Monday, March 8, 2010

Klal and Shidduchim

When a benefit accrues to all of Klal it would seem to be only logical that making sure that benefit takes place would also be the responsibility of all of Klal. A lot has been said, online and off, about making sure the replacement numbers for Klal stay not only steady but increase. In order for the numbers to be there children have to be born. And for those children to be born, marriages must take place.

Now, a lot has also been written about how the cost of tuition is keeping many parents from having large families--they can't afford the cost. This is not an argument in favor of reducing tuition and/or increasing the size of Jewish families. This is about what a whole lot of people are missing in their narrower focus. There are loads and loads of frum singles "out there." And if they are single, they aren't having families. Instead of running to blame tuition for a lack of growth at "expected" numbers, perhaps we should backtrack and take a look at those not yet married. Perhaps what is needed is more concentration on shidduchim, how they are or are not being made.

Many have said, I among them, that the process used in making shidduchim today is skewed, convoluted and sometimes just plain off the wall. Yes, there are shidduchim being made today, many, many shidduchim, but they are being made in spite of the system in place, not because of it. When large groups of men and women suddenly appear on the "marriage mart" each year it is inevitable that some shidduchim will come out of this influx. But what about those for whom the system does not work, for whom the system does not result in a shidduch right out of the starting gate?

Well, we give those people another few years to "get with the program." And somewhere, when a woman turns 21 or 22, she suddenly finds herself labeled as an "older single." And once this label is affixed all hell breaks loose. Suddenly those who were so eager to bring up names are getting reticent. Suddenly the questions start flying about whether there might be a "reason" those women--and yes, those men not married as well--are not married. And suddenly we've made those singles into second class citizens. "Everyone" knows--whoever that everyone is--that the best girls and boys, the "good" girls and boys get married first. And so what does that make those who didn't get married while still wet behind the ears? Don't even think of going there!

And if a single gets to the late 20s or 30s or into their 40s? Lots of head shaking and very little of rational action on the part of Klal. Suddenly these people have another label attached to them--"too picky." Or maybe they are also labeled "unrealistic." Shidduchim are redt for these people that have nothing, but nothing to do with what they are looking for in a mate. Women are told in all seriousness that all that is left out there is nothing special, but that they need to take these men that are "nothing special" or they will never get married. And the same is told to the men. Have we all lost our collective minds?!

First, we need to stop categorizing and labeling our singles and using an age range that is unrealistic and harmful as well. You aren't an older single if you are 21--you are just a single. You aren't an older single if you are 23-26 or any other age either--you are just plain single.

Second, we need to dismantle the system in place and put in one that takes into consideration the needs of singles of all ages and types. We have gotten so hung up on certain rules that we no longer see how those rules are inhibiting the marriage prospects of huge numbers of our singles. We have gotten so hung up on keeping our single men and women apart from each other except in the limited area of a date that we can't see just how injurious this can be for many. And to be frank, we are so petrified that the spectre of sex might raise its head that we erect sky-high fences. Here's a news flash: those fences don't work. Those who want to engage in activities not allowed by our religion have always found a way to do so, fences or no fences. As to the rest, sure they would love to be able to enjoy the perks of marriage, but first they want to get married. Only we leave them sitting on the sidelines waiting for phone calls that may or may not ever come. We have marginalized the singles in the shidduch process--we don't even "let" them make the initial phone calls to ask for a date. And this is normalcy just how?

The system won't get dismantled overnight and there are some who will scream bloody murder at even mentioning the dismantling of the system. The blind and dumb have always been among us. But what can those do who feel that the system is not working, who look at those singles among us and want to help?

