Wednesday, April 01, 2020

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I’m a parent, a grandparent, and a single Orthodox mom who is strongly rooted in both the Jewish and secular worlds. This means that in some respects I stand at the periphery of the Orthodox world, which is not always a bad thing. It allows me to stand back and try to assess some of the things I see in my own community, compare it with other communities where I have lived, and get a sense of either how diverse and flexible the Jewish establishment is or how monolithic and rigid it can sometimes be. I’m not about to engage in a pilpul, but rather be very direct about what I see as perhaps one of the biggest threats to the viability and future of the Jewish community, and the Torah values that underlie that community—and that is the reprehensible way in which the shidduch system operates.

Now, during the Nine Days, when we focus on many aspects of relations bein adam l’chaveiro, I think it’s appropriate to re-examine what is so sorely amiss in the criteria by which shidduchim are suggested (or not), some of the values (or lack of them) underlying those criteria, and why so many worthy young men and particularly women (though men are suffering too) are delaying marriage, not marrying at all, with some shedding their religion in the process and/or engaging in relations that are inappropriate for men and women ascribing to a Torah lifestyle.

Everyone talks about Metro New York being the place to live to find one’s bashert, but the reputation (truly deserved) is that strength in numbers doesn’t line up with commitment to marriage. Is the preponderance of singles in the New York area, particularly the number of educated and attractive ones who are in their late 30s, 40s and beyond, due to their pickiness, and the fact that perhaps even when dating someone, they are always looking over their date’s shoulder to see if there is someone better out there? Is it the fault of the media? Is it the fault of the yeshivas/day schools? These answers are only partial explanations at best. If pickiness, the media, and some flaws in yeshiva/day school education are factors in the shidduch crisis, they are symptoms, not root causes.

If we are truly going to be introspective and look to improve our behavior toward our fellow men and women, then as parents, shadchanim and educators, current and potential, we need to dig deep within ourselves and see how we perhaps emphasize physical and material values that rule out what might be very happy matches, and how parents and shadchanim in some areas have made setting up an engagement more of a business deal than a meeting of two spirits who might be wonderful soulmates, and have formalized a dating system that often keeps men and women from meeting and socializing in more informal/natural settings for marriage-centered mixing and dating. Men and women whose dress, demeanor or livelihoods are not in sync with meaningless labels like Modern Orthodox machmir and yeshivish or yeshivish modern and are not cookie-cutter are often passed over in extensive pre-shidduch research, when a young couple having a cup of coffee together and taking the relationship from there would have been a better barometer of attraction and compatibility. Shadchanim and parents need to think long and hard about this. They also need to consider how heavily midot are emphasized relative to other factors in shidduchim. This crisis is manmade, and we need to dismantle the shidduch machine before the consequences are disastrous.

A concerned parent

Name withheld due to children of marriageable age