Feburary 6, 2023
Consider the following three facts:
1) Never before in Jewish history have Orthodox Jewish singles been more dependent on shadchanim.
2) Never before in Jewish history has there been a "shidduch crisis" of the magnitude that we have today.
3) A great many people refuse to consider the possibility that these two items have anything to do with each other.
Not only that, but the "experts" – who tend to be nothing more than media creations – insist that the only solution to the "shidduch crisis" is to be even more dependent on the very people who preside over it. To that end, we need to raise huge sums of money to reward shadchanim (ma'aser money can be used), and we must lower the bar for getting paid from successfully helping people get married – which is the only reason for shadchanim to even exist – to simply continuing to "try". After all, shadchanim have proven to be so woefully unsuccessful at helping people get married, and thereby getting paid for a job well done, that many of them no longer want to bother. The goal of making successful matches is too daunting for people who are literally called matchmakers (even "professional" matchmakers). So now we have to offer them an incentive merely to participate, like a participation trophy, only one made out of hundred-dollar bills. Otherwise they will quit.
If we were thinking like normal people, we would view this as natural selection weeding people out of a profession who don't belong there. For example, if a real estate agent couldn't find clients a compatible home often enough, he would go out of business – and that's just the way it should be. We wouldn't artificially change the rules so clients have to pay agents just for making suggestions in order to keep them in business. Agents are expected to invest their own time and money in running their business. Clients pay strictly for results, not for suggesting dead ends or for "keeping them in mind".
If you hire someone for a job, and they don't get the job done, you don't give him a raise to "motivate" him. You fire him.
But in the Orthodox world, if a shadchan is so bad at sealing the deal that she cannot justify her time and personal expenses, the community panics and starts a collection! Keep the failures in the game! Pay them more for accomplishing less!
In fact, the shadchanim themselves insist on it. Many of them now require a "registration fee" just for spending a few minutes of their precious time speaking to a single, with no guarantee of any kind. Furthermore, they are increasingly expecting supplications merely to "remember" someone, "gifts" for a display of such remembrance, a monetary reward merely for making an introduction, with additional rewards if those introductions lead to even a small number of dates.
In other words, if a poor sucker decides to take a chance on another date with someone that he feels lukewarm about, it's going to cost him more than ever. Now he has to pay the shadchan a premium just for investing more of his own time and money on another date. Of course, everyone will be pressuring him to do just that – especially the shadchan – because they only have his best interests in mind. If he isn't willing to give it another try, and reward the shadchan for reaching an artificial, arbitrary milestone, it proves he isn't serious, and he can kiss his chances of getting another shidduch anytime soon goodbye. Why should they waste their time with him?
The Mafia could hardly come up with a better racket.
I can think of only two professions where people can fail miserably and still have the chutzpa to demand a raise: politicians and shadchanim.
Oh, but if we don't reward incompetent shadchanim for continuing to fail, they might quit! And what would our poor single men and women do then? Whatever would happen to the Jewish people without our valiant shadchanim?
Personally, I think we should find out. If singles could no longer pin their wistful hopes on shadchanim who talk big but fail to deliver, who need "incentives" just to stay in the game (even though they are really doing it for the mitzva, of course, God bless these holy people), they would be forced to take responsibility for their personal fortunes. They would be forced to band together and develop ways to meet and marry on their own, like real adults. They would need to ask someone out on a date – risking rejection – and develop a relationship without a shadchan holding their hand like parents leading bashful little children to a playdate. You know, like their parents and grandparents and everyone else before them did until just a few decades ago.
That's what the Jewish people would do if they cared more about their lives and the lives of their children than what the yenta next door thinks, if they were responsible adults who believed in themselves and believed in Hashem to take care of them without need for irrational, self-harming hishtadlus.
The EndTheMadness approach to the shidduch world was to educate people according to the ways of the Torah, encourage them to be normal, and provide more and better opportunities for singles to meet, without the shtick. The rest is commentary, all of which is amply explained in my articles and books on the subject.
It worked. That doesn't mean everyone got married – there is no silver bullet – but it beat the competition hands down, no matter how you look at it.
The community, by and large, rejected this approach. Instead they chose the tried and failed method of throwing money at a problem and hoping it goes away. That, and totalitarian pseudo-religious edicts.
Front and center with this strategy was something called NASI, the North American Shidduch Initiative, which began a radical social engineering project in the Orthodox world in 2007. Thanks to aggressive marketing in the "frum" media and manipulating the "Da'as Torah" playbook, they managed to overcome well-deserved skepticism and resistance – not on merits. See this illuminating advertorial from 2011 which outlines much of their scheme.
The shady people behind NASI claimed that "the undeniable root cause" of the "shidduch crisis", which they redefined as a severe shortage of single men compared to single women, was "Age Gap" (capitalized for effect). Before even explaining what they meant by this, they declared that "[t]his has been acknowledged by a historic letter from 70 Roshei Yeshiva".
