The Personalist Project

Comments (8)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Jan 10, 2012 9:53am

Thanks for this great good meat for reflection and discussion, TJ!

On point 2: I agree that marriage is an icon of the relationship between God and the soul.  (See Song of Songs).  I hold, with  JP II, who articulated it at great length and almost unfathomable depth, that human persons are made for love--for conjugal love, viz. for total, reciprocal, life-giving, self-giving, whereby new persons, new fonts and centers of love, come into being.

But I deny that that means that persons cannot serve God unless they are married.  It is possible to give oneself totally, in love, to God, without earthly marriage.  

No one serves God more and better than those who espouse themselves to Him in priestly celibacy or consecrated virginity, as can be seen in the testimony of the lives of saints like Maximilian Kolbe and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

But the celibate life only serves God rightly when it is understood to be a spousal vocation.  I'll go that far with you.


#2, Jan 10, 2012 10:16am

It certainly did not take us long to get to the differences between Christianity and Judaism!  I'll explain my sources, but I totally understand if they do not resonate here.

For starters, the High Priest was positively commanded to be married (Lev. 21:13-14).

The very first commandment ever given by G-d to man was when Adam was told not to eat of the fruit. The very next verse is when G-d says that Adam must not be alone. We learn from this that even divine commandments cannot be followed properly outside a marriage.

This is echoed in Deut. 5:27, when, having given the 10 Commandments, G-d's next words are to send us back to our tents. Commandments don't have full worth unless they are practised in our "tents" - our married lives and homes.

I have no problem with the argument that if one assumes that the New Testament supersedes the Old, and it calls for celibacy,  then man-woman marriage is no longer the ideal. But solely from a Torah perspective, the text is clear that we cannot properly serve G-d outside of marriage.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Jan 10, 2012 10:54am

TorahJew, Jan. 10 at 10:16am

But solely from a Torah perspective, the text is clear that we cannot properly serve G-d outside of marriage.

Since this is a philosophical site, and since philosophy serves as a mediator between faiths, let's examine the question that way: viz. from the point of view of what we find in experience.

I claim that the testimony of holy lives like Mother Teresa's and Maximilian Kolbe's clearly shows that it is possible to serve God unmarried.  I claim further (with them) that they could not have lived such lives without divine grace.

If it were impossible to serve God unmarried, then we should expect to find in experience that those who do not marry live stunted, irreligious lives.  But that's not what we find.


#4, Jan 10, 2012 11:20am

Point taken. Clearly there are holy and good people who are not married.

Perhaps I would revise my earlier statement: that the path to knowing G-d is through marriage. Knowing another person fully (through marriage) is gaining proximity to their divine spark.

As a someone once put it: love many women, know none. Love one woman, know them all.

So good people can do holy work without being married. But that is still not the same as growing that relationship with G-d. If even Adam, who was on direct speaking terms with G-d, needed a wife, then all the more so...

Jules van Schaijik

#5, Jan 10, 2012 6:49pm

Hi TorahJew,

Pardon my ignorance, but are your views, and especially point 2, shared by most Jews that take their faith seriously?  Is there no Jewish tradition of celibacy?

Also, I am wondering why marriage would make it easier to know God.  The points you make above (#4) show only that marriage is the best way to know another human person—not God.  In fact, the line "love many women, know none. Love one woman, know them all" seems to indicate that singleness of devotion to a person is the best way to get to know him/her, and that therefore consecrated celibacy would be the best way to know God.


#6, Jan 10, 2012 7:18pm

There is indeed no Jewish tradition of celibacy.  If one thinks of G-d as infinitely complex, consider that knowledge of a single person is a window into their soul. And the soul contains godliness.

I offer two more sources from the Torah:

  1. The jewelry given for the tabernacle was contributed by married couples only. These couples, by sharing their intimate jewelry, were in effect sharing their personal connections to the divine presence, to the holiness they had nurtured in their personal relationships with each other. 
  2. Ex. 38:8 "And he made the basin of bronze, and its pedestal of bronze, from the mirrors of the women [who bore those] who assembled at the door of the Tent of Meeting.” The clear meaning of the verse is that the laver was made from mirrors used by women in Egypt to incite desire in their husbands.


#7, Jan 10, 2012 7:19pm


To really get a sense of this, imagine the laver in use. The priests must wash their hands and feet in it before they approach further to serve Hashem. As they are washing themselves, they see their reflections in the highly polished metal, the very same bronze that Israelite women had used to make themselves attractive to their husbands, to strengthen and grow their relationship. And then, having prepared by washing his hands and feet, the priest goes into the Temple and does the very same thing – strengthen and grow the relationship between mankind and G-d.

Which comes first? Marital love does. It is the preparatory step for service to G-d, and the laver is the only vessel in the Temple that has its own base, that can stand by itself. Marital love inspires and reinforces our service to G-d.


#8, Jan 10, 2012 8:13pm

There is an almost-unconcious philosophy within Judaism which might better explain this tradition. In a nutshell, Judaism is NOT about choosing the spiritual over the physical. It is about connecting with the physical, and bringing it upward to connect to the spiritual.

To do this, we engage fully in the physical world. Jews have no problem with sex or alcohol l - as long as it is used for the purpose of connecting to the spiritual.

We do not elevate the head separate from the body - when one climbs steps, the parts of the body that move up first are our feet.

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