Eat dinner or lunch on Shabbos? Yeah, that's all of us. So why aren't there singles invited to your tables, males and females? Why aren't more people inviting the singles in their communities and outside of them for a Shabbos and introducing them around to everyone in shul and the neighborhood? Why aren't we giving social networking opportunities to these singles? Forgetting political philosophy for a moment, but Hilary Clinton is not wrong: it takes a village to raise a child, or in this case to make sure those children get married. Forget talking about shadchanim as the answer: we are, all of us, more than capable of being shadchanim, and it's incumbent upon us to act in that role. But not as the be-all and end-all in the process. We need to be the catalysts at providing mingling opportunities that will allow our singles to see and be seen. Our shuls need to stop leaving the few opportunities that do exist to those who are in the "business" and just might be making a profit.***

I have a friend who is a diamond dealer. There are plenty of middlemen who broker the diamonds in case lots. Sometimes they even broker an exceptional diamond all on its own. But my friend is no fool. He expects to see all of a case lot and examine it. He expects to compare those diamonds to each other. He knows what he has in mind for the use of those diamonds and he is going to pick out those diamonds that he believes belongs together. But first he needs to see all the diamonds to be able to make a choice. Many a time a broker will try to peddle one stone at a time. For my friend this is wasted time. That middleman could bring him 30 stones individually, on 30 separate trips. But it's stone 138 that is the one he has been looking for. If he's lucky and the middleman is smart, the goods are laid out so he can choose from all that's available.

The singles of Klal are all diamonds. They will match up beautifully with their proscribed mate. But they'll never get to that point if we don't all stop trying to "peddle" these diamonds one date at a time with no chance to see the whole case lot. We are long past the time of bringing back the idea of socialization as a tool and method for making shidduchim. What have we got to lose if we don't change the present system? All those children not yet born and with no chance of being born. For far too many of Klal's singles the present set up of making shidduchim is a particularly nefrarious form of birth control.

***Note: there are some socialization opportunities that are presented for some members of our communities. That subject is going to take a posting of its own because, no, I'm not particularly enamored of what does exist.


Anonymous said...

My husband and I met this way. Since lunch wasn't a date there was no pressure to act in a certain way or examine every word that was said. After a few times seeing each other at someone's home we both realized that we liked what we had been hearing. And no shadchan was necessary. He asked me out and I said yes. We took it from there.

Don't think that some people in the community weren't scandalized that we met this way. Some even said that it wasn't allowed. So it would have been better to not get married but follow some insane rules?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a sense of how big a problem this is? Are there that many single thirty something or thirty plusers who are single? Obviously even a few are too many (assuming these are people who want to marry).

Outside of the frum world, the way many people meet their spouses seems to be through school and work. Maybe its time to rethink the single sex colleges and having most women go into "women's" jobs like teaching in single sex schools, speech therapy and other professions that don't involve working with adults of both genders.

Tuvi said...

Anonymous raises a good point. We don't really know how many singles we have who are in their late 20s or in their 30s or older. If you don't know the numbers you also can't find these people if you'd like to invite them.

Maybe in shul on Shabbos you might figure out at least some of the single men by seeing who is wearing a talis and who isn't but that's kind of an iffy way to go about things.

My wife knows that in her graduating class from high school (she's 29) there are still 9 girls not married ever and two who are divorced. That's about 8% of her class who is not married. In one sister's class (she's in her mid 30s)there are 3 who are unmarried and three divorced or about 6% of the class.

Anonymous said...

The dictum that "every pot has a lid" is simply not true. No matter how hard everyone works, there will still be nice, normal people who for some reason are unable to find a spouse. A single without a spouse may not be a communal tragedy, even though it is a personal tragedy for that person. If we can't accept that some physically and mentally healthy people will, unfortunately, never get married, we will continue to see crises where they don't exist.

Anonymous said...

To Tesyaa:

It is a crisis when those people desire to get married and are very open to it but don't meet their mate becasue someone else didn't pick up the phone. When we place so much reliance on having matchmakes and friends involved in shidduchim we have to all feel responsible and work for all the mentally and emotionally healthy to get married.

Trudy said...

