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April 23, 2014 / 23 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. leahgoodman says:

    Yet, Dan, I noticed that you indeed married a very beautiful woman :)

  2. Dana Tabaria says:

    Great response raquel. What a stupid woman. Clearly her son the fancy Phd is obsessed with a girl who spends hours putting on makeup so she looks completely fake. I actually feel bad for him because he had such a superficial mother raising him to only care about how much time a girl spends putting on her makeup and how good she looks. So pathetic.

  3. Dan Freundel says:

    I hope I can explain how disgusting your attitude is in terms your remarkably narrow world view can understand, by taking an example from the Torah. When Avraham and Sarah approached Egypt, Avraham said "Hiney na, yadati ki isha yefat mareh at – Behold now I know that you are a beautiful woman" (Gen 12:11). Rashi asks how it is possible that until now Avraham was unaware of this fact. After all, we know from the Gemara (Megilla 15a) that Sarah was one of the four most beautiful women to ever live, surely Avraham must have seen it. One of the answers that Rashi suggests is that after a long journey such as the one taken to get to Egypt, one would expect to be dirty, dusty, and otherwise all-around worn out. Not the moment at which one would be considered to be "at their best". However, Avraham loved Sarah and saw that she was STILL beautiful even after such a trip.

    People are not "at their best" for the majority of real life. Yes, attraction is highly important. A man is not even permitted to marry a woman whom he has not yet seen, because he must be at least somewhat physically attracted to her. (The fact that you, and not your son, are the one screening these women is a different matter, one which is deeply ingrained in differences in hashkafa, and not one which is relevant at the moment.) However, the criteria is actually far higher than that which you suggest. A man must still be able to be attracted to his wife when she is at her WORST, as Avraham was. You say "There are very few women who can’t use a little extra help." I say "There are very few women who NEED the extra help." If these yeshiva bochurim are expecting marriage to mean having a woman who looks perfectly airbrushed all the time, has shining lips, rosy cheeks, and never a hair out of place, then they need to take a good hard look at the world around them and accept the fact that the words "average" and "ugly" are not the same thing. Granted, there are a few young women who really DO need extra help, but in my long, yet thankfully concluded, experience as an interested party, such women are few and far between. Your story about Hannah and the Satmar Rebbe is touching, but there is a vast difference between a girl who is completely toothless, or has some other physical deformity, and a girl who is "average".

    You say that "the women of the kingdom who vied for the Queen’s throne were given twelve months to prepare for the beauty pageant" and ask "why hadn’t some of the girls at the shidduch event taken a mere half hour". Am I to understand from this that "shidduch shopping" has become as perverted and depraved a practice as Achashverosh's self-indulgent search for a woman whose sole purpose would be to satisfy his own desire? Is that really how you want bochurim to act? Achashverosh had Vashti killed for refusing to present her beauty. You're judging and condemning these women for the same reason.

    You say that "Some women who are deeply religious or intellectually inclined may delude themselves into thinking that their male counterparts will only see, appreciate and cherish their inner beauty, and that will (or should) be their overriding priority." It SHOULD, and in my belief, IS. Being a former bochur myself, I can say that the majority of men I knew and know DO, in fact, take this attitude. The ones that don't are few and far between, and all but a specially self-indulgent few tend to grow out of their pigheadedness. However, let's suspend reality for a minute and assume that in fact, bochurim are, as you claim, all pigheaded, self-indulgent beings who care only for their own pleasure and are foolish enough to believe that having a perfect-looking girl is the best way to pursue pleasure. It is not a failing on the woman's part that the prospective man can't see her for what she is, and a pretty (yes, average is pretty) young woman can do better than a man with such an attitude anyway. Why should she make herself beautiful for a man who is going to mistreat her, who you KNOW is going to mistreat her specifically because all he cares about is whether she's beautiful. If you truly live in such a world, I feel sorry for all the women there, but it's the men's priorities and attitudes, not the women whom they are mistreating, that need the face-lift, as well as the attitudes of people like you who invest in such superficial and grossly inappropriate perversions of courtesy and morality.

  4. Michal Schick says:

    I will follow the lead of the author and focus on what is really important– the physical. Congratulations, Mrs. Halberstam: You have successfully nauseated me to the point that I will now move away from my computer lest I destroy it with the (physical) regurgitation your article has inspired.

