Dating, disabilities and discrimination

I recently joined a Jewish dating website only to find that my wheelchair and the fact that I am ‘newly religious’ became focus points.

illustrative heart 311 (photo credit: San Jose Mercury News/MCT)
illustrative heart 311
(photo credit: San Jose Mercury News/MCT)
Over Facebook chat, my friend scolded me about my dating life. She insisted that I put myself out there more by going on TV shows, online dating sites and to matchmakers. God forbid I be single! Although I personally think my dating stories are far more interesting than my married friends’ stories of laundry, cooking and diapers, I guess I too am susceptible to the desire to couple up. So I opened a new tab in my Internet browser and went to an Orthodox matchmaking website.
The first step is to fill out the questionnaire. I thought, “How hard could this be? I’ll just click single, no children and Orthodox, put up some pictures, write about myself and what I’m looking for in a man, and voila.”
Um, wrong! The first question alone made me feel like I was in front of a beit din. It asked with which sect of Judaism I identify? Easy enough, right? Except there were about 50 choices. (I guess the Jewish people really are divided.) Then there were questions about my level of observance: kashrut, how I dress, whether I cover my head and how I often I pray and study Torah.
Following these questions, I had to answer the section on whether I am a convert or ba’al tshuva (newly religious). Click yes or no, right? Ha! What year did you convert? Under which organization did you convert? Who was your conversion rabbi? What’s the bracha on a banana? Okay, the last one I made up (and it’s a trick question).
THEN I came upon the question, “Are you disabled?” Wait. What? Why? Am I filling out my taxes? Am I buying a train ticket? Did I just skip the line at Disney World? But, okay, I clicked “yes,” and a follow-up question appeared. It asked me to “please describe.”
Okay, now I was confused. Did they want the percentage of disability the government has declared me, my actual diagnosis, my doctor’s name and number, or a list of medical devices I use? Ugh! I just wrote “wheelchair” and moved on, slightly irritated.
It wasn’t until the website asked, “Are you willing to date someone with a disability?” and “Are you willing to date a ba’al tshuva?” that I got angry.
The site didn’t ask: Are you willing to date a Satan worshiper? A rapist? A murderer? A child molester? A psycho? The absurdly stupid. Right. No need to explain if you are unattached due to your serial adultery. Where they draw the line is disability and returning to God.
I am not sure why these questions are there. They do not seem intended to link up people with similar worldviews and parallel lifetime goals, such as marriage, children and a Torah-centered home.
These questions seem to cater to a bias to make the matchmaker’s life easier. Weed out the undesirables.
Rather than go to the trouble of finding an appropriate match or looking at my actual characteristics, the matchmaker would only have to look at a small pool of men – that is, religious men in Israel who would date a disabled girl.
Sure, this may be convenient. Limit the number of men you need to sift through. But most people don’t even know anyone with a disability. People know stereotypes. When they think of a disabled person, they think of Christopher Reeves or Jerry’s kids, who are often portrayed as sad, deformed and drooling.
Disability is not normally linked with an attractive blonde with a bachelor’s and juris doctor degrees, and who is independent, worldly and witty, yet artistic.
(And who, by the way, is neither deformed nor drools. Well, except on my pillow at night).
So, yeah, they click “no” to that question. So would I avoid a deformed drooler who is also an absurdly stupid, Satan-worshiping, psychotic, child molesting rapist? (Oh, yeah, they forgot to ask about those hobbies).
A close friend of mine once told me that before we met, he signed up for a dating website. It asked him whether he would date someone with a disability. He answered “no.” After meeting and getting to know me, he went back to the website and changed his answer.
THE WEBSITE superimposes its own biases on the Orthodox community.
Ba’alei tshuva and the disabled are undesirable. No need to allow users to make the choice for themselves.
The site asks a question that its users are too uninformed to answer. At the same time, the site denies users, such as yours truly, the chance of being matched with a suitable candidate. The website does not ask whether its users are unwilling to date someone based on their race, national origin, criminal background, IQ, bank account, family tree or mental health. No. The only undesirable traits are how God made us and whether we have returned to Him. In doing so, the website discriminates against the disabled and ba’alei tshuva.
One of the greatest interpreters of Torah was Rabbi Akiba. He was a ba’al tshuva. It would be hard to see him on this site. Moses was the father of all prophets – our rabbi, our teacher. When God saw Moses, He saw a man disabled by a speech impediment, who grew up unaware that he was a Hebrew. He was not “frum from birth,” but rather converted with the rest of the Jewish people at the foot of Sinai. So it’s a good thing Zipporah didn’t use this website. She may never have met our greatest prophet.
Well, as the song says, “I’ll be seeing you.”
Though perhaps not on this site. To help when we meet, I am the blonde, modestly dressed lawyer.
Excuse me if I don’t stand up.

The writer is a Tel Aviv-based attorney with a doctorate in law from Emory University. She made aliya in 2008.