Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match
Find me a find,
Catch me a catch
Matchmaker, matchmaker, look through your book
And make me a perfect match.
For Papa, make him a scholar,
For Mama, make him rich as a king,
For me, well, I wouldn't hollar
If he was as handsome as anything!
Lyrics are from the Broadway show, the movie, Fiddler on the Roof.
I have a friend who is a matchmaker for Orthodox Jewish singles. It’s not an easy job. She says there is a shortage of available men in the Orthodox Jewish singles world. The men marry late, take their time to get ready for marriage, and when they do finally get around to it, it's a "buyer's market" and they marry younger women, women barely out of their teens.
Meanwhile, those in their mid-twenties or older are passed by, as yet another cohort of still younger women becomes available every year, and the cycle continues.*
They're having a hard time finding their perfect match and it gets exponentially harder after the age of 23. This is a cause for alarm for some, and I am not exaggerating, not today. Ours is a serious culture. We don't play around in relationships. Men and women date as if they're looking for a spouse, not just a lover, because indeed, that's what they're looking for.
They have time to figure out the "loving" part (sex). They figure they'll stay married for a good fifty, sixty, seventy years. They can figure it out.
In the Orthodox world, it's marry first. Then jump into bed. I know, sounds bizarre. But wonderfully different, wonderfully bizarre. They're my people. I make no excuses. No, it's not 100%. Not every Orthodox young adult waits for marriage to have sex. We even hear of an occasional lovechild, now and then.
But for the most part, dating really is a job interview, exactly as Tamar Snyder reminds us in Friday's Wall Street Journal (see House of Worship, Weekend section, Single Jewish Female Seeks Stress Relief). Most Orthodox kids don't even touch one another before marriage, and we have rules about touching after marriage, too. Do people break rules? Sure. But they do it quietly. Usually. If at all.
Ms. Snyder is concerned, like my friend the matchmaker, that the system isn't working. There aren't enough men to go around. Those who are around are very picky. Women in their mid-twenties have to be anorexic or wait for a miracle to get the right guy to take an interest in them.
And many men, my son tells me, aren't terribly skilled socially, having waited for late adolescence or young adulthood to begin to date. So it isn't easy for them, either.
The relationship therapists and sociologists in New York are trying to resolve the problem, but are getting nowhere fast. Your average twenty-something single Jewish woman goes to a matchmaker, but the shadchan is fresh out of matches. The younger girls get first choice and are engaged at nineteen, married at twenty, sometimes to the first man to take them to the Hilton lobby for a Coke.
You might say, Why are people still using matchmakers? Isn’t this a little silly?
Well, no, not really. It seems to work for some people. Some people get exactly what they're looking for. They know everything there is to know about their catch ahead of time, or their parents at least try to find out everything there is to know. And they're happy.
So when it works, it works. And in my opinion, when it works, it works not because a couple is head over heals in love with one another, or madly sexually attracted to one another, although they can be; it works because they are sure that they are compatible, that they will meet one another's needs, that they will be good to one another and raise a family, should they merit one.
It's when there isn't a match, when there's a blueprint that's simply unavailable, when aren't any matches around, no pairs of pants or proper lengths of skirt, that the system finds a bottleneck of beautiful, available women who are ready to get going on a family, but can't.
Too many single dancers at weddings with tears in their eyes. When is it my turn?
Sometimes it doesn't work because the match itself doesn't work. Ms. Snyder seems to indicate that many of the "perfect" matches don’t take. It used to be that they did take, most of them, that people got married and stayed married in the Orthodox Jewish world. But now divorce statistics are on the rise in this community, according to best guesstimates.
Nobody's really measured this, however. The guessers are guessing out of their hats. Where I live in and work, one of the larger Orthodox communities in this country, this isn't happening. I don’t see it, this higher divorce rate.
I do see rushed engagements and I see more broken engagements, and sure, some divorce.
But so what? We believe that the book of divorce (Gittin) was written before the book on marriage (Kiddushin). The Old Mighty created the solution before the problem, the cure before the disease.
You already know that I think pre-marital therapy should be a prerequisite to commitment. People who don't even date before they're 18 probably should get pre-pre-marital therapy to get some insight into their own relationship style and how their personalities will play out in future relationships. I guess I would prefer that solution to divorce.
To many of you, it must seem that people who don't even officially date until they are almost adults are from the Mesozoic Age, dinosaurs. How in the world do they occupy their time? They don't call us The People of The Book for nothing. The Orthodox world is one of learning and good deeds. People are busy.
