Monday, January 30, 2012

Throwing Money at Shadchanim

I thought the NASI program was dead. Apparently not only isn’t it dead it has the support of many Charedi Rabbanim and Poskim as reported on

I have written about NASI before. Breifly, NASI is a project created to help find suitable mates for older young women. How old is ‘older’? About 22 years of age. I kid you not.

This is what has happened in the Torah world today. If a girl reaches 22 years of age, she is seen as an old maid by Shadchanim – who apparently think that their male clients thinks so too. What is to be done about them? Well obviously the answer is to throw money at the problem. Lots of it. The idea behind the NASI Project is to incentivize Shadchanim to not give up on ‘older’ young women by paying them enough to make the extra effort worth their while.

The reason often given for these 22 year old ‘old maids’ is the dating gap. This means that women are ready to date at about age 18 while men usually don’t start dating until they are about 23. That makes the female pool of women pretty large – by about a 5 to 1 ratio!

Shadchanim will always look to the ‘Fresh crop’ coming out of seminary for their prospective male clients. The older a young woman gets - the less likely she will be looked at.

This was recently illustrated in an article in the Jewish Press by a young women who by Frum standards was ‘Oiver Batul’ (senile). She was about 30 years old. When she called a Shadchan recommended to her by a friend she was told something to the effect that: ‘You are 30 and not married yet?!’ ‘Obviously you are not a beauty queen and yet you are too choosy’. ‘I don’t think I can help you’. The Shadchan told her this without ever having met her or spoken to her. She made a snap judgment based simply on age.

Of course if her fee were to be quadrupled – so the argument made by NASI goes - the Shadchan will drop what she’s doing and find that ‘old maid’ a Shiddach!

This is what is happening in the Charedi world of dating. How sad it is that they have come to this. The problem isn’t only the age gap. There are numerous problems. Not the least of which is money to support full time learning. For example Shadchanim for the ‘better Bachurim’ demand huge gaurantees of future support from potential in-laws just to allow their daughters the privilege of dating that ‘Metzia’ (great find!). That of course does not reflect the price the Shadchan charges if the Shiddach is successful. It is a problem created by a system that increasingly separates the sexes to the greatest level they can.

Then there are the ridiculous questions asked by a Shadchan of the potential parents. Like the infamous ‘What color is your tablecloth on Shabbos’ question.

And then there is the thinness issue. No woman can be thin enough to a potential Yeshiva Bachur. Even a Charedi one. Size 2 or smaller. That’s it. Of course the guy can be 20 pounds over-weight but that doesn’t matter. He’s the one with the ‘dating list’! No such thing for a young woman! I recall one fellow back in the early 90s (who is now a Rosh Yeshiva in Israel) who said he would never date anyone who didn’t have a model’s figure.

There are so many impediment placed between potential dates it’s a wonder that anyone ever gets married!

In Charedi circles there is now a pool of virtually dateless young women who are desperate to get married but with no one to turn to for help. So how is the Charedi world helping them? By cleaning out their bank accounts (or those of their parents). The justification is that these women are so desperate that they would would certainly give every penny they own to get married! Thus they prey on the ‘older’ single woman. And of course NASI gets their cut as the ‘Shadchan for the Shadchan’.

Even if I conceded that this scenario might work to get older single women out of singlehood, it is at best a band aid. The Charedi world is treating the problem superficially and not attacking the disease. Instead of allowing natural interactions between the sexes at a younger age where relationships can develop over time and lead to marriage - they are doing the exact opposite by closing every possibility of interaction between them. Apparently they are afraid that Charedi young people will not behave and form relationships before they are ready for marriage. Which of course might lead to mixed dancing.

This is one area that the modern Orthodox world has more common sense. There is a legitimate concern about situations in which there is too much casual contact between the sexes. Nonetheless there is a much better chance that 2 young people of the same age will get married if they know each other sooner. I know many successful married couples who met in high school. In some cases they were Charedi and met ‘under the radar’.This does not mean that there ought to be co-ed high schools. I am opposed to that for reasons that are beyond the scope of this essay. But I am in favor of limited social contact among responsible young adults that can - and often does lead to marriage.

Not that Modern Orthodoxy doesn’t have its own share of problems. There is an entire and fairly large community of modern Orthodox men that have commitment phobia. And never get married. That can be just as frustrating to a single MO female as it is to her Charedi counterpart. And in MO circles where there is an entire culture of singles, the pressure for unmarried sex is probably pretty great. Which is why I have heard that some single women actually use a Mikva!

There is no foolproof dating system that will take care of all issues of both communities. But n my humble opinions - the answer lies somewhere in between the extremes of Modern Orthodoxy Charedism. I’m not suggesting any particular modus operandi.

But the way things are turning out in both worlds- it shows that the system is failing for far too many good people. There has to be a happy medium whereby young people do not rely exclusively on Shadchanim and yet are not put into positions of temptation by being over-exposed to the opposite sex at an age where they are not ready to get married.

As for NASI – well it’s a sad day when the only solution seems to be throwing huge sums of money at the problem.