Yes and no Tesyaa. There are some, a few, singles who don't want to get married, full stop. Not that they can't, they don't want to. And I imagine that they don't go around telling everyone that they have no interest in marriage because they don't need the hassles that are sure to follow. And when they don't want to get married they screw around with the marriage chances of their "other" out there waiting.

But for those who are older and who do want to get married, that they aren't married is a crisis in their minds, so it should be in our minds too. Not every pot has a cover? Not according to God. He prepared all those pots and covers at birth and we are told that he did. Are we saying that, c"v God is a liar? Those pots and covers may be having trouble finding each other but that doesn't mean that they aren't out there. And that's not one pot and one cover. We are told that there is more than one person prepared for us, depending on where we are holding in life.

And yes I feel that those who want to get married and don't have that happen represent not just a personal tragedy for those people but also a communal tragedy. A communal one because WE didn't do enough to help them when we could have and a tragedy because of all the children who will not be born.

Aryeh said...

Sorry Tesyaa but it is exactly that attitude about every pot not having a cover that allows lots of frum people to ignore that there is a problem for single people in finding a shidduch. It allows them to shrug their shoulders and say it's not my problem.

I agree Prof that singles need to be put together more often than just on a date. There is absolutely nothing that is halachically wrong in having unmarried men and women at a shabbos table or even in a public room talking to each other. Now if we could just get those blind people out there who don't see this as an innocent and effective way to let people get to meet each other see that it can work.

Kalman said...

If it would become public knowledge that 5-10% of the frum olam was never going to be able to have children, would be sterile because of some genetic or physical glitch there would be a huge outcry. There would be organizations begun to study the problem and find a cure. There would be money thrown at the problem. There would be oceans of tears cried because of all the children that would not be born. And there might not be anything that could be done, or it might take decades but the work would continue.

But if 5-10% of the frum olam is having trouble getting married and may end up unmarried that is not a problem? Same number of children who won't be born and we aren't all crying and putting in effort to do something about it? And what if that percentage is higher?

Shaya said...

What we don't have is any numbers, at least none I've ever heard of. There really is a big difference if .00011 of the frum population isn't married or if that number is 5 or 10 percent or higher. We also have nothing to compare that number to to make it useful to us.

If X percent of our population does not get married and that percent is a steady one when we look back at many generations in the past then we don't have a crisis but we have business as usual in our population. But if that percentage has been rising steadily or has taken a large jump then we do have a problem. We'd have to examine what is different now from what was different then and see what has changed that has caused this jump or rise.

Anonymous said...

Trudy: I don't understand. The reality that there are, unfortunately, people who live a long life and die without being married: does that mean that God c"v lied about them?

And I never suggested we stop our matchmaking efforts. That is beyond ridiculous. Just as the infertile couple who is unable to conceive despite the best medical interventions, there MAY be people who remain single despite intervention. This is a human tragedy, but unfortunately, it exists.

And what about other tragedies: children born with abnormalities. Is the frum community producing doctors and scientists to cure all defects prenatally, or have we decided that it's better to become a rabbi than a geneticist? These are Jewish children too, and unless we cure them they will never be married. We should throw all our resources so that no human being ever has to suffer. But we can't, or we choose not to.

Anonymous said...

Read the tefilah we say on Yom Kippur (mi b'aish)--we aren't all destined to live until 120 or even near that. Since that is the case some people will never be able to get married, whether because they die before they can or because they have been stricken with some disease or condition. And you could consider that being much older and unmarried is a type of condition.

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't try some preventive medicine if we can, just that we might not be successful because that is how God has decided it. If what we are doing or not doing prevents people from getting married that is one thing. But if God is doing it there is nothing much we can do to change the outcome except say tefilos and hope.

Joel said...

Getting kind of heavy on the philosophy here. The point is we don't know what our futures are going to be like in any area. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't make every effort to have things come out good for ourselves. Applies to shidduchim too. Since we don't know who might or might not finally get married we should try our hardest to help singles meet other singles. I'm thinking the point of the posting might be that it's us, not God, that are part of the problem because we don't get involved enough in giving singles opportunities to meet.