In other words, Da'as Torah, checkmate, now do what we say.
What they said was for single women over the age of 22 who were serious about getting married to send them $5000 as a pre-payment to shadchanim (minus a $500 "management fee" for NASI). Oh, shadchanim were also being redefined. In NASI's words: "The concept is that Shadchanim don’t make shidduchim. Shadchanim set up dates."
If we are looking for an inflection point when the notion of lowering the bar for shadchanim and rewarding them for failure became normalized, I believe this is it.
Indeed, under NASI's program, shadchanim would be paid $100 merely for arranging a first date for one of these women, and if it's a "quality idea" (they go out on several dates) the shadchan would receive $400.
A hundred bucks for shlepping two vulnerable people on a date that isn't even a quality idea. That isn't a scam?
In NASI's own words:
"When it was initially launched it met with great resistance. Though the initial resistance was huge, B”H the results of this ongoing program have, to date, been fantastic. The young women have received a tremendous amount of shidduch attention, as measured by: dates gone out, monies distributed to shadchanim, (and yes engagements as well, although that is a poor measuring stick because that is not in the shadchans hands). Quality attention is what we are after."
NASI was laundering many thousands of dollars into the hands of shadchanim with the express goal not of making matches, but merely for offering "quality attention". Would you pay your real estate agent for quality attention? Just about the only people who should be paid for quality attention are babysitters and security guards, not bored middle-aged women looking to make a side hustle out of controlling the personal lives of religious milquetoasts.
The $5000 fee was only a starting point for single women of 22. It would go up substantially with the age and desperation level of those seeking "quality attention". The ransom for a woman over 30 was $13,000.
The longer shadchanim failed to get people married, the more they would be paid in the end. By the very people they failed.
Would those who were unable to pony up this shidduch protection money be "blacklisted"? NASI's answer, in a word: "Maybe."
If this is making you recoil, please chant "Da'as Torah" a few hundred times.
NASI was conditioning the community for years before they launched this racket. Way back in 2009 I published an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post blasting their fig leaf of a rabbinic letter, which is available here. Jonathan Rosenblum, longtime apologist and resident intellectual for the so-called "haredi" world, and then-columnist for the Jerusalem Post, replied two weeks later with a rebuttal that was heavy on debate-style rhetoric but thin on substance. The Jerusalem Post, hardly a model of journalistic professionalism, refused to publish my response, denying the original author the opportunity to defend himself.
Rosenblum's article is available here. The comments contain my response, which he sanctimoniously posted with the bizarre disclaimer that "it violates several of our stated rules on the tone and content of comment submissions", a charge that is unsubstantiated and seems to apply to not one of the many snarky trolls who engaged in personal attacks against me.
This is what I was up against for challenging the overlords of the Orthodox establishment and pointing out both logical and ethical flaws in their social engineering scheme.
I continued to be a lone voice publicly challenging NASI, with a subsequent Response To The NASI Project and Debunking The Age-Gap Theory.
While I was called many names by many people, and had my intelligence, mathematical aptitude, and religious integrity all called into question, not one person addressed the substance of my arguments. You can read the articles if this interests you, but one fundamental challenge rises above them all:
NASI was offering shadchanim an incentive/payment/bribe to make a match between a man and a woman who is older than him, for the express purpose of solving a presumed demographic problem (one which I dispute as well). When someone approaches a shadchan seeking help with getting married, the job of the shadchan is to assist that specific person to the best of her abilities, and to suggest the most suitable available match, not to prioritize a presumed "age gap" crisis. This is also what the person approaching the shadchan expects and is paying her to do.
If a shadchan knows that a match with Woman A would fetch her a few thousands dollars extra, then she will surely be influenced to suggest her even if Woman B is more suitable. How is it ethical and in line with the Torah for NASI to offer a cash reward to the shadchan to suggest matches based on age, not maximum individual compatibility? What business is it of theirs if a man and woman several or even many years his junior decide to wed, and to declare this a crisis?
No one ever responded to this most fundamental question, which cuts to the core of what NASI was doing. They were deciding who would date whom, and who would be given "quality attention", based on their own presumed demographic considerations, not the best interests of individual singles approaching shadchanim seeking personal assistance.
I don't care if 60 or 6000 rabbis sign a letter endorsing this. It's wrong.
In an eerie precursor of what we experienced the last few years, NASI was essentially pushing a "public health" approach to shidduchim. NASI was coldly sacrificing the individual – with totalitarian measures from on high – for "the greater good".
And, much like the "public health" tyranny of the last few years, there were different rules for the peasants and the elites who controlled them. How many Roshei Yeshiva have been marrying off their prized sons to older women, in deference to a "demographic problem"? How many wealthy gvirim and other members of the privileged class have been bound by these considerations?
