2008 Baby Steps to Nowhere
Chananya Weissman
March 28, 2008, The Jewish Star

Attitudes regarding the shidduch world are clearly starting to shift as more people feel increasingly comfortable speaking about the issues and even exploring options beyond the rigid expectations of some segments of society. I want very much to be encouraged by this and to share that encouragement with the readership. The problem is that actual progress is very hard to discern, and actual progress is what we need — not mere hope.

Two recent items of interest from within the Five Towns encapsulate my being largely unimpressed with developments that might be encouraging to others. The first is a suggestion by a local shidduch club that appeared in the Jewish Press (in a semi-anonymous article, as the article was not attributed to any individuals by name). They suggested for there to be a meeting opportunity for singles prior to every wedding, supervised by a rav, rebbetzin, or shadchan, thus rendering it a “kosher” way to meet.

This suggestion comes after a long preamble lamenting the elimination of many venues that were available to singles in previous generations, “when the times allowed for it”. “Nowadays”, they write, “many of these are no longer permissible.” They noted four rabbis who “approved of this program”. Thank goodness for such intrepid contributions by our best halachic minds; otherwise meetings of any nature might no longer be permissible.

On the one hand, perhaps I should take this as a sign of progress; adult Jewish singles are being allowed to meet one another prior to a shidduch date. This is definitely a step in the right direction. Then again, they are only being allowed to meet in a rare, tightly controlled environment that does not allow for normal interaction. Furthermore, our community feels that allowing adult Jewish singles to interact in any fashion requires the approval of a battery of rabbis — while openly stating that the ways our parents and grandparents met (in times that did not know of a shidduch crisis), are categorically not permissible!

How can I feel optimistic by this suggestion when it is unlikely to be implemented, at the very most it will make little practical difference, and those behind it refuse to concede any of the madness that is responsible for the ongoing problems? A suggestion of this nature is more likely to perpetuate harmful attitudes than help singles successfully marry, and thus I fear that it is at best one step forward and one step back.

Then there was an article in these very pages by a young single woman who was one of the few singles who attended a local forum on the shidduch world, and reluctantly at that. She shared her frustration and despair with the situation and her intense desire for things to change. She expressed that she occasionally considers dating the way her parents did (which everyone acknowledges worked so much better), yet called such a notion “futile”, as the type of people she wishes to meet would have nothing to do with such a scene. She concluded by asking rabbis to permit people to meet naturally.

How sad. We have thousands upon thousands of singles who feel complete despair, who feel trapped in a system they do not like or agree with, and who feel they can do nothing more about it than ask “real adults” to change things for them. They feel that they cannot act differently than others around them, and that doing so would, in some perverse fashion, prevent them from meeting like-minded people. They have to play the game that doesn’t work for them and hope to thereby meet someone else who secretly despises the game as much as they do. Then they can get married. This is what our world has come to.

Our community is warily circling the solutions, yet doing everything in its power to avoid them. We can allow singles to meet…but only in a tightly restricted fashion that is essentially irrelevant. We can speak about the issues…but conclude by plaintively asking others to really say what needs to be said. We can call for there to be change…but sit back and wait for others to change first. Most of all, singles will continue to have little say in what goes on and no control over their own destinies. The most they will be allowed to do is ask others to help them (I believe several rabbis have reluctantly permitted this).

Why does the community continue to act this way? Whose approval is everyone so worried about? The rabbis who endorsed the bizarre wedding suggestion are persona non grata in the kollel-centric world anyway. If they really believe that it is permissible and desirable for adult Jewish singles to meet one another on their own, let them come out and say it. If not, let them explain to us all in clear halachic terminology why this used to be “kosher”, what changed to make it not kosher anymore, and why we swing the pendulum back only incrementally if this is truly a crisis and we know what works. They can also tell us how they met their own wives. My money isn’t on a hotel lobby date arranged by a “professional” shadchan, or through a “facilitator” at a contrived event.

I don’t really need to ask these questions. We know the truth. The change is and always was social and political, not halachic. The continued weak response to the issues stems from fear of and a desire for respect from more rancorous segments of Jewish society. Our rabbis who are worldly and educated in addition to being Torah scholars, and who believe in this as the ideal way of life, need to stop looking over their shoulders at those who will never respect them anyway. Our community needs to stop straddling the fence and seeking acceptance from those who will never consider them frum enough.

And, most of all, singles need to take responsibility for themselves and do what they need to do to meet and marry the right person on their terms. Don’t think outside the box; step out of it, give it a good solid kick, and walk away laughing. The worst that can happen is that a shadchan who doesn’t share your values won’t set you up with someone who doesn’t share your values. Is that what you’re afraid of?

The shidduch crisis is self-imposed. As soon as our community truly wants to be rid of it, it will do what needs to be done. Until then, it is up to prescient individuals to have enough self-esteem and self-confidence to act differently than others.

Who’s with me?

Rabbi Chananya Weissman and his fellow volunteers of EndTheMadness have a better way. Those who are ready for it can contact him at admin@endthemadness.org.