According to the Talmud (Ta’anit 30b-31a), on the 15th of Av unmarried girls would dress in plain white clothing, so that those from wealthy families could not be distinguished from the poorer ones. Once suitably attired, they would go out to sing and dance in the vineyards surrounding Jerusalem.
Joining them were single men who would mingle with said maidens and pick a wife. This very possibly was the earliest version of “speed dating” – but it worked. The young men and women would eventually pair off and happily build a bayit ne’eman b’yisrael, and thus contribute to Jewish continuity.
There is a valuable lesson to be learned from this, one that obviously was condoned by the gedolim of that era as an acceptable way for singles to “meet.” You endorsed what needed to be done to ensure the future of the nation.
Why then, the question begs to be asked, is the mingling of eligible men and women – once done with the blessing and approval of the gedolim of ancient Eretz Yisrael – now considered “treif” by the frum establishment?
Don’t we as a community take upon ourselves the minhagim of our ancestors? Why not this one? Why don’t we celebrate Tu B’Av as we do, for example, Tu B’Shevat?
Why is having singles of both genders meeting each other on their own so frowned upon? This near total isolation of the genders is a relatively recent phenomenon, since most of the middle-aged people reading this article likely met at coed events sponsored by their shuls and schools. There were dances, bowling and skating parties, kumzitses, and post-Shabbat get-togethers that gave young people the opportunity to get to know each other and eventually pair off with a compatible future spouse – unimpaired by preconceived biases that prevented them from having that initial date. Today, getting approval for a first date can take weeks, even months, – dragged on and delayed by intensive checking and interrogation of “references.”
During Tu B’Av, the boys had no idea which girls were rich, who came from big yichus, or who (gasp!) had a mother who used plastic silverware on Shabbat and served the cheaper brand of frozen gefilta fish. Without a lengthy shidduch dosier and detailed background check to influence their choice, the young men and women of yore were provided with an equal-opportunity environment to meet, get to know each other and pair off.
I know of many marriages that resulted from two individuals meeting on their own who never would have ever accepted a shidduch based on the “facts on the ground.” Bachelors met and married single mothers with several children; taller women chose shorter men; frum-from-birth married ba’al teshuvah – you get the idea!
Sadly the children of baby boomers who met at “mixed” events have been denied this golden opportunity to meet and find their soul mates, to the point that there are thousands of men and women getting older with each passing year who are still single – and increasingly frustrated and depressed.
I recently bumped into a friend who has been married since she was 19. Though she knows many unmarried people, she had no idea of the sheer number of older never-married singles. I was taken aback at a recent Shabbaton I attended where everyone, as an icebreaker, got up and introduced and described themselves. Out of a crowd of about 60, only a handful (perhaps five) mentioned having children. Most were in their upper 40s and 50s, and the pained sadness in their eyes belied the smile on their faces as they described their hobbies, jobs, activities and pets.
For them, Yom Tovs are not “good days.” Most older singles dread holidays because they have no idea where they will spend them. Some have no parents or siblings, or if they do have brothers and sisters, often they are not geographically or emotionally close. Others feel uncomfortable being the only single at a table full of couples – even if they are family.
Some, already experiencing health issues like arthritis or hearing loss, increasingly worry about who will take care of them if they become feeble in their old age. They know that they will have to “buy” care from strangers.
The community and religious leaders cannot let the current crop of singles – still in their upper 20s and 30s – become the future, older never marrieds. It truly is a travesty in terms of the decimation of the Jewish people when a sizeable portion of the frum community never marries and never bears children – who, in turn, launch future generations.
Why not reinstitute coed programming? If necessary, people could meet under the watchful eye of “chaperones” – shadchans if you will – and other married couples who could serve as facilitators. I’m not saying we should have dancing in the streets, but what is wrong if shuls, religious colleges, etc. offer activities where young men and women can meet and mingle? Obviously the “shidduch parshah” is not working for everybody. Just like in medicine, if something doesn’t work you try something else – even if some in the medical community consider the approach a bit “unorthodox.”
You must do what you can to save the afflicted. In terms of the viability of the community, everyone must take their head out of the sand. As a people, we are literally talking pikuach nefesh.