2011 The $2000 Shidduch
Chananya Weissman

By now you have likely heard about an initiative that has cropped up in several Jewish communities, including Baltimore, Queens, and Toronto. Essentially, if one introduces a single woman over the age of 23 from the community to the person she marries, he will receive a $2000 reward, in addition to the often large sum of money matchmakers typically receive from the individuals or their parents.

I first wrote about this 3 years ago in a Jewish Press article shortly after the original initiative was launched by the Star K in Baltimore. The article can be found at http://www.jewishpress.com/pageroute.do/30755, and, sadly, is just as timely today.

Let us nevertheless revisit the issue; just as the community continues to regurgitate this terrible idea, we must continue to oppose it on logical and moral grounds.

Consider the following: the predominant way for Orthodox Jewish singles to meet nowadays is through introductions, often by people on the fringes of their life taking a clumsy, haphazard stab at a mitzvah, or by so-called "professional" shadchanim who make a business out of it (though no less clumsy and haphazard in their methods).

This method of meeting has become so dominant in the Orthodox community that people in a relationship are usually no longer asked how they met, but who set them up; it is simply taken for granted that they were set up by someone, so few are the opportunities in our society for singles to meet any other way. In fact, an entire generation has been raised in this culture, so that many Orthodox singles have been mis-informed from an early age that this is the "traditional" way, the best way, or the only way.

As a result, these singles do not even WANT more natural meeting opportunities, and are highly uncomfortable in these settings. Young singles today are so socially handicapped that they are incapable of succeeding in normal social settings, and thus require shadchanim as crutches. It would take another generation of proper education simply to enable young singles to once again succeed in social situations.

So, those in favor of shadchanus as THE way for singles to meet have conquered a generation. They have won, at least for now, and they have run of the show. Singles flock to shadchanim as their primary, if not only way to meet a potential spouse, and would neither want nor be able to handle a normal social situation, such as a wedding meal with mixed company.

Concurrently, we have also witnessed what is commonly referred to as a "shidduch crisis": tens of thousands of singles who are having unprecedented difficulty getting married. We know of nothing like this in our history as a people. This crisis, however one wishes to define it, cuts through all communal and demographic lines (contrary to the claims of the elitist kollel-centric and chassidic communities, which have a problem ever admitting they have a problem -- and that the problem is them).

In addition, we have an unprecedented increase in divorces and, presumably, shalom bayis issues. So even those who do get married are having a very difficult time creating happy and stable Jewish homes. Those who simply point to the number of people getting married without looking beyond the chuppa are being very shortsighted.

Any logical person would immediately relate the heavy reliance on shadchanim, which is a departure from how prior generations met socially, with the concurrent problems in the shidduch world. It may not be a complete explanation (and indeed it is far from it), but one cannot ignore the likelihood that these items are strongly related. Yet, somehow, our community has done just that.

Any logical person would say that if shadchanim are the predominant way for singles to meet, and singles are meeting in far fewer numbers than ever before, then shadchanim by and large are a colossal failure. Yet, somehow, our community has not drawn this conclusion. On the contrary, our mindless pundits typically say things like "everyone should think of all the single boys and girls they know and try to set them up", as if more of what isn't working is what we need to solve the problem.

Let me emphasize that I am not opposed to third-party introductions as a method for singles to meet, nor am I opposed to the idea of someone getting paid for the service (though I find it somewhat unsavory). What I am opposed to is the following:

1) Shadchanus is the dominant way for Orthodox singles to meet, and in some communities there is no other option. Even singles who meet on their own, in spite of all the barriers purposely erected to prevent such a thing from ever happening, are expected to find a shadchan after they have already met to set them up after the fact and thereby kasher the meeting.

Considering how ineffective shadchanim typically are and how vastly superior other methods of meeting can and would be, shadchanim should neither be the only address for singles nor even the first address. Singles should not explore other methods only once they are older and perhaps desperate. That's when they should first consider shadchanim.

2) Shadchanim get a free ride to be incompetent, woefully ineffective, and trample on the basic dignity that is the right of all human beings.

Shadchanim hit the jackpot for every "success", however remote, yet they suffer no consequence even if they fail hundreds of times -- even those who win the Lottery still had to pay for their ticket!

Shadchanim take credit for every match, yet assume no blame or responsibility for when it doesn't work out; that is all the fault of the singles.

