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Posts Tagged ‘Shidduch’

Hashem Is The Ultimate Shadchan

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Last week I shared a letter from a mother who was grappling with the challenge of finding the proper shidduch for her daughter. This was the first shidduch in her family and she sought guidance as to how she might best go about it. The following is my response.

The difficulty of finding the right shidduch is all too acute in our Jewish world. I have traveled in every continent, and parents and young people all over share this concern.

Time and again I have said and written that when in a quandary we must always turn to our holy books and search for answers.

Our father Abraham was the first Jewish parent who was overcome with this challenge. In his old age he called Eliezer, ­the executor of his estate, and instructed him regarding his last will and testament. Abraham was the wealthiest man of his generation, so it was only natural that he would take great caution in arranging his will.

Amazingly, it was not his money, his real estate, or his livestock that concerned him. The one concern he had was that a shidduch be found for his son Yitzchak. He instructed Eliezer in precise terms, leaving no room for misunderstanding. He charged him with the awesome responsibility of finding Isaac’s wife. Nothing else mattered to Abraham – a lesson our money-obsessed generation would do well to learn.

This priority of finding the right shidduch is one of the pillars on which our people stand. Abraham’s teaching is so deeply engraved on our hearts that to this day when a child is born we pray that G-d will grant that he or she will one day go under the chuppah, the marriage canopy.

While finding the right shidduch for your child is the most critical responsibility parents are charged with, you are far from the only one who is worried.

You are treading on familiar ground; our parents and grandparents throughout the generations shared your concern.

In your letter you wrote that you have been told by shadchanim and other so-called knowing people that the fact your parents are not observant may be a major problem for your daughter in her search for a shidduch.

Sometimes I think to myself that if Rivkah Imeini were alive today she would have a tough time finding a shidduch – after all, she was the daughter of Besuel, a degenerate, corrupt man, and the sister of Laban, an immoral scoundrel in every way. Who would ever think of marrying such a girl? And this holds true not only for Rivkah but for Rochel and Leah as well. In fact, I could write a megillah about the giants of our people who came from difficult and dysfunctional families and yet became leaders of Am Yisrael.

Additionally, we’ve had sages and great women who were descendants of converts and they too became Torah leaders. Surely it would be impossible, given our contemporary standards, for any of them to find a shidduch today. Who would accept them? Who would even look at them?

In our fractious, money-grubbing society, a man is measured by standards our forefathers were not familiar with. They valued the souls, the hearts, the middos of potential shidduch candidates, not their outward appearance or their wealth or popularity.

Do not worry about your parents’ lack of observance. Your children are standing on solid ground. Their exemplary character traits, devotion to Torah, and commitment to our people all speak loudly and clearly for them. No, your parents’ lack of observance will not hold them back from finding their spouses. The young man Hashem has chosen for your daughter is waiting in the wings. He’s there. Just daven and ask Hashem to send him soon, without grief or aggravation.

I would, however, like to clarify why it is that some sincere, observant families object to making a shidduch with someone whose grandparents are not shomer mitzvot. It’s not because of snobbish elitism or delusions of grandeur. It’s simply based on their fear that when the grandchildren will visit Grandma and Grandpa and witness the violation of kashrus, Shabbos, etc., it will have a damaging effect on them.

In your case, though, that does not apply. Baruch Hashem, it is you and your husband who will be the loving Grandma and Grandpa. While your daughter’s future children may visit Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa, it is unlikely they would stay over on Shabbos or be invited for non-kosher dinners.

Myths and Realities of the ‘Shidduch Crisis’

Monday, February 11th, 2013

There are few topics in Jewish society which can simultaneously evoke rage, empathy, and unsolicited opinions and advice as Jewish dating. There are numerous books on the world of Jewish dating including “Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures,” which ironically can be added to your wedding registry.

To be sure, I’ve done my share of personal reflections as a single – after all it’s great blog fodder. I’ve written my own share of articles on the subject, including a “Guide to Jewish Dating.” But fast forward several years, countless women, forgettable dates, even more encouragement, criticism, and unsolicited advice, I am still single.

However in the past few years serving as a Rabbi I’ve also gained a much better perspective. While my community attracts young Jews, it is by no means a “scene” which means there is significantly less communal pressure for single’s to get married. Furthermore, I have personally adopted a “no dating congregants” policy, meaning my religious communal experience of synagogue attendance is uncharacteristically devoid of any pretense of trying to impress women.

