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Orthodox Matchmaking Needs Huge Fixing

My own experiences within the shidduch system has caused me to question it considerably.
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Photo Credit: Yori Yanover

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If there is one area of orthodox Jewish life that is truly messed up and needs fixing it’s matchmaking. In our communities we eschew the recreational dating scene of the secular world. As a counselor in that world and someone who once served as matchmaker-in-chief for JDate, I agree that it is too flawed. External qualities like beauty and money play an outsized role. People don’t date to commit but to have fun, except that there is nothing ultimately pleasurable about relationships that are expected, from the outset, not to last. Who needs a broken heart? Life has enough uncontrollable pain not to have add the self-inflicted variety.

So what is our solution? Is the alternative that we offer in orthodoxy of young men and women never meeting at all and connecting only through matchmakers a viable alternative?

Well, it once was when the orthodox community was, say, a tenth of the size it is today. But let’s be proud of our growth. From the time I got marriage nearly 25 years ago, thank God, to today the orthodox community has absolutely exploded in growth. We’re having a lot of kids, which is wonderful but it has strained the shidduch-matchmaking system to the limit. Some would say it has broken it almost completely. How the heck are a few, mostly volunteer matchmakers supposed to cope with this vast demand? Are young orthodox men and women really supposed to sit around, preparing their resumes, as if their on a job interview, and badgering shadchanim to prioritize them amid so many others clamoring for the same attention? Is it a workable system? Is there any dignity in it?

I am the proud father of nine children thank God and I just became a grandfather. My first three children are daughters, all raised with my standards of dating to marry and dating within the shidduch system. This is particularly important to me given my considerable exposure to the romantic and sexual challenges, not to mention the sky-high divorce rate,  that is prevalent in mainstream culture and which I address.  However, I’m not the kind of guy who believes in delegating life’s most important responsibilities to others. But here I am, as an orthodox father, forced to relegate my daughters’ dating life to matchmakers who are very well-intentioned and who care but who cannot possibly know my daughters well or prioritize them, given the vast demands on their time and energies from so many other parents.

In the Chabad system it’s especially challenging because of the absolutely vast increase in the size of the community, thank God, how spread out it is internationally, and because most of the shadchanim, trying to be pure of heart, offer their services in a volunteer capacity rather than professionally. But that also means there is no real accountability.

So, I am being fair to my daughters when I tell them, based on my personal values, that they should only date within the shidduch system? Should they be reduced, like so many other young Chabad men and women, to friends and matchmaker’s introductions? Should their involvement in their own dating life really be so passive?

I have to admit that my own experiences within the shidduch system has caused me to question it considerably, though my own children would probably disagree and say the system functions well enough. They would say that being ‘frum’ means certain things and they embrace the shidduch system, whatever its shortcomings. But Yeshiva University, where my daughter is an undergraduate, does events that brings young men and women together. It is not seen as scandalous or secular. Indeed, I applaud it. Chabad and the more ‘black hat’ communities would not countenance such interactions. And there is a part of me that not only understands that and agrees with it but even, for years, advocated it.

When a leading Chabad Rabbi with unquestionable credentials suggested a few years back in a column that Chabad begin limited interactions between the young men and women, in a controlled environment, to have them meet for the purposes of marriage, I attacked the suggestion as being a slippery slope. I who counsel so many secular singles and know how screwed up the singles scene is in secular singles-events and party communities.

But having said that, I now have a much more open mind. I do not believe it’s fair to my daughters, and my sons when they come of age, that the limited interaction they will have with a potential spouse will come from people who really don’t have a lot of time to commit to the endeavor. Less so do I believe that such an important stage in life become so fundamentally disempowering that one cannot take any kind of personal initiative but is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers.

Indeed, a few years back I was prevailed upon, by young Chabad men and women writing to me, to host a small Shabbos gathering in Englewood where I would offer talks on Judaism and dating and where young Chabad men and women, thoroughly committed to the shidduch system, could have the opportunity to meet. I did it as an experiment. It worked well. It was very educational and, though I don’t know what couples resulted, I know it gave people hope.

And this is but one idea about how to fix a broken system. I welcome all other positive suggestions.

In the final analysis, the Jewish people are still here, after thousands of years of persecution, because our young people have married and produced strong families. This crisis, therefore, is an existential crisis that must be courageously addressed.

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About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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5 Responses to “Orthodox Matchmaking Needs Huge Fixing”

  1. Very thought provoking, thank you! If one of the challenges in the shidduch system system is accountability, why not setup organizations where the matchmakers are paid staff and indeed would be accountable?

  2. Dave Lobell says:

    Having experineced this firsthand in Phoenix Arizona, it is a system that presents itself with intrinsic difficulities, moreover, being an adult in his mid-fiftes makes it a difficult, nearly impossible task. After moving to this Frum neighborhood and trying to live the lifestyle of an Orthodox Jewsih Man I found it very difficult to meet any eligible Frum Women, some matches were made but theywere always way off the mark. I very much wanted to fully embrace the lifestyle after my Father of Blessed Memory passed away. The knowledge and friendships that ensued from my pursuit of Judaism were very amazing and I became fully engaged with both. However, my inability to meet someone special forced me to retain a very special relationaship with someone outside of Judaism. I did find that Phoenix is not a very good place to meet a frum Jewsih Woman, as there are only 350 Frum families in all of Arizona so it became a numbers game for me as I am not able to travel and besides a long distance relationship is not at all a practical solution in my view. I don't have any answers but I do know that there is a great need to implement and continually enchance a viable working system to facilate sucessful Shidduchs.

    I have learned alot and I continue to learn but absorbtion fully into Judaism will not happen as a result of not finding a special companion to share it with, a sad and tragic reality is what it is.

  3. Rc Fowler says:

    Relying upon Boteach for dating advice and any other important area of life–would be the blind leading the blind–right into the ditch!

  4. Esther Fleisher says:

    Yes I have read his lame articles, he is incompetent.

  5. Dave Lobell says:

    Excuse me Rc Fowler but even if your statement were true, which I very much doubt it is, You have no business besmirching the good name of Rabbi Boteach you bring shame upon yourself by lacking common decency. And if you are Jewish you bring shame upon our people by acting so indiscriminantly!!!

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