Anonymous said...

But if that percentage has been rising steadily or has taken a large jump then we do have a problem. We'd have to examine what is different now from what was different then and see what has changed that has caused this jump or rise.

What if the problem is not due to people's lack of effort, but due to something like the increase in autism rates, since autism mostly affects males? Fixing that is a bigger job than just getting people together more efficiently.

ProfK said...

Anonymous 12:13,
But without numbers we would have no idea if there has been a rise in the number of unmarrieds. When you see a rise in numbers then you can go looking for the cause. Maybe autism, maybe not. But first identify if there is a change going on.

Eva said...

Klal likes to avoid applying numbers to itself--bad associations to bad times in the past. But it's kind of ridiculous when we talk about singles and have no idea how much of a problem we really have.

My husband has been on the board of our shul for years. I read this and then asked him if the shul has any numbers on the number of singles in the shul. No, it doesn't. Members are listed by family name. They don't even keep a record of how many kids there may or may not be in each family. There are 500 families in the shul and that could be anywhere from 500 people to 5000 people and no one really knows except sort of anecdotally.

If you look at Manhattan you get the idea that there are tons of single adults, but what about in the other areas? Don't think there is any way you are going to get a real count.

But forget the count anyway. If you know personally of some singles what's stopping you from lending a hand, from inviting for a meal for finding a way to help them out?

I also don't much like what passes for those socialization events either. Seems like the topic the speakers talk about at every one of them is "You're doing it wrong so here's what you need to do." Not the way to get singles to attend.

Knitter of shiny things said...

And what about other tragedies: children born with abnormalities. ...These are Jewish children too, and unless we cure them they will never be married...

I should hope that it isn't true that people with uncured abnormalities will never be married. There is a whole range of physical and mental conditions (or "conditions," depending) a person can have. Someone born with a club foot who is fully functional is not the same as someone with down's syndrome. You can't lump them all imperfections together, because they are often totally different from one another and affect people's lives in different ways.

This is not to say that it isn't important for people (including frum people) to become doctors; I think that doctors are very essential in our lives, and we could use more talented ones.

What I am saying is that not all abnormalities have to be treated as tragedies. Some of them might be tragic, but many of them aren't. You might be writing people off as unmarriageable, when really there are people who would be perfectly willing to marry them and look past the abnormality.

I'm not Orthodox, but if I was I would hope that not everyone in the shidduch system thinks as you've described above. I was born without a radial bone in my left hand, and without thumbs on both hands. (The magic of modern medicine gave me opposable thumbs via reconstructive surgery.)Yet I've managed to lead a normal and productive life, (I can do almost anything physically that anyone else can do, and in some cases I'm better than many "normal" people at certain things, such as knitting) including graduating from two Ivy League schools, and am not a burden on society, nor a case to be pitied. I'm a person just like everyone else, and my lack of thumbs and left radial bone does not make me any less a person.

I hope that anyone who is Orthodox and who has an abnormality like mine is not treated as a "problem case" when they're looking for a shidduch. To do so would be doing them a total disservice.

Yitzy said...

I have lived in my current community for over three years, and in that time the local Shadchan organization has only set me up with a dozen girls, most of which were in my first year. And since there is no way to meet girls outside of the Shadchan network, that means that I just have to sit at home and wait. Even on Shabbos, I am either at the table with other couples, or it's a 'singles' Shabbos where all of the other attendees are single men. No single women, though. And there are no social venues to meet women. As a result, all of my dating has been long-distance over the internet. And it's becoming more common. Most of my friends are meeting girls on the internet because there is no one local (although people keep telling us that there are many local girls available, we never MEET any). This is the problem when there is only one option. Internet dating is the only way we've found to bypass the system, since it has completely failed us.

Miami Al said...

