Saturday, July 12, 2008

Single Jewish Female Seeks. . .

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;

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.
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.

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).


Leora said...

Good post. You present the issue well. Look forward to reading the other comments.

FYI, some relatives who were recently married via the shidduch system are madly in love. So sometimes it works REALLY well.

Sometimes a BT (Ba'al Tshuva) and FFB (frum from birth) combo in a relationship works really well, so your idea has possibilities. But I doubt the very frum world will go for it.

therapydoc said...

Thanks, Leora.

Definition time:

For the benefit of readers who have no idea what she's talking about, and according to my post that means many of you, (most Jewish people, even, don't know the meaning of a phrase like Ba'al Tshuva),

Ba'al Tshuva is a complicated concept, but most people use it to refer to a person who returns, meaning has found Judaism Orthodox-style, and likes it, takes to it from the heart.

That person becomes frum .

Frum tends to mean observant.

A person born frum is referred to as frum from birth or an FFB, meaning parents imparted the customs and laws in the mother's milk, so to speak.

An FFB has generally attended parochial Jewish schools, although patent leather shoes have never been considered a problem for Jewish kids because skirt lengths are so long that there's nowhere the shoes will reflect anywhere, except the sky, maybe.

therapydoc said...

I'm not saying, by the way, that there's anything wrong with long skirts.

Years ago a patient who was terminating after several months of therapy for himself and his son.

He said, Therapydoc, what's with the long skirts?

I smiled and said, "It's been a pleasure, treating you and your son. Call me if you need me."

SuperRaizy said...

It's a lovely theory, but it's not very workable. It is extremely difficult for a married couple, living in the same house, to observe two different levels of Halacha (Jewish law). Once you have children, it becomes nearly impossible, due to the need to teach the children about religious observance.
And so a religious girl who marries a non-or less- religious man faces two possibilities: lower her standards of observance to meet his, or hope his standards rise to meet hers (which is never a sure bet, because he might be drawn to "the emotional pull of an ancient, yet ageless culture", but the practical aspects of observing Halacha daily are very difficult and burdensome).
Leora's idea of a frum girl marrying a ba'al teshuva guy is a lot more workable, because he has already committed to the religious lifestyle and is actively living it.

therapydoc said...

Yeah, all that talk and agreeing during the dating is forgotten by noon on a 24 hour fast day. No food, no water, no good.

And you don't want your kids to see your partner prematurely break a fast, for example, or not fast, or Little Joey will be confused. And fasting is only one of the potential breaches of contract with You Know Who.

But he's here, this kid.
And he'll have free will, and assuming the marital conflict is manageable, the problem solving mature, who knows how he'll decide to live his life?

Disneyland. I know. Buy me tickets.

Shosh said...

I like the idea of this solution, because the truth is, the state of the Shidduch world is terrible and something needs to be done. But I agree with's not very realistic. Going into a marriage with two different levels of observance is, IMHO, a recipe for disaster. I think that religious observance is one of the most important areas of compatibility in marriage. At least it is if one of the people in the relationship is frum, because really, for a frum person, every facet of life is dictated by halacha (translation: laws of the Torah. Everything from what school to send to, to what to do on a Saturday night. (Movie? No Movie?)Plus, we all know that raising Orthodox kids these days is not what it used to be, and going to school and learning things one way and then coming home and seeing Mommy do it one way and Daddy do it a totally different way can be very, very confusing.

Leora said...

I actually grew up in a family where my father was significantly more religious than my mother. It certainly created conflict.

If you could convince someone to give Orthodox Jewish young adults some therapy the way Birthright is getting handed out, I'd think it would help young marriages all around.

Anonymous said...

A good school friend of mine, despairing of the availability (or perhaps just the tediousness) of the best that British jewry had to offer, sought a mate in New York and has been married now very happily for 15 years :) I'm not sure that's necessarily a solution for all. I have to say that in some of my more lonely moments a good few years ago, I thought it all seemed so simple - one of my non-jewish friends even said to me that if I got that desperate (!) I had the option of feigning (or practising) orthodoxy to get an arranged marraige that would have made things much more simple!
I didn't and am happily attached with a partner who is at the same level (or non-level) of practise that I always had and was comfortable with.
I think I would not have been happy. And I'm saying that as someone that went to exclusively Jewish schools from the age of about 8. Perhaps my views are coloured by the experiences of my parents - one of whom (my mother) came from a much more observant family than my father - although both orthodox - the tensions were obvious and what one said wasn't necessarily the same as what the other said (or did!). My two sets of grandparents never really got along either as one side were concerned about the levels of observance of the other side..
Perhaps if things are thrashed out really well it could work and certainly if a BT (I like that - I've never abbreviated it before!) is involved!