  5. Moshe says:

    I only know of one case of a shiduch in the Torah: Yishmael’s mother found him a wife from Egypt.

    There is also a story of a Jew undergoing a shiduch: Yitzchak’s father sending a servant to find a bride for him. But in this case the rabbis of the Talmud tell us that this was an unusual case because Yitzchak, for unique halachik reasons couldn’t leave Israel.

    Apparently, according to these rabbis – who certain Jewish sects ignore – the shidduch system is not a Jewish concept.

  6. Raquel Amram says:

    I think it is ironic and sad that most of these girls were looking for "learners". Presumably their potential future mother in laws have sons who are learning full time and would like to continue that. It is ironic because would kollel guys want a wife who is a plastic barbie? Isn't the life of someone that is learning full time supposed to be about the ruchniyut, not about the gashmiut? It has unfortunately become the opposite. The focus has become the outside. What is the person wearing, instead of what middos do they have. This article only further conveys that message…it is a sad reality.

  7. Bracha Poliakoff says:

    Reminds me of Toddlers and Tiaras lol. I hope it's a joke, but if it's not I suggest you edit the above post, remove some of your side rants, and send it to the editor. Pretty crazy.

  8. Yet shidduchim are superficial by defenition (didn't read the article, tried to but then decided I do not want to read the agonizing inner dialouge of the yiddeshe mame).

  9. I agree, so sad. I have a lot of thoughts on this subject. It is very hard to break out of our self imposed limitations and problems, but we call it a crisis!

  10. so I'm confused a little on the point in which the author Mrs. halberstam made from purim.
    wasnt esther not so attractive (green complexion-hadas)? doesn't the GR"A say that the way she became queen was because of her middos? when she went to achashvairosh to plead for the jews after being prodded by mordichai she fasted for three days- the origin of taanis esther btw, wouldn't you think she would try as hard as she could to fatten/ put makeup on to make herself look better?
    how can you draw a comparison and proof for your arguement from a story whcih shows us just the oppsoite of what you are saying?

  11. I was shocked to read the story of the Satmar Rebbe, who allowed a naive young woman to risk death just so he could eat kosher.

    Did he even bother to tell her that halacha does not require one to risk one's life for this, and most probably forbids one from risking one's life to prevent someone from having to eat non-kosher bread?

    How could a person who called himself a rabbi, who was fully aware that this is a perfect example of mitzvah habar ba'evairah, have acted in such a selfish way?

    I can't imagine what punishment he must have surely received for using another human being in this way.

    I wasn't particularly impressed that he "rewarded" this woman who was under his influence by giving her enough money for cosmetics.

  12. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders says:

    I found it particularly offensive that she compared healthy young frum women to concentration camp survivors. Give your Babi an extra hug, please.

  13. Chani says:

    “And I think everyone is lying to themselves if they say that the “good guys don’t care”. I dated a full time learning yeshiva guy who dumped me because I had brown hair instead of blond!”

    I would disagree in saying that this was a “good guy”. A good guy wouldnt dump you for your hair color (the irony being that you’ll probably cover your hair anyway). That is the problem with the system today. That a man like that can be called a “good guy”

  14. Leah Shaffren says:

    This is very well written. You should take a look at my dad's comment on the same article (it's the one just below yours), I believe you'd like his approach as well.

  15. I just want to say that this is awesome.

  16. Leah says:

    ‘Also, women have long been suffering in order to look beautiful.’

    Yes, because the fact that we’ve always done something a particular way means it is the only way to do it. That is why we still use animals to plow our fields, snake oil to treat our illnesses, and horse drawn carriages to get from one place to another. Also women are considered property and are not allowed to vote. Oh and we never, ever use computers.

    Has it occurred to you that perhaps the practice of causing ourselves pain and discomfort in order to conform to unnatural standards of beauty is one that should be phased out? Don’t get me wrong- I’m not crying for the death of high heels. Wearing them is your prerogative. But your prerogative is not my requirement.

    Also, your line “if she chooses to look unattractive, why are we blaming men for not being interested?” is disturbingly reminiscent of the line “Well if she chose to look so beautiful, why do we blame the man for raping her?”. And yes, people actually say that. True, one is far worse than another. But it is easily argued that women in general are victims of unrealistic standards set to us by society, and victim blaming of any kind is a slippery slope.

