2011 Response To The NASI Project
Chananya Weissman

I write these words in response to the NASI Project’s latest initiative, which I will assume readers are already familiar with. I believe very strongly that this initiative and the presumptions behind it are terribly misguided and will cause more harm than good if implemented, even if it may lead to some marriages. Before systematically supporting these words, I ask the reader to keep the following points in mind:

1) I will assume that the people behind this initiative have their hearts in the right place and are not motivated by the potential for monetary gain or some other ulterior motive.  Whenever large sums of money are involved it is fair for people to be concerned about the integrity of the program and recommended (halachically and otherwise) for those behind it to be transparent.  However, for purposes of this discussion, their integrity is irrelevant and I will leave it to others to verify that all is Glatt Kosher.

2) Those who are familiar with my writings and activities in the shidduch world through EndTheMadness may take umbrage with some of my ideas and how I express them.  That is fine; I don’t expect to please everyone, nor am I trying to win a popularity contest.  I hope that readers will consider the merit of my words based strictly on their merit, not on their opinion of the messenger.

The same holds true for the words of those many readers may consider to be Gedolim.  It behooves us to make decisions for the welfare of the community based on careful reasoning and intellectual honesty, not blind adherence to any rabbi, no matter how knowledgeable and pious he may be.  A true Gadol is intellectually honest and preoccupied with the truth, not pushing dogma; he therefore welcomes open discussion and will be the first to acknowledge that he does not have a monopoly on the truth nor a direct spiritual line to it.  Those who feel otherwise are free to blindly adhere to whomever they wish, but they have no right to stifle intellectual discussion and attempt to bludgeon others into blind adherence; this is not a contest to decide if my rabbi is smarter and holier than your rabbi, and a letter signed by 70 rabbis does not need to be defeated with a letter signed by 71 rabbis.

Let the discussion be focused entirely on the issues; Truth is not decided by referendum or personality, but by facts and reason.  Let the most substantive and reasoned argument win.

3) I have no personal vested interest in this matter.   I have no financial stake in the shidduch world, am not affiliated with any organization, and my efforts through EndTheMadness have been 100% volunteer and transparent.  I am also not in this for the kavod, since I have received more flak than kavod over the years, and have no particular appetite for either.   This does not make my opinions right, but it should give pause to those who would attack me simply because I don’t wear a certain uniform and subscribe to whatever notions are fashionable.

4) Unlike the vast majority of people who comment on these issues, I stand behind all my opinions with my real name.  Again, this does not make my opinions right, but it should earn my ideas more serious consideration than those stated from the shadows of anonymity.  Historically, our heroes and Poskim stand behind their ideas.  Those who voice loud opinions but don’t stand behind them do not deserve serious consideration.

Now that we’ve been properly introduced, let’s take a look as the premises behind the NASI’s latest proposal, followed by the long-term ramifications of this proposal being implemented.

1) Their “technical definition of the shidduch crisis” is that there are far more eligible women than men.  In other words, the problem is strictly a numbers game, and does not include the values singles and others bring into the shidduch process, the methodology of shadchanim, and the methods of meeting currently available (or not available) to singles.  It’s simply a demographic problem.

This presumption is very troubling for a variety of reasons. First, the presumption is based entirely on anecdotal evidence.   “Word on the street” is that there are hordes of wonderful single women out there and not nearly enough men.   No concrete support for this presumption has been provided.  This presumption should be supportable from enrollment numbers in yeshivas and seminaries, birth records, or other data, yet this presumption is widely accepted as fact simply because it has been repeated many times.

Many people give strong credence to the claims of shadchanim that they know many more single women than men, or that dating web sites have more female members than males, or that many singles events attract more women than men.  This circumstantial evidence is faulty, because all these methods of meeting cater to the female mindset – women are far more amenable to approach shadchanim, sign up for a dating web site, or attend a singles event, whereas men are more reluctant to put a sign on themselves stating that they are looking for a wife. 

Indeed, those EndTheMadness events that have been perceived as being more like singles events have attracted more women than men, whereas those that were far less understated about meeting other singles generally have drawn significantly more men than women!  It is only because much of the community disavows meeting opportunities that are not entirely about meeting a potential spouse that it has developed a perception that there is a shortage of eligible men. In reality, there are plenty of fine eligible men yearning to meet their eishes chayil.

Second, the presumption runs into some serious theological questions that have not been adequately addressed.   The people NASI most directly speak to generally believe very strongly in the concept of “bashert”, that there is at least one ideal, intended person for everyone to marry. To suggest that there are not nearly enough men out there clashes with this concept.

In addition, it raises the very legitimate question of how or why God wouldn’t better manage how many of each gender He puts in the world.  That’s part of His job, after all.

