Thursday, January 04, 2007

Tradeoffs (Part I)

In a previous post, I commented that one of the ways that we can help singles to find thier mates is to reduce some of the societal barriers that prevent young adult men and women from ever coming into contact with the opposite gender. As I said it there:

We could reduce some of the societal barriers that prevent young men and young women from meeting each other. As it is, in many parts of our community, young men and women have only option to meet through "official" channels -- the shadchan. By increasing the chances that young men and women have to meet each other, you are almost certain to increase the marriage rate.

One of my commenters (whom I know in real life and is a very fine person) commented as follows:

I agree with you in theory, but in practice we know what intermingling will lead to. Is there any way to have general socialization amongst the unmarried sexes in a way that will not lead to other, serious, problems? I don't know.

I responded to him that life involves certain tradeoffs and the effects of any policy have to weighed against the unintended consequences of that policy. For example, I mentioned the proposal that all infants riding on airplanes have to be secured in infant seats. In theory, this is a good idea - it will potentially save infants lives in the case of an accident, which, we can all agree on, is a good thing. As some like to put it "if even a single infant's life is saved, then it's a good idea."

Such thinking, however, doesn't take into account the unintended consequences of such a decision. The unintended consequences are that such a policy would end up costing more lives than it saves. Imagine a young couple with an infant who are planning a trip. They have a choice - they could fly or they can drive on their trip. If they fly, they will have to pay for two tickets (or maybe two and a little extra for the kid - but they won't have to buy a third seat). Because they have a reduced cost to fly, they may decide to go for the airplane trip. However, if they are forced to buy another ticket (because the infant seat must be secured in a regular seat), then they may then opt to drive, rather than fly. Driving is a *much* more dangerous activity than flying. The chances of being killed on the road are far greater than the dangers of dying in a plane crash. Of course, with one couple, the odds are likely that they'll be safe either way. But multiply this over thousands of extra families on the roads and the years that the policy will be in effect, and the likelihood is that more infants (and adults) will die than would be saved by mandating safety seats for infants in airplanes.

It's these types of tradeoffs that we make in life and with regard to public policy. Will there be more "fooling around" if we reduce of the societal barriers? Almost certainly. But you have to avoid the knee-jerk reaction to saying "OK, then let's build the barriers higher," because you have to take into account what the cost of that extra "safety" is. The cost is that many young couples who could have met on their own and been happy are prevented from doing so. What is our goal? Our goal is to produce couples - happy, Torah-observant couples who will raise the next generation of Orthodox Jews. In order to acheive that goal, we have to facilitate meetings, not prevent them. Saying that if it "only prevents one couple from engaging in pre-marital sex then it's a good thing" is wrong - simply because the tradeoff cost is too high.

Lest the idea of making tradeoffs in public policy sound heretical, let's not forget that this is something that we do on a daily basis in our lives. One example is that we trade off the chance that our children will run into undesirable classmates for the convience and educational benefits of sending them to a school with other children. If you *really* want to make sure that your child doesn't come into contact with children from "undesireable" homes or heretical ideas, keep your kid home all day and teach him/her yourself and don't send them to summer camp.

When it comes to older singles, there is one more tradeoff to be considered. One must weigh the benefits of preventing singles from meeting casually when younger against the potential that they will meet casually when they are older, more experienced and more independent and more open to the idea of pre-marital sex than they would be if they were younger. In other words, how much pre-marital sex is the strict segregation policy preventing and how much pre-marital sex is it generating ten to fifteen years down the road?

The Wolf


The Hedyot said...

> I agree with you in theory, but in practice we know what intermingling will lead to.

We know? I don't. Please clarify. What will it lead to? Passing notes? Hand holding? Kissing? Sex?
If you think intermingling is one small step away from sex, you're either very naive or you're talking about people with some very distorted ideas about social interaction and relationships. (Which I could believe frum teenagers might have, but I would hope that people who are considering marriage would not.)

> Is there any way to have general socialization amongst the unmarried sexes in a way that will not lead to other, serious, problems?

Anyone that wants to "fool around" in a serious way, will do so whether or not official opportunities to meet MOTOS are available to them.

Do you really think that someone who is so well-behaved that they wouldn't fool around on the sly would suddenly start doing inappropriate things because they're now are in more frequent contact with females?

extratorah said...

Mr Wolf, your comments are fair, but I don't think any compromise of halachah is required at all.

Your well intentioned commenter seems to be missing that you are not suggesting any compromises on halachah at all.

Where does he think you are suggesting these people meet up? Pool parties? or Ballroom dances (Chas ve Shalom), you have suggested they be given chances to meet at serious Tznius occasions. (my wife first saw me at a Seudah Shelishit). There is no peritzut nor yichud nor shomer negiah being compromised here.

If anyone thinks that meeting someone of the opposite gender at Seudah Shelishit, or a communal event with a Torah speaker will lead to premarital sex, then I have to refer to Mr Hedyot's comment. Such people will find it anyway!!

extratorah said...

As an additional aside, while all of your points are valid, you have allowed those in the rationalisationist part of Judaism (groups who use their intellect only to find justifications for what they are already doing, but NEVER (chas ve chalilah) to try and work out if what they are doing is right in the first place) to dismiss your religeous standpoint as too liberal (after all you are going to let them meet boys ... outrageous).

The main points you make, and IMHO you should focus on (and Semgirl has been hitting them hard lately) are the complete chitzonus we are emphasizing.

Physical looks (overall), wealth and family name are all that is important. What car do they drive? What shiur is he in?

How about .... being a person of Chessed? A person who takes their Judaism seriously? A person who wants to go (figuratively) to the same place as you?

Orthonomics said...

