Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Learning, Money, and Good Looks - the Business of Shidduchim

A young married Charedi couple (Jewniverse)
Jonathan Rosenblum’s article in Mishpacha Magazine last week (available in full here) dealt with the ubiquitous topic of Shiduchim in the Charedi world. Which has come to be known as the ‘Shidduch Crisis’. There are a lot of young women that are being passed over and remain unmarried past their ‘prime’. Which in the Charedi world is about age 25.

(Although there is a similar problem in the modern Orthodox world, the reasons are entirely different for them and therefore so too are the solutions. Chasidim - on the other hand - don’t have this problem in their own system of Shiduchim.  This post is based on Jonathan’s article that deals with the non Chasidic ‘Yeshiva’ world.)

Jonathan has an interesting spin (made subtlety) on the so-called ‘age gap theory’ as the reason for that ‘crisis’.  For those that don’t recall - the theory is as follows. Women are ready for marriage at a much younger age.  At 19 they are all generally dating for purposes of marriage. On the other hand men don’t usually start dating until they are a 22 or 23 years of age. Young men of that age prefer to date the 19 or 20 year olds rather than young women their own age. A three or four year age difference between married couples in this pool is probably the most common occurrence.

Those that have studied this phenomenon say that since the rate of reproduction in the Charedi world has been increasing  substantially every year - that means there is an increase in the number of children each year. The pool of 23 year old men is therefore smaller than the pool of 19 year old women in any given year. And that results in an increasing numbers of  ‘leftover’ single women each year.

One might respond and say that the ratio of boys to girls being born each year is about the same. There should be one boy for every one girl. The problem could be solves if young men could be convinced to date women their own age – or even older women. That is not going to happen as a general policy though. Another solution some rabbis have suggested is that young men should get married at a much younger age. Personally I think that’s a prescription for even bigger problems down the road. I have had my own suggestion about what could be done. But they are beyond the scope of this post. And no one is going to listen to me anyway.

The age gap is not the only thing that causes a Shidduch crisis. Not be a long shot. One of those reasons is one I have mentioned many times before. ‘Good boys’ are a lot harder to find than ‘good girls’. In the Chareddi world – a good boy means a ‘learning boy’ – someone that has a good reputation as serious student of Torah . If a ‘working boy’  – or one that has decided  to attend a college or professional school in preparation for a career – is not considered a ‘good boy’ in the sense that I just described. And not marriage material.

That forces a lot of young Charedi men to stay in Yeshiva well past their actual desires and abilities call for them to do so. Which means that even among the pool of ‘learning boys’, there are few that are considered ‘good boys’.

On the other hand women in the Charedi world are not sought after for their learning abilities. A  ‘good girl’ is considered ‘good’ if she seeks a ‘learning boy’ and is willing to support them. It is therefore a lot easier to become a ‘good girl’ than it is to become a ‘good boy’.

That is a problem I have not seen addressed. If it has – certainly not anywhere near the ‘age gap’ problem.  But it is a fact that is clearly and significantly affecting Shiduchim in a negative way.

Interestingly Jonathan notes that the Charedi world is not alone as a population where ‘good girls’ outnumber ‘good boys’ which contributes to a higher ratio of women to men.  One example he mentions is the Mormons. They have a 15 to 10 ratio. For every 100 available men there are 150 available women who for the most part will marry only a serious Mormon. That has led to some drastic measures among them. From Mishpacha:
(A)s a consequence of their religious idealism they find themselves turned into commodities, forced to compete fiercely for the attention of marriageable males on the basis of their physical appearance. As a consequence, even young Mormon women submit to plastic surgery and various forms of physical augmentation. Salt Lake City has 2.5 times the national average of plastic surgeons, and its residents spend almost 12 times as much on beauty products as those of Oklahoma City, which has a slightly larger population.
One may recall that a Shadchan had written an article a few years ago addressing the lopsided dating ratio of dating women to dating men in the Charedi world. As a realist she said that one has to live in the real world. Charedi men look for attractive women too. She therefore urged them to do whatever they could to look attractive  including plastic surgery if necessary. For this she was severely criticized. 

Although I disagreed with her then - she wasn’t that far off about looking as attractive as possible in a world where men seek beauty first and character second. This is not new. I know (and have known for decades going back to when I was dating) more than a few ‘good’ boys’ that will not date women whose dress size is over a certain very low number.

The fact is that young women instinctively know this. Even the Charedi ones. Which has proven to turn the Shidduch crisis also a health crisis: 
(Y)oung women are driven to compete in physical attractiveness, as with the Mormons. Dr. Ira Sackler, an eating order specialist (noted that) in one Orthodox community that the rate of eating disorders was 50% higher than the national average. 
I have not seen anyone address this problem either till now. 50% is of epidemic magnitude. (Not that I have a solution for it.)

Another problem is that in the Charedi world, Shidduchim have become business transactions. Where (to quote Gordon Gekko) ‘greed - for lack of a better word - is good’. Huge sums of money can be extracted from potential ‘buyers’ (a good girl’s father) by fathers of ‘good boys’ to support their son in a Kollel for extended periods time.  

The better the reputation of the ‘learning boy’, the greater the sum.  In fact many wealthy – and even not so wealthy - fathers of  ‘good girls’ are throwing money at potential Shiddcuhim. If the ‘learning boy’ has a good reputation the sky might just very well be the limit! They know the market. It’s rough out there. 

One father I spoke to in Israel last week put it this way: If there are 2 identical girls and one of them comes with a bigger check (from her father)  It’s a no branier isn’t it? What is lost by taking the bigger check? It’s free enterprise at its  best! The rich get what they want and the poor get the leftovers – if that.

Age gap? OK - that might be one reason for the Shidduch problem. But when a young man becomes a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder…. and where good looks seem to be the number one value sought - right after money, then something has gone is terribly wrong. And yet not only is nothing being done, things  seem to be only getting worse!