Thus I write from the relatively unique perspective of being a single rabbi – aware of the struggles of others while experiencing the same challenges first hand. Consider it unintentional participant observation if you will. And with this dual perspective I have come to the following conclusion: the so-called “shidduch crisis” is a collection of myths which only exacerbate the social pressures and anxieties at the core of the Jewish single’s community, specifically the denial of individuation.

Let’s start with just one example of the alarmist rhetoric regarding Jewish singles. Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld writes on the Orthodox Union’s website:

Shidduchim – Singles 12. Treat the topic of singles like the crisis it is. This is a plague affecting all segments of Orthodoxy and threatens our very continuity. Synagogues and organizations must put this on the front burner. Singles themselves must change attitudes. Women must put marriage before career. Men must consider the woman as a valued helpmate not just as a means of advancing their own life goals, be it career or learning. There is more to a human beings worth other than their money or looks.

There are several assumptions embedded in this paragraph which I hope to dispell one at a time.

Myth: Marriage is a Communal Issue

One would think that getting married is merely a union between two individuals who make a lifelong commitment to each other – i.e. it is a personal decision. But for R. Schonfeld, the “plague” of the shidduch crisis “threatens our very continuity.” From a demographic perspective R. Schonfeld has a point; the later in life Jewish couples get married the fewer Jewish children will be born.

Procreation is certainly important in Judaism as evidenced by the rabbinic dictum, “the world was not created except for procreation” (M. Gittin 4:5. Though notably this statement is not particular to Jew). But there is no indication that the intent is simply to produce more biological Jews, and I would suspect R. Schonfeld and others would not promote premarital sex with the intent of producing babies.

Yes, there are demographic concerns when the average marriage age rises, but the implication is that people should get married “for the sake of the children” or alternatively, singles should “take one for the team” regardless of the implications for their own well-being.

The reality is that no one should get married to meet the approval of others and certainly not out of a sense of communal responsibility (see T. Sotah 5:1).

Myth: Getting Married is a Goal

Related to the previous point is the sentiment that getting married is an goal in and of itself. One example from an Aish column states, “Admitting that you’d like to get married does not signal an affliction; it’s merely a defensible life goal.”

Getting married may be a strong desire for many people, but by no means should marriage be treated as a goal. The dictionary definition of “goal” is, “the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.” Following this definition, the “goal” of getting married can be accomplished simply by getting married disregarding any concern as to the quality of said marriage. If marriage is a goal then people should just marry the first consenting person who comes their way and as soon as the ring is taken mission accomplished.

Orthodox Matchmaking Needs Huge Fixing

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

If there is one area of orthodox Jewish life that is truly messed up and needs fixing it’s matchmaking. In our communities we eschew the recreational dating scene of the secular world. As a counselor in that world and someone who once served as matchmaker-in-chief for JDate, I agree that it is too flawed. External qualities like beauty and money play an outsized role. People don’t date to commit but to have fun, except that there is nothing ultimately pleasurable about relationships that are expected, from the outset, not to last. Who needs a broken heart? Life has enough uncontrollable pain not to have add the self-inflicted variety.

So what is our solution? Is the alternative that we offer in orthodoxy of young men and women never meeting at all and connecting only through matchmakers a viable alternative?

Well, it once was when the orthodox community was, say, a tenth of the size it is today. But let’s be proud of our growth. From the time I got marriage nearly 25 years ago, thank God, to today the orthodox community has absolutely exploded in growth. We’re having a lot of kids, which is wonderful but it has strained the shidduch-matchmaking system to the limit. Some would say it has broken it almost completely. How the heck are a few, mostly volunteer matchmakers supposed to cope with this vast demand? Are young orthodox men and women really supposed to sit around, preparing their resumes, as if their on a job interview, and badgering shadchanim to prioritize them amid so many others clamoring for the same attention? Is it a workable system? Is there any dignity in it?

I am the proud father of nine children thank God and I just became a grandfather. My first three children are daughters, all raised with my standards of dating to marry and dating within the shidduch system. This is particularly important to me given my considerable exposure to the romantic and sexual challenges, not to mention the sky-high divorce rate,  that is prevalent in mainstream culture and which I address.  However, I’m not the kind of guy who believes in delegating life’s most important responsibilities to others. But here I am, as an orthodox father, forced to relegate my daughters’ dating life to matchmakers who are very well-intentioned and who care but who cannot possibly know my daughters well or prioritize them, given the vast demands on their time and energies from so many other parents.

