Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Shidduchim: The Problems With Two Approaches

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.

The Wolf


Shoshana said...

One of the things that bothers me about your whole post is the lack of thinking that the singles are doing for themselves. These are people people have declared themselves mature enough to be married, with all the implications that entails, yet they refuse to make their own decisions about who they will engage in that marriage with. I think some contemplation, speculation and introspection on the part of the single person him- or herself is in order, especially considering that he or she is the one who is going to have to live with the decision. Getting advice and help from a respected rav or parent is not something to completely disregard, but ultimately, a person has to make their own decisions in life and they are the ones who know the most about what they truly desire and need in a relationship.

BrooklynWolf said...


I was actually going to include the story of someone I know whom I feel isn't thinking for herself too, but ultimately decided to leave it out for the sake of the person involved.

But yes, Shoshana, I agree with your sentiment 100%.

The Wolf

DAG said...

The more I think about this, the angrier I get.

The letter writer in the Rebetzin's article mentions that the boy's own siblings do not know that he has bipolar disorder...and that as there is no history of bi-polar disorder in their family, it is not genetic.

I am sorry. Bi-polar disorder DOES run in families. The lack of another diagnosis of bi-polar disorder does not mean there is no family history of bi-polar disorder. What kind of medications is the boy on? There can be severe side effects to anti psychotic medications and difficult side effects to antidepressants.

I don't even understand this line of thinking. Will he take his medication secretly for life? How will he explain the drugstore expenses? Does he think she will never stumble on his medication bottles? If the perspective Kallah finds out later, and justifiably divorces her husband based on the deception...or based on the return of symptoms, do they think they have helped themselves in any way? Do they think they can keep this all a secret then?

I also want to note that it is obscene that the Hanhala of the boy's Yeshiva were not informed of his Psychiatric illness. I do not know if this was a dorm student or not, but the early decisions that were made in an emergency situation based on the presumption of normal psychiatric function could have been catastrophic.

The father also claims that the mention of bipolar disorder would ruin his son's chances of what he calls a "decent shidduch." What arrogance. I need to know. You believe your son deserves what you consider a decent shidduch, does that exclude girls who suffer from Psychiatric illnesses like your son's? Would you consider a girl with bi-polar disorder a "decent shidduch." Or do you have a double standard in which YOU can determine what is decent about prospective matches while hiding pertinent facts from your son's shidduchim.

Unbelievable. I will say this, I would NOT want to marry into that family, and the bipolar designation has NOTHING to do with that. Your son deserves to be happy. Don't drag him into a web of lies and deceit.

Ezzie said...

What Shoshana and a lot of what DAG said as well. I've often told people who were upset about the stupid reasons people won't either date or continue to date them that they likely wouldn't want to marry a person who cares about such things anyway.

I think the second problem is primarily a result of the first one: If people will throw out shidduchim for stupid reasons, what about a somewhat more legitimate one of an ED?

On a related note, Pobody's Nerfect wrote about this (and there was excellent discussion on it) a long time ago. Click.

smoo said...

I was deceived and I tried my best to deal with her issues. I did love her even though I felt betrayed so I endured years of bipolar moods. But her non-compliance with meds led to our horrible divorce.

The Hedyot said...

Shoshana, you said, "...these are people who have declared themselves mature enough to be married..."

I disagree with that. Most people in the shidduch market have not declared themselves mature at all. The only reason that they are in that arena is because they've simply arrived at that stage in their life where this is what "they're supposed to be doing". You know.... went through high school, a few years of post HS beis medrash or seminary, maybe a year in Lakewood for the guy or a short stint working for the girl, and now, at the age of 19-20, it’s time to get married. And just like every other decision of their life which they submitted to the dictates of their handlers (whether that be family, school, or rabbi’s), this decision too is being deferred to them.

Hardly any of these people have seriously looked at themselves and asked if they understand what starting a family is about, and if they are prepared to take on that responsibility. It’s just assumed that when you reach a certain age, you’re ready! For these people, marriage is just the next fad in their life, to be followed shortly by having a baby...

Sorry, I don’t see any maturity here whatsoever. Only reckless and shallow self-indulgence.

The Hedyot said...

To just put a bit of a finer edge on my point above, Why is anyone surprised that shidduchim are being broken off for the most superficial and idiotic reasons, when actually the very decision to marry someone is probably also really based just as much on unthinking and shallow motives?

The Hedyot said...