Third, NASI’s definition of the problem and the resultant suggestions presume that it is moral and proper to manipulate the demographics of dating; we should control when people are allowed to start dating (even cryogenically “freezing” people for this purpose), what the age difference between a husband and wife should be, and even have major financial “incentives” for matchmakers to push certain shidduchim over others.  There are very serious ethical considerations here that are just not being given attention.  Even assuming there is a demographic problem (which I reject), how can the halachic and moral issues here be ignored?

The responsibility of matchmakers is to suggest the most appropriate match to the people they serve, not to push a demographic agenda or be influenced by monetary considerations.  If the most appropriate match for a particular man is a woman several years his junior, how can the shadchan in good conscience deliberately suggest someone else?  How does this jive with the concept of Bashert, the integrity of the process, and the goal of creating happy, stable homes?  Why should singles trust that matchmakers (or even the rabbinic leaders) have their personal best interests at heart, and are not just manipulating them for some external agenda?  Why are these questions not even being asked?

2) NASI presumes that the “undeniable (!) root cause of this tragedy”  is a so-called “Age Gap” problem – a theoretical illustration (“If we have an island…”) that is for some reason widely accepted as fact.  ALL illustrations of this theory begin with “suppose we have…” where the numbers are fabricated and manipulated to produce the desired problematic result.  But no actual factual support for the existence of this problem is provided.  Indeed, as I shall demonstrate, the facts available to us strongly indicate that there is no such problem and it's all mere propaganda.

I direct readers to the following news item:

“The average age gap between husband and wife in first marriages was 2.3 years among Jews. The number for the rest of the religions was more than twice as high – at about five years.”

So, first of all, the age gap between husbands and wives on average is actually quite small — which is exactly what our own eyes tell us. How many of you really know a great number of couples where there is a major age difference?  Me neither. Second of all, the age gap in the Jewish community is less than half that of the rest of the population. So this can’t possibly be the “root cause of the shidduch crisis”. It’s hard to argue that it’s even a factor.

The willfully blind would immediately dismiss this strong factual evidence and simply argue that things are completely different in the so-called Charedi world.  Of course.  Everything is different if you ignore facts, have no basis in reality, decry secular education, believe your leaders have a direct line to God and never make a mistake, and believe your community does not face the same problems as the rest of the world.

If the age gap theory is true, then the age disparity in this community must be so tremendous that it makes up for the fact that the rest of the Jewish community is marrying close in age.  Again, is that what you see around you? Do you know dozens of couples where the husband is a decade older than his wife, or is that an anomaly?  Can we finally put a tombstone on this ridiculous “Age Gap” idea?

NASI’s proposed solution is for men to be manipulated into dating and hopefully marrying women their age or older.  As noted above, this is morally reprehensible, since everyone should be encouraged to marry the most suitable match.  If the most suitable match happens to be a woman significantly younger, what moral right does anyone have to prevent these two people from meeting one another?  The potential halachic violations in such chicanery are numerous and staggering, and a letter from 70 rabbis neither addresses that nor changes it.

Furthermore, there is widespread belief that there is a problem with men dating women significantly their junior.  Our eyes and ears do not support this.  I ask readers to consider how many couples they know where the man is many years older than the woman.  I’m willing to bet the vast majority of couples anyone knows are fairly close in age.  NASI would have us believe that there are a lot of older singles running around with seminary girls.  It just isn’t true.

An approach that focuses more on values than theoretical math problems would observe some serious inconsistencies and double standards in the shidduch world.   Single women receive the vast majority of sympathy, to the extent that a single woman is considered a “tragedy”  worthy of extraordinary proposals, but a single man is presumed to be a bum who doesn’t want to settle down. Single men have “lists”  of women just pining to meet them, but women sit by the phone waiting for the shadchan to call.  Single women are incredibly refined and wonderful in every way, but single men are sloppy, uncouth, and far from marriageable.  These canards are all widely believed. Whoever is doing PR for the female population is doing quite a job.

What goes unmentioned is that the vast majority of rejections before a first date, after a first date, and after a relationship has progressed are done by the women.  Ask any shadchan.  The same women who are supposedly just desperate to get married, who want nothing more than to meet a nice guy who doesn’t drool all over himself, categorically reject the vast majority of men they come across without batting an eyelash – and then say the problem is there aren’t any good guys out there.  And everyone just accepts this as fact.

I ask readers to consider the men they know in their families and communities, and compare them to the women.  Are the men really all just a bunch of pathetic slobs, while the women are valorous and refined in every way?  Are all the shalom bayis issues in our community the fault of the men alone?  Do women categorically have the right priorities in dating, and do they always conduct themselves properly throughout the process?  I would posit that feminism and un-Jewish values have had a devastating effect on the shidduch world.  This is no numbers game, and to make a numbers game out of it is to ignore real and serious issues that threaten one of the foundations of Jewish life.  (Perhaps that is why many people want so badly to believe it is just a numbers game.)

