2020 False Messiahs of the Shidduch World
Chananya Weissman
November 30

Part 1

A brief overview of recent changes

The shidduch world has undergone radical changes in the last twenty to fifty years. None of these changes has been for the better.

I'm old enough to remember when so-called “professional” matchmakers were like alternative medicine. Today, in most of the Orthodox world, there is a disproportionate and unhealthy dependence on matchmakers. The more “religious” the Orthodox Jew (whatever that is supposed to mean), the less likely he will even attempt to get a date any other way. Revisionists tell us it was always this way, and thus it must always be this way. Anyone who doesn't toe the line ceases to be considered frum. Message sent.

I remember when there was no such thing as a shidduch resume. Today it is hard to find a single who doesn't have one. Younger singles never knew of a world in which shidduch resumes did not exist. Despite the occasional complaint about resumes from safely married people or anonymous singles, there is no serious discussion about the impact this radical change has had on the shidduch world, let alone calls to stop using them. This is the way it is, and this is the way it must be. A single who refuses to have a shidduch resume will be considered a quack and won't get a date. Message sent.

I also remember when there was no such thing as a “shidduch crisis”. The Jewish media was not filled with letters to the editor bemoaning the shidduch crisis, nor columns by pundits providing mostly useless advice, nor regular features on the latest “initiative”, which was really a previously failed idea recycled under a different name.

Segulos to help find one's zivug had yet to become a thing, let alone a parnassa for opportunists who prey on people's hopes, fears, and superstitions. Singles did not travel the world to pray at cemeteries.

Singles did not need coaches or mentors, and if they needed guidance, they didn't have to pay someone for it. Today there are mentors for the mentors, and all singles are expected to find someone to coach them, otherwise they surely need therapy.

Rabbis did not pretend the story of Eliezer finding a wife for Yitzchak was the blueprint behind today's shidduch world. Rabbis did not perpetuate the myth that meeting without a matchmaker is a breach of tzniyus, nor was “rabbinic supervision” required for the rare event that was grudgingly permitted, nor did rabbis make proclamations regarding the age at which adult men would be permitted to seek a wife (proverbially known as being taken out of the freezer), nor did rabbis decide that matchmakers should receive cash bonuses to match men with older women, nor did rabbis approve of ma'aser money being given to bankroll matchmakers who don't make matches often enough to be satisfied with their earnings.

All of this is new. It is fair to say that the entire Orthodox world should be considered “Modern Orthodox”, because these are all modern religious inventions. Despite this, if you don't go along with it, you are not frum, and you will have a hard time even getting a date in the Orthodox world.

At the same time, the notion that these changes have anything to do with the concurrent eruption of a “shidduch crisis” is not seriously debated.

I remember when the Western secular feminist movement, which radicalized and metastasized during this time, was ignored by most of the Orthodox world. Today feminism has so deeply infiltrated the Orthodox world that few dare even express reservations about any aspect of this un-Jewish movement, let alone call it the pox that it is.

The influence of feminism on the Orthodox world, especially Ashkenazim, has impacted the shidduch world like perhaps nothing else – quite negatively – yet who else even brings this up? No one who receives a salary from a shul or Jewish institution, that's for sure. Cancel culture is alive and well in the Orthodox world, too.

I also remember when there were no shidduch groups and there was no online dating. Both of these are new innovations that have overtaken the shidduch world in the last twenty years. It is fair to say that the overwhelming majority of Orthodox singles today rely almost entirely on one or both of these avenues to get dates. Since the Orthodox world is placing nearly all its eggs in these baskets, it behooves us to take a critical look at the effectiveness of these presumed solutions to the shidduch crisis.

The sample size is large enough, and this social experiment has been conducted long enough, that we can see the results. We have a shidduch crisis like no other known time in history, and it is difficult to argue that these initiatives have been a bright spot in the midst of this massive failure.

Moreover, actual data is available that demonstrates how ineffective shidduch groups and online dating really are. I would not suggest that shidduch groups and online dating should be entirely eliminated, nor is that even possible. However, if these are supposed to be the solutions to the shidduch crisis – to the extent that there is near-total reliance on them – it is time to state what they really are: False Messiahs.

Part 2

The failure of shidduch groups and online dating

I preface this analysis with a disclaimer that I am not here to embarrass anyone or cast aspersions on the intentions of individuals involved with shidduchim. I am willing to assume that, in most cases, these are decent people hoping to help others, even if they stand to profit along the way. That is my hope as well (sans the profit) and this necessitates exposing failures of initiatives so that they can be rectified and improved. We do not serve the cause of singles and the community by touting shidduch groups and online dating for being successful when, overall, they are dismal failures.

A recent feature in the Jerusalem Post gave glowing coverage to a popular shidduch group in Israel. Again, it is not my wish to cast aspersions on any of the people involved with this group, nor discourage people from joining it. However, the very numbers provided in the article to highlight the group's success actually demonstrate how ineffective it is in helping singles marry.

