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. Achashveirosh 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 was a woman possessed both of outer and inner beauty, a heroine who exhibits uncommon wisdom, courage, and dedication to the helpless. In short, she was 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 men today have adopted the dating mores of Achashveirosh. And I’m not just talking about secular men whom we might expect to have adopted less lofty criteria in their choice of a mate. Rather, I am speaking especially of religious men, those who regularly attend church and synagogue, who have become so obsessed with the three modern virtues of a “real” woman – large chest, long legs, slim figure – that heart, mind and even the sparkle of her eyes count for almost nothing.
I once served as Matchmaker-in-Chief for a leading Internet dating site. But I now find matchmaking nauseating thanks to the dispiriting superficiality of today’s 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 attractive 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 criteria for success – money – and they use that money as a commodity to purchase a woman’s chief commodity: her physical beauty. Today, even 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 Yeshiva students they wanted her to marry would not take her out. And that’s not radically different to the many Christian music groups I see highlighted where the women in the group are always slim and beautiful, as if that were representative of the real population.
But Jewish men, especially the religious ones, were supposed to be different. We are the nation that gave the world’s Solomon’s “Ode to a Woman of Valor” from the Book of Proverbs, where a woman’s God-fearing qualities are what make her beautiful. 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 lady’s section spend five hours in the gym for every hour they spend in the synagogue. They’re not fools. They know 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 I would witness a time when even marriage-minded, religious 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?”
It is high time that rabbis, ministers and priests started giving sermons from the pulpit exhorting the single men in the congregation to be gentleman and reward women for developing the traits that the Bible truly values – like compassion, wisdom and goodness. While physical attraction is always important in marriage – both for men and for women – religious leaders must begin inspiring husbands to judge their wives’ attractiveness by considerations other than flesh alone. For if we fail, we’ll continue seeing women feeling permanently insecure about an imperfect body rather than taking pride in a generous spirit.