Guest Column by David Ascher
The American Jewish community is facing two ostensibly distinct crises. The first crisis is the difficulty several women encounter in finding husbands, or the “shidduch crisis.” The second crisis is the cost a Jewish education. At first glance, these problems appear to be unrelated. Although, I am neither an economist nor a sociologist, my visceral instinct drives me to believe that they are inexplicably linked. The shidduch crisis and the tuition crisis are really one problem, feeding off each other.
The Shidduch crisis affects observant as well as non-observant women. The phenomena arise when men only marry younger women, thus “aging out women.” As men grow older, the pool of women increase, while the pool of men for women decrease. This is the simple view of the problem. My conclusions are anecdotal, and based upon attending Jewish schools, Jewish camps, Jewish colleges, Jewish singles events, and ultimately becoming active in a synagogue, which is famous for being a hub of Jewish singles. The Upper West Side is awash with Jewish singles and the most ubiquitous of them are the women.
Again, I stress that my conclusions are anecdotal, yet I believe accurate. The “Shidduch Crisis” is the result of an overabundance of single Jewish women who desperately wish to marry. Unfortunately their counterparts seem less motivated. However, is it fair to conclude that the culprits are the single Jewish men? Can the single male over the age of thirty-two be held accountable for choosing not to marry? Regardless of who is responsible, the problem exists.
The problem is particularly exacerbated by a trend in the women who remain unmarried. The educated, accomplished and financially secure women are particularly vulnerable. This is illogical as one would think men would want to marry intelligent or successful women. Experience appears to defy logic.
Therefore, my conclusion is that the fault lies with the Jewish male. I recognize this is unpopular and will not endear me to many of Jewish single men. The stakes are too high to let this problem continue unchecked.
Recently my shul sponsored a Friday night event geared to singles. The room was filled with women physicians, bankers, attorneys and accountants. Their lament was almost identical, “men hear about my job and walk away. “ The women who invested in their education, jobs or degree are vulnerable.
Herein lies the crisis. Due to the “shidduch crisis” intelligent, accomplished and qualified women are not bearing children. The women who are intellectually and financially capable of rearing children are being excluded from the process due to their inability to find a husband.
This problem directly impacts the children who are attending our yeshivas and the parent body that is supporting the yeshivas. My anecdotal observations at a recent school event for my children support my conclusions. On the whole, fathers of the children were more accomplished than their female spouse. Of course there are exceptions, but traditional roles rule in the modern Jewish families of the days school and yeshiva system. The fathers span the financial spectrum. The pool of parents represents the scientific bell curve, meaning the bulk is solid midlevel earners with a few on the fringes on either side of the curve. Thus the bulk of the parent body is stretched and scrapping together the money for the yearly tuition. The stress is palpable. While several people in the school are generous beyond tuition, several are unable to pay, thus exerting further pressure on the mid level earners.
The financially accomplished single women are therefore the tipping point. The pool of single women who walk the halls of hospitals, law firms, banks and research laboratories are not only a lost source of revenue for the schools but are a lost gene pool. The tragedy is twofold. The Jewish world not only needs their revenue but also needs their children. The Jewish world needs the proliferation of children from intelligent and accomplished women
There is a solution. It is draconian and will not be popular. The Rabbis, and community leaders must harshly castigate and decry bachelorhood past a certain age. The rabbinic and communal leadership must publicly denounce the bachelor lifestyle. Leaders must encourage members of the Jewish community to exhort this message at all times.
The Rabbis must make Jewish singles a central issue in synagogues. The community must not encourage or support single lifestyles. For example, single men should not be invited to homes for Shabbat and Yom Tov meals unless they bring single women with them or agree to meet single women at the meal. A sense of scorn must be exerted upon single men. This all might appear harsh. However, the current system of acceptance is not producing results.
Finally, a lesson from history is helpful. After World War II the former Soviet Union was depleted of men and the balance in the population was distorted. A tax was instituted on single men past a certain age. The Rabbis should declare that single men must contribute to local schools commensurate to their income as if they had children. Single men must be contribute to communal causes such as Mikvaot, even if they currently do not utilize the function. In essence, the failure of men to have families should not exempt them from communal obligations.
The single Jewish woman is a communal problem and a communal responsibility. The tuition crisis is equally disturbing . A Jewish woman who is unable to marry and raise children is an epic tragedy with universal consequences. A Jewish child whose Jewish education is compromised because of financial stresses is a threat to our collective survival. By stimulating more marriages in this segment of women, we will be injecting more funds and brainpower into our schools. I believe by making inroads into the “shidduch crisis” we will alleviate the pressure on the “tuition crisis.”