My husband likes to tell me about a mixed singles event with a lecture that he went to in NY in hopes of meeting someone.

Apparantely even amongst the more modern, there is so much separation, that the room was filled with older singles sitting completely separate during the lecture. And, after the lecture? Except for a few singles, the socializing continued separately.

I am completely supportive of more venues for singles to meet and socialize. But, the next step will have to be to train some how to mingle in a tzniut, marriage oriented way.

BrooklynWolf said...

you are not suggesting any compromises on halachah at all.

I agree with what you said. It should also be pointed out that we are not talking about high schoolers, nor even immediate-post-high-schoolers. We're talking about people who are old enough and responsible enough to make the right decisions. We trust seminary girls with the chinuch of our children - are we not going to trust them with enough common sense not to jump into bed with the first guy they see?

The Wolf

Anonymous said...


Excellent response to my "commentary". But I still don't agree.

You state that mingling will result in more happily married couples. Is that true? And what is the trade-off IF it is true? You will have young singles interacting socially with each other, developing friendships and deeper relationships over time. While some out there think this is OK, I disagree. At the very least, there will be a huge increase in hirhurim, not to mention the distractions factor. In addition, there will be an decrease in yeshiva student time learning Torah as they spend more time interacting with their girlfriends. Isn't this what goes in in some circles? By making a systemic change, you are talking about some serious trade-offs.

If there was such a terrible breakdown in the system that most couples could not find a shidduch, then perhaps the severity of the situation would warrant the major trade-off you are suggesting. But the system is no so broken. How many men and women are really not finding mates? I would estimate by age 25 over 90% are married in the RW Orthodox world. Anyone have real numbers?

The Hedyot said...

"The Answer" -

From your last comment, it's quite clear "where you're holding", and I have no expectation of convincing you of anything, but I would like to show you how inconsistent you are.

> You state that mingling will result in more happily married couples. Is that true? And what is the trade-off IF it is true?

Why do you only ask this question of a new proposal (which really isn't new - it's how almost all our parents met)? It can be easily rephrased and directed at you: You state that people should only go through the official sanctioned shadchan route, that it will result in the necessary marriages. Is that true? And what is the trade-off?

> At the very least, there will be a huge increase in hirhurim...

Thanks for that gem. It clued me in a bit as to what kind of person I'm talking to.

>...not to mention the distractions factor...

Another clue.

> ...there will be an decrease in yeshiva student time learning Torah...

And another one.

Putting aside how revealing your comments are, all your objections can be just as well be made to someone who dates according to the normal shidduch system. Why would meeting someone on a shidduch date have any less chance of "increasing hirhurim", being a distraction, and decreasing his time spent on torah study?

> If there was such a terrible breakdown in the system that most couples could not find a shidduch...

Huh? Are you actually denying the existence of the problem? Hasn't "the shidduch crisis" already been approved as a certified crisis in the frum world?

Anonymous said...


Yes you are correct. My comments show "where I am holding". What is wrong with that? The negatives I point out would be understood as such by anyone in the RW world, which is where I am and where shadchanim are used. Isn't this where the "shidduch crisis" exists?

I indeed question whether this is a bone-fide "crisis". What would constitue a crisis, statistically speaking? Do we go by percentages or total singles? If it is total singles, then of course the number has increased as the population has doubled and tripled in the last 20 years. If it is percentages, I wonder whether there is a problem at all. My wife's Bais Yaakov grade of 36 had all but 3 married by the age of 25 (mostly much younger). So that is < 10% still unmarried. Is this a crisis? Someone needs to do a survey and get real numbers to really answer the question.

Anyone have further numbers from personal experience?

The Hedyot said...

> Yes you are correct. My comments show "where I am holding". What is wrong with that?

There's nothing wrong with it at all. It just helps to know such things. By you entering into the discussion, it implies a certain openness, which would lead people to think you're receptive to hearing reasoned arguments. But then when you express the views you did, it demonstrates a certain conviction that (in my experience) shows that the discussion can't really be too rational and logical.

> I indeed question whether this is a bone-fide "crisis"

Whether or not it is a bona fide crisis is actually a good question. I personally question that assumption, but society seems to have made up it's mind that it is. But regardless of if it is or not, the suggested approaches to dating are proper healthy things that should be encouraged. Just like a person shouldn't need to become sick in order to realize they should be eating healthy, society shouldn't need a crisis in order to realize that it needs to adjust its behavior to something more normal and healthy.

If it was good enough for R' Moshe to let his daughter hang out and meet guys in the library why isn't it good enough for frum people today?

Anonymous said...

For hedyot:

I am very open for rational discussion, as my posts bear out. I advocate my position and disagree with you (and Wolf) on this point in a logical way. Thus your statement "the discussion can't really be too rational and logical" seems irrational and illogical to me.

Shira Salamone said...

The Answer, I work for an Orthodox organization. To the best of my knowledge, *all* of the Orthodox women 22-30 working on my floor are still single. Don't tell me there's not a singles' crisis when I see it right under my nose!

Surely there has to be a better way to get men and women together. I'm with Wolf on this--if meeting at a Seudah Shlishit was good enough for our parents' generation, why isn't it good enough for ours? Why do you autmatically assume that every man and woman who meet outside of a shidduch date are guaranteed to fall into bed with one another?

I also agree with Wolf on the older-singles issue. In all seriousness, if you truly believe that you'll be married by 28, "holding out" seems reasonable. But if you arrive at the glorious age of 38 convinced that you'll never be married anyway, the temptation to give in to temptation is much greater, as you don't have the same incentive--wishing to save yourself for your non-existent future spouse--to "hold out." I think it would be far better to give people more opportunities to meet and marry while they're younger.