In the Chabad system it’s especially challenging because of the absolutely vast increase in the size of the community, thank God, how spread out it is internationally, and because most of the shadchanim, trying to be pure of heart, offer their services in a volunteer capacity rather than professionally. But that also means there is no real accountability.

So, I am being fair to my daughters when I tell them, based on my personal values, that they should only date within the shidduch system? Should they be reduced, like so many other young Chabad men and women, to friends and matchmaker’s introductions? Should their involvement in their own dating life really be so passive?

I have to admit that my own experiences within the shidduch system has caused me to question it considerably, though my own children would probably disagree and say the system functions well enough. They would say that being ‘frum’ means certain things and they embrace the shidduch system, whatever its shortcomings. But Yeshiva University, where my daughter is an undergraduate, does events that brings young men and women together. It is not seen as scandalous or secular. Indeed, I applaud it. Chabad and the more ‘black hat’ communities would not countenance such interactions. And there is a part of me that not only understands that and agrees with it but even, for years, advocated it.

When a leading Chabad Rabbi with unquestionable credentials suggested a few years back in a column that Chabad begin limited interactions between the young men and women, in a controlled environment, to have them meet for the purposes of marriage, I attacked the suggestion as being a slippery slope. I who counsel so many secular singles and know how screwed up the singles scene is in secular singles-events and party communities.

But having said that, I now have a much more open mind. I do not believe it’s fair to my daughters, and my sons when they come of age, that the limited interaction they will have with a potential spouse will come from people who really don’t have a lot of time to commit to the endeavor. Less so do I believe that such an important stage in life become so fundamentally disempowering that one cannot take any kind of personal initiative but is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers.

Indeed, a few years back I was prevailed upon, by young Chabad men and women writing to me, to host a small Shabbos gathering in Englewood where I would offer talks on Judaism and dating and where young Chabad men and women, thoroughly committed to the shidduch system, could have the opportunity to meet. I did it as an experiment. It worked well. It was very educational and, though I don’t know what couples resulted, I know it gave people hope.

And this is but one idea about how to fix a broken system. I welcome all other positive suggestions.

In the final analysis, the Jewish people are still here, after thousands of years of persecution, because our young people have married and produced strong families. This crisis, therefore, is an existential crisis that must be courageously addressed.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Make Men More Mature Rather than Send Girls Under the Knife

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Few columns I have read from the orthodox community have disturbed me as much as Yitta Halberstam’s recent piece in the Jewish Press advocating that young women engage in plastic surgery in order to be more in demand for a shidduch (Jewish marital match). Worse, Yitta encourages us parents to be the ones to send our daughters under the knife. I was so floored by what I read that I decided to take time from my all-consuming Congressional campaign to respond.

I have met Yitta. She’s a fine woman with a luminous soul. So Yitta, please don’t take this personally. I mean no disrespect. But you can’t be serious.

Here is Yitta begging orthodox Jewish parents to heed her call: “Mothers this is my plea to you: There is no reason in today’s day and age with the panoply of cosmetic and surgical procedures available, why any girl can’t be transformed into a swan. Borrow the money if you have to; it’s an investment in your daughter’s future, her life.”

Witness the modern Jewish tragedy writ large. Had this piece been published even in a secular magazine it would have come in for the sharpest criticism and condemnation. Yitta, are you not aware that we face an epidemic of young American women dying of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia because of the kind of misogyny you advocate above? About eight million American women have an eating disorder and the numbers are increasing greatly in the orthodox community. I published a column a few years back about a seventeen-year-old girl in a seminary in Jerusalem, known to my family, that died of anorexia. The root cause of eating disorders is this dangerous belief that a young woman is not born a princess but an ugly duckling in need of some radical personal makeover in order to appeal physically to a man.

How dangerous is the kind of drivel about young girls undergoing surgical procedures as advocated in Yitta’s column? Well, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Ten percent of anorexics die within 10 years of contracting the disease, twenty percent will be dead after 20 years, and only about thirty-five percent ever fully recover. And the mortality rate associated with anorexia is twelve times higher than the death rate of all causes of death for females aged fifteen to twenty-four years old. (Source: South Carolina Department of Mental Health)

The assault on women in our time is serious, concentrated, and deadly. It’s remedy is a more wholesome, more spiritual culture that looks at a women in her totality: mind, body, heart, and spirit. This is the kind of world that Judaism, with its unique emphasis on a woman’s spiritual gifts, has always sought to create.