Shadchanim lie, exaggerate, manipulate, and gossip. That is considered normal behavior for this "profession"; people expect it and are actually shocked, maybe even suspicious, if a shadchan doesn't behave in this fashion.

Shadchanim treat singles like commodities with price tags attached to them, not as human beings involved in a highly personal search who deserve respect and sensitivity. Singles with higher values are treated with more respect; those with lesser values are treated like cheap garbage, if even dealt with at all.

The shadchan is a revered and feared person. The shadchan is typically successful less than 1% of the time, yet is still considered an extremely wise person. The shadchan has no training or professional qualifications to speak of, is held to no professional standards, and is accountable to no one -- yet shadchanim are referred to as professionals.

I have often wondered if a monkey setting up singles entirely at random would be any less successful than the typical shadchan. If you had to bet your life on one of them getting it right more often, would you choose the shadchan without even thinking about it? If you would hesitate for even a moment, I need say nothing more.

Somehow, in spite of all this, we now have this $2000 incentive to encourage more people to set up more singles. Does this $2000 prize encourage more thoughtful and careful matchmaking? No, just the opposite. It encourages more clumsy and haphazard matchmaking, more blindfolded shots with hopes of somehow striking a bullseye. It encourages even more manipulation of singles to get them to say yes and keep on saying yes, regardless of the long-term consequences. It encourages shadchanim to focus even more on the singles with the greatest perceived value. And it encourages more people with no idea what they are doing and no regard for the people they are affecting to give it a whirl. All for the mitzvah, of course.

In short, this idea is both illogical and highly immoral.

If those who wanted a chance at the reward had to register every introduction with the committee behind the money and pay a nominal fee of $10 (a la Zevi's matchmaking idea on the EndTheMadness web site), do you think there would be such a stampede to set singles up? On the contrary, there would be outrage that our pristine, holy, hard-working shadchanim are being asked to invest even a token amount of money. After all, they are slaving away for countless hours, neglecting their own needs, and paying astronomical phone bills, all to help singles. So the baloney goes.

Most shadchanim barely know even the most superficial facts about the people they set up, they don't even WANT to get to know them better, they have no idea what they are doing, and they get paid enormous sums of money if they make a match in spite of themselves. Every professional is expected to invest some money in their professions, but broach the idea to our intrepid shadchanim and you'll get quite an earful!

If you think about it, contributing $10 per introduction to the fund is a pittance. If the shadchan gets it right 0.5% of the time -- once every 200 attempts -- he breaks even, and if he gets it right more than that he makes a great deal of money. Shouldn't we expect shadchanim to get it right even 0.5% of the time? Shouldn't shadchanim believe in themselves that they will get it right 0.5% of the time? Shouldn't singles be able to trust that the suggestion has a 0.5% chance of being worthwhile? And shouldn't shadchanim who CAN'T get it right 0.5% of the time be weeded out of the system?

Yes to all of the above. But we all know that shadchanim would never go for it and will cover up their own failures with moral outrage. The community would never go for it because the community cannot face the fact that shadchanim are a colossal failure and the system needs a complete overhaul, values and all.

Even singles do not want to believe the truth. They will subjugate themselves to the system with hopes that they will be one of the fortunate ones, and will sooner pray at ten cemeteries than consider a better way. True hishtadlus is deader than the people in those cemeteries.

This $2000 initiative is doomed to fail. It is illogical and immoral. It only perpetuates and encourages the wrong sort of matchmaking.

Do not be blinded by the boasts of "x" number of shidduchim that come from this initiative. Look at the big picture. Look at the values behind the idea and the behavior it validates and perpetuates. Look at the tremendous price that will be paid by singles being burned for every "successful" shidduch.

Those in our community who are sane, thinking people with proper Torah values must oppose this effort and all efforts like it, and instead promote a better way. If you want things to change, you need to change them. If bad ideas like this initiative can catch on and stick around for so many years, imagine what could be if more people devoted themselves to good ideas.

If you believe this message needs to be heard, please forward this to others and consider what else you can do to promote the proper values and help create a better way for singles.

Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness (www.endthemadness.org), a volunteer effort to rehabilitate the culture of the shidduch world and HotKiddush (www.hotkiddush.com) a revolutionary networking site for the Orthodox Jewish population. He can be contacted at admin@endthemadness.org.