  17. Tom Dratler says:

    "would kollel guys want a wife who is a plastic barbie?"

    Apparently, quite a few.

  18. Chani says:

    I couldnt agree more. That story shocked me. How can that be behavior that other’s should emulate? Its horrifying.

  19. Andrew Lillien says:

    The main problem is that the mothers are reading the resumes. The boys should read the resumes and mothers should butt out. There is no shidduch crisis. Just picky parents with ridiculous standards.

    Also, do not reset the comments or take down the article. Then the paper loses credibility on top the of author having already lost it.

  20. Dan Freundel says:

    Reposting. In addition to everything else, the sheer dishonesty of taking down all the comments simply because they disagree with your horendous viewpoint is simply mind-boggling.

    I hope I can explain how disgusting your attitude is in terms your remarkably narrow world view can understand, by taking an example from the Torah. When Avraham and Sarah approached Egypt, Avraham said "Hiney na, yadati ki isha yefat mareh at – Behold now I know that you are a beautiful woman" (Gen 12:11). Rashi asks how it is possible that until now Avraham was unaware of this fact. After all, we know from the Gemara (Megilla 15a) that Sarah was one of the four most beautiful women to ever live, surely Avraham must have seen it. One of the answers that Rashi suggests is that after a long journey such as the one taken to get to Egypt, one would expect to be dirty, dusty, and otherwise all-around worn out. Not the moment at which one would be considered to be "at their best". However, Avraham loved Sarah and saw that she was STILL beautiful even after such a trip.

    People are not "at their best" for the majority of real life. Yes, attraction is highly important. A man is not even permitted to marry a woman whom he has not yet seen, because he must be at least somewhat physically attracted to her. (The fact that you, and not your son, are the one screening these women is a different matter, one which is deeply ingrained in differences in hashkafa, and not one which is relevant at the moment.) However, the criteria is actually far higher than that which you suggest. A man must still be able to be attracted to his wife when she is at her WORST, as Avraham was. You say "There are very few women who can’t use a little extra help." I say "There are very few women who NEED the extra help." If these yeshiva bochurim are expecting marriage to mean having a woman who looks perfectly airbrushed all the time, has shining lips, rosy cheeks, and never a hair out of place, then they need to take a good hard look at the world around them and accept the fact that the words "average" and "ugly" are not the same thing. Granted, there are a few young women who really DO need extra help, but in my long, yet thankfully concluded, experience as an interested party, such women are few and far between. Your story about Hannah and the Satmar Rebbe is touching, but there is a vast difference between a girl who is completely toothless, or has some other physical deformity, and a girl who is "average".

    You say that "the women of the kingdom who vied for the Queen’s throne were given twelve months to prepare for the beauty pageant" and ask "why hadn’t some of the girls at the shidduch event taken a mere half hour". Am I to understand from this that "shidduch shopping" has become as perverted and depraved a practice as Achashverosh's self-indulgent search for a woman whose sole purpose would be to satisfy his own desire? Is that really how you want bochurim to act? Achashverosh had Vashti killed for refusing to present her beauty. You're judging and condemning these women for the same reason.

    You say that "Some women who are deeply religious or intellectually inclined may delude themselves into thinking that their male counterparts will only see, appreciate and cherish their inner beauty, and that will (or should) be their overriding priority." It SHOULD, and in my belief, IS. Being a former bochur myself, I can say that the majority of men I knew and know DO, in fact, take this attitude. The ones that don't are few and far between, and all but a specially self-indulgent few tend to grow out of their pigheadedness. However, let's suspend reality for a minute and assume that in fact, bochurim are, as you claim, all pigheaded, self-indulgent beings who care only for their own pleasure and are foolish enough to believe that having a perfect-looking girl is the best way to pursue pleasure. It is not a failing on the woman's part that the prospective man can't see her for what she is, and a pretty (yes, average is pretty) young woman can do better than a man with such an attitude anyway. Why should she make herself beautiful for a man who is going to mistreat her, who you KNOW is going to mistreat her specifically because all he cares about is whether she's beautiful. If you truly live in such a world, I feel sorry for all the women there, but it's the men's priorities and attitudes, not the women whom they are mistreating, that need the face-lift, as well as the attitudes of people like you who invest in such superficial and grossly inappropriate perversions of courtesy and morality.