I still think the international option could be a solution.. everyone likes an element of the exotic :)

Anonymous said...

I think the biggest challenge of your suggestion will arise early in the dating relationship of this theoretical couple. The less religious man will want to touch and explore sexually, and the long skirted girl will have a serious problem with this. I don't think a "modern" Jewish man would be interested in pursuing a dating relationship with someone he cannot touch.

I am a fairly traditional "conservative" Jew who married an agnostic boy, raised in TX in the Reform movement. Let's just say he was "overly successful" at his promise to marry a Jewish woman. There is conflict in our house. There are dairy, meat and treif dishes. There is some fasting (me) and some not (him, although this past year he did fast for the first time in his life, and we've been married 15.5 years). The kids know who is where on the issue of religious observance. They observe kashrut. They go to day school (getting marital agreement on that was a lovely stressful process!). They come to shul with me (I think a lot of people at shul believe I am a single mom).

But we have Shabbat dinner every week. We recently traveled to another city and he was the one to go buy the kosher meat for us. A lot of our compromises are about shalom bayit to me. I know why he is my match, even and maybe because of his religious antagonism, and I am glad he is my partner. I wish that your solution would be workable, but I fear it is not.

Christina said...

I was really intrigued by your post because my son was attending a therapeutic school in perhaps the same Jewish neighborhood where you work. Let's face it, there aren't a slew of Jewish neighborhoods in Chicago.

The mix at this particular center was always an interesting one to me. Primarily Orthodox Jew, but open to all religious backgrounds. I took my younger son to a playgroup run by the school, and had the opportunity to speak with very many of the Orthodox moms there. I had no idea there was such a crisis with marriage. But obviously, we were the crew of married moms so it wasn't one of the issues.

What I did notice though is for how much talk there was around holiday food prep and children, it was nearly silent about marriage or even talking about the spouse. And the one time -- once -- when an Orthodox dad brought a kid to the group, all of the Orthodox women were whispering about him. Almost as though he was violating their territory somehow.

I've always been interested in Jewish culture, more so than the religion -- if you can separate the two. Once took a quiz on what religion my beliefs match with most, and Orthodox Jew was ranked above what I practice. So I very much appreciate your post and your insight!

therapydoc said...

Christina, some of us just like this stuff, is all.

Karen, it isn't that it's not workable, it's that people don't want to work it. So hard. So much compromise. And yet, so many have done this, like you, in some form or another, and they're together, and they're happy. So what's that say?

cb, I fear for the shlepping when those grandkids come around :)
But the UK's great. Who doesn't like royalty?

Anonymous said...

I feel a reality TV show coming on... :o)

Anonymous said...

"I'm not saying, by the way, that there's anything wrong with long skirts.

Years ago a patient who was terminating after several months of therapy for himself and his son.

He said, Therapydoc, what's with the long skirts?

I smiled and said, "It's been a pleasure, treating you and your son. Call me if you need me.""

OK, so he didn't ask in the most polite way, but I don't think he deserved a sarcastic response. Maybe he was interested in the orthodox jewish culture and that was his way of asking you about it.

therapydoc said...

Not THAT I'd watch.

therapydoc said...

Sandy, No sarcasm intended, none delivered. It's all in how one says something, and my patients know, as a rule, I'm not going to answer questions about my religion, my family, my hair, my make-up, my vacation, my breakfast, my sleeping habits, etc., UNLESS I see the therapeutic value in it for them. We're good, me and the patients, and they come back at all stages of life, which is why I could say, Call me.

This is my blog. I talk about my religion here. I would talk about Hinduism, or Buddhism, or Islam, or Catholicism if I knew enough to do that, too.

In the very beginning I identified myself here and told patients about the blog, so they could read the posts that I thought applied to them. When I could see the real value of sharing about things like me, I took the me, my name, off ENT.

