young rabbinical student of marriageable age at my home. He told me he had already dated 40 girls and had not found what he was looking for. I was stunned. "Forty nice, religious girls, and not one of them was good enough for you?"
But anyone familiar with the increasingly toxic shidduch system among the ultra-Orthodox knows that what many young men are looking for is anathema to Jewish values, namely, looks, money and pedigree. Find all three and you have hit the jackpot. Find only one, or even two, and you have "to settle."
Now, no doubt, in the secular world marrying money and marrying into an important family are also important. But when religious Jews marry for materialistic and ego-driven values, they degrade a glorious spiritual tradition.
It is high time that rabbis started giving sermons from the pulpit exhorting single men in the congregation to be gentlemen and reward women for developing the traits that Judaism truly values like compassion, wisdom and goodness. While physical attraction is always important in marriage - both for men and for women - Jewish leaders must begin inspiring future husbands to judge their wives' attractiveness by considerations beyond flesh alone. For if we fail, we'll continue seeing Jewish women feeling permanently insecure about their "imperfect bodies" rather than taking pride in their generous spirits.
The writer's latest book, Ten Conversation You Need to Have with Your Children is scheduled to be published next month.