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Old testament
Finding a soul-mate: a Persian-Jewish perspective

By Sharon Taftian, Shabnam Besimanto, Pejman Firouztale
July 30, 2003
The Iranian
Source: Persian Jews United newsletter

On July 8th, Persian Jews United (PJU) and Hadassah Vanguard II in Los Angeles hosted a lecture on "finding a soul-mate" featuring Rabbi David Shofet, a distinguished spiritual leader of the Persian-Jewish Community. The event was a great success, with many eager minds in attendance, many of whom were young Persian Jewish professionals and students looking for insight into matrimonial bliss.

Aside from the impressive numbers that turned out and the fact that the lecture went on well into the night, Rabbi David Shofet effectively engaged the audience in a heated discussion of the stereotypes and misconceptions that often hinder one from being to find his or her true soul-mate. A refreshingly open minded audience encouraged an exchange of ideas on a number of topics including parental interference in marriage, premarital sex, and the double standard between men and women.

The discussion became quite intense at times with controversial and eye-opening commentary from the audience that reflected the spectrum of philosophies representative of today's modern Jewish community. It seemed that the more provocative the topics became, the more people wanted to share their thoughts, proven by the plenitude of eager hands waving for an opportunity to participate.

During his lecture, Rabbi Shofet elucidated the meaning of "soul-mate" in terms of Judaism. He explained that what God does is to bring a man and a woman together; it is then the task of the couple to create a lasting bond and loving marriage. During this explanation, a member of the audience questioned why there is such a high rate of divorce if each person is born with a soul-mate, or their "other half". Rabbi Shofet responded by explaining that as human beings, we have what is called "free will" -- the individual right to decide what to do with the choices and circumstances that dictate life, thus making each person ultimately responsible for his or her own actions.

This point allowed the night's discussion to extend into the sensitive issue of gender stereotypes and double standards that the Persian-Jewish community subscribes to for women, especially when it comes to sexual relations.

As touchy as it was, the Rabbi gave an answer that appeased the women by calling for our society to expel this backward way of thinking. He pronounced that the mode of upbringing where the men are encouraged to have girlfriends and the family celebrates his sexual maturity is destructive baggage brought over from Iran and is creating harmful outcomes amongst the men and women of this generation. He remarked that this is not an element of Judaic principles, in fact, the Torah holds the virtue of virginity as equally important for men as for women.

In response, a woman in the audience got up and praised the man who could remain a virgin until marriage, claiming that this was more a sign of masculinity and is something that both partners can bring to the relationship, adding to its beauty. She pointed out that if the couple finds themselves without the know-how to consummate the marriage, there are no worries; they will learn together. Her comment was backed by a resounding applause, especially from the women.

Mr. Farzin Emrani, a JD/MBA student at USC stated, "I learned a lot from Rabbi Shofet and from the therapists in the audience. The forced me to question my perception of intimacy and relationships. Overall, the event was a lot of fun..." Dalia Naghi, a certified public accountant, felt it was one of the best lectures she has been to in a very long time.

Another topic that a young man brought up during the discussion portion of the lecture was that many Persian men are under the impression that they must possess astonishing financial credibility in order to win over a bride because they believe it is the only way to satisfy a woman's lofty expectations.

His perception of courtship was met with zealous commentary from several young women who portrayed a very different perspective on the reality of today's modern Persian Jewish woman. One young woman explained that this ideology is simply an underestimation of the women in our community; contrary to the stereotype, many are career-orientated, driven women who are eager and willing to support a family along their husbands.

These many men can rest assured that being a walking treasury is not a prerequisite to finding a wife. Amongst the resounding applause, one young woman proclaimed her belief that a young couple starting their lives together can make a comfortable living and will have many years to grow together and truly appreciate their every accomplishment because it will have been a result of their mutual effort and desire.

These concerns about financial stability among a young couple prompted the rabbi to touch upon a subject of utmost importance in today's community: the trend of increasing extravagance and lavishness that have become a staple of Persian weddings and engagements. The pressure to compete amongst these showcases of wealth and affluence has become a painful thorn in the side of our society.