  21. Dan Freundel says:

    Not just the article, but the organization that published it.

  22. H Rosen says:

    Yonatan, this story is a complete fabrication. The Satmar Rav ate only potatoes that he acquired himself from the kitchen. There was no danger. Someone above commented on this as well.

  23. Dan, very well said! If you are R’ Barry Freundel’s son, my how you’ve grown. It’s been years since I’ve lived in DC!

  24. Jere Finer says:

    I've heard of 2 questions among boys (yes, "learners") looking for shidduchim. A) is she a size "2" and B) what is her cup size. Yup, their depth is astounding. So forget resumes and just trot out the well endowed skinny girls. With exception made, of course, for the rich girls. With the way the shidduch types tend to separate themselves from the rest of the Jewish people, it seems as if in this area they are no different than guys who look to hook up in bars.

  25. Azi Graber says:

    This is repulsive and hopefully when the drugs leave your system you will be severally embarrassed about what you've written here.

    Additionally, the low life women who arranged that deranged event should be ashamed of themselves for reducing young women to have to submit themselves to be treated in this manner.

    I'd prefer my daughter hang out in bars and have loads of premarital sex than have to be a part of this perverse system.

  26. Lynn says:

    To Leah,
    All plastic surgery carries a risk of unsatisfactory results, on top of the risk of illness or death. Plastic surgery usually does not have a high mortality rate but anything can happen. No one should even contemplate plastic surgery to please others if they themselves are happy with the way that Hashem created them. If, however, a person does feel very self-conscious or depressed about the shape of their nose to the point where their quality of life is reduced, they should see a plastic surgeon, get the facts, and then present them to their rav. A person should not take unnecessary risks to their health without asking a rav.

  27. Suzanne Somosi says:

    I remember reading a story by Thomas Hardy the 19th Century British writer, about a naive young man who fell in love with and married a beautiful young woman. When they got home she removed her hair extensions and the different paddings she used to enhance her appearance and he was so horrified that he ran for the hills. This kind of reminds me of the 40 year old in your story who snagged a husband because she had an edge over other women even though “nothing about her was real”. Does this mean that she can never remove her lenses will need further botox injections etc.

    Also I am under the impression that Halacha requires either partner to disclose any physical defects they might have. Now this doesn’t mean that wearing a little make up if you are so inclined is wrong. And of course there is no excuse for either men or women not be nat and well groomed.

  28. where are the comments.

  29. Chayim Goldberg says:

    This article is horrible. As a 27 year old member of what you seem to describe as the privileged gender, male, I can tell you that most guys don't appreciate the efforts put into make up, nose jobs, etc. Quite honestly, most single men I know, myself included, couldn't care less about whether a girl put make up on, the size of her nose, or any of these other meaningless things. While anyone going on a date, man or woman, should make an effort to look presentable, this author typifies the type the attitude that perpetuates the shidduch crisis: "Only a supermodel is worthy of my amazing son." In quoting the story of Megillat Esther, the author seems to forget the most important part: Achashveirosh chose Esther, not the other girls, despite all their efforts. The author would probably have said that Esther was unworthy of her son because she didn't put in all that effort to beautify herself. Shame on the author and best of luck to all the women out there who understand that dating someone who will only be interested in you if you put on make up isn't worth your time. "Sheker hachein v'hevel hayofi. Isha yirat Hashem he tithalal."

  30. Stefanie Strauss Small says:

    I gotta tell you – as a matchmaker on SYAS, I want to shake some of the members. They KNOW they are being judged (rightly or wrongly) on the photos they put up there and so many of them are really HORRIBLE. And I yell at the computer WHY WOULD YOU PUT THAT ONE THERE? I have been blunt with my members and told some of them to change their pictures. But other matchmakers don't. And the people who don't put up pics? Don't get as many dates, that's for sure. So while the article is to a severe extreme, no one should kid themselves that yes, put on some damn lipstick and comb your frickin' hair. Your profile means nothing if you don't at least try. /end rant.

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