Interestingly, this week's Jewish Press contains two columns, which, together, illustrate a good deal of what is wrong with our Shidduch system.
First up, there is Cheryl Kupfer's column, which deals with people who scuttle shidduchim for less-than-ideal reasons. She laments (and rightly so) about people who are discouraged from getting engaged to someone they are seeing for the most inconsequential of reasons. She tells of rabbanim who discourage girls from continuing a relationship with boys who either went to college or didn't stay in beis midrash "long enough." Never mind trying to figure out if she and he complement each other, if they want to marry each other, if there is some other extraordinary quality that his "college boy" my have that might make him a good match for the girl or if he was forced out of beis midrash by some economic reality. The fact of the matter is that the whole class is no good for some rabbanim. And, of course, they never actually meet the boys to try to determine if they might be good matches... all this determination is made without speaking to or laying eyes on the young bachur.
As she summarizes:
And because of that misguided attitude, wonderful bachurim are having a difficult time getting married. Because of this censor-like attitude, boys who are not cut out for serious learning, who really do not have the kop or the “zitzfleish” to truly learn – are warming up benches in the beis medrash – just so they can get a “good” shidduch.
How ironic that girls are being influenced to turn down “earners”– many of whom who are machmir in learning in their spare time – just to marry boys who may or may not be the genuine article. Much to their deep dismay, some end up with husbands who aren’t learning – and lacking an education or skills – aren’t working either. That state of affairs is not conducive to shalom bayis.
In other words, it's amazing how people turn down shidduchim for the most superficial of reasons, without even trying to get to know the two parties involved.
A last example she brings illustrates this:
In another case, a ba’alas teshuvah in her late 20s, from a divorced home, who unfortunately was not getting too many shidduchim offers due to her background, was told by her rav not to get engaged to the “kippah serugah” who she had met at a lecture and was dating. Each was what the other was looking for in hashkafos and personality. The devastated young man insisted that he meet with her rav, who impressed by his ehrlichkeit and knowledge and practice of Yiddishkeit, grudgingly gave his “permission.”
What would have happened if the young man hadn’t been so persistent?
Indeed, what would have happened? The young girl would have been left to try to find another shidduch... which at her age and with her background, would have been difficult (and don't get me started on the idea of punishing people for things that are beyond their control... but that's a whole different post). I guess it's a good thing she asked the Rav only after going out with him. Imagine if she asked before the first date? It would have been a shidduch that was scuttled for no good reason.
That being said, the second column, a letter to Rebbetzin Jungreis, illustrates the other side of the coin.
The letter writer is a woman who has been married 25 years. She now has a 24 year old son who is receiving many impressive offers for shidduchim. Why is her son still unmarried at age 24 when there are so many girls figuratively pounding on their door? Well, as it turns out the boy became emotionally ill with a bipolar condition at 19. Fortunately, the condition is treatable by medication and today the young man is perfectly fine -- as long as he remains on his medication. So far, it's been five years and all is well with him.
Well, now it's the one day when the man has met the lady, and they know that it's much more than a hunch. However, no one has told the young lady about the boy's illness. The letter writer is questioning whether or not they have to tell the prospective bride about the young man's condition. She feels that telling is the proper thing to do, while her husband wants to keep it quiet -- one mention of the world "bipolar," he fears, and his son will remain a bachelor forever.
Sadly, this situation has come up more than once in the frum community. We've all heard stories about young couples that quickly get divorced when it becomes apparent that one of them (or even both!) have some illness that was covered up.
I don't know how the letter writer's husband can possibly think that keeping this information secret is a good idea. How can he possibly think that deceiving a young girl about her future life partner is a good or proper thing to do? How does he think that beginning a marriage on a lie is a good thing? A household and a marriage is based on trust... and before it even starts he's plotting the undermining of that foundation. There are good reasons to consider scuttling a shidduch... and a bipolar condition is one of them.
That doesn't mean, of course, that he has to just "blurt it out." He should certainly make the best case of it, pointing out and emphasizing the fact that he's had this condition under control for the last five years and that he is committed to keeping it that way. And she, of course, shouldn't just "freak out" when she finally does find out, but should give consideration to the progress that the boy has made over the years. But to keep it a secret?! Does the letter writer's husband think they can hide this forever? Or just long enough until the girl is "trapped?" Either way, it's a rotten way to start a marriage -- and a good way to ruin people's lives forever.
What really irks me the most, I suppose, is the confluence of these two problems -- those people who would keep someone's serious problem a secret, but, at the same time, would scuttle a shidduch because of a kippah serugah or a college eductaion as pas nisht.