How tragic, therefore, that columns of this ilk are appearing more frequently in orthodox Jewish publications, as if the words of King Solomon “that beauty is negligible but a woman who fears G-d is to be praised” is something of a bygone era, replaced even in the religious Jewish community by the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

Is the author really suggesting that we take our young daughters – and I, thank God, am blessed with six – and put them under the knife, bankrupting our families in the process, so that they can better appeal to shallow religious charlatans who would prefer a woman who is all form and little substance? Is this what three thousand and three hundred years of Jewish tradition has come to, that a nation that has always dared to walk alone, with different ideals and values from the wider culture, should so fully capitulate to the most corrupt, misogynistic values, that we would advocate that our young women have plastic surgery in order to get married?

Earth to Yitta: It’s not women who have to have breast enlargements, collagen injections in their lips, and Botox needles shoved in their foreheads in order to marry. Rather, it’s men who need a deeper, spiritual inoculation. Tell the Yeshiva students that the Torah they are learning is supposed to actually change their hearts. They’re supposed to be influenced by its values and judge a woman’s beauty not just by her hourglass shape but by her incisive opinions, graciousness of character, and spiritual glow. It’s the feminine which draws the masculine, and the feminine is something subtle, noble and refined. It is vulgarized when it becomes entirely about the physical form and rapidly loses its appeal.

And by the way, Yitta, I assume, in the interests of egalitarianism and fairness, that you’re also advocating that the young guys who indulged a bit too much in the cholent  get their stomachs stapled and liposuction to make them more appealing to the girls?

I have worked in the field of human relationships in the secular world for most of my professional life and I have never even heard it suggested by the most superficial relationship expert that we should take young women for plastic surgery in order to attract a husband. Because most of those experts would rightly say that any man that expected extensive surgical procedures prior to marriage is a shallow jerk, and any parent who would inflict that on their daughter might just be guilty of abuse.

Gila Manolson: A Response to Yitta Halberstam’s Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Don’t worry, Yitta, I’m not going to crucify you, as you feared. I actually agreed with the gist of your article, which was obviously heartfelt and well-intended. I just want to point out where you crossed a line, a problem that you unwittingly reinforced, and something crucial that you overlooked—all of which I suspect pressed a lot of people’s buttons.

First of all, a confession that should make my endorsement of your basic idea more meaningful: I’m an unabashed proponent of the “natural look.” I wore (gasp) absolutely no makeup when dating my husband, and not even when I stood under the chuppah with him. (In fact, the only time he has seen me in makeup has been on Purim.) Miraculously, he managed to find me attractive enough to actually marry me. One reason I foreswore makeup (and have, in fact, since age 16) is that I have a distinct allergy to fake things—I dislike makeup for the same reason I dislike plastic plants. The other, more compelling, reason is that I needed to know that, beyond our spiritual connection, my future husband would be attracted to the real, unadorned, physical me.

Having said that, I realize I’m an anomaly, and don’t expect the majority of women to follow my lead. While I’m a big believer in inner beauty and how much it can transform one’s appearance, I’m also a big believer in living in reality, and the reality is that purely physical looks count for a lot in this world. So I will wholeheartedly agree that a girl should make the best of her looks, especially when meeting a prospective mother-in-law (or his son)—including wearing a flattering hairstyle, flattering clothes, and yes, even a tasteful amount of makeup (if she has no ideological objection). And if she needs a total makeover, I’d say go for it.

In principle, then, you could say we see eye to eye. So what bothered me about your article?

First of all, your big blooper, in my opinion, was advocating not only cosmetics but “surgical procedures” to improve a girl’s appearance. For once we start surgically “improving” our appearance, where’s the end? Is cosmetic surgery called for only to “fix” a glaringly unattractive feature (which is all you may have had in mind), or to “upgrade” and “recreate” every possible part of ourselves that doesn’t look like what we see in women’s magazines?

Let me share with you two emails I received from young women approaching shidduchim age. One was from a girl who was seriously distraught about her large, hooked nose and wanted to “fix” it, but worried that this made her “superficial.” I wrote back that if her nose was objectively unattractive and it really bothered her, then I did not believe having a “nose job” made her “superficial,” and she should do it.

