Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Attention Charedi Young Women 22 and Older – You Are Old Maids!

I’m not sure exactly how a new program apparently supported by Agudah will help the growing problem of older singles in the Charedi world. The project is called NASI. I have had no luck finding out even what the letters NASI stand for (if anything). A lengthy and somewhat rambling description of the problems older singles face in the Torah world and this ‘remedy’ for it can be found in Yeshiva World News.

As best as I can understand it, NASI suggests throwing massive amounts of money at Shadchanim as an incentive to set up these older singles. The claim is that older singles (which can be as young as 22) are left out of the Shadchan’s dating pool because there are simply so many younger girls available for 22 year old males who have begun dating. Charedi males simply do not date at a younger age.

This has created an age gap between when young men who start dating versus when young women start dating. Girls start at about age 18 or 19 usually right out of a year or two in a post high school seminary. Boys on the other hand tend to stay in a Beis HaMedrash focused on their learning until about age 22 or 23. This leaves several times as many women as men in the dating pool. Young men can choose to date women of any age between age 18 and 22. And as they get older the dating pool renews every year adding younger females and creating more older singles.

If I understand correctly the idea of NASI is for an older young woman (22 and up) to deposit huge amounts of money with a Shadchan that would only be taken if there is a successful engagement as a result of that Shadchan. If not, the money is fully returnable – including the $500 management fee taken by NASI. The older the young woman - the more money would be deposited with the Shadchan. In other words - for the right kind of money, they will begin to recommend older single women to the young men they know.

How demeaning! And how disgusting it is for any organization to take financial advantage of the plight of young women desperate to get married and yet considered by their society as virtual old maids!

What does it say about us as that young unmarried woman older than 22 are considered damaged goods - old maids by Charedi dating standards? And that the best way to solve this problem is by throwing huge sums of money at it? How must a young woman aged 22 and older feel about herself?

The following excerpt illustrates the mindset:

Suppose he told a 30 year old young woman that if she donated $11,000 to to a particular cause she would be married by Chanuka. What would the young woman do? You know and I know that every single young woman would beg, borrow, or do whatever it takes but she would put the money together.

If this is what the dating game has devolved into in the Charedi world it is yet another blow to an unsustainable system and a disgusting one at that.

Although the problem described above is a legitimate one it is a self created one. It is no less the result of an over emphasis on the separation of the sexes than it is on the supposed age gap.

I have said this before but it bears repeating in this context. There ought to be far more interaction between the sexes in the Charedi world than there is now. Instead of forever expanding the boundaries between men and woman they ought to be narrowing them.

This trend is being set by Chasidic communites that have a different set of dating parameters than the rest of the Charedi world has. They set up marriages at very young ages for both men and women. It is not unusual for 19 year old boys and girls to get married. There is no dating as we know it. The parents ‘date’ and arrange a meeting or 2 between a couple whom they believe to be compatible. The system works for them and I am not judging it.

That this would never fly in Modern Orthodox circles is an understatement. But it doesn’t even fly in Charedi circles. Charedi men and women date. They go out many times before the ‘question is popped’. They get to see for themselves if there is any compatibility.

Chasidim can therefore live in a world where the sexes are as far apart as ever. Never having even the slightest interaction between the sexes does not effect their marriage prospects. They are all in the same Shiddach boat and their rate of engagements and successful marriages do not seem to be negatively affected by the ‘no social contact’ rules. They do not seem to be having the same ‘Shiddach crisis’ that the Charedi world has.

And yet the Charedi world can’t wait to adopt the latest ‘separation’ Chumra initiated by Chasidim. The sexes are now more separated then ever – thanks to the desire by Charedim not to be outdone in Frumkeit by Chasidim. Perfectly normal and healthy ways for young men and women to meet have been virtually eliminated. Now a Shadchan – whether parent, friend, or professional – is the only legitimate way for Charedim to date.

The idea of a boy meeting a girl at a social event like a wedding is completely ruled out as acceptable. The idea of a young man calling up a young woman he met and asking her on a date is so outrageous that a young man might be black-balled for doing it. He will be written out of the dating pool and be looked at very suspiciously - and to be avoided by any right thinking Charedi girl.

How sad is it that all such contact is now seen in such a negative light. How sad that 2 people can’t meet under casual conditions, find that they like each other’s company and pursue a relationship without a middle man.

There are many Halachicly permissible ways for young men and women to meet. But they have all been virtually banned. And that has added immensely the Shiddach crisis as much as any age gap. They can meet in family settings, school, social organizations like Bnei Akiva or later as advisors for NCSY. There are weddings and Bar Mitzvas, Kiddush after Shul on Shabbos… many ways!

But the direction Charedim are going is an opposite one. They keep doing their best to find even more ways to separate the sexes just so they won’t be outdone in Frumkeit by their Chasidic counterparts: Separate seating at weddings; separate buses; separate seating at concerts... even banning them altogether because of the mere possibility of a boy and girl meeting there who end up (Oh No!) …talking to each other.

I know some very fine Charedi young couples who ‘cheated’. They met in high school behind the backs of their school principals. They were careful not to get caught because they would have been expelled. Eventually they got married and are role models of successful marriage! And they are approximately the same age. No age gap due to the dating habits of the Charedi world.

Just to be clear, I do not support the idea of coed religious high schools for reasons I have stated in the past and do not want to get into here. Nor do I think dating for purposes other than marriage is a good idea. But I do not support the level of separation that exists now. It is a bad idea and fosters the kind of solutions advocated by NASI. This does not mean I am opposed to Shadchanim. Whatever works. I just think they ought not to have a monopoly in the dating game… and to loosen up the system.

What to do about this? I don’t know that I can change the world. But it wouldn't take that much. A simple thing like advocating mixed seating at weddings including seating young adult singles together would be a good start.

Sadly this will never happen - let alone any of the other ideas I mention. Instead the chasm will continue widening and the Shiddach crisis among Charedim will keep growing. Furthermore Shiddach problems like this are even affecting some Modern Orthodox circles as they continue their own ‘slide to the right’ - adopting some of the same strictures that Charedim do. So Charedim… take out your wallets! And Modern Orthodox… you’re next.