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In traditional Judaism, a Chuppah awaits a Chatan (groom) and Kallah (bride)> Now Conservative and Reform Judaism-asks, "Who Cares? Any combo works

{Originally posted to the author’s website, Emes Ve-Emunah}

I was sent a recent article from a Charedi magazine (not the one on the left) that discussed their community’s solution to the so-called Shidduch crisis. The crisis of the huge number of young Charedi women being passed over for marriage. The solution is now in the form of a proclamation signed by a number of Charedi rabbinic leaders stating that young men should consider getting married at the age of 21. It is based on what they say the reason for the crisis is: The age gap between men and women that begin dating in the Charedi world. Women are ready at about age 19. But men generally don’t start dating until about age 23.


That gap creates a pool of women far greater in number than men looking to get married since there are 4 years of women accumulating until a man is ready to date. And those men prefer dating the younger women. By reducing the age gap, they believe more women will get married instead of being left behind.

I have always argued that this doesn’t add up. The fact is that there are approximately the same number of boys born per year as girls. In theory therefore if every man gets married, so should every woman. And yet we know there is a crisis. It appears that many women do get left behind. And the older they get, the less likely they are to get married. Perhaps there is some merit to the argument that there are so many more girls dating than boys in any given year. On the other hand since there are equal numbers of boys and girls being born – I should think that there are as many unmarried men as there are unmarried women. If there is a crisis it should therefore exist for both sexes.

I have my own theory as to why there is this problem in the Charedi world (which I have expressed in the past). It basically boils down to how these young Charedi women are indoctrinated about who to date. They are taught from the moment the issue becomes relevant in their lives that they should seek young men that study Torah full time – and will be doing so after they get married. These same young women then seek top level students that do that.

The problem is that top students are rare. The same is not true for young women seeking them. It is a lot easier to want a guy that learns at a high level than it is to actually learn at a high level. That diminishes the pool of men significantly. The reputations of the young men studying Torah full time are easy to find out.

It is true that there are a lot of young men that are not at the ‘top of the class’ but are decent Torah students. But even they are relatively low in number compared to the number of ‘top girls’ that by definition are the ones looking for top guys. What about those young men that have decided to work for a living and are Koveah Itim – set aside time daily for Torah study? That is not what these young women are taught to look for.

I recall one young Charedi fellow telling me a while back he could not find a girl willing to date him because he decided to go to work instead of going into Kollel. And this young man was a ‘great catch’  in every respect. He was bright and of refined character. He loved learning Torah. He just felt that this wasn’t his niche – his destiny. So he went out and got educated in a field that would provide a good living for him and his future family – while studying Torah daily at night with a Chavrusa (study partner) in a local Beis Hamedrash. Nobody wanted to date him

When he spoke to his former Rosh Yeshiva (or Rebbe) about his Shidduch predicament, he was told that he should not be surprised about it because he is a second class citizen. Young women today want first class citizens – namely those who study Torah full time.

So again – the pool of ‘good’ marriage prospects for young Charedi women is relatively small. I think this is the real reason for the crisis. The men are there. The women just don’t want ‘those’ men. They don’t want the ‘workers’ and they don’t even really want the second  tier students in those Yeshivos. So they get left behind.

But even if there is merit to the age gap claim, is getting married at a younger age the answer? How mature is a 21 year old man? Should we be advising young people to get married even before they are ready? With the divorce rate so high, will this not add to the problem?

The response to the fear of failed marriages is that other cultures among Charedim do get married at younger ages and there is no evidence that divorce is any more of a problem for them. I suppose that’s true. Chasidic men typically get married as young as 19 years of age. And they marry young women they have barely met – spending only a few hours together before they actually get married many months later. And yes, their divorce rate is probably no different than the rest of Orthodox Jewry. Perhaps even lower.

The problem with that argument is that Chasidism is a culture radically different than the rest of the Charedi world. You cannot compare the two worlds and say. ‘It works for them so it can work for us’. Besides, why wait until 21? Let them get married at 19 like their Chasidic counterparts! Or even 18? Shemonah Esreh L’Chupah the sages tell us. Wouldn’t that be an even better equalizer? And yet they choose 21 as the right age. Why wait until 21?

Frankly in our day – I don’t see 18,19 or even 21 as typically mature enough to get married. (Yes, there are exceptions.)

What really needs to be done is to stop indoctrinating all young Charedi women to seek only those who study Torah full time – and study it at top tier levels. Let these young women be diverse in who they seek. Let us broaden the pool of eligible young men instead of narrowing it to unrealistic levels by placing value only on the few. If that happens, I’ll bet it will help a lot more – and not potentially increase the occurrence of divorce that getting married to young might lead to.

But… I am not Charedi. So the Charedi world might just tell me to shut up. It’s none of my business. And I don’t know what I am talking about anyway. Perhaps. But I can’t help but believe that attitude instilled in Charedi young women about who to marry is as much a source of the problem as anything else. So what if I am not Charedi? The Rambam tells us to accept truth from whoever says it. I think that is good advice.

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Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at [email protected].