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Last month, I mentioned that some previously-married women have been given a heter to not cover their hair. Perhaps one of the reasons for seeking and receiving this leniency is the obvious benefit that people who dabble in making shidduchim (an activity everyone should be mindful of doing) who see a second-time single woman will strike up a conversation that could possibly lead to a set-up and a match.

If a woman looks married (has covered hair) there is the reasonable assumption that she is, while uncovered hair is a status statement: “I am single, feel free to do a huge mitzvah and help me remarry!”

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But how can one tell if a man is single, especially when you see a sea of talleisim in shul. Actually that’s easy; the bachelors are the ones whose suit jackets are clearly visible. They stick out in a wave of white prayer shawls.

But what about the men who were married but who no longer are? They are undistinguished from their married peers as they are still required to wear a tallis. In addition, there are communities whose minhag is that post bar mitzvah, the boys wear a tallis so it is rather difficult for an outsider visiting the shul to know who amongst the men is married and who isn’t.

I wonder how many opportunities to set someone up were missed because people unfamiliar with the congregants had no way of discerning that some of the men wearing talleisim were if fact “in the parsha.

I realize that men are not going to “uncover” their shoulders, so to speak; however, what if their talleisim had some kind of recognizable sign that indicated the wearer’s marital status?

Perhaps their talleisim could be a different color than those worn by married men, or simply have some embroidery around them in a specific style or shape that is rabbinically approved and universally accepted. That way it would be apparent to the casual observer that they are available.

I remember a close friend sharing that someone she was sitting with in shul pointed out a young man who looked to be in his mid-20’s and asked her if she knew him. She had daughters in the parsha, and, as he wasn’t wearing a tallis, her interest was piqued. The young man happened to be my son, and I realized that women – if it is physically possible to do so – scrutinize the other side of the mechitzah with shiddichim on their mind. (It never went past that initial inquiry, he was “busy” – but I am sure that many set-ups did come from a random shul sighting!)

Often the women’s section is upstairs and the men are on display down below. I have also been in shuls where there is a one-way glass mechitzah, allowing the women to see the men, but not the reverse. How clever – a kosher mechitzah that can be a first stepping stone to matrimony.

There are always new faces in shul, especially on Shabbat. People come for simchas, to visit a sick relative, are on vacation or on a business trip. How much easier it would be to make a dent in the cascading shidduch crisis by removing any ambiguity about whether a man is free to date, or not.

Likely with transparency in mind, I have been at single weekends where participants would wear name tags with some having additional information, such as the city they reside in. A good idea perhaps for those who aren’t interested in or can’t partake in long-distance relationships.

But what was really impressive was when kohanim would have that designation on their tag. This way a woman who was not eligible to marry a kohen would know not to try to attempt an initial connection with him – or if he approached her, she could forthwith explain that he should move on.

Over the years I heard the sad story of two people spending a lot of time together, only to find out that it was for naught – halachically they could not marry, and an opportunity to meet someone “kosher” was lost during that time.

Having the equivalent of a “scarlet letter” on your tallis would not be a symbol of shame; it would be one of clarity that could enhance one’s ability to remarry.

In my mind I see a baal bayis coming home from shul, greeting his wife and mentioning that the stranger sitting in the seat in front of him had a “singles” tallis and was a 40-year-old, recently divorced lawyer, and his wife would be dreamily planning the wedding of her 35-year-old niece, while ladling out the cholent.

The fact is there are so many second-time singles in heimische communities and the numbers sadly are growing each year – to such a degree that several organizations have sprung up to provide networking opportunities and social support. Whereas once upon a time never-married singles likely outnumbered divorced or widowed, I would guess that this is no longer the case, as divorces and death from disease, accidents, or violence, especially in Eretz Yisrael, has sadly resulted in men and women who no longer are spouses.

The Orthodox community is the one having the greatest number of children amongst Jewish denominations. There are so many young men and women who want to have more children but who obviously need to remarry to do that. Any impediment to remarriage should be minimized as much as possible so that potential generations will be launched.

I recently met several women who are in their upper 20’s and divorced with one or two children. Because of a shared custody situation, they cannot move out of town. Wouldn’t it be helpful if they or others who want to set them up could, for example, attend an aufruf and look at a man and tell by his tallis that he was married but is no longer? Perhaps he is a widower who could relocate his family; perhaps he is in kollel and could learn anywhere or has an online job that allows him to re-locate.

A long shot for sure, but there are many “long shots” that have led couples to the chuppah. One thing is certain – if people assume a man is married, and the conversation begins and ends with a “gut Shabbos,” – two lonely people will make their way home, alone.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. This is still a problem after all these years. When I was single I left home and served in the military for 10 years, the first 8 years were very lonely as I had no family and few opertunities to meet young women of virtue. Finally a friend's wife connected me with a nice girl and we got married and have been married for 48 years now. Sometimes it is a friend of a friend. My friend knew I was single and so did his wife and she became our matchmaker and brought us together at their home. I am forever greatful, thank you Frank and Sandra.

  2. No less than the Chofetz Chaim strongly criticized the notion that men should not wear a tallit until they're married. If a woman wants to know if a man is married, look at the expression on his face; look to see if he has a ring; look to see if his tie matches his suit and shirt; or do the ultimate and unthinkable: ask him or ask someone who knows him.

  3. Being able to identify people as single or married is not really the main issue (although I do hear your point that people need to be able to identify people as single to start up with them). A greater issue is being able to make a move (I.e. show someone you are interested in them) and flirt a little. So many singles I work with experience so much shame around being single that they feel blocked from actually showing someone they are interested, or take the necessary steps to do what they need to (go to events where they could meet a potential partner etc). If shame around being single at any age could be better dealt with people would be better able to work around this whole issue on the first place.

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