Bottom line is that patients don't need to know how I stubbed my toe this morning or smashed my finger the other day(oh, that hurt). They might worry.

Jack Steiner said...

I propose that they they open themselves up to dating Jewish people who are not Orthodox. There are no laws against this.

It is a good idea, but it will be challenging.

I have a ton of friends who are BT and found it exceptionally hard to date FFBs because of parental pressure (from the FFBs).

I also have been told on the side by a couple of the guys that are BT that they intentionally dated other BTs.

Their reasons could be summed up as follows:

1) They thought that their backgrounds would be more similar and there would be less chance for strife.

2) Sex. They said that they wanted a wife who had some sexual experience and wouldn't be put off by their having some too.

Obviously that was watered down, but it kind of hit the high points as was expressed to me.

nashbabe said...

As a Christian, your post explained more to me about why someone I know wrote a book entitled "Two Jews Can Be A Mixed Marriage." Thanks...

Anonymous said...

I don't understand when you use "Old Mighty". At first I thought it was some kind of joke. I always thought it was "All Mighty". Is this something I heard wrong? No joke, I don't get it. I was raised with out any religious instruction, so I learn as I read or ask.
And somehow I read what you wrote as the men would want to be more orthodox and not as two people practicing differently.

therapydoc said...

Anon, the Old Mighty reference is not a joke. In older posts I discuss that this is how my grandfather referred to the All Mighty, perhaps because he didn't know English well, or didn't understand our colloquialisms. Most people say All Mighty, even Jewish people. I'm the only one who uses this, although by now, perhaps others do, too. The power of the Internet.

I think you read it right, and I wrote it this way knowing that religious girls are not going to go out with men who haven't at least got it in mind to practice, at least to learn how to practice, their religion. In actuality, many people are raised in families in which people practice religion differently. But it's very hard with Judaism. Much of our religious practice is "family" practice. This is an action-based, not a prayer-based religion. People forget that, unfortunately, but prayer is just one of the actions, one of the things an observant person does with his or her time.

Midwife with a Knife said...

Hm.. I have to wonder why there's an imbalance of marriageable men and women. It seems like the numbers really should meet up (or close... there usually is a slight excess of females in any population (>50%), but the magnitude of imbalance should be small....)

Familydoc said...

I wish to validate your main point, that traditional Jewish observance encompasses a wide range of behavior and values which overlap with those of many others raised in Jewish homes. Therefore, participants in the mating pool should be able to reach out to a larger range of prospects, as long as they don't carry too narrow a list of pre-reqs.

Most estimates of the "Orthodox" population in North America are about double what you cited (somewhere between 1 and 1.5 million). Interestingly, that number has increased somewhat over the last 25 years, even though the total number of persons identified as Jewish remains the same.

A random sample of Americans would indeed include some Jews, if the sample were large enough, correct? (or am I missing some math here?)

therapydoc said...

Right, Fam. With a large sample you surely increase the chances, especially if you stratify.

All I wanted to do was emphasize that not everyone is Jewish, despite what it seems like, it just seems we're ubiquitous, probably from media exposure.

Like this, a blog that can't help being a Jewish blog, even though the Israel Forum doesn't include it because it's not Jewish enough. So they said. Go figure.

Anyway, to continue the stream, you can take the blog out of the Jew, but you can't take the Jew out of the blog, meaning, I could quit blogging easier than I could leave out Jewish content.

Critically Observant Jew said...

I am not sure the "shidduch crisis" is real or not; however, what does contribute to it is the immature state of the average orthodox Jewish male that's in his 20's as well as very limited social interaction with the opposite gender.

As for inter-denominational dating: if that is to occur, then you're working on two things at once: interpersonal/inter-gender relationship (a huge task for someone who's not accustomed talking to girls on a regular basis) as well as kiruv (getting the non-observant male to be more observant). Both tasks are pretty hard as they are, especially that the second one does not start with singing on Friday nights and cholent (traditional stew) during lunch on Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath). Instead, it starts at the most seemingly unpleasant aspects of orthodox Judaism: Kashrut (dietary laws), Niddah (laws of family purity), Shabbat (Sabbath), and soon to come: Dayschool Tuition.

therapydoc said...

SO right!

  Bring them home, the Homeland Concert There's not much to say. Wait, I take it back. There's SO much to say it is too much. There ...