The Shidduch Fog
March 11, 2021
When a person or community is facing a problem, is it better to be painfully aware of the problem or blissfully unaware? I would think that should depend on whether there is some form of hishtadlus that we can do to attempt to solve the issue that is being faced.
However, that wasn’t the perspective of the relative that confronted me this week about the editorials that I recently penned regarding shidduchim. He has a daughter who just entered the shidduch market, and, while he admits that girls are facing a severe issue, he feels very strongly that bringing more awareness to this problem is not helpful. Furthermore, he claims it is possibly adding more difficulty for those living through it, by increasing panic and further grating on the nerves of those whose nerves are already frayed from the natural fear and trepidation that comes along with starting this intimidating new phase in life.
If we were living through a tzarah for which there was no foreseeable hishtadlus toward a solution, I would wholeheartedly agree, and I would immediately retire the topic.
However, how do we know that this is the case? Imagine for a second the possibility that there may be forms of hishtadlus that we, either individually or as a tzibbur, could do to prevent this suffering from continuing… Is it not incumbent upon us to try every one of the possibilities and dedicate every effort and resource toward that effort rather than averting our eyes and shutting down the conversation that might lead us there?
If we could possibly, together, arrive at a universal recognition of the existence of, cause of, and solution for this pain…if it is possible that implementing that solution would save thousands of Jewish girls from heartache and tears…would anyone in their right mind say that having an admittedly painful discussion that might bring about a workable solution is not warranted?
The entire goal of this series of articles is to assess, explore, and possibly agree upon and arrive at some solutions through which alleviating this terrible situation may actually be attainable.
I am encouraged by the fact that my thoughts that have been printed in the last two issues have hit a chord and that we’ve gotten many letters offering many different perspectives. It is my hope that the conversation can continue and help bring about some clarity—and ultimately some joint action and focused hishtadlus that will allow us to arrive at a time when we can truly declare “Yadeinu lo shafchu es hadam hazeh” and celebrate only simchos…
Clarity Is Key
Thank you for bringing up the topic of the shidduch crisis. Lately, the topic of brainstorming for solutions seems to have fallen by the wayside.
It is clear that the chareidi/yeshivish community is basically divided into two “camps”:
1) Those who think that the entire crisis is based on a shortage of boys (due to whatever the reason—age gap, off-the-derech boys, or other). According to them, a more accurate description would be “shortage of boys crisis” as opposed to “shidduch crisis” because for the boys, there is no crisis at all. The boys have it great! They are being redt tons of shidduchim and have the upper hand. The shidduch crisis does not really affect the boys, and they clearly have many advantages due to the imbalance in numbers.
2) Those who think that the crisis is cultural and/or societal based, i.e., there are not enough shadchanim, people have bad middos, boys and girls are too picky, there are commitment issues, etc. These people, interestingly enough, are usually vehemently against the idea that there is a shortage of boys. They say that there are simply “too many older singles.”
Now, it cannot be that both of these “camps” are correct. Either there is a shortage of boys or there isn’t. And I don’t understand how we can possibly try to solve the problem until we identify the problem.
We need to find out the truth. Is there a shortage of boys? Or isn’t there?
There is only one way to find this out, and that is by making a count.
We can start by counting all the singles who are older than the age of 30. That should not be too hard. There are a few major shadchanim who deal with them, and they could be asked to provide lists. Every girl over 30 is certainly on the list of most shadchanim. Every boy over 30 is also certainly on the list—for different reasons. The girls are desperate, so they send their résumé to every shadchan, and since the girls are desperate, the shadchanim search the countryside to get hold of every possible name of a boy.
There are other ways to get accurate information, such as from high school alumni records. It really shouldn’t be too hard to come up with the numbers.
If we see that there are thousands of older girls but only hundreds of older boys, that means we have a numbers problem. And if that is so, the numbers problem didn’t start at age 30. The shortage was there from a younger age but didn’t become apparent until many of the singles got married and the groups were narrowed down.
