2008 Sinas Chinam and Shidduchim Part 2
Rabbi Chananya Weissman
2008, Lifestyle Magazine

One of the great fallacies that has tragically overtaken the Jewish people is the notion that shidduch partners must come from “similar backgrounds”. This is not a new issue by any means; however, it has exploded geometrically, and is compounded by the extremes to which these required “similarities” are taken.

A classic example is the extent to which Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities have been divided throughout the centuries. At varying points in history these divisions manifested themselves in separation between the communities, tense co-existence, and even outward hostility and mutual deprecation.

To this day it still raises eyebrows when there is a “mixed marriage” between Sephardic and Ashkenazic singles, and I daresay most members of both communities would still consider only one of “their own” for a spouse.

Why is this so? The conventional wisdom (or rationalization, as I prefer to call it) is that there are simply so many cultural and religious differences between these communities that marriage between them presents too many obstacles and issues. Why bother when there are so many singles out there from more similar backgrounds?

Such an attitude is deeply wrong on many levels. First of all, as I noted in the previous essay, no one can say with any degree of certainty that Hashem placed their ideal spouse in a family with a similar background just because that would make things more simple and convenient. Life doesn’t work that way — and neither do shidduchim.

Since every individual is unique, it’s quite possible that people from different backgrounds have grown and matured to have a great deal in common. We are all much, much more than products of our families and the institutions we have attended. We owe it to ourselves and each other to view people in this light.

Secondly, the differences between Sephardim and Ashkenazim are much more trivial than proud separationists would like to believe. To marry that special person we should all be willing to forgo eating rice and corn on Pesach if necessary, or change or nusach of tefilla, or adopt other non-threatening minhagim. Those who obsess over such things searching for a spouse simply do not have their priorities in the right place and do not appreciate what marriage is all about.

The differences between other invented sects of Torah-observant Jews tend to be similarly superficial and overblown. These differences are almost invariably superficial, and have little to say about the true character, personality, values, and ambitions of the individual — which is what matters in marriage. The superficialities and all they are presumed to indicate are given undeserved weight in favor of truly substantive criteria.

Most importantly, the very notion that differences are threatening is terribly wrong. Men and women by their very nature and composition are extremely different from one another, and no matter how similar their backgrounds, there will always be many issues that require flexibility, compromise, compassion, and mutual understanding.

It is not the number of such issues that matters most, but the willingness and ability of two people to develop a relationship in spite of what they may not have in common. This is the ultimate indicator of whether or not a marriage will be successful; the nonsense on the shidduch résumés that are so popular today has no bearing on this.

Furthermore, differences can actually be a positive. A spouse is not meant to be entirely supplementary, but complementary as well. Each partner brings a unique set of experiences, skills, and perspective to a relationship. If everyone were exactly alike, marriage would be both dull and fruitless. This is why men and women were created uniquely natures and compositions, and why people who come from different backgrounds can have the most terrific marriages.

Of course, there must be core compatibility between any two individuals for a relationship to get off the ground. I am certainly not advocating that people date and marry randomly or to pursue those with whom they have nothing in common. However, what matters most is not where one came from, but where he is going. When searching for a shidduch, singles should focus on what their potential mates are like today, where they are going, and how interesting and wonderful the journey might be if they took it together.

I will conclude the examination of sinas chinam in shidduchim in the next essay.

Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness (www.endthemadness.org), a volunteer campaign to rehabilitate the culture of the shidduch world. He may be contacted at admin@endthemadness.org.