Another point - the way the rabbonim and Roshei Yeshiva often look at marriage is as a solution to the problem of a guy or girl becoming too independent now that they are older.
Instead of asking "Are they mature and ready for this?”, the question they seek to address is, “How can we make sure they don’t stray or get involved in unsavory activities now that we have less control over them?” The answer: get them married as soon as possible!

smoo said...

Hats off to you head-yot. You make some very valid points (I prefer the first comment most).

Zach Kessin said...

I think the root of the problem is simple, a large part of the RW orthodox community has given up their ability to think for themselves or to make important choices to the Rabbis and Roshi Yeshiva.

Come on folks who you marry is about as important a choice as you will ever make, THIS IS A TIME TO THINK FOR YOUSELF!

Anonymous said...

Great post, very insightful.

Anonymous said...

And the comments from Shoshana, DAG and The Hedyot are razor sharp and dead on.

Anonymous said...

But, of course, the deceit regarding the bipolar son (and why are the parents deciding this anyway?) is related to the readiness to dismiss shiduchim over nonsense far smaller than whether the boy has gone to college--like whether the girl's mother uses a plastic cover over her tablecloth. Revealing the son's bipolar condition would not only impact his chances for a shidduch (which it should impact, since a perspective spouse is entitled to decide for herself whether that is a situation she wants to commit to) but the chances of his siblings and possibly even his cousins.

And consider the reaction to cancer--sorry, I meant to say "The Disease". How many chareidi families fail to get treatment for even curable cancers, because they don't know that some cancers can be cured, because no one will talk of it, because a case of cancer in the family can ruin shidduch chances all around.

In a different context Chazal tell us not to inspire fear in our households lest they deceive us and cause problems (the specific case in the gemarra was a wife who was too afraid to tell her husband that she didn't go to mikveh because it was too cold.) This would seem to apply to the shidduch system as now practiced.

Shoshana said...

Hedyot -
You are right about a lot of what you say. I guess I should have said that people dating for marriage SHOULD be declaring that they are mature enough to be in those marriages, therefore thinking for themselves and making their own decisions.

BrooklynWolf said...

Revealing the son's bipolar condition would not only impact his chances for a shidduch (which it should impact, since a perspective spouse is entitled to decide for herself whether that is a situation she wants to commit to) but the chances of his siblings and possibly even his cousins.

The situation is sad... but the "solution" to it shouldn't come at her expense.

The Wolf

Nice Jewish Guy said...

Well, it seems that Shoshana, Hedyot, and Zach said it all before I could.

People do need to start thinking on their own and stop passing responsibility for their lives to some guy who presides over a shul.

I think a lot of that probably comes from the fact that in addition to the obvious reasons, people know they will be asked, "did you talk about it with a Rav?" and then, "which Rav?", and don't want to be left without an answer, because there seems to be some underlying notion in frummy-velt that you aren't allowed to make decisions for yourself.

There needs to be full disclosure in matters of shidduchim- otherwise the marriage can be deemed a mekach to-us- a flawed transaction, and can be anulled or may not even be valid.

Orthonomics said...

What needs to be said seems to have been said. I am bothered by the selfishness of the shidduch system as well as the power that certain dating "mentors" hold.

The bochur needs to reveal this important information to the girl himself. And, if she is still interested in dating him, they should be granted extra time to date and not be expected to fit the timeframes that I'm sure their parents expect of them. She should also be given access and information about this mental condition.

I believe the shidduch system has a lot to offer, but it could use some adjustments too and both articles clearly demonstrate that.

Anonymous said...

Clearly, the problem is that our young men and women take their cues from parents and rabbonim, and not from bloggers.

Anonymous said...

I recall hearing about a Tshuva from R' Moshe regarding similar disclosures. The bottom line is he required disclosure, but recommended doing it after several dates but before things get "too serious".

The JO had a recent article about shidduchim. One quote stood out to me from R' Shteinman. He said it all comes down to Midos. People, including the boy, girl and parents, need to be more tolerant, not just of nonsense, but of even more significant things. If we can't tolerate differences or defects in others, how successful will the marriage really be?

I agree with those who pointed out how right-wing Orthodoxy tends to abrogate personal decision making. I think this is due to a misunderstanding of what Daas Torah is. People think DT means the Rav is always right and I must go to him to get the right decision, or the truth. But DT does not mean that in my opinion, especially when the Rav you are going to is not top tier. I understand it to mean the Rav will have further insight due to his Torah knowledge and clear thinking and perhaps will have super-insight due to his closeness to Hashem. Of course, knowledge and closeness to Hashem are not necessarily related and Hashem often does not provide the inspiration. Therefore the DT is relegated to an "expert opinion" which, if all the facts are known and the Rav is thorough in his analysis can be very insightful. But in the realm of advice, is far from binding.

