February 16, 2023
People who are only vaguely familiar with EndTheMadness, or who aren't very bright, tend to believe that I am in favor of eliminating shadchanim and making lots of singles events. Straw man in place, they triumphantly retort that the Upper West Side is full of singles who go from event to event, have a swinging social life, and never get married. Hence, I don't know what I'm talking about, ETM is refuted, end of conversation.
Of course, both their assertions about what I advocate are fictitious. Although I am highly critical of the way shadchanim operate, and believe that the vast majority of them cause far more harm than good, in principle there is nothing wrong with a third party introducing singles and even getting paid for a job well done. There is a place for shadchanim as part of a range of options for singles – a place that is severely downsized from the one they currently occupy – but a place nonetheless.
People who live in communities with very few singles, for example, are most likely to benefit from the services of a matchmaker. This was traditionally their niche. Contrary to revisionist historians, who claim that going through a shadchan is “the Torah way” and “the traditional way”, there is no evidence that commissioning a matchmaker is either religiously preferable or was historically the primary method. The term “shadchan” originated fairly recently from Jewish communities in Europe, where people seem to believe the Torah was given, and whose idiosyncrasies must be unfailingly replicated wherever Jews may be.
Indeed, the notion of a professional matchmaker appears nowhere in the Gemara and early sources. The term “me'shadchin” appears in reference only to making formal nuptial-related agreements, most likely between parents of a prospective bride and groom, and has no relation to what a shadchan is today. Why would anyone in a well-functioning family and society need or want a shadchan?
I am all in favor of third-parties taking the time to get to know singles as unique individuals, truly caring about them, and trying to find them someone suitable to marry, with the same care and sensitivity that they would want others to show them and their own children. If this is too difficult for some people, or they are unwilling to invest the time to do it right, let them find another mitzvah with which to occupy themselves. There is no mitzvah to make haphazard suggestions and approach singles with an air of superiority.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: if things worked out a little differently, many people who are single today would be married, and many people who are married would still be single. If most of these know-it-all married people suddenly found themselves single again, they wouldn't be hot commodities on the shidduch market, so a little humility and gratitude to Hashem is advised. The married “experts” didn't figure out any “secrets” to getting married; they are simply more fortunate, and they shouldn't let it go to their head.
Another point I've often made: a monkey setting up people entirely at random could do just as well as most shadchanim, without the attitude and fees. It's high time we stopped kissing the rings of shadchanim and weeded out all but the very few who are competent and caring. We won't be any worse off as a society without the rest of them; just the opposite.
As for singles events, I've never been a fan of them. The typical singles event is awkward, full of pressure, degrading, no fun, and expensive to boot. For all that you get almost no chance of actually meeting someone that you will wind up marrying. Singles events are depressing gatherings of the same people who run from event to event, pretending to be enjoying themselves (because you have to appear positive), and forcing small talk (being quiet means you have a problem). While forcing this small talk, the singles scan the room looking for better candidates, preferably fresh meat (someone new to “the scene” who hasn't already been ruled out and isn't jaded).
If you're really lucky, the singles event will not only have trendy victuals, such as sushi or wine and cheese (apparently singles have a particular appetite for this), but there will be an “expert” giving a speech informing the singles about all that is wrong with them. Come hear the dating coach tell you why you probably still aren't married! Come hear the shadchan talk about why it's always the fault of the singles that her suggestions didn't work out! Come hear the rabbi give you chizuk (a spiritual pep talk of sorts) and claim that Hashem will definitely get even over-the-hill losers like you married if you really want to, and then walk out without making any effort to actually assist you. He's busy doing holy, rabbi-related stuff.
Rather than singles events, EndTheMadness encouraged natural meeting opportunities, which the Orthodox world has done a wonderful job of eliminating over the last twenty years. It used to be normal for singles to sit together at wedding meals, for example, but today in many circles that is a crime worthy of cancellation. If we allowed friends of the chosson and kallah, who most likely have a great deal in common, to meet each other on their own, without the awkwardness of artificial singles events, when they are already dressed nicely, and there is marriage in the air, something untoward might happen!
They might fall in love with someone that isn't suitable for them! (This never happens anymore, don't mind the divorce rates.)
They might be uncomfortable! (Grow up.)
They might be interested in someone purely based on looks! (This never happens anymore, don't mind the pictures people demand, and the intrusive, even vulgar questions people ask when “researching” someone. No, with the new and improved shidduch system, people get matched up by adults who know better, and they never turn down that perfect suggestion based on looks. Right.)
