Monday, June 29, 2009

A Common Sense Shidduch Suggestion... That's Doomed To Failure

Very few issues have generated as much spilled "electronic ink" in recent years as the shidduch crisis. Many people have offered suggestions as to the cause of the crisis and how to best address it.

One Bais Ya'akov woman in her mid-twenties sent a letter to offering a suggestion on how to alleviate the problem. She notes that at any wedding, there are invariably single women and single men who might be right for each other and that can be introduced to each other by married friends. Perhaps, she suggests, it would be a good idea to have married friends make some introductions, since both parties are already present at the wedding and only separated by a mechitza. Perhaps, she says, if the meeting is arranged by someone who is trusted and known, then some of the checking that goes on can be eliminated.

Sadly, what the Bais Ya'akov writer does not understand is that we are a people with a proud tradition. Our traditions and customs go back thousands of years without change. Tinkering with any part of our tradition is recipe for disaster and mass assimilation. She wants a young man and a young woman to possibly meet without the parents asking the requisite questions about Shabbos tablecloths, loafers vs. laced shoes, who the father's chavrusa was, what size dress the mother wears and which yeshiva the kids will go and whether the women of the house wear robes or dresses to the Shabbos or any of the other myriad of questions that our traditions demand that we ask. And then, she wants the young couple to actually meet face to face without the stamp of approval of both sets of parents, their family rabbonim, the Roshei Yeshiva and heads of seminary and the local gossipers?

Her ideas are very dangerous. Why, breaking with such important tradtions can only lead to such dangerous things as the young couple sharing a thought alone without the shadchan intermediating before the fourth date and, of course, mixed dancing. What next? Bowing down to idols?

OK, I've had my fun with sarcasm. But all sarcasm aside, it seems to me that we've spent the last few decades building a system where dating occurs in a very ritualized manner. Each step in this production is planned and plotted in a choreographed ballet. Each person in this complicated dance -- the boy, the girl, the shadchan, his parents, her parents, the references, the family friends and the extended family -- each one has their role to play. And no one may make a misstep for fear of ruining the mating ritual: the boy and girl have to wait X number of dates before they can ask for each other's phone number so they can speak directly without the shadchan. By the third date, they have to pass one milestone, by the fifth date, another. In no event should they go past eight or nine dates without announcing the engagement already.

Any devitation from the prescribed ritual is fraught with potential danger. If the boy chooses the wrong sort of venue for a "first date" or a "third date;" if he dares tell her directly that he's interested in a second date (instead of delivering the message through the shadchan); if she wears something that is slightly too flashy or too demure; if he doesn't hit the correct topics of conversation on the date... any of these (or potentially thousands of other) missteps in the complicated dance spells the end of the show. And an ever-increasing part of this dance is the pre-date inquisition.

I seem to remember a time when it was assumed that if you were mature enough to get married, you were also mature enough to question your date on the areas of halacha/hashkafah (or anything else) that was important to you and form a opinion from there as to whether or not to continue dating. If it's important to you that your father in law learn in a certain type of yeshiva, then that was a topic that was to be brought up on a first date. If it was important that your future wife be interested in making aliyah, or settling in Monsey or whatever, then that was a topic that was brought up on a date. But nowadays, it seems, we don't trust young men and women (whom we judge to be mature enough for marriage) to find out this information. Nowadays, all this stuff has to be found out beforehand by the investigational committee that each side assembles. And this, too, has become an essential part of the dating ritual which is to be discarded only at the extreme peril of being branded a "rebel" and "undatable."

So, while the Bais Ya'akov letter writer should be commended for her common-sense appraoch, she sadly does not realize the reality that she is up against. I suppose it's a good thing that her letter is anonymous... having common sense and an original thought can also be dangerous errors in the shidduch dance.

The Wolf


micha berger said...

There is only one solution, but first the cause of the problem.

It's population growth in the years between his birth and hers.

In the yeshivish world, the typical family is 6 children, the pregnant mother averages age 30 or so, and so it's or a growth of around 300% every 30 years. The chasan averges 2 years older than the kallah. Therefore, in a pool of 23 yr olds looking to marry 21 yr olds, there will be 108 girls for every 100 boys.

In the MO world, figure a doubling of population every 33 years, and a larger average age gap of 3 years and you get 106 24-yr-old girls for every 27 yr-old boy.

In the chassidish world, couples are very close to the same age, and there is little talk of a "chiddush crisis".

The solution -- stop insisting the guy has to be older than you. Besides, once you realize you're one of the 6 or 8 girls who won't meet someone in that pool, you gave him a little time to be in the "real world" and catch up in maturity.


BrooklynWolf said...


I don't mean to minimize the "age gap" issue, but that's not really the point. Even if the letter-writer's idea doesn't solve the problem, it will at least help in the facilitating of shidduchim.

Yes, her idea treats a symptom and not the disease. But there's no reason not to offer the treatment for the symptom while we search for a problem to the disease.

The Wolf

micha berger said...

If there are more girls than boys, and a certain number of "confirmed bachelors" is normal demographics, then helping them meet won't solve the crisis.

You can help 108 girls meet 100 boys and all of them find someone.

All you'll do is have more people marrying younger. (And with the length of adolescence in our community, I'm not sure that's a good idea. We have married people incapable of being independent, who still live on their parents' paycheck and thus don't know what a budget is.)

And so girls will realize they're "in crisis" a year earlier because you helped those 100 boys find someone faster. Now what?


Mike S. said...

