2005 The Case for Natural Meetings
Chananya Weissman
March 16, 2005, The Jewish Press

A few months ago in these pages I submitted a framework for community events that would provide natural opportunities for singles to meet. The gist of the idea was that events shouldn't be open exclusively to singles, and should be inherently worthwhile; singles should want to participate in these events even if they would know in advance that they wouldn't get a date out of it. This would both maintain their dignity and facilitate more comfortable interaction, thus enhancing the possibility for quality meetings.

While the article was generally well received, it has become apparent after subsequent discussions that the thesis was somewhat premature. Quite a few singles and married folks are willing to acknowledge the advantages to meeting without the direct involvement of a third party, but they are reluctant to move forward with the idea for fear that interaction between the sexes outside the confines of a shidduch date is frowned upon by the Torah, if not entirely forbidden. If only someone could compellingly demonstrate that such interaction is Halachically sanctioned, these people would eagerly explore this avenue.

Here goes.

Right off the bat, we should ask a simple question: where is the mountain of evidence that forbids mixed settings? Men and women have been in this world together from the beginning, and mixed interaction is not a modern invention. The Torah, Chazal, and our codifiers of Halacha leave little to the imagination – they expressly forbid all kinds of things (such as murder, stealing, idol worship, corruption, burning your children alive, striking people for no reason, etc.) that we should recoil from without a prohibition. Don't you think somewhere in the Torah or the Gemara we would have been informed that single men and women must only meet through a shadchan, were that really the case? Is it only this that is so obvious that it doesn't need to be stated? In Halacha the burden of proof is usually on those who aim to forbid, and it's striking that those who are most militantly opposed to mixed interaction can bring only near-reaching oral traditions and dubious Talmudic inferences in support of their position. If after thousands of years we are still searching for solid proofs against mixed interaction I don’t expect we will find any – nor should singles be separated just in case.

Some people claim that mixed interaction was once permissible, but the morals of society have descended to the extent that the Halacha has changed. I would question whether the morals of society are worse now than ever before – just open a Tanach and read about the checkered past of our own ancestors, let alone that of their gentile neighbors. I would also question who has made this determination and what rigorous sociological and historical study supports it. After all, a Halachic decision with such far-reaching consequences should only be made with the most careful research and deliberation, with heart-stricken terror at the ramifications of a possible error. Those who forbid mixed gatherings are heavy on emotion and rhetoric, but where is the careful Halachic treatment? If it really is as they say, it should be a slam dunk, even if society has changed so drastically that the rules of nature (which includes interaction between the sexes) must change as well.

Others point to Yitzchak and Rivka as the classic Biblical support for shidduch dating. Their thinking is deeply flawed. First of all, Yitzchak didn't meet Rivka through a shidduch date, but an arranged marriage. If we're going to follow in their footsteps, we should go all the way. Secondly, Eliezer received unmistakable divine guidance in finding a proper shidduch for Yitzchak, so much so that Rivka's pagan family admitted it. Chazal even point to Eliezer's prayer as an example of something that under different circumstances (such as not working on behalf of such holy recipients of open miracles as Avraham and Yitzchak) would be reckless, an entirely inappropriate way to search for a shidduch. Consequently, while this story is an excellent source of faith and inspiration, it is not the best source for practical dating advice.

It should also be noted that this is the only Biblical anecdote that even resembles shidduch dating, despite the many shidduchim that occur in Tanach. It was quite common for our heroes to meet their intended ones at public wells – an unsupervised social venue if ever there was one! The randomness of circumstance provided ample room for divine providence to bring the right people together at the right times. It is in modern times, when well-meaning but misguided people seek to forbid random circumstances under the mistaken assumption that this squelches the potential for sin, that we are magically faced with a "shidduch crisis" like never before. Secular society has always been a bad influence. Expectations of singles and their parents have always been unreasonable. Sin and temptation have always been readily available. It is this factor, the closing off of avenues for divine providence, that has changed most of all, and thus bears the strongest correlation to the concurrent rise in singles struggling to find shidduchim.

An incredibly significant Biblical anecdote that goes unmentioned is that of Yisro and his daughters. When Yisro heard that a strange Egyptian man had rescued his daughters from the shepherds, he criticized them for leaving him and urged them to invite him over for a meal. Chazal state explicitly what Yisro only hinted: maybe he will marry one of you. But if Yisro was interested in Moshe as a son-in-law, why didn't he offer to set up Moshe with one of his daughters directly? Why didn't he conduct an investigation into Moshe's background and Hashkafa? Maybe Yisro understood something that many people today do not, that it is better to let human nature run its course than to force or even suggest marriage-oriented encounters. Sure enough, human nature ran its course, and Moshe married Tzipora. Had Moshe been bludgeoned with a marriage suggestion before getting to know Tzipora naturally…who knows?

Finally, in the times of the Bais Hamikdash there were bi-annual social gatherings, on Tu B'Av and Yom Kippur itself, where maidens danced and unmarried men went in search of a spouse. Even if we allow for the possibility that society was significantly more moral back then than it is today – dubious because impropriety was a social reality in all but a few periods in our history, with this not being one of them – we would still expect the young women to act in a more reserved fashion. Yet the Talmud tells us that in addition to dancing publicly, they assertively drew attention to themselves with hopes of attracting a husband. While we shouldn't extrapolate that such scenes would be appropriate at all times and in all societies, we can certainly conclude that mixed interaction between singles was normal, positive, and responsible for countless holy unions. Indeed, the days of these dances were most joyous for the Jewish people for this reason.

Concerns about licentious behavior are certainly legitimate. But the Torah's response to the Yetzer Hara is not to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but to balance proper safeguards with the consequences of meddling too greatly with the normal structure of human existence. Extremist efforts to remove the possibility of sin only create new problems – and are futile besides. We must repair the many failures and shortcomings of our education system, and then trust our children to exercise proper judgment when applying their Torah training to life's challenges.

Many thousands of wonderful religious singles want desperately to get married and create holy Jewish households. Mixed gatherings, including wedding meals, community events, chessed projects, and summer camps, provide excellent opportunities for singles to meet and get to know one another in an unforced way, which will naturally lead to many marriages. It is not only permissible for such opportunities to exist, but it is a tremendous mitzvah to create them and encourage singles to take full advantage of them. Those who claim that blind dates arranged by a third party are "the Torah way", as opposed to just another option with pros and cons, are not only wrong, but will have to answer for misleading the community and closing off an avenue of meeting that thousands of singles should have readily available to them.

Chananya Weissman is the founder of www.endthemadness.org and a Jewish educator. He recently completed a sefer about the different roles and natures of men and women according to primary Torah sources. He can be reached at admin@endthemadness.org.