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April 25, 2014 / 25 Nisan, 5774
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Purim And The Tyranny Of Beauty: A Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim


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I know I’m going to be crucified, but if the appeal I make below helps even one girl in shidduchim, then it will be worth all the fury and outrage that shall inevitably descend upon my soon-to-be beleaguered head.

The other night, I was invited to a fascinating new shidduch initiative. Endorsed by leading rabbonim and spearheaded by a few righteous women valiantly trying to transcend the spiraling “shidduch crisis” in some small but meaningful way, the concept was to bring mothers of eligible young men together with young women looking for shidduchim (members of both groups were pre-screened and issued personal and discreet invitations by the organizers) in both a balabatish setting and a dignified way.

Everybody knows that the experiences of boys in shidduchim–in contradistinction to their female counterparts–is vastly different. This is the harsh truth: The mothers of “good boys” are bombarded with shidduch suggestions on a daily basis – a veritable barrage of resumes either flooding their fax machines or pouring out of their e-mail inboxes– while those with similarly “top” daughters sit with pinched faces anxiously waiting for the phone to ring. The disparity is bare, bold-faced and veritably heartbreaking: In the shidduchparsha,” boys are constantly being courted and pursued, while the best girls’ resumes barely elicit a modicum of interest.

As a friend recently told me: “When my nephew was 19 and started shidduchim, he went out with 19-year-old girls. When he turned 20, he still went out with 19-year-old girls. He kept getting older, but the shidduchim that he was “redt” continued to be 19-year-old girls. Now he is 24 and baruch Hashem just got engaged –to a 19-year old girl.” Sadly, women do not have this same recourse.

To rectify this inequity, a few concerned mothers brain stormed together and concluded that “shidduch resumes” (which never even existed as a concept when I was dating 35 years ago) fail to accurately capture the essence of the person being “summed up” and often–especially in the case of the girls– get lost in the shuffle. One organizer told me: “The boys’ mothers barely give the girls’ resumes a passing glance–they are so overwhelmed by the sheer numbers coming their way–and it becomes a daunting task to sift through them. And the resumes themselves are severely limiting. Can you really get a genuine sense of who the girl is from the resume? What does it tell you about her personality, her character, her intellect, her neshoma? It is demeaning to reduce a girl to a few sentences.”

The rationale underlying the new shidduch initiative was this: If eligible girls would be given personal and meaningful “face time” with prospective mother-in-laws, they would be able to present their qualities far more efficaciously than a cold and lifeless curriculum vitae.

Now for my full disclosure: I am the mother (baruch Hashem) of a great boy. He is continuously sought out, “in perpetual demand” (kinehora). I should be grateful that in shidduchim, he “wields the upper hand.” But as a woman who identifies with and feels great compassion for the throngs of girls in a parallel universe who are not being chased, I feel a little sad each time the fax machine cranks out yet another resume for my son. I know full well that there are fantastic girls out there who are his equals–perhaps even his superiors–who are NOT receiving comparable treatment. They are neither being hounded nor pursued half as vigorously as he, and they are denied the latitude of choices that he receives every day. I ache for their mothers who repeatedly call the shadchanim who never call back, but are visibly more responsive if you are the mother of a boy. Inwardly, I rail against the unfairness of it all (although the shadchanim are completely innocent of any wrongdoing, whatsoever; it is the system that is at fault– not they—the stark realities of supply and demand). Thinking of the mothers who do not have the privilege to wade through as many resumes as me, I try consciously not to revel in the continuous stream that cascade over my desk. I know how fortunate my son is, and I feel for those who aren’t.

So, when one of the extraordinary women who organized this event invited me to participate, I was actually reluctant to attend. Quite simply, there was no need. But because I like and respect this woman so much, and wanted to validate her efforts, I RSVP’d “Yes.”

“How are you going to work this?” I asked. “How are you going to ensure that all the girls get equal time? Are they not going to feel degraded? Is this process not going to end up even more demeaning than a resume?”

