Ask people why there are so many singles who are struggling to find their soul mates, and you’ll get a wide range of answers. Most of these answers will consist of nothing more than simplistic finger pointing. What few people realize is that the so-called “shidduch crisis” is not an isolated problem, but a composite of every internal problem facing the Jewish people today. That being the case, no attempt to address the situation will be effective unless it takes the global factors into account.
This may sound daunting or far-fetched, depending on whether or not you’re inclined to agree with me, but stick with me. There is a powerful silver lining to the close relationship between the “shidduch crisis” and the internal problems we face: the “shidduch crisis” is the avenue through which every major internal problem can be successfully addressed.
Consider: if a Rabbi gets up in shul and says “There is tremendous sinas chinam, and we all need to work on ourselves to correct it,” everyone will nod their heads in solemn agreement, then proceed to go about their lives without the slightest change. The Rabbi’s statement, while clearly true, is neutral and uncontroversial, and hence insignificant. Even if the Rabbi provides specific examples of how people can make inroads against sinas chinam, it’s unlikely his message will resonate with the people. The reason is simple (though not what the frustrated Rabbi is likely to think): people do not feel the urgency of the problem, and consequently they lack the motivation to work towards solving it.
The beauty of the “shidduch crisis” is that it affects every class and stripe of Jew; no one is exempt. It does not only affect singles, for parents and grandparents agonize over their single kin. It affects the rich and the poor, Rabbis and lay people, the tall and the short, the righteous and the self-righteous. Some people have it harder than others, but every type of Jew is amply represented.
As a result, every type of Jew has a big vested interest in seeing the problem solved. Honestly, if I were writing mushy stuff about how all Jews should love one another, would you still be reading? Would you care as much? The motivation to address the “shidduch crisis” is not entirely unselfish, but at least the motivation is there. I will elaborate on the many problems one by one with hopes that those reading will help make things better for everyone.
If you can so much as admit that there are problems in the world of shidduchim, give yourself a pat on the back. You shouldn’t take that for granted. Quite a few people are unwilling to acknowledge that there is anything at all wrong with the way singles are meeting (or not meeting, as it were) and hopefully proceeding toward a successful marriage. These deniers make a variety of claims, all of which are hollow and easily disproved:
The “shidduch system”, with its intrusive questions and degrading background checks, is a holy and perfect system. The system might not work for a small percentage or people (a very small percentage, in fact), and a similarly small percentage of people might abuse the system, but you can’t judge the system based on that. After all, historical evidence suggests that the system existed at least as far back as Europe, and thus it may as well have been handed down from Sinai with the Torah itself! How dare anyone think of modifying perfection? If the occasional single falls through the cracks, it’s his or her own fault. They should daven more, try to figure out what’s wrong with them, possibly even see a therapist, and keep waiting for someone to take pity on them and set them up. Eventually it’s bound to happen.
This is truly horrible stuff, but many people are convinced that it is true. I’ve exaggerated not a whit. What’s most disturbing is that many singles themselves, perfectly normal and intelligent people, have been convinced that an arranged blind date preceded by thorough interrogations is the only appropriate method by which to meet.
A 20-year-old girl recently posted a message on the EndTheMadness bulletin board. She staunchly defended the “shidduch system”, yet complained that she has so far been unable to obtain a single date (largely because she is only 5 feet tall, though generally attractive). She went so far as to call her life “Gehinnom”. She wrote that if things don’t improve by the time she is 21, she will consider other (halachically permissible) methods of meeting people, though doing so will cause her to be ostracized from her community.
I suggested that if her current situation is Gehinnom, she should not wait a single moment to do something about it. Furthermore, the longer she waits to do something about it, the more difficult it will be to change. But most of all, if the people who she is relying upon to set her up are not doing their jobs correctly, are in fact responsible in large part for her misery, why should she continue to rely exclusively on them? Why should she care if her proactive attempt to improve her life will cause these people to turn their backs? I see anything but harm in that!
This story touches on the very first problem that needs to be addressed on the road to a comprehensive solution. People must recognize and publicly acknowledge that the shidduch system in its current form does not work for a large number of people. The system is flawed at the very roots. It works for some people in spite of these flaws, not because the system itself is healthy. The fact that the shidduch system works for some people does not prove it is healthy any more than Islam is a peaceful religion because some Arabs are friendly. As with everything in life, the first step toward solving a problem is admitting that the problem exists. Don’t blame the victims.
A major prerequisite for making things better is intellectual honesty. Many people will be tempted to blindly defend the status quo. Many people will feel that an honest examination of the status quo is threatening. This is not the Torah way. Our objective must be an honest search for the truth, with full realization that our discoveries might necessitate change. The shidduch system is terribly flawed, and thousands of fine religious people are suffering constantly as a result. Anyone who is unwilling to examine the situation is cruel. We must acknowledge fault wherever we find it and strive to correct it. The process will be uncomfortable at times, but so is medical treatment.
The modern Jewish culture is one in which questioning and challenging renders one an outcast. What would Chazal think of that? What would the Gemara look like if it were written today? Where would we be if not for the intellectual honesty of Chazal that is absent in today’s world, the open, sincere give-and-take that brought everyone closer to the truth? The pursuit of knowledge and truth, with no room for ego or the belief that any human is beyond challenge from even those vastly inferior? We’ve lost that. And we must get it back to make things better.
Worst of all, singles and those who care about them feel intense pressure to comply with social norms that are ineffective and even harmful, lest they be isolated and demonized by their so-called “religious” neighbors. How is it possible that people would choose to remain in a living Gehinnom because of social fear, because they are afraid of the thought police in their midst? We’re not talking about the KGB, Saudi Arabia and Iran. We’re talking about the Five Towns, Far Rockaway, and Orthodox Jewish communities all over the world. And people wonder why we’re in such a sorry state.
Intellectual dishonesty is a nightmarish problem in general, and naturally it manifests itself in the shidduch scene as well. This can only be corrected on an individual basis. Do you invite people to question, challenge, and criticize you, or do you see such behavior as a threat? Do you readily admit error, or only under extreme duress? Are you thankful when people correct you, or bitter and resentful? Can you see merit in multiple positions during an argument, or only in the position you’ve already taken? Do you welcome criticism even from those beneath you in knowledge and stature, or only from your perceived peers?
These are serious questions that every person must ask himself. Attaining intellectual honesty is the necessary first step in addressing every problem, including the “shidduch crisis”.
Think about this for a few weeks, then we’ll proceed to the next step: the role of Rabbis as part of the problem, and the role of Rabbis as part of the solution.