Monday, April 19, 2010

A Living Hell

A have just read a truly heart rending letter from a 23 year old Charedi woman about her Shiddach situation. It is posted on Here are some excerpts::

I write these words with a broken heart. I am sure they are echoed by thousands of girls out there, and each one of us is living through our own nisayon. The parsha of shidduchim has been a nightmare for me. I have all but given up...

My parents don’t have money and we don’t have yichus. We don’t have “pull” and we don’t have connections. So with all my maalos, I am told that I am just like thousands of other girls. And so the phone does not ring.

My mother pursues shidduchim, only to get flat-out nos. I have been out with a handful of boys in four years of being in shidduchim. Think that’s nuts? Ask around. It’s not. That’s the lot that we’ve been given. We, girls, try so hard, doing everything we are supposed to in life, only to have to sit around, never knowing if our shidduch will ever come….

I have never felt deprived and I love my parents for everything they’ve given me, even with their financial difficulties. But I had never imagined that shidduchim would be the living gehennom that it has been.

I don’t know what to say anymore…

Hakadosh Boruch Hu, I am your daughter. I know you are listening. I know you hear my cries! I know you feel my pillow soaked with the tears of frustration!

How sad I am for a system gone so terribly wrong as has the Shiddach system of the Yeshiva world. It is the worst of all possible systems in my view. Worse than that of either the Modern Orthodox or that of Chasidim.

I’m not saying that either of those two dating systems is ideal. But one will never see a letter like this one from either community. Shiduchim have been declared a crisis and considered a top priority among Charedi rabbinic leaders. While many may quibble how far up on the list of priorites the Shiddach problem is, no one can seriously question that it exists. And the problem seems to be getting worse.

I understand the motivations behind this sytem. They are noble. The goal is to minimize the dating experience and create a streamlined approach to getting marreid that avoids long term relationships. The idea being that long term relationships can cause many problems. Such as increased temptation for forbidden sexual activity which is a natural progression in male female relationships.

Though two religious people will strive to avoid any physical contact and most often succeed – that does not guarantee it. They will certainly be tempted. The longer they are together without being married, the more the temptations increase. This is minimized by the Yeshiva system. But the manner in which it is implemented has gone terribly awry. And this letter spells it out for us. In fact I think it only scratches the surface.

Here is the way it works. The Shiddach system is really a sort of combination of the Chasidic and Modern Orthodox models.

Chasidim who get married very young – often in their teens – do not really date at all. The parents date. This means that sets of parents of potential couples each of whom know their children pretty well - find out from each other about the child of the other. If they see compatibility -the young man and woman see each other one or two times in the home of one of the two sets of parents - and decide. If they agree- the match is made and a wedding follows shortly thereafter in most cases.

Modern Orthodox Jews tend to meet by themselves or through friends. They do have an advantage over secular couples in that they are both observant and both tend to come from Modern Orthodox backgrounds. There is compatibility at least at that basic level. But most often there is little research done before an actual date. Time then becomes the enemy. Even assuming that sexual desires can be controlled - often couples like this can date for long periods of time in order to find out information about each other that could have been found out before the first date – had any research been done. That can be very frustrating experience to both young men and young women. In the meantime temptations tend to increase over time making them difficult not to act upon.

The Shiddach system is supposed to be the best of both worlds. The Shadchan finds out basic compatibility features before the first date. Once that is found they date to see if they will actually like each other and if there is any physical attraction. That process usually takes about 8 dates or so. If all goes well the young man will pop the question and everyone lives happily ever after.

The problem with what sounds like an ideal compromise is that it has become grossly abused. Once you start asking questions it opens up a whole pandora’s box of irrelevant and often very offensive or even intrusive questions by parents and Shadchanim. The answers to which will often impede the date. I need not go int details. Im’ sure most people have heard about the ‘color of the tablecloth on Shabbos’ type questions. Or the dress size questions.

But as this poor young woman writes - that isn’t all. The Yeshiva system that is so starved for cash its brightest students will seek only young women whose parents are rich enough to support the couple in a Kollel Lifestyle. No money? – No shidddach! These young men have been indoctrinated to actually look for money first and Midos last.

The irony of course is that those who followed this path in the past 20 years ago cannot find Shiduchim now for their own daughters! As Avreichim they have no money.

Rabbinic leaders have been focusing on age difference issues. I think they have a point. Age should never be a factor. In either direction. There is absolutely nothing wrong if the husband is younger than his wife. Although I’m not sure they have convinced their own Yeshiva students of it.

But that is just one factor. I think the letter writer makes a very important point here. It has thus far gone unaddressed by the rabbinic establishment. They need to change Shiddach paradigm. They ought to encourage expanding opportunities for young people and not leave it to a Shiddach system gone awry.

I think the best model is that of the right wing Orthodox. A young man and young women have many ways in which they can meet - including the Yeshiva-Shadchan system. They have not however eliminated other ways of meeting. And in most cases there is some minimal research ablout a potential date. In my view they have the best of all possible worlds. My advice to this young woman – were she to seek it – would be to expand her horizons in just that way.