Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Debunking the "Age Gap Theory"...Again

Guest Post by Rabbi Chananya Weissman

Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of End the Madness. Here is their mission statement: is an ambitious and unique effort to combat the angst and hardships associated with dating in the religious Jewish community. 

My recent post on Shiduchim elicited a huge response. It seems to have really touched a nerve. The premise of that post was that the 'age gap' issue is not the primary cause of the so called Shiddach crisis. Rabbi Weissman has submitted the following contribution to that discussion: 

I have written extensively in years past about the absurd yet popular notion in the Orthodox world that the problem in the shidduch world is demographic in nature. Many people have been brought to believe that there is simply a shortage of eligible men and that this problem can somehow be resolved by conniving to marry these men off to the oldest eligible women.

How this would cause men to multiply has never been explained. If you have an island with 50 women and 40 men, and the men marry the 40 oldest women, there will still be 10 women without a male counterpart. Even if every so often 10 more men and 10 more women join the island, you will never catch up. Proponents of this idea are simply "borrowing" from the pool of available men with plans to "pay back" with a hoped-for future supply of men. In other words, this is a Ponzi scheme. How have those been working out?

How manipulating shadchanim and even offering financial "incentives" to marry men off to older women is ethically sound or halachically permissible has also yet to be explained. A shadchan's responsibility is to suggest the most suitable match to her clients, irrespective of presumed demographic issues in the community. That is not and should not be her concern. If two people are best suited for one another but are more than a few years apart, it is the shadchan's moral responsibility to introduce them over other candidates who are closer in age. To intentionally deny clients the most suitable available match is morally corrupt.

But the best part is that the very premises of this age gap theory have been proven over and over again to be false, as I will once again demonstrate. This is something our eyes and ears tell us -- contrary to the wild claims of age gap theorists, we simply do not see many married couples with a huge difference in age between them, nor do we see seminary girls going out with 40-year old men. It's just not reality.

Thankfully, we don't need to rely on anecdotal evidence, powerful though it is. Every year in honor of Tu B'av the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies ( puts out hardcore statistics on marriage in Israel. These statistics demonstrate in no uncertain terms that every premise of the age gap theory is false, and that proponents of this theory are disconnected from reality.

As reported in the Jerusalem Post, the percentage of single men age 20+ in Jerusalem for the year 2010 was 27%, versus 20% for women. For the age range of 30-34, 24% of men were single, versus 20% for women. In other words, if there is any crisis at all in terms of demographics, people should be wringing their hands over the plight of single MEN. Based on the numbers, women are having an easier time.

Furthermore, and this is a direct quote from the Jerusalem Post article on July 19: "The average age difference between a Jewish bride and groom was 2.1 years, in comparison to five years in other religions."

In other words, not only is there no widespread phenomenon of men marrying women significantly younger, in the Jewish world there is a far lesser incidence of this than elsewhere.

To summarize:
1) The age gap theory is based on premises that are proven false by actual marriage statistics.
2) The age gap theorists insist there is a problem that does not exist.
3) The age gap theorists insist on a solution to the problem that is merely a Ponzi scheme, which is foolish and cannot succeed.
4) The age gap theorists promote immoral and halachically indefensible behavior from shadchanim to push matches based on trivial considerations, which will only perpetuate and exacerbate existing problems

So why in the world do so many people gobble up this theory like some God-given truth? I believe it is because the fabrication of a demographic problem is far more comfortable for people than the call to look in the mirror and change one's values. Our community is always looking for a scapegoat: television, the Internet, secular values, those "other" Jews. The problem is never us, it is always someone else. The age gap theory draws attention away from the real problems (the community itself and its corrupt ways), and therefore it is readily accepted.

EndTheMadness pulls no punches. We give the straight truth about what is wrong and real solutions for how to fix it. There is no gentle way to tell people their values and behaviors are way off. But until more people accept that we have no one to blame for our problems but ourselves, things will only continue to get worse.

The age gap theory is garbage. Stop giving it credibility, throw it in the trash where it belongs, and get to work on the real issues. It won't be easy or fun like playing with demographics, but it is the only way. Let's not waste another day.