But then there was the 17-year-old girl who was unhappy with her small chest and wanted my opinion on whether she should get implants. Here was a girl whose body failed to meet some “ideal” but was probably perfectly lovely in its own way. I told her I knew many small-busted women who’ve gotten married, and that she should work on appreciating her own body’s beauty rather than surgically alter it.

The difference should be clear. Anyone in their right mind would advocate, as did the Satmar rebbe, that a girl who has no teeth should get dentures. But once you get beyond fixing a flagrant physical fault and talk about achieving some purported physical ideal, we’re in dangerous waters.

This blunder contributed to another likely reaction on the part of many readers: the disturbing sense that shidduchim are becoming increasingly unnatural and artificial, and that pressing for more emphasis on externalities is not what we need. Definitely, a girl should put her best foot forward. But when she has to pay a professional makeup artist and hair stylist before each date as if she were going to her sister’s wedding, haven’t we gone way overboard?

Furthermore, as we all know, our appearance affects our feelings and behavior. On the one hand, looking good can make us feel and “behave” good. On the other hand, looking not like our real selves can also make us feel and behave not like our real selves—and it’s pretty important to feel and behave like your real self on a date with a potential marriage partner.

But the biggest mistake you made was overlooking male responsibility in viewing women. Yes, the male brain is hardwired to be visual, meaning that men will always be stuck on looks more than women are. But who’s teaching boys that real, enduring attraction results from a potent mix of looks plus character and personality, and that to see if it can exist, you have to get to know a girl? (I address myself to males on this topic at the end of my book Choosing to Love.)

Purim And The Tyranny Of Beauty: A Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim

Monday, March 19th, 2012

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.

