Financially, raising any family is expensive and even more so for Orthodox Jews who have to pay yeshiva tuition. Rambam in Hilkhot De’ot 5:11 writes that the appropriate order is to first establish a trade which can support him, then aquire a place to live, and only then should one get married whereas the “fools” get married first without any visible means of support. The harsh economic reality is that not everyone can afford a family and fewer still have the luxury of wealthy parents or inlaws. Pressuring singles into making financially irresponsible decisions – such as giving up a career when two incomes are almost a necessity – can only add to the stresses of marriage.
REGARDLESS OF how well-intentioned people are, asserting that there is a shidduch crises only serves to remind singles of their perceived innate inadequaces. They ought to be married, otherwise there is something wrong with them. In truth there could be hundreds of reasons why people are single ranging from personality issues to simply not finding anyone who is interested in them; often getting married comes down to a matter of pure luck.
If there is a crisis, it is with the Orthodox community’s obsession with getting married and defining people’s self worth based on marital status. We do not tell someone in an abusive relationship that they ought to stay there for the sake of being married, but we encourage them to find their own strength of self but we ironically have no problem negating that person’s sense of self when it comes to getting into that relationship in the first place.
Speaking as a rabbi and as a single the best solution I have to the shidduch crisis is to ignore any sweeping generalizations and focus on each individual. Every person at every stage in their life has their own needs and struggles. If anyone is interested in “helping” singles, first ask each person what those needs are, listen to their responses, and respond accordingly without the arrogant assumption that you somehow know what’s best for people.
Many singles are not facing a crisis of shidduchim but a crisis of identity, wrestling with existential questions most families simply do not have the time to consider. If we encourage singles to figure themselves out first as individuals and learn to trust their own intuitions, then perhaps we we not only have a stronger single population, but perhaps in the long run we will ultimately create stronger Jewish families.
A version of this article originally appeared on Rabbi Yuter’s blog, Yutopia in June 2011.