And yet, we shouldn't generalize too far, assume that all Orthodox Jews don't date during adolescence, don't touch, that they don't flirt at pizza parlors or go to movies or bowling alleys, that they don't drink or smoke pot, for that matter. As in every human behavioral phenomena known to man and woman-kind, there's much variation.
Yet there's little variation in this shidduch (matchmaking) world. This problem of demographics is something of a trend. The matchmakers complains about it, the journalists and sociologists are on top of it. It would be nice if someone would go to the source. Get data from the matchmakers. Study the whole population of matchmakers. How many could there be?
Anyway, if the New York relationship docs and sociologists can't think of a solution to the problem, it's certainly a real chutzpah for me to offer one.
But consider the following.
Orthodox Jewish women are a minority of a minority. Only two percent of the American population is Jewish.** That's all. Of the two percent, approximately 10% are Orthodox, six hundred thousand. So maybe sixty thousand are Orthodox Jewish women in their twenties, and perhaps half of these are looking for men, most of whom are already taken. I guess
Assuming that the Orthodox do not want to marry interracially, that they prefer to continue their traditions, that which makes them different, I propose that they they open themselves up to dating Jewish people who are not Orthodox. There are no laws against this.
The objections are predictable. Young women who have spent their entire lives in parochial schools, who have learned the intricacies of Jewish law, the Bible and the Holy writings, who are well-versed in the thoughts of the giants of Jewish philosophy, who have deeply immersed themselves in their culture prior to beginning secular professional or para-professional education, will not want to spend their married lives with someone who breaks the laws they hold sacrosanct. It couldn't work.
Some might be interested in a certain catch, a certain find, an individual who is willing to join them, someone who has never had, but might want that rich, protected, colorful, meaningful lifestyle of the Orthodox. This someone would like the texture, the special clothes, the sounds, the special words, the feel, the emotional pull of an ancient, yet ageless culture, a community so concerned for the continuity of their heritage that it values, still, the services of a matchmaker.
The ad could read like this:
Single Jewish female seeks to marry single Jewish man who
is ready to settle down with one woman, just one;Perhaps this is already happening on singles websites, this blending of the lines, the lowering of the curtains. Being Orthodox has special commitments to observance that the rest of the Jewish world might consider obsolete, and yet, so tempting.
who wishes to learn about and possibly practice Judaism as his great-grandparents probably did;
who will respect his partner's need to practice her religion as she wishes;
who will not insist upon touching her before the wedding, except with his gaze, unless she agrees to this;
who will not bring non-kosher food into their home and is willing to ease into not eating food that is forbidden;
who is interested in prayer because he believes in the Old Mighty and wants to confide in Him/Her, perhaps more often than on a need to know basis.
A couple could date and then decide how they will observe the laws of family purity (our rules on sex), the Sabbath, the laws of kashrut (keeping a kosher home) and how they will continue to educate themselves and their children.
They could discuss all of the rules of the religion on dates. And they could talk about other things, too, like what they like in one another, what they're looking for in a partner, what they have to offer one another. Or politics.
Perhaps given a little education, a pleasant introduction, the less observant might want to marry the more observant, might want to choose this life, this Orthodoxy that seems to please some, stress others, but has, for so many years, ensured the continuity of a people.
It makes little sense for women who are having trouble finding a match, to categorically exclude the rest of the men in their tribe from an already markedly short list of men.
There's no commitment in dating, and this is the first place to talk about one's self, one's ideas, ambitions for the future, children, etc. They would have to agree, would want to agree on certain rules, for sure, before marriage, the stuff of future arguments, perhaps. But arguments for the sake of Heaven, right?
It could be that people might find they have more in common with one another than they think.
I don't know. Maybe it's crazy talk. But I would think that a population such as this, people who want exclusive partners, who have never had a partner before, who want to carry on traditions and raise families, should be considered prizes. They have so much to teach, and their partners, so different than themselves, would have much to teach them, as well.
Crazy, I know.
They tell me I live in Disneyland.
Here's a scene from Fiddler.
*My son, upon reading a draft of this post remarked, "Not all of young men have it so easy, not at all." But it is the women who lament the loudest.
**Oh, and you thought Jews are everywhere. This is what it means to be a minority. If you took a random sample of Americans, it is statistically improbable that you would find a Jew in your sample (p< .05).