What We Can Learn From Chazal About Dating

Thursday, July 7th, 2011
A recent piece posted on Matzav.com signed by “A Crying Bas Yisroel” chillingly lamented the plight of a young single woman, with fine personal qualities but without any family money or yichus, who sits forlornly waiting for her phone to ring with calls from shadchanim. Alas, the phone never rings, and for her, the shidduch system is an ongoing nightmare.
Not coincidentally, but perhaps surprising to some, almost all the weddings I attended this past month were those of couples who had “long-term” relationships. They either met in high school or when high school age, or in Israel or their early college years, and almost all of them met on their own. They did not use shadchanim, but met the old-fashioned way: in healthy social settings where young men and women mingle naturally, without the pressure of “potential spouse” hovering over every encounter. That is not the norm in Jewish life these days, but perhaps it should be.
That is not to say that the shidduch system is failed, or failing, or broken. Too many people work too hard on setting up unmarrieds that it would be incorrect and insulting to say that it is broken. So it is not broken – but perhaps it should be a b’diavad (post facto) and not a l’chatchila (ab initio) system.
L’chatchila, it would seem, Chazal emphasized that we should find our own mates.
The Gemara (Kiddushin 2b) cites the pasuk “When a man takes a woman [in marriage]” and explains “darko shel ish l’chazer al ha-isha,” it is the way of men to pursue women [in marriage]. It is not the way of men, or shouldn’t be, to enlist a band of agents, intermediaries, and attorneys to do the work for them. By infantilizing and emasculating our males, we have complicated a process that should be simpler and made a joyous time into one of relentless anguish and hardship for many women.
This is reminiscent of the life story of a pathetic man we recently encountered in the weekly Torah reading – Ohn ben Pelet. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 109b) states that “ishto hitzilato” – his wife saved him from the clutches of Korach. Ohn was an original co-conspirator who is not mentioned again after the first verse, because his wife explained to him the foolishness of his conduct (Ohn loses if Moshe wins and gains nothing if Korach prevails), prevented him from joining his fellow conspirators, and, as the Midrash adds, held onto his bed to prevent the ground from swallowing Ohn and then dragged him to Moshe to beg forgiveness. Ohn was a sad excuse of a man.
Mrs. Ohn, in effect, saved her husband not only from Korach but also from himself. The problem with Ohn is that he perceived himself as an object, and not a subject or an actor. Ohn wasn’t a leader – he was a born follower, an object for others to use. He just allowed himself to be yanked along by anyone – for evil and for good. He was just part of the crowd, the personification of the personality of weakness, dependence and self-abnegation. He took no responsibility for his own destiny.
An object is a tool of others; a subject is the master of his destiny. In the realm of dating and marriage, we are breeding Ohns by the thousands by freeing men from their obligation to pursue their potential spouses, and thereby relegating women to the dependent role of passively waiting to be the chosen one. Why do we do that, and is there a better option?
Some will argue that the shidduch system spares our children the pain of rejection – but part of life, and a huge part of parenting, is preparing our children for a world in which they will experience rejection at some point. That is called maturity.
Others will argue, with greater cogency, that we prevent young men and women from sinning. Relationships that begin when couples are younger, or friendships that start outside the framework of parental supervision, can induce or lead to inappropriate behavior. That possibility is undoubtedly true, but can be rectified by applying a novel concept called “self-control,” which in any event is the hallmark of the Torah Jew.
We do not tell people to avoid The Home Depot even if one wants to buy a hammer lest he shoplift some nails, nor do we admonish others not to shop in Pathmark because one might be led to sin by the aroma of non-kosher foods. Self-control and discipline are routine components of the life of a Jew. And, even granting that “there is no guardian for promiscuity,” it should still be feasible for a young man to talk to or display his personal charms to a woman without assaulting her.
Sad to say, there is a promiscuity problem, even among some of our high school youth and certainly in college, that cannot be swept away. It can be resolved if parents take responsibility and sit down with their sons and teach them how to respect women – and sit down with their daughters and teach them how to respect themselves.
Something is not normal, and against human nature as Chazal perceived it, for men to be so diffident, so timid, so Ohn-like, and sit back comfortably relying on others to procure them dates. Young men who would not allow others to choose for them a lulav and etrog do not hesitate to delegate others to find them a spouse. This also unduly delays their fulfillment of the commandment of pru u’rvu (procreation). And something is not normal, and frankly, unfair, when young women have to sit by the phone for weeks and months waiting to be contacted by agents.
What is the solution, or the other option? For those people currently of age and in the system, or for communities that would accept only the shidduch­ system, there is no other solution but to redouble our efforts. They will reap the reward, and also, sadly, the misery of those who choose to be passive in life. Obviously, unmarried men and women should be seated together at weddings to facilitate more natural, pressure-free encounters; it is so obvious, it is surprising it is even debated.
But for younger people today – say, older teens – there has to be a better way. The paradigm of “don’t smile/talk/socialize/date” until one is ready for marriage constricts the capacity of our young people to assume responsibility for their own lives. Many will disagree with me, even among my colleagues, but if we wish to minimize the heartbreak of so many of our young people, we must find healthy ways of encouraging interaction between teenagers – in shuls, in schools, in youth groups. We have to de-stigmatize self-help and personal initiative.
For example, at a shul Kiddush, it should not be construed as abnormal or off-putting if a young man approaches a young woman who has caught his eye, and asks her name, and “would you like a piece of kugel?”That should be normal; at one point, that was darko shel ish. Indeed, that should be even more normal among people of marriageable age, and would consign the shidduch­ system to its appropriate b’diavad status, for people who have not been able to meet on their own. Perhaps the young woman whose lament was featured above should take similar initiatives as well.
Dating at too young an age is certainly problematic, but teenagers who learn to socialize in groups demystify the opposite sex and learn appropriate boundaries, communication skills and modes of interaction. Such contact makes males more sensitive, and helps them learn at an early age that a young woman is not a shtender, in the Steipler’s elegant phrase, or a vehicle for their own gratification, in the modern lexicon. It certainly helps prepare a couple for marriage if they know each other longer than three weeks or three months, and the recent spate of broken engagements and early divorces in the Jewish world would tend to confirm that. And conversely, the plethora of recent weddings of couples in our community who know each other for years would corroborate that as well.
I am mindful of the opinions of the gedolim who proscribe any male-female interaction before one is ready to marry, and those gedolim who permit such contact in controlled settings. As a community we have other options than the false choice of isolationism or promiscuity, and we need to strengthen our young men with the inner confidence to guide their own lives. There are too many people walking around with Y chromosomes who are not men. They have an Ohn-like existence, sitting back comfortably and letting others plot their destiny in life. They will never be masters, only objects who cannot lead or build or create. That does not bode well for Klal Yisrael.

May Hashembless with success the work of all shadchanim.But we need to shift the culture away from the passive indifference of the well-connected to the active pursuit of spouses by all, and thereby mold more assertive men and more confident women. That is because more is expected of us – as a nation that is called by God for greatness, not mediocrity; to be active, not passive; to be followers of God and leaders of mankind.

 

  

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/what-we-can-learn-from-chazal-about-dating/2011/07/07/

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