Unfortunately, as appealing as a five-star wedding may be, certainly not every couple has the resources available to participate in one, and often times the financial burden of making such attempts distracts from the blissful nature of a wedding. Rabbi Shofet called for an expulsion of this competitive practice, noting that it is wasteful particularly for those with only a moderate budget striving to live up to this standard.

Of course, with discussion of love and marriage comes discussion of intimacy and proper pre-marital relations. A heated debate on the emotional and physical aspects courtship ensued as a woman in the audience asked what the Rabbi's thoughts were on the emerging trend among Persian Jews of living together for several months before deciding to marry.

Rabbi Shofet implored an imaginative metaphor of "man versus beast" to clarify how the initial pleasure of pre-marital cohabitation will ultimately result in suffering and entail harm for both parties. He compared the indulgence of living with someone without having been bound as man and wife before G-d to the animalistic behavior of a gluttonous beast that indulges by eating uncontrollably and exploiting the few precious resources meant to sustain it.

Marriage is a sacred institution that not only requires a commitment to one another, but an allegiance to overcome the inevitable difficulties that compose a working relationship. When a man and woman live together prematurely, they are not bound by these institutional allegiances, and therefore underestimate the selfless dedication necessary to create a fruitful marriage. To solidify his point, Rabbi Shofet alluded to the trend of increasing divorce rates and noted that understanding one's expectations and perceptions of marriage are crucial to making it a successful one.

The question of premarital physical intimacy was another of the provocative topics that ignited heated debate as a gentleman in the audience inquired about what Judaic law says in regards to the extent of physical contact permitted prior to marriage. Rabbi Shofet took this question as the proper opportunity to explain Shomer Negia, the Jewish law that prohibits any physical contact among men and women (who are not related) before marriage.

Among those who practice Shomer Negia, the period of courtship is a time of self-reflection and pure communication. Often times, the "chemistry" of a newly blossoming romance can entice a couple to give into their physical desires, resulting in the inevitable insecurities and complications that come along with premature physical intimacy.

Those who engage in Shomer Negia free themselves from the pressure of worrying about when, where and if the time is ever right to cross the line into physical intimacy, therefore allowing for both the man and the woman to concentrate on their emotional, ideological and spiritual compatibility as potential soul-mates.

By the end of the night, one central theme prevailed over every concern voiced by the audience, the "golden rule" of successful relationships: to truly know oneself, one's desires, dreams, goals and expectations before sharing oneself with another in a union of marriage. Marriage is a lifelong commitment to another being, and unless each individual undergoes a detailed personal inspection and accepts all of his or her flaws and virtues, then complications due to a personal "false advertising" are sure to arise.

Rabbi Shofet asserted that while young couples begin to ponder the route of their relationship, they must make an honest evaluation of whether or not their definitions of marriage are compatible. He added that the key to such a blissful union is that one must know oneself so that he, or she, will have a much easier and faster time in identifying a soul-mate. Of course, once a person gains this awareness, they should feel confident in pursuing a union of souls as early as possible.

Immediately following Rabbi Shofet's conclusion of the evening's discussion, the audience burst into a sea of discussion, vehemently exchanging ideas and opinions on all the provocative things said during the course of the night.

A bonus of the night was knowing that a portion of the proceeds went to feed the hungry in Israel through the Hazon Yeshaya foundation.

Of course, this wonderful event could not have taken place without all who were involved. We thank the Cohanzad family for their humble generosity in opening their home to strangers, the eloquent Rabbi Shofet for contributing his time and knowledge, and David Yadegar and Dr. Houman Kashani for coordinating the event.

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Sharon Taftian, a recent UCSD graduate, earned her B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Literature, and she is currently aspiring toward a career in law. Shabnam Besimanto, recently earned her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience from UCLA, and will be attending the UCI School of Medicine in the fall. Dr. Pejman Firouztale, graduated from the USC School of Medicine, completed his internship at Loma Linda Medical Center and will be pursuing residency in Radiology at St. Louis University Medical Center.

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