Actually, her "idea" was one very common way of making Shidduchim in my youth.

Ariella's blog said...

I don't really buy the more girls than boys argument that would be solved by matching younger bachurim with older maidlach. It happens to be that I am older than my husband, but there was no scheme 16 years ago to push for particular ages in an attempt to solve the shidduch crisis.

micha berger said...


I'm not sure how you can simply disagree with math, but...

How long ago did you get married? Did you and your friends grow up in families averaging 4-6 children? The current birth rate didn't become the norm that long ago.


Ariella's blog said...

Michah, I'm not sure what you are asking. I identified when I got married. I was one of four children. Many of my peers come from families of the same size or larger.
I don't buy the 108 girls for every 100 boys. I would have to see actual numbers -- not just suppositions -- in order to be convinced. While I happen to have more girls than boys, in my extended family there are more boys. One of my siblings has 6 boys and only 1 girls, and another has 5 boys and only 1 girl. Altogether the ratio there is 15 boys to 8 girls! (Wow, we are attempting to right the balance that we are to assume swings the opposite way for everyone else.) My mother, BTW, is one of 10 with a 6 to 4 ratio of boys to girls. My father had 3 brothers but only 1 sister: that 4 boys to 1 girls.

While I do not assume that all families have the same distribution, it would equally illogical to assume that everyone else is producing more girls than boys in numbers that would inevitably lead to 8 girls with no possible marriage partners unless they happen to snag them young.

micha berger said...

It's not that there are more girls than boys, it's that there are more 20 year olds than 22 year olds, and more 21 year olds than 24 year olds. If women continue to look for older chasanim, there will be a shortage.

The yeshivish world (to pick one example) is tripling in size every 30 years. That means the older the age, the fewer the yeshivish people. Since girls look for guys older than them -- average age gap in this community is 2 years -- they are looking at a smaller population than they are.

Similarly Mod-O, but not as extreme of a growth. And therefore less of a crisis. Chassidim have large growth too, but the chasanim and kallos tend to be the same age, so there are no shortages.

This is far from being my chiddush.


Ariella's blog said...

So how about this modest proposal: instead of pushing girls to date and get married at age 19, have them only enter the dating frenzy at 20. That way, the long in tooth maidels have less competition (having eliminated the fresh batch of 18-19 year-old) for the young men of 21 plus. It's a more direct solution. We are not requiring men to look at older women; we are barring women from entering the arena when they are still too young to enter a bar.
BTW even in Chassidic cirles the chassanim tend to be older than the kallahs. Granted the chassanim are on the young side -- often 19, but the kallahs can be 16-18. So it is not a matter of Chassidim being more liberal-minded; they are just younger altogether.

micha berger said...

You don't need to change the age, you need to change the spread in ages.

Either older kallos or younger chasanim -- or a mix of both.

But in any case, allowing your friends to meet at weddings won't change the overall problem. They'll just reach the critical stage sooner as the couples are paired off faster. What it will do is reduce the chance that it will be them who will be left without a chair when the music stops. Helping your friends at the expense of a stranger (who is also an Orthodox Jew).


miriamp said...

Micha, you are assuming an equal birthrate (of boys to girls) in any given year?

I think this discussion is forgetting one very important thing. Are you familiar with the story of the Roman matron who matched up 100 servants with 100 maidservants, claiming making shidduchim was easy, and everyone was all black and blue in the morning and demanding a divorce?

Marriage isn't just about the math, and you can't just draw lots and assign everyone marriage partners, or there would be no crisis.

If we believe that matches are pre-ordained, then making matches of your friends actually doesn't reduce the chances that other people will get to be married as well, because the people involved in those successful marriages weren't intended for the strangers. If they were, the shidduch won't work out or the marriage won't work out.

(And I do agree that the whole shidduch process has become crazy -- that's why I at least have heard of people winding up with the "wrong" date who turns out to be the right one after all (for example) -- G-d has do something to get the right people together when the shadchanim get in the way!)

micha berger said...

Yes, Miriam, I'm assuming that on average, the discrepancy in numbers between boys born in a given year vs girls born that year is tiny compared to our population growth over 2 years.

And again, it's not my assumption alone. I'm repeating something well accepted among frum demographers. The same idea is quoted by Jonathan Rosenblum at this post on Cross Currents.

One quote: Failure to close the gap in marriage age, as Rabbi Chaim Tropper demonstrated, in a chilling demographic presentation at the convention of Agudath Israel of America last year, will result in hundreds of young women per year going unmarried, and the number of unmarried women between 25 and 45 reaching the many thousands within the next few decades in the United States alone.

Here is R' Chaim Tropper's explanation of the math.

Star-K is so convinced that the problem is due to population growth and the tendency for the kallah to be younger than the chasan, they have a fund that will pay $2000 to any chassan who marries a girl not more than 6 months younger than him, and preferably someone older than he is.

Yes, the process is crazy, but that would cause divorce and late marriages, not the flood of chronically single women that we're seeing. Bottom line is that until we change the relative ages of who we seek to marry, there will be more girls than boys. The Roman Matron can't pair 115 girls to 100 boys very quickly -- even without looking to the quality of the resulting shidduchim.


Aaron S. said...

Of course the missing glue in this discussion is polygamy, which is not only halachicly acceptable, and not only something practiced by the Sephardim, and not only has the Cherem expired, but no less a figure than the Vilna Gaon himself said reinstating polygamy would bring Moshiach closer.

Joseph said...
This comment has been removed by the author.