Sunday, August 24, 2014

Single Charedi Women Speak Out

Traditional Jewish matchmaker Heather Sirota (The Guardian)
Once again my ire was raised by the terrible situation of Shidduchim in the Charedi world. I must admit that as bad as I knew it was, the truth is that it is much worse than even I had imagined. 

I recently addressed this issue based on an article in Mishapcha Magazine by philanthropist, Shlomo Rechnitz. Therein he quoted an experienced Shadchan who told him that young women 25 years of age or older have about a 15% chance (or less) of getting married.

True this statistic is anecdotal. But even if you double that to 30%. It means that a whopping 70% of Charedi girls over that age will never get married. Besides, the observations of an experienced Shadchan should not be discounted as they probably do reflect reality.

I am angry that a segment of Orthodoxy that considers itself to be the most religious among us has a problem like this to such an extent.

As I said in my previous post - I do not see the age gap to be the real problem in light of the fact that there are as many boys are born each year as there are girls born each year. That means one boy is available for one girl. Despite ‘explanations’ about an  age gap, I remain unconvinced.

I am not going to re-hash my reasoning here. What I will, however, say is that the real problem is the Charedi Shidduch system itself (as it is practiced in the Lithuanian type Yeshiva world).  There is so much wrong with it, I’m not even sure where to begin. But instead of being accused of Charedi bashing, I will quote what 3 young Charedi women themselves have said in the letters section of the most recent edition of Mishpacha Magazine (unavailable online).

This issue’s letters section is the largest one I have ever seen. It is many pages long and divided into different segments. It was eye opening to see these young women say some of the same things I have been saying for years on the subject.

The first was written by a 24 year old single woman. She describes herself as a typical Beis Yaakov girl. She has been ‘in Shidduchim’ for 5 years. In all that time she has dated a total of 10 boys. That’s 2 per year. She further claims that she is one of the lucky ones – that her friends who do not have her resume (which is quite impressive) haven’t had more than 2 dates in that entire 5 year period.

What is her suggestion? It is the same suggestion I have advocated for quite some time: Change the message imparted to young girls in high school. Do not teach girls about supporting their husbands and raising their children. She cringes when she reads her high school notebooks. By stressing a girl’s mission in life as a wife and mother that may never apply to so large a percentage of them, ‘they are literally destroying us’. ‘It’s time to change the way the Yeshiva system works.’

Another letter was written by a 28 year old spinster. (That’s right. Spinster. Get angry at that word. That’s why I use it. It is outrageous, but it is how a 28 year old unmarried girl is seen.) Her first dating experience was a disaster. Since then, 9 years have passed and she is now treated by her community as hopeless. And she is justifiably upset by that. They don’t see a person. They see a ‘Nebech’.  The biggest source of pain for her, however, is waiting for the phone to ring. Or watching others move on and feeling the pain of younger girls getting married and having families.

She compares how her Charedi community treats her at age 28 as hopeless - to the way she is treated at work by her secular colleagues.  A few years ago when she turned 25 she attended a team meeting and started crying. Her supervisor came in the next day and said, ‘I hope I am not being disrespectful toward your culture, but when I came home I felt so angry.’ ‘I felt angry that a society that can make a person feel that bad about turning 25.’

This 28 year old young woman agreed with her colleague. ‘She was right.’ ‘Why is it that  in the secular world I am viewed as a young adult with my whole life ahead of me, and the fact that I am single doesn’t even cross their minds?’

They do not pity her or think less of her because she isn’t married by age 25. By contrast in the Charedi world – with every passing birthday girls are made to feel ‘afraid, rejected, and undesirable’.

And then she suggests something I have advocated for years: Do not judge a potential Shidduch by their age. Judge them by their character. (What a concept!)

A third letter was written by a Charedi young woman that does not reveal her age. She makes the same common sense points I have made before. First, the idea of boys getting married younger means that husbands will be even less equipped for marriage than their older counterparts. Her biggest problem, however, is dating boys who are not worldly.

As many people know the Charedi world encourages their young men to learn Torah full time for as long as they can. In pursuit of that goal they minimize the value of secular studies (if not completely disparaging it) in favor of studying more Torah. Students do not interact at all with the outside world – other than when they have to, and even then they minimize it.

Girls on the other hand do get a decent education. They are in fact encouraged to do so in order to be better able to support their husbands. That makes girls better educated and more worldly than the boys they date. These young men do not even speak the same language as the girls they date.  The ‘Yeshiva Bachur’ is accustomed to speaking ‘Yeshivish’ which is the new language of Torah study in America. In pre-war Europe it was Yiddish. (Yeshivish is English that is heavily peppered with Yiddish, Hebrew, and Aramaic using many of the expressions found in the Gemarah as part of the lexicon. To the untrained ear, it may sound like gibberish.)

In my view these three letters by Charedi women ‘in Shidduchim’ tell the real story of what is wrong with the system. And why efforts like trying to close the age gap by lowering the age of marriage for boys, or offering huge payoffs to those who successfully make a Shidduch with an older girl (over 25) is nothing more than applying band aid to a major open wound.

I should note that not all the letters were all that wise. One in particular letter writer suggested that women be less educated so as to make them more equal to men.

The only real solution is to change the way Shidduchim are made. I’m not saying that Shadchanim be eliminated. But I do suggest that they be re-educated about what is important in setting up a young man with a young woman. That age never be mentioned at all. On that note parents too should be re-educated about that too - no less the young men doing the dating. I would put an asterisk by any boy  (or parent)who asked about a girl’s age… as lacking character. Same thing asking about dress size.

But dating should not be limited to Shadchanim. There should be other ways for a young man and young woman to meet – once they are ready to get married.

Another thing that needs to change is the way young men are educated. Even discounting the fact that they should be educated at least for purposes of making a living - they need to learn how to speak English properly and be more worldly so that can be a match for their better educated and more worldly spouses. A Yeshiva man who speaks only Yeshivish and has no clue about the world around him ought not to the ideal sought in a Yeshiva education.  

If the paradigm does not change, the situation will only get worse.  Unfortunately I don’t think it will, which is why I am so angry about it!