The group currently boasts a database of 1200 singles and nearly 600 matchmakers who represent them and have access to the database. They take credit for “dozens” of successful matches.

On the surface this sounds impressive. Who wouldn't be impressed with dozens of matches? A database of 1200 singles and hundreds of matchmakers devoted to finding them a match sound encouraging as well.

But let's do a little math. The exact number of matches is not stated. “Dozens” can be as few as 24, and likely far less than 100. If it were close to a hundred the article would probably have stated that, since 100 matches sounds much more impressive than “dozens”, and the author sought to portray this group as favorably as possible. Let's assume that the total number is in the neighborhood of fifty, which might well be generous.

This group was started five years ago. We have 1200 singles in the database now. No doubt many more were part of the group at some point and later dropped out. On the other hand, we have to be fair and assume that it took time for the group to reach a critical mass of members when it first started. So if we stick with an average of 1200 singles over the five-year period, and assume fifty total matches, that would mean 100 singles out of 1200 found a match through this group. That comes out to 8 percent...over five years.

In a single year, therefore, it can be expected that approximately 1.5% of singles in the group will be successfully matched. 98.5% of the singles would remain single each year. To put it another way, on average, each single would have to be in the group for 67 years to be successfully matched.

How do you like those odds?

It's even more eye-opening when we consider that a board member boasts of the group having set up thousands of dates. Considering that only a few dozen of these led to marriage, the odds of any introduction being a successful match are close to zero.

So we have hundreds of matchmakers boasting about spending countless hours over a period of years representing over 1200 singles, setting up thousands of dates, the overwhelming majority of which were off the mark. 98.5% of the singles went through the mill and came out just as single.

Forgive me for being less than enthusiastic.

One of the popular websites, which also features matchmakers combing a database of singles, tells a similar story. They boast of over 3600 members who got engaged, which, again, sounds like a very large and impressive number. But when we consider the big picture, it is anything but impressive.

The site launched in 2003. They do not divulge how many singles are currently signed up. However, historical data is available. A press release at the end of 2005 claimed 160 members were engaged or married, with a total database of 13,000 singles. In 2015 they claimed 2300 members were married, with a current database of 30,000 singles.

A total of 2140 singles found a match on the site during this ten-year period, or 7% of the 30,000 who we know used the service during this time. Considering that this site charges a monthly fee, it is likely that many thousands more tried it at intermittent points and dropped out without having found a match. Even if we leave those people out, the average single would have a 0.7% chance of getting married through the site in a single year. He would need to be a member for 140 years on average to get married – and pay a monthly fee for the privilege.

Since 2015 they have claimed approximately 1300 additional engaged members, while many tens of thousands of members have continued to languish without success.

The site also boasts 300 matchmakers. This sounds impressive, too, except it isn't. The site is averaging less than one match per matchmaker per year.

For a community that relentlessly touts matchmakers as the solution, it should be abundantly clear that matchmakers better represent the problem. Collectively they are woeful failures. Singles who experience frustration in dating are often urged to go for coaching, mentorship, or therapy to “figure out what's wrong” and “work through their issues”. Shouldn't matchmakers and shidduch groups who own abysmal rates of failure figure out what's wrong and work through their issues?

Why is the public fooled by deceptively impressive numbers when in reality matchmakers and websites offer singles little more than a lottery ticket? How do they get away with charging ongoing fees and even soliciting donations when their aptitude for making matches is no better than that of a monkey matching people up entirely at random? Good intentions aside, they are doing a woeful job of getting people married, while portraying themselves as experts and heroes.

By the way, the mostly non-religious site Jdate claims millions of Jewish men and women have joined. I would love to know how many matches they can take credit for, all while charging substantial fees.

In light of all this, matchmakers, shidduch groups, and websites should be relegated back to the status of “alternative medicine”. They should certainly not be the pride and hope of the Orthodox community, which places a supreme value on marriage. They are successful such a tiny percentage of the time that they can be fairly considered failures and false Messiahs.

I emphasize this because as long as the Orthodox community continues to believe matchmakers and shidduch groups are “the answer”, they will refuse to budge from these new norms. The community continues to double down on a system that is failing tens of thousands of singles, while we witness a rising average age of marriage, fewer children, a rising rate of divorce, an aging single population, and many singles leaving the Orthodox community entirely out of despair.

The Orthodox community must accept that the shidduch world is terribly off track – and that the primary reason for this is not any of their favorite scapegoats. When a community is struggling harder than ever to marry off its people successfully, it needs to take a hard look in the mirror. Using “success stories” as a fig leaf is not acceptable.

I have recommendations that will make the shidduch world far more efficient and far more pleasant. I have described them in previous articles and books, and implemented them in nearly a hundred EndTheMadness events. As bad as the shidduch world is, it is well within our abilities to make drastic improvements quickly and relatively easily.

But first the community needs to accept that it has failed, despair of the same tired ideas, and become willing to make real changes. Enough time has been lost and enough people have been put through hell.

It's time to stop following false Messiahs.