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December 19, 2014 / 27 Kislev, 5775
 
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Reinventing A Broken Wheel


I find the Orthodox Jewish approach to problem-solving fascinating, in a dark sort of way. It consists of a series of steps that looks something like this:

1) Deny there is a problem.

2) Grudgingly admit a problem exists, but be quick to point out that the problem is very minor compared to other demographic groups. Therefore, we Jews are just great, and there really isn’t any problem worth getting excited about.

3) Admit a problem exists, but mostly in some other Jewish community, obviously far inferior to one’s own.

4) Blame the problem on television, movies, the Internet, the “secular world,” etc. In others words, good Jews who shun these spiritual contaminants don’t have such problems.

5) Have a session at a conference to talk about the problem.

6) Create an entire conference devoted to talking about the problem.

7) Organize committees, task forces, and focus groups to specialize in talking about the problem.

8) Devote a Shabbos to having rabbis talk about the problem from the pulpit.

9) Raise money to throw at people who have a remote chance of making the problem go away, which absolves everyone else of responsibility for several months at least.

10) Repeat spin cycle.

More than five years ago I started a movement called EndTheMadness to bring some sanity back to the realm of shidduchim. From the very outset I have maintained that the problem is not that thousands of eligible men and women are facing increasing difficulties getting married and staying happily married; this is only a symptom of far deeper problems that cut to the very core of how what passes for Orthodox Judaism is practiced today. Consequently, any efforts to alleviate the problems that focus only on the symptom (getting more singles to go out on more dates) without addressing the underlying problems are doomed to failure and will only help perpetuate the situation.

Unless the community and all its individual members are willing to step back and take a long, honest look at the way things are, the way things truly used to be before this problem existed, and what changed in between, there is no hope for a solution. If the community and its individual members take a long, honest look in the mirror, there will be some ugly things staring back, but unless we face these ugly things they will never go away.

With few exceptions, unfortunately, the community has to this point chosen to follow the usual pattern of addressing problems, with predictable results (none). The fashionable “response” at present is to raise money to pay shadchanim more than they currently receive and to encourage more people to try their hand at shadchanus (for all the right reasons, of course).

Mind you, the predominant method for singles to get dates nowadays is through shadchanim, be they so-called professionals (trained where exactly?) or friends, family, and random strangers. Since most people will finally agree that there is a “shidduch crisis,” it logically follows that shadchanim collectively are doing a very poor job. So what’s the solution? More shadchanim! And raise the cash reward! Classic step nine. Throw money at people who obviously are not doing a magnificent job to begin with, proclaim success when a few marriages result, and go back to life as usual for another few months.

Not to be outdone by those who are rewarding results without regard for the damage to people’s lives caused by flawed methodologies, a new incarnation of this idea has recently been hatched. In response to the widely believed notion that there are scores of eligible women for every eligible man, a new group is offering cash incentives to shadchanim for arranging a shidduch between people who are less than 2 years in age apart. The jackpot goes up to $2000 if the man is younger than the woman by 3 months or more.

As if some shadchanim aren’t manipulative enough when it comes to shidduchim, as if there are not enough trivial factors that determine whether a shidduch will be explored or immediately scuttled, now shadchanim will be heavily influenced to push shidduchim largely on the basis of age differentials.

We should be encouraging shadchanim to suggest shidduchim based strictly on matters of compatibility and leave all the ancillary machinations out of it. Why are we offering cash prizes to shadchanim that blatantly discourage them from suggesting the best possible match if the age differential is a little greater than some people consider demographically ideal?

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Since creating EndTheMadness seven years ago I have received all manner of correspondence, and it should come as no surprise that for every gratifying e-mail I receive there are plenty more that are disturbing in one way or another. But what if I asked you to guess which e-mails disturb me the most, even momentarily shaking my optimism that there really is hope for our society?

I’ve long maintained that the large number of people having a difficult time getting and staying happily married is only a symptom of deeper problems in the community. Consequently, efforts to get more singles to go out on more dates will be largely unsuccessful unless the deeper problems are addressed. This thesis has been validated in recent years, as more attention to the “crisis” and various schemes to create shidduchim have yet to result in meaningful change or much cause for optimism.

Moshe was looking for employment (he wasn’t cut out to learn full-time), and was having a difficult time finding the right fit. Sometimes he went weeks without even landing an interview, and he rarely made it past the first round. People began to speculate that there was something wrong with Moshe, and his self-esteem took a blow every time he heard of someone else who found a job.

It’s all too common nowadays for people to defend the widespread method of shidduchim by pointing to the biblical story of Eliezer finding a wife for Yitzchak. Apparently the Torah mandates this method as proper, and therefore there is little else to discuss beyond perhaps fine-tuning the way singles are set up by shadchanim and further shielding them from outside influences and one another.

I find the Orthodox Jewish approach to problem-solving fascinating, in a dark sort of way. It consists of a series of steps that looks something like this:

“And you shall rejoice in your festival” says the pasuk at the end of Parshas Re’ei (16:14), and this is actually a mitzvah. I suspect this is not intended to be one of the more difficult mitzvot for us to fulfill, yet for many hard-working Jews the Yomim Tovim are far greater sources of stress than joy.

Nothing is more elusive than perfection, yet perfection is a notion that frequently surfaces in the realm of shidduchim. For example, singles are often told by people on the outermost fringes of their lives, “I know someone perfect for you.” How preposterous, how presumptuous! Yet singles permit themselves to be excited by this declaration so that they may be further disillusioned when the shidduch invariably turns out to be anything but perfect.

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