Jdate, Torah style

Rebecca Weiner has some advice for the lovelorn. “The best thing that will ever happen,” she said, “is that you will get your heart broken.”

Weiner made the remark during a workshop she called “Dating in the Bible: From Romantic Love to Date Rape,” one of several workshops offered at the second “Bible by the Bay,” held at Berkeley’s Lehrhaus Judaica Oct. 17.

An educator at Alameda’s Temple Israel, Weiner geared her workshop towards teen, though the majority of participants were adults. Her mission: Use examples from the Book of Genesis to explore the Bible’s take on dating and courtship.

Rather than resort to dry lecture, Weiner used a Q&A approach to draw her audience into the topic. She also got attendees on their feet in an exercise she called “bibliodrama,” something akin to psychodrama with a Torah twist.

But first she served up two famous Bible stories, Rebecca’s betrothal to Isaac (Gen. 24) and Tamar’s tricking Judah into bed (Gen. 38).

In the former, said Weiner, Rebecca proves the model of maidenhood: chaste, modest, kind and unhesitating when Abraham’s manservant comes to fetch her for Isaac.

Weiner and the workshoppers kicked around the concept of arranged marriage, noting that many cultures still practice it with apparent success. In the case of Rebecca, God decreed that she be Isaac’s wife.

“If you knew it was divinely intended to be someone,” said Weiner, “that would have an impact. Beshert [romantic destiny] implies two halves wandering around, and when you come together, you will complete yourselves. Putting two soulmates together is an act of tikkun olam [repairing the world].”

This biblical dating scenario, said Weiner, is one in which marriage comes first, then love, implying the structure and obligations of marriage supercede the modern concept of romantic love.

As for Tamar, after losing her husband, her father-in-law, Judah, gives her to his son Onan, who also dies. Now gun-shy about losing another child, Judah fails to give her to his son Shelah as decreed by custom. So she dresses as a harlot and tricks Judah into sleeping with her. Tamar conceives twins and thus preserves the bloodline.

Tamar, noted Weiner, was a discreet manipulator, something one has to do in a relationship from time to time. That led to her remark about the broken heart.

“One story is rosy sunshine,” she said. “The other all Sturm und Drang [storm and stress]. They illustrate the difficulties that happen in relationships.”

From there, Weiner got everyone up, doing improv as they acted out the scene from Rebecca’s betrothal. Fortunately for the workshop, among those in attendance was Devra Aarons, an executive with Traveling Jewish Theatre. She brought a theatrical flair to her role of Rebecca.

It’s hard to say if the teens in attendance gained any useful dating knowledge, but they certainly enjoyed the workshop.

“The topics were covered really well,” said 13-year-old Jordan Varona. “The bibliodrama gave good insight on what everyone was thinking.”

Added Emily Cohn, 15, “She [Weiner] knows what she’s talking about. The way she interpreted the text really helped. It wasn’t like Sunday school.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.