Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Exploding the Myths of the Frum Dating Scene

It seems that instead of getting any better, the Shiddach crisis is getting worse. Yesterday afternoon, when I was visiting my 96 year old mother-in-law in the lobby of her residence at an assisted living facility, an old acquaintance of mine that I hadn't seen in years approached me. She is a Modern Orthodox (MO) Jew. Out of the blue she asked whether I knew of anyone for two of her granddaughters. Both about twenty years old living in different parts of the country. One is Charedi and the other modern Orthodox. She was plainly worried.

I realize that the so-called Shiddach crisis is mostly about the Charedi Yeshiva world. It certainly is not about the Chasidic world. But it does seems to be spreading somewhat in to the MO world. Even at the age of 20, close family members begin to worry.

I have written about this before. And it still perplexes me as to why this is the case. There have been articles upon articles with so-called experts giving their perspectives and telling us what to do to help solve the problem. But I have yet to find an answer that will lead to a solution. And still ask how did things deteriorate so badly?

The focus is on what seems to be a lopsided ratio of boys to girls. There are far more available single girls of marriageable age than there are boys. That puts the boys in control. How did this lopsided ratio come to be?

One of the most frequent ‘answers’ given is that boys tend to wait until they are about 23 to get married. Girls are ready to marry pretty much by 19. That creates a pool that includes young women aged 19 to 23 - all competing for this one age group. All else being equal that is about a 4 to one ratio. That’s why young men of marriageable age often have lists of girls to date. And young women do not.

I hear that. But I do not accept that as the primary cause of the problem. That’s because there are approximately the same number of boys born as there are girls born every year. The real ratio is one to one. For every single boy there is one single girl. The gap is a manufactured one.

Nonetheless this is what proposed solutions are addressing. Boys - it is being said - should get married earlier. I do not buy that as a solution. Getting married pre-maturely is a prescription for disaster. If seriously implemented it will surely lead to more divorce.

I see the problem a bit differently as it pertains to the Charedi Yeshiva world; and increasingly even to the more right wing of the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva world.

There is an indoctrination of young women that goes on in post high school seminaries in Israel and not only in identifiably Charedi ones. There are seminaries that target modern Orthodox young women but are not MO in Hashkafa. Their Menahalim (Deans) are Charedi. In many cases they come from MO backgrounds but have somehow bought into the Charedi Hashkafa of placing the highest value on the Kollel lifestyle. So all these MO young women go into these seminaries MO - and come out with that particular Charedi value. They are encouraged to primarily seek young men who will choose to make Torah study their primary focus – much like their Charedi counterparts.

These young women are convinced into thinking that what makes them desirable, is their own desire for a top notch Talmud Chacham – a Torah scholar. That ends up with a very big pool of women. All they have to do is want a man like that for a husband. Any education they might get at that seminary, though highly valued is nonetheless secondary to that one value.

Here is the problem. To become a Talmid Chacham it takes a lot more than just wanting to be one. Desire is an important component. But it is not enough. You have to also work a long time at it. You have to have the intelligence for it. You have to have the ‘Zitz Fleish’ for it – meaning the diligence to put in massive amounts of time sitting in a Beis HaMedrash to reach the level of becoming even a budding Talmid Chacham. It means having the maturity to do that while still in high school… and not being overly distracted by other interests - like sports or entertainment… or spending a lot of time schmoozing with your friends in the back of the Beis HaMedrash.

These requirements are difficult for most young men to fully implement. To the extent that they do  - is to the extent that they will become budding Talmidei Chachamim - and be seen that way by peers, friends, teachers, Shadchanim… or anyone else who might recommend them for a Shiddach.

This mindset used to belong exclusively to the Charedi yeshiva world. But it is increasingly becoming part of the more right wing Modern Orthodox world too. That leaves a lot of potentially excellent husbands out there who are religious, bright, and knowledgeable with great career futures, that are not acceptable enough to the women coming out of those seminaries. These young men will not be spending any time in full time Kollel. They will probably go right into the workforce. Their learning time will be spent in the early mornings before work and/or in the evenings after work.

These seminary women have been indoctrinated to see them as an unacceptable first choice for a mate. I think that is one of the biggest problems. And I have not seen any so called ‘experts’ talking about it. Young women are indoctrinated to look for the learner! Everyone else is a second class citizen. That’s the message.

This is not to say there aren’t other problems. I have discussed them all before. One of the big ones being the way in which dating in Yeshiva circles takes place. Which brings me to a wonderful ‘letter to the editor’ written by Chaim Yudkowsky in the Baltimore Jewish Life. While I might quibble a bit with a point or two in his article, I think it pretty much sums up my own views on the subject. The format he uses explodes myth with fact. Just to cite one example with which I completely agree: 
 Myth: Okay, the current shidduch system has some minor problems. But, it is still the best way to do things, with the endorsement of our Gedolim. What else are we to do, let our children meet at singles bars?
 Truth: The current shidduch system is a recent invention. In previous generations (and still today in more “modernishe” circles), young men and women met through groups like NCSY, Bnai Akiva, naturally through the community via coincidence, and even – dare I say it – at Shabbos Nachamu singles events. In fact, many community leaders, including prominent American (and European) rabbanim and roshei yeshiva met their wives this way. The current shidduch crisis is a function of the suppression of “hashgacha pratis” (divine providence), which has long been a core operating principle of Yiddishkeit. Somehow, letting hashgacha pratis run its natural course is now out of vogue. Furthermore, the extreme gender separation, previously only known in chasidishe circles, has prevented people finding one another or effectively networking. So, the shidduch crisis is, for the most part, self-inflicted by the system. 
Indeed! Mr. Yudkowsky also correctly points out that the Yeshiva world has adopted elements of the Chasidic dating process without including its benefits. There are increased limitations on a Yeshivishe couple that do not apply to the Chasidic world. Chasidim rely mostly on their parents’ evaluations. Yeshivishe couples rely on their own evaluation which is more likely to ‘kill’ the Shidduch. The elimination of other forms of dating is to the detriment of the Yeshiva world. While this is not as true in the right wing of the MO world… it seems to be moving more in that direction.

As Mr. Yudkowsky also notes, the non Yeshivish Modern Orthodox world has its own set of problems that may be as great or greater than those of the Yeshiva world. Addressing them here is beyond the scope of this post.

In short, this article is an important one and ought to be read by anyone who has anything to do with Shadchanus (matchmaking). I don’t know if it will change the way things are done now. But it should.