3) NASI presumes that money is the answer to all the world’s problems.  Shadchanim simply have to be “motivated” to produce the desired results.  The fact is that shadchanim are paid more than ever before, wield more control than ever before, and are failing worse than ever before.  If a single goes out with many people but does not get married, no one would suggest offering a financial incentive for the single to get married.  Rather, people assume there is something wrong with the single that needs to be fixed.  However, if a shadchan sets up hundreds and thousands of dates but gets it right a tenth of a percent of the time, the shadchan is hailed as a success, showered with respect, and offered thousands more dollars than the already high rate through NASI.

To put it another way, if a single goes out with 100 people, it is widely assumed the single is either too picky or has some serious issues.  However, nowadays most or all of those dates will originate from a matchmaker.  Why is it assumed the problem is with the single and not with the matchmaker, who has exactly the same rate of failure?  Why does the single need therapy and graveside prayers, but the matchmakers just need a few thousand dollars more to motivate them?

If matchmaking is the overwhelmingly primary way for singles to meet like never before, and if singles are having a more difficult time meeting than ever before, why do the expert mathematicians at NASI believe that more dependence on matchmaking is the obvious solution as opposed to an obvious problem?

Even more astonishingly, NASI claims that shadchanim don’t make shidduchim, but only set up dates.  This is a notion I actually agree with, and in fact believe the minimum and maximum anyone should expect from a shadchan is an introduction that makes good sense.  However, NASI believes that we are entirely dependent on shadchanim to fix a dubious demographic problem and get people married, yet NASI concurrently absolves shadchanim of anything more than the responsibility to set up dates.

In fact, NASI even offers monetary rewards to shadchanim just for setting up dates!  That is like paying a real estate agent a fee just for showing you an apartment.  To take the analogy further, the client is forbidden to try to find a home on his own, and the real estate agent is being paid by a third party to only show you certain homes that are having trouble being taken off the housing market.  Oh, by the way, the real estate agent has no formal training, is held to no professional standards, and gets it right less than one percent of the time while often treating clients with gross insensitivity and disrespect, blaming clients for not being able to find the right home.

That’s your shidduch world in a nutshell.  Raising large sums of money to further motivate the real estate agents is not the best idea.  We would be better off if we just threw all the singles into a room together and let them figure it out themselves.

I will also note the hypocrisy of a community that purports itself to be all about ruchniyus placing a greater emphasis on money in shidduchim – both for shadchanim and as a basis for making a match – than perhaps any other segment of Jewish society, religious or otherwise.  This community needs a long, honest look in the mirror to contemplate what the real problems may be.

4) NASI presumes that matchmaking is the only acceptable way for singles to meet. As noted above, matchmaking as an institution is a colossal failure, and throwing no-questions-asked money at a colossal failure is a foolish investment.

Most of NASI’s target audience believes it is anathema for singles to meet much the way their own parents and rabbis met a generation or two ago.  Many people from this community complain about the shidduch world, but very discreetly.  They may post messages on the Internet or send letters to a newspaper, but will insist on remaining anonymous because they fear retribution on the shidduch scene – a shidduch scene they abhor.  Such people, to me, have forfeited the right to complain about the shidduch world, because, much as they may dislike it, they have chosen it and continue to choose it.  Those who are unwilling to step back and critically consider if some basic ideas and issues need to change should stop complaining and sleep in the bed they have made for themselves.

5) NASI’s proposal is nothing more than affirmative action, manipulating a situation so that those with a presumed disadvantage – in this case single women above a certain age – are given special treatment.  The moral implications have already been discussed, but affirmative action is unwise besides.  We have a widespread problem of singles having difficulty and taking longer to find a match. The solution should be to make it EASIER for singles to meet, in part by opening up more meeting opportunities and relaxing some of the strict rules that have been invented to control adults, prevent remote problems, and push a questionable religious agenda.

Instead, the proposed solution is to make it more difficult for younger singles to meet and to forbid singles younger than a certain age from dating altogether!  The outcome this is most likely to produce is simply a greater number of younger singles turning into older singles and forfeiting foundational years of marriage.  This is the sort of solution one would expect from Chelm.

In addition, NASI does not explain to us why affirmative action is not extended to other groups of singles who face disadvantages: overweight, unattractive women; short, balding men; converts; those of modest means; the ninth best boy in Lakewood; those who don’t adhere tightly to the social, pseudo-religious script.

In sum, NASI’s analysis of the problem is based on false premises, and their solution is terribly misguided and would cause more harm than good while perpetuating the un-Jewish values that are the true cause of the problem.  I urge readers to give the analysis of the problem on the EndTheMadness web site and the comprehensive, Torah-value oriented solution that is necessary for creating a better society.  It will require many people to seriously examine some of their beliefs and values, but that is what is required to address the real problems, and not take a shortsighted stab at some of the symptoms.  There is a solution for those who truly want it and are willing to do what it takes.