The organizer assured me that there would be facilitators on site who would introduce each girl to every mother. The facilitator would escort the mother to the tables where the girls sat, and be hyper-vigilant that no girl gets bypassed. I wondered how many girls would feel comfortable with this arrangement and actually show up, but as I said before, I wanted to support my acquaintance’s endeavor with my physical presence, so I went.

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851 Responses to “Purim And The Tyranny Of Beauty: A Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim”

  1. Sarah Bronson says:

    I'm also struck by how

    1) New York-centric the article is. Ms. Halberstam does not seem to realize that outside of Brooklyn, it is perfectly acceptable and even desirable for a young woman to be "merely" clean, brushed, ironed — and fresh-faced. Different mores for different communities.

    2) how "moneyed" this article seems. Not everyone has the socioeconomic advantages that make it possible to become a "swan" by getting one's hair professionally straightened, or having part of one's body surgically removed just for the purpose of looking "better" (or rather, what some people, including Ms. Halberstam, define as "better"). Especially 19-year-old girls who are in college or working at entry-level jobs. And, frankly, most people who are using their spare funds to have their hair straightened would feel a lot more fulfilled donating that money to a really meaningful charity of their choice — that is a much more Jewish thing than obsessing over looks to satisfy a potential mother-in-law.

    Artificial and materialistic. Shame, shame on you Ms. Halberstam for advocating such non-Jewish values.

  2. Erika Keehn says:

    Another

  3. Abi Muller says:

    Publishing this article is demeaning and perpetuates the artificial hysteria of a "Shidduchs crisis". This makes me not want to be part of any jewish community that will PUBLISH an article that encourages woman to be referred to so objectively. Appalling and crass. Shame on you Jewish Press Editors.

  4. Ruth Zimberg says:

    OK – so the girl has her teeth and hair straightened, her nose bobbed etc. Then when the couple has kids, they wonder why the kids have kinky hair, crooked teeth and big noses!

  5. Ayelet says:

    You are ONE SICK woman. Shame on you.

  6. Tzvi Gordon says:

    I think what the author did here was to take a small isolated incident and apply it to a larger context where it is not entirely applicable. I entirely agree with all the criticism about the direction the collective male brain has been heading in recent years. Here I am not blaming Religious, Orthodox women (however you want to define those terms) but rather, really the Western Culture of Aesthetic Beauty as a goal, for (not all but) most of the problem. This culture that is antithetical to Jewish culture has imposed itself onto most of the society we choose to live in (demographically, not "mindset" wise. Meaning, in America.) and it therefore effects us, culminating in trying to use it to solve our problems, i.e. this article. "Hevel HaYofi" seems to be a forgotten lyric, or thought of as nothing more so.

  7. Ayelet says:

    UGH! I feel like throwing up now.

  8. Karen Stevens Katz says:

    I have seen in my many years as a nurse that physical beauty is very transient. While one should present oneself in a pleasing

  9. Karen Stevens Katz says:

    way, this article is wrong headed and a little cruel.

  10. Daniel Wenger says:

    That's the challenge: what's the line between "physical deformity" and just "not ideal"? Why are braces generally accepted, and when will basic plastic surgery be similarly accepted? Makeup and hair care probably fall in the middle of that too.

  11. Akiva Fleischmann says:

    I'm going to assume this a purim shpiel piece. Nobody decent would write or publish this garbage.

    On the off chance it isn't parody, perhaps the problem lies in these shidduch communities enforcing strict no-contact policies between genders except for siblings (maybe) and shidduch dates.

    Perhaps if the rules were softened a bit, a boy could get to know a girl and see what's underneath that is so valuable. I don't see this problem in the Modern Orthodox community nearly as much, because we TALK to each other, for crying out loud, and when we do, we see the beauty that's under the skin.

  12. Bev Landen says:

    these women are digusting and don't represent what Judaism is all about, sorry for being so direct but this whole area is just deplorable!