They might be overcome by the yetzer hara and live in sin with this person! They might jump over the table and act inappropriately right then and there! (This surely happened all the time before the Orthodox world became holier and more frum than their grandparents ever were, so it's wonderful that we are stringent now. Instead of adult single friends of the chosson and kallah meeting each other on their own at the wedding, which would quite possibly lead to more weddings, but might also a very tiny percentage of the time lead to something less desirable, we keep them far apart. Too risky.)
Seriously, the Orthodox world believes that if it stops suffocating their adult sons and daughters, and allows them to meet in natural, healthy, entirely normal environments, without a chaperone breathing down their necks, and they meet someone they like, they are more likely to act inappropriately with this person than marry him. Decades of the finest Jewish education and the tight control of religious authorities translates to exactly zero trust for single adults who desperately want to get married more than anything else.
Indeed, the yetzer hara is strong. Chazal warn that those who don't get married by twenty will wrestle with the yetzer hara all their days (Kiddushin 29B). So what does our contemporary, dare I say “modern” Orthodox world do today? It all but forces singles to remain unmarried at least until their early twenties, and closes off virtually any opportunity for them to meet on their own until they become “older” singles, in which case the venerable Roshei Yeshiva – who have no problem marrying off their own children – will grudgingly permit tightly supervised singles events. We must help them get married, after all.
A rabbi I am friendly with related that a well-respected rabbi in his community rationalized the above as follows: A young 21-year-old boy might use opportunities of meeting girls for the wrong purposes. He might just want to play around, etc. A 26-year-old is more mature and takes these events seriously. He also mentioned that breaking the boundaries between men meeting woman in our day and age is different than 50 years ago. Things have changed. The world is more impure, Hollywood got worse etc. How can we take care of these problems nowadays?
I told him to tell his well-respected rabbi that many thousands of singles will marry very late or not at all because he feels it's his job to worry about preventing a 21-year-old adult who wants to fool around from doing so. Meanwhile, people who want to fool around will do so anyway, and they don't need his mixed Shabbos meals to do it, so all he's really doing is exerting undue control over people and hurting the vast majority of people who want to get married.
In addition, if after 21 years in the "best yeshivos" people still will go to mixed events just to fool around, then this rabbi's education isn't worth anything anyway, and he might as well become an accountant. It's because of rabbis like this that today there are many singles in their thirties, forties, and beyond who almost never go out anymore, and are unlikely to ever get married and have children.
They should thank him for preventing them from fooling around when they were 21.
Of course, many of these singles have long ago left the Orthodox world, forced to look for love and fulfillment elsewhere. Suffocating restrictions tend to boomerang like that with all but the most obedient.
We don't need Hollywood to turn people off. Our finest yeshivos and seminaries, our venerable Roshei Yeshiva, do it every day. Hollywood promises fun and freedom to those who are already cold and suffering, but Hollywood is not the real problem. The real problem is staring at us in the mirror. The real problem is always staring at us in the mirror.
But the chasid shoteh, the pious fool, will retort that young people who become disaffected with the “frum” world have only themselves to blame. They weren't “cut out” for it. Yeshiva is a sort of hazing ritual designed to weed out those who aren't “serious enough”. We don't want them. We don't need them.
The pious fool will soon be quiet, for if his own children do not go astray, his grandchildren will. He will tear out his hair and rail against all the evils of the world that are to blame for this, but he will not include himself – the primary influence over these people – among them.
This is where we are rapidly heading, ladies and gentlemen. I warned you about this for twenty years, and I am warning you about it again. The Jewish world needs to stop making excuses and searching for scapegoats, and take a long, honest look in the mirror.
We don't need surveys and studies to figure out what's wrong with the shidduch world. It isn't a mystery, and the academics with their vaunted “data” won't come up with any chiddushim. I don't know when common sense went out of style, when stark reality could no longer be accepted unless some “expert” was paid handsomely to conduct a “study” that confirmed what anyone with a brain already knows (unless the expert is paid even more, in which case he can confirm just the opposite). Enough with that shtick already, too.
The solution is not more shadchanim, or more singles events, and it's certainly not driving singles into cities of refuge like the Upper West Side, where perpetual singledom is kosherized. It's a return to true Torah norms, not pious foolishness and micro-management of adults who should be entrusted with taking charge of their personal lives – and encouraged to do so. Some will make mistakes and poor choices, because that is the way of the world, but “big government” in the form of merciless edicts and restrictions will only create problems, not solve them.
It's time to face the uncomfortable truth. The frum world is not protecting young people and singles. It is destroying them.
It's time to finally change course and do it right.
Or you can keep doing it this way for another twenty years and hope for the best. It's your choice.
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