All these years later the results speak for themselves: despite all the media support, rabbinic support, and funding from singles seeking "quality attention", NASI has neither solved the "shidduch crisis" nor even alleviated it. Instead of admitting failure, they have doubled down on their social engineering, and now promote lowering the age when men are allowed and encouraged to date to 21.
You read that right. In many parts of the Orthodox world, yeshiva students do not begin dating when they are ready to get married and want to get married – the younger the better – but when the powerful rabbis, who supersede both parents and their adult children, allow them to. Until then, the men are proverbially incarcerated in something called "the freezer" (I am not making this up) and barred from fulfilling the very first mitzva given to the human race.
They are literally frozen out of marrying and starting a family until a quasi-prophet with "Da'as Torah" deigns to allow them. Hordes of devout Jews have been conditioned to believe this is both normal and "the Torah way".
Of course, Chazal explicitly recommend for men to be married by eighteen (Avos 5:21) and speak very harshly about those who delay by choice beyond the age of twenty (Kiddushin 29B). Subsequent rabbinic authorities have rationalized permitting additional delays, but it was always for the needs of the individual, not for some presumed benefit to "society".
Today the privileged class pulls the strings of helpless singles and parents who are beholden to them. They decide when people are allowed to marry, and now they seek to control who dates whom, based not on Torah or common sense, but – like "public health" and "climate change" narratives – on mathematical models and projections.
But it gets even worse. Recently NASI embarked on a massive fundraising campaign, generating $384,797 from well-meaning but naive community members. To put this in perspective, the community could have used this money to create EndTheMadness-style events twice a week in twenty Jewish cities all over the world for an entire year, and probably had money left over to dole out free copies of EndTheMadness Guide to the Shidduch World (we were very frugal). That would completely change the landscape of the shidduch world and lead to numerous shidduchim in a pleasant, natural way, but of course the privileged class would lose their control over the population, and therefore such an idea must never be considered.
Instead, NASI is using this largesse to promote itself and grease the wheels of the same shadchanim who continue to be honored and feared for being disastrous failures. Your donation of $1250 would sponsor a NASI ad. For only $1000 you could pay some "expert" to offer "shidduch coaching" to an unfortunate person who was socially handicapped by his society, or has simply allowed himself to be convinced that there is something wrong with him because he is still single.
For $3600 you can sponsor a "shadchan training course", the curriculum for which would surely be entertaining were it made public. For the small sum of $5000 you can finance "one engagement for an under-the-radar single", which sounds like a "feed a starving child in Africa" campaign, though how the bounty brings the promised salvation is unclear.
If they paid men to take out under-the-radar women they might otherwise not consider, it would be plausible and less distasteful than paying shadchanim to manipulate them; likely more effective, too. But, again, that would empower the peasants.
According to tax records, the NASI Project has been receiving an average of over $300,000 a year in grants and contributions since 2014. That is a lot of money, and it's very unclear what benefit, if any, the Jewish people have received in return. The Jewish people have certainly been indoctrinated about "age gap" theories, a presumed demographic crisis, the urgent need to control when people date and who they have the opportunity to date, and, of course, the need to enrich hardworking shadchanim without focusing on whether or not they actually get people married. (NASI claims this is out of their control, even as they assure us that $5000 buys an engagement.)
According to Charity Navigator, NASI has a Zero-star rating. There is virtually no information available about their results and accountability. They just take in huge sums of money and dole it out however they see fit.
I would like to believe that the people behind NASI are well-intentioned, though severely misguided, but they wield much more influence over the shidduch world than they should (which is none at all). One thing I know for sure is that, much like the "public health" overlords, they are not prepared to take tough questions from the peasants.
Not only did they ignore my well-publicized criticisms, but Moshe Pogrow, the founder and head of NASI, declined to comment for a 2009 article in the JTA. According to the article, Pogrow said that "he had no interest cooperating in an article addressing anything other than the “fact” that the age gap is at fault."
If someone is so insecure about his position that he can only speak to those who fully accept it, that tells you all you need to know.
I invite readers to compare my comments in the aforementioned article and overall approach with that offered by NASI. Unlike NASI, I do not believe money can buy our way out of this situation, nor that religious figures with dubious "Da'as Torah" can or should legislate us out of it from on high. It is no one's place to decide how old someone should be when they are allowed to date, to hold singles hostage for "quality attention", or bribe matchmakers to concern themselves with "the greater good" over the good of the human being standing before them, who hired them to work on his individual behalf.
I believe in educating people according to true Torah principles, which are clear for those who care to see them; providing more and better opportunities for singles to meet; letting incompetent, failed shadchanim be naturally weeded out of the system – Quit! Please! – and dropping the shtick.
The shidduch world is a big racket. Stop being suckers.
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