  13. Ashley Jacob says:

    I read the article and I am going to play devil's advocate. How do we know? None of us grew up in that world. It's possible that in the world she is discussing what she is talking about is a reality. I had a teacher in Sem that reminded us when we get married not to save our 'best face' for the outside world. All too often we assume that since we are married we should be comfortable, walk around in pj's hair in a messy pony (I am the biggest culprit) but why do I put on nice clothing and a beautiful headcovering when I walk out of the house? Becasue I care how I present myself to people. Shouldn't we care the same about our spouses — before and during marriage?

  14. Ashley Jacob says:

    I do however severly disagree with going as far as cosmetic surgery and 'becoming' a different person.

  15. Harley Roth says:

    Ashley Jacob But does that mean getting a nose job or botox is the way to go?

  16. Lynn says:

    To Leah,
    We have a reality in this world and that is that most people prefer beauty and prefer a type of beauty defined by the society they live in. We are not looking for the beauty that was from the shtetle of 200 years ago. To say that men, of any religion, would prefer to marry beautiful women over unattractive women, is not blaming the victim. It is the same type of statement as saying that birds eat worms. To be honest, I don’t suffer in high heels either but I am not expecting women to give them up any time soon. Look around in the stores and see that the painful shoes just became higher and more and more women are buying them! I see plenty of Jewish feet wearing them. Being that as the reality, do we really blame men for not preferring a woman in lace up orthopedic oxfords? Does the fact that most of us prefer chocolate to asparagus make us immoral people? It is a well known fact and has been as such since time began that women sometimes suffer for beauty. Men are prohibited from doing that because halachically, that is the nature of women to beautify themselves sometimes to the point of pain or discomfort. That you and I are happy in our oxford lace-ups does not change the nature of womanhood and of people in general. I realize that many idealistic people read these blogs and are horrified that frum people subscribe to the same human inclinations that non-Jews do. We are allowed to be human, to care for aesthetic beauty, and to marry someone that we are attracted to. Why are men who study Torah, expected to embrace unattractiveness?

  17. Rebecca Braun says:

    You have got to be kidding !!! this article is a Purim joke right??? if it is serious than the Jewish people are in serious trouble !!!

  18. Ilana Freundel says:

    Raffi Holzer No woman between 21 and 24 should need a gastric bypass. If she does, something is seriously wrong with her health, and she should be at a doctor, making sure she is even healthy enough for a shidduch.

  19. Ashley Jacob says:

    Harley Roth I just said no. My point is that in our general culture there is an importance on looking presentable and even pretty. In each subculture the definition is different. I can't imagine how difficult it is for these girls to be stuck in a system that isn't benefiting them to get to the next stage of their life. Maybe the authors suggestion might help someone (although again I am NOT a supporter of plastic surgery).

  20. Jordana Rothstein White says:

    Translated quote from the book of Esther which the author so tragically misreads: "2:12 Now when every maid's turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women, (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours, and with other things for the purifying of the women;)….2:15 Now when the turn of Esther, she required nothing but what Hegai the king's chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed. And Esther obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her…"

    Esther passed on the extensive beauty rituals of the other women and was still chosen as the queen. And, as an aside, have you looked at some of those yeshiva bachurs? I'm guessing there are more than a few candidates for nose jobs in that crew, too…Why does every male 3-4 think he deserves a female 10, and why are you feeding into that sick delusion?

  21. Maytal Gross says:

    wait…did that lady just ask shidduch girls to get botox in order to get married?

  22. Don Cantor says:

    The article was provocative, and may, as Raffi said, have gone too far. But don't deny reality. Do people not read the megillah, or just refuse to acknowledge the words "והנערה יפת תואר וטובת מראה?"And I think we all know that that's not the only time it says that in Tanach.