The current system is inhumane, disgusting, dehumanizing, stigmatizing, immoral... but effective. If 92% of the class is married, the system is working. The single hood rate in the rest of society is MUCH higher, more 18+ women in America live outside of wedlock than within. Personal tragedies abound, but the "shidduch crisis" is not a threat to the long term future of Frumkeit.

France was one of the few countries in Europe to deal with their depopulation problem. Most other efforts were to entice DINK families to have a child,
they failed. Instead France focused on encouraging families with children to have more (tax benefits, etc.) and they were able to get their birth rate above replacement level (2.1/woman).

The fact is, there is more "bang for the buck" to hold tuition down and encourage families to have "one more" child than there is to worry about the 8% singles.

I find the current system amoral at best, but it works.

The Internet will help some of the remaining 8%, but you're not going to hit 100%. Any "system" is going to work for the easiest (a skinny, funny, rich girl will get married in the worst of systems), and the better a system, the closer you'll get. However, as you get to the outliers, it gets more and more expensive to make it work.

Are the "older singles" victims of a society that doesn't care about them? Absolutely. That is terrible.

But it's NOT a threat to Klal.

Leora said...

a skinny, funny, rich girl will get married in the worst of systems

You got that a bit wrong Al. If the girl is really rich then she doesn't have to be skinny or funny, just plumped up with money. In Yiddish they have a saying that covers this. Translated it says "there are no ugly daughters of rich fathers."

Whether or not having 8% unmarried people is a threat to Klal can't be determined yet. Someone in another comment said we would have to know if this rate is going up or remaining steady. But forget the threat to Klal and concentrate on the hurt that many of these people feel. We can't just excuse away their feelings as its being only 8% so let them suffer.

ProfK said...

Always amazes me when a posting goes up heading in one direction and then the comments take it in another direction. Let me steer the bus for a minute.

Have there always been unmarried members of Klal, whatever the reason? Even without any solid numbers I'll say probably. Have the numbers of unmarried people as a percentage of population always been this high? No figures I've been able to find to back that up or refute it. But my gut feeling, based on years of having redt shidduchim and from once having been a single in the dating parsha is that the number is higher now than in the far past. Will it get higher? Can't say for sure.

But these are not numbers we are talking about--these are living, breathing human beings with hopes of marriage. The system in place for making shidduchim sometimes works in spite of itself, not because it is a great one. And for those who don't manage to find a shidduch under that system something else is clearly required, not just more of the same. For those singles who have spent a few years or more in the parsha I would bet that sharing a Shabbos table with other singles of both sexes as well as some married couples would do a lot more for them than sharing a coke at the Marriot one on one has done so far.

Anonymous said...

ProfK: While sitting around a shabbos table might not hurt, more options for interactions and socializing where people can talk (and yes flirt a little) one on one, but outside of the date setting would help -- whether its mixed parties and receptions, people working together on community projects and volunteering or even mixed gender sporting events such as golf, bowling league, etc. might help.

Anonymous said...

Yitzy: Is it worth staying in that community if it means risking your prospects to get married and have kids, or might you be better off in a community where a man can ask a women on a date without an intermediary?

ProfK said...

I agree Anonymous 8:14 that a Shabbos lunch or dinner is not enough, but it's a place to start that does not require 17 committees and weeks of worrying about who will start screaming about mixed events. Unless I've missed something completely certainly those in the "middle" of frumkeit have always invited other families, including mixed sexes, to a Shabbos meal. There should be far less public discussion if those invitees would also include mixed sex singles.

Lion of Zion said...

as i've expressed before, i'm not a fan of shadchanus, but even singles who chose that route must impress upon the shadchanim that they are realistic.

to throw out a hypothetical, that 32-year-old 5'10" girl has to be realistic and stop holding out for a six footer. but moreover, she needs to let her shadchanim, family and friends understand this.

i understand that some singles have a tough time for various reasons. but many need to grow up and be more realistic.

i hope i'm not being harsh. everyone deserves to find their mate.