2010 The Secret Service
Chananya Weissman
September 10, 2010, The Jewish Star

I recently saw an advertisement from a dating service that offered to help parents find a match for their children without the parents' involvement being known.

Parenthetically, this is yet another example of behavior that would never fly in other aspects of life and relationships that strangely enough becomes mainstream in shidduchim. If we know about a job opening that might be of interest to someone, we have no problem telling them about it directly, even if that last suggestion didn't work out so well. If we have a professional reference that might be valuable to someone, we don't find someone else to discreetly tell them about it. Yet when it comes to shidduchim no one finds cloak-and-dagger games of this nature abnormal.

I think this underscores an interesting social phenomenon that has taken place possibly for the first time ever in our generation: many single adults are resistant to their parents suggesting a shidduch for them.

It's easy to understand why. Often there is a big disconnect between singles and those closest to them (or those who should be closest to them) in that the latter are unshakably convinced that they know what is best for the single, and also fail to respect boundaries in the relationship. The relationship being as close as it is actually leads to an overstepping of bounds, which leads to a backlash, and ultimately the relationship becomes more distant than it ideally should be. Those who should be trusted the most have the most ability to cause pain — sometimes because they care TOO much, and try TOO hard — and ultimately become the least trusted of all.

The problem is that the parents still want to try, and marrying off the child is one of the mitzvos that is incumbent on a father. So while I can understand the child telling his parents to stay out of it, I can also understand the parents continuing to work behind the scenes. I'm not saying who's right and who's wrong — that all depends on the situation — but I understand the dynamic.

What's sad is that this disconnect has become such a widespread phenomenon that an opportunistic dating service sees an entire demographic of parents worth catering to. What's really needed here is not a way for parents to finagle a date for their child without their involvement being known, but for parents to remain as trusted figures — as the MOST trusted figures — in a child's life even as he reaches adulthood and carves out a life of his own.

The shidduch world is filled with deceit, secrecy, duplicity, manipulation, and personal agendas that have nothing to do with the best interests of singles. Now parents can pay a service to engage in such practices presumably for the best interests of their children. I wouldn't go so far as to call this a mitzva coming about through a sin, but it's not far removed from the concept.

There may indeed be cases where the parents really have a good suggestion and must use a third-party to present the idea for it to even be considered. It's not immoral to try to help someone this way if one is really helping and there simply is no other way. But for the vast majority of people this should not be necessary.

If close relationships have become somewhat strained because of wayward attempts to help, the solution is not to continue to try more covertly. The solution is to uncover what the true source of the strain is, genuinely respect the needs and desires of the single, and help in a way that everyone can feel good about it. This is a far greater fulfillment of the mitzva to marry off one's children, and surely one that few children would object to.

Most people would really prefer for those closest to them to be the shaliach if a shaliach is needed. We only "fire" those closest to us, with great sadness, if they repeatedly let us down and misuse their closeness. The spurned parent shouldn't hire a puppet to keep doing the same job, but should genuinely earn back the position. It's very unlikely that they lost it through no wrongdoing of their own, and also unlikely that this wrongdoing cannot be rectified.

Let us take deception and manipulation out of the shidduch world and replace it with honesty, communication, trust, and sensitivity. This will bear fruit long before the wedding, and the shidduchim that result will be blessed with a strong, reliable foundation.

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.