  23. Laya says:

    My first plea if you’re even reading this comment, is to find a way to be kind to everyone involved in this difficult topic. Our unity at this time is so important. <3

    Amid the controversy, there are some good points here: 1) the question was asked about doing things that would make the girls feel good about themselves. Confidence is a HUGE part of attracting a mate. 2) the Jewish women in Egypt used copper mirrors to attract their husbands. They made themselves as beautiful as they could. And every single mirror donated for the kiyor was used. There is a balance; and every woman wants to feel beautiful. Moderation is a pretty good route to go, not one extreme or another; and each young lady needs to find that place for herself.

    No matter how introductions are made: Blessings for the girls to feel confident and as beautiful as they are both inside and out! May the bochrim looking for their shidduchim open their hearts and soul to be guided to their wives for all the right reasons (and being attracted is not meant to be tossed out).

  24. Ora Z Novick says:

    On the one hand, I find it absolutely hilarious that the piece opens with the author thinking she will be 'crucified' — because clearly the idea that girls should wear makeup and get plastic surgery is shunned and getting less popular by the minute. Wow.

    On the other hand, thank you, oh lovely author — I didn't realize that you know the 'true reason' behind the "shidduch crisis" and you can solve it for everyone else too dumb to have figured out how to get to a drugstore. Clearly this is the mother of a guy — no one who watches a girl they care about getting ready for a date or worrying about the affect of their appearance on their chances would seriously think that this is some sort of news. If anything, I've seen some potentially 'great guys' whose mothers should wake up to the fact that it's the 21st century and figure out where the anti-acne creams are in the drugstore, or teach them how to match their pants, shirt, and tie. Attraction goes both ways. Instead, girls are told to focus on their physical externals, and guys are told to focus on their religious externals (learning every day vs good middot, for example). And since we live in a society that sucks, we should just go along with it instead of trying to make it better. The tyranny of conformity, maybe.

  25. Lynn says:

    Why should someone die from reading an article any more than someone should die from reading an ad for diet pills or plastic surgery? An adult must act like an adult and if they need to lose weight, they should do so in a responsible way. Can we blame anorexia on people reading articles? Don’t the readers of such articles need to sort out the facts? The author does not claim to be a medical professional, only the mother of a boy who wants an attractive wife. The overwhelming vast majority of people survive plastic surgery; however no surgery should be taken lightly and a rav should be consulted about risk verses benefit of any elective surgery. In some cases, gastric bypass could extend the lives or improve the quality of lives of some morbidly obese patients and such patients need to examine the facts before making a decision. That most people today want mates who are of normal weight is as much of a given as saying that fish live in water. It is not an indication of immorality.

  26. I'd like to thank the writer of this article for telling us how wonderful her son is with all the resumes he receives, the PHD he's going to get, and his ability to walk on water.

    It would be utterly laughable to suggest that this Hashem's gift to women who walks in our midst would have to make any effort to actually meet women himself or parade himself in front of the mothers of mortal women; or that he, or other men, need to be presentable.

  27. Raffi Holzer says:

    Ilana Freundel Optimally, no person of any age should need gastric bypass. And yes, if a person, woman or man, is considering gastric bypass, it should be primarily due to health concerns associated with obesity.

  28. Tzvi Gordon says:

    Don Cantor That's what was important to Achashverosh. If you wanna be on his level, B'Kef. There is also a gemara in Mesechet Megilla that tells of the moments before Vashti was called to be brought out. It says that the difference between the Jews at the party talked about Torah when drunk, whereas the rest talked about which province had the most beautiful women. The יפת תואר וטובת מראה was important to Achashverosh, not the Jews.

  29. Don Cantor says:

    Once again, if you take a look in the Megilla, those words are said when introducing Mordechai and Esther not in the context of her being taken to Achashverosh. So maybe ease off on the ridiculous insinuations.

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I know I’m going to be crucified, but if the appeal I make below helps even one girl in shidduchim, then it will be worth all the fury and outrage that shall inevitably descend upon my soon-to-be beleaguered head.

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