DT, like many things, has been perverted by the masses into something it was not meant to be.

Anonymous said...

Brooklyn Wolf: I didn't mean to suggest that the parents in your second story were correct in their decision--quite the contrary, any would be wife for this boy should consciously be aware of his condition, and agree to accept him. Indeed, leaving the matter undisclosed might be sufficient to invalidate kiddushin because of mekach ta'ut. (And I hope I don't need to say that no one should pasken based on blog comments.)

I only meant to point out that a system that leaves people in fear will engender deceitful behavior, as Chazal warned us, and as experience supports. Therefore we should change the system.

The Hedyot said...

This whole issue got me thinking a lot, so much that I put up my own post on it here.

Anonymous said...

do people hide medical conditions to get good shidduchim or to get any shidduch?? if people would be more tolerant and understanding maybe we wouldn't have to hide anything.....

Anonymous said...

Wolf, you're on target with your take on the bipolar issue. i personally know someone who has had serious flareups with his condition after marriage, and it is not something to be taken lightly. I don't mean that the girl needs to automatically not marry him, but the right thing is certainly to reveal that he has the condition.

haKiruv said...

Being honest with yourself and to others should be first priority. Once a person is honest with themselves, and knows their needs(not their wants), then they should move forward. Such self-analysis should be a prerequisite before seeking someone. I've heard sociologists say the average American male doesn't mature until 25.

Anonymous said...

A shadchanit for SawYouAtSinai recently told me that some women were rejecting my profile because it said I was willing to date women who wear pants. I was mildly irritated at the way she described my preference: she assumed that I "didn't care" whether or not a woman I'm dating wears pants. Of course, I never said that. All I said was I was keeping my options open. And, apparently, that fact alone turns some frum women off. The fact that I merely tolerate pants-wearing women means I'm not frum enough, in some women's eyes. But I will not change myself solely to get a shidduch. Just the thought of doing so makes me nauseous. I hate the petty conformity running through the entire Orthodox community, both on the left and the right.

Nice Jewish Guy said...

Kylopod, i had the exact same experience. In fact, I posted about it on my blog (you may have to go back a bit through the archives).

Anonymous said...

I found your post by putting the word "pants" in the search. It is called "Sisterhood of the Anti-Pants." My viewpoint is almost identical to yours. Coming from my am ha'aretz perspective, I have never found the rabbinic arguments against pants-wearing convincing. And yet frum women in my age group who wear pants usually fall to the left of me hashkafically. But that doesn't mean I am unwilling to date them.

As for your comments about hashkafic labeling, I had a post on that very subject:

Orthonomics said...

Kylopod and Nice Jewish Guy-What a shame that young ladies are passing you up because you are flexible. There are so many areas in married life where husbands and wives do not take an identical view. But, flexibility is often the key to a happy household.

And incidently, I know more than a handful of women that said they did not want to cover their hair who now do so. Getting married should be more important than finding a perfect clone.

Orthonomics said...

BTW, I'm not trying to say that certain things are unimportant. I just get frustrated when you try to set up an older single (sometimes quite older) and they are as inflexible as the girl straight out of seminary.

Anonymous said...

Young people(anyone below 50) aren't mature enough to make decisions for themselves.They should always listen to rabbonim for advice on marriage,parnassah,where to sit at Yankee stadium, tie color,and whether or not anything but a 100% white tablecloth at the shabbos table is assur m'dorayso,or only a d'rabbanon.Well,time to go.I have to ask for da'as torah(Toirah fo you in Brooklyn)whether I can post this message.

Ayelet Survivor said...

DAG and Ezzie, plenty of people with bipolar disorder 1) have no family history of it and 2) lead happy, productive lives because their condition is well-managed by medication (the side effects of which can be slight or nonexistent). I know because I am one of them.

It is ignorance and prejudice like yours, however, that keeps me from being open about this disorder. I'm not ashamed to have it -- I work extremely hard to function extremely well. I worked full-time while earning my first master's degree and am now earning a second master's degree. I'm a loving and beloved aunt to many great kids. I have terrific friends and relatives who value my presence in their lives.

I am single, and I don't want the first thing people know about me to be my diagnosis, because it doesn't define me 100%. If you truly think that an intelligent, competent, kind, giving, and attractive woman should remain single for the rest of her life and never have children, you're not only cruel, you're short-sighted. Mental illness can afflict anyone at any time. I've already proven that I can cope with it. If you're unable to see that as a sign of strength, it's your narrow-mindedness.