If the numbers do show that we have a shortage of boys, then we are dealing with a completely different crisis than if the numbers are even. Until there is clarity about this, nothing constructive can occur.
Great idea! Does anyone out there want to volunteer for the job? We would be interested in facilitating such a study… Let us know!
Thank you for addressing this important issue. Currently, the community is dependent on a few shadchanim who may or may not know the couple that they are setting up. As an (unofficial) shadchan, I see that one of the untapped resources in our community is our youth who are dating. Every boy and girl who is going out has spent at least three hours getting to know their date; they also have access to many other singles. The new norm should be that any time a couple goes out and it doesn’t work, they call into a call-in center where a girl and boy can recommend that date to someone that they know. The call-in center would be staffed with skilled shadchanim who would follow up on these valuable suggestions. I would be very interested in developing this further. Should you have any leads please share my email address.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic. You letter portrays some of the residual difficulties that result from this issue. While your suggestions may help alleviate some of the pain during this period, it doesn’t address options to curtail or end it.
I read your article with great interest. I readily agree with you. Upon talking to people that have children in shidduchim who feel forgotten about, I hear that shadchanim are hard to reach and are few and far between.
Hashem, we know, is the master Shadchan. Nevertheless, we as kehillos and shuls need to step up and take achrayus for our fellow mispallelim and shul friends.
Most shidduchim happen through mutual friends and networking. To close the gap of a handful of shadchanim being responsible for thousands of people, we have established a project called Shul Rep. Every participating rav appoints a representative from his shul to be the liaison for the singles in the kehillah. The liaison’s job entails attending periodic networking meetings with other shul reps of similar types of shuls. We also arrange for a shadchan to be at each networking meeting to bring additional exposure to the singles.
The benefits of this model is that the reps are familiar with the members of their shul. Additionally, the average shul doesn’t have an unbearable number of singles, so a shul rep’s caseload is often between 10 and 20 people.
In addition, it becomes each kehillah’s achrayus, increasing the sentiment that we are all in this together.
Since we started this project, close to 40 shuls have signed up. We have held three networking meetings so far in which close to 200 shidduchim were redt.
There is a lot more work to do. My wife and I have been doing this and we need help. We need to create community liaisons for Brooklyn, Monsey, out of town, etc. We need community coordinators working together to create these meetings. We are just getting off the ground, and we need to create a paradigm shift in the way shidduchim are looked at. If you don’t have children in shidduchim but your neighbor does, the achrayus is on you and me and each and every person within the kehillah to help out.
The success of this project hinges on the number of shuls that sign up. The more reps, the more networking. The goal is to make sure no single in shidduchim is forgotten about.
Before focusing on a specific solution, wouldn’t it be prudent to clarify the cause of the problem? Why are there so many single girls? Why is it a problem that seems to affect girls so much more than boys? If the problem is a logistics issue (getting girls to meet boys), creating solutions such as yours would be a game changer. On the other hand, if it’s true that there are more girls than boys, expediting the shidduch process wouldn’t alleviate that issue. It would be akin to responding to those suffering from a shortage of housing by hiring more real estate agents to market the existing houses and getting more people to come see them…
Thank you for your reply.
Different people who see the cause of “the problem” from different angles, and having clarity is definitely important, but my take is that every step that we take as a klal in the area of shidduchim is one step closer to “solving” the shidduch crisis. I don’t think shul reps are the answer to all the issues, but if as a result of every meeting 75 girls are redt shidduchim, that is a big accomplishment. Every concept and idea that pushes shidduchim in any way is another step.
I don’t know the real numbers on the ground, although I’ve heard some from different people. We try and make inroads wherever possible. That is our chovas hahishtadlus, and the Ribono Shel Olam will send success our way.
What you are doing is truly commendable, as far as effort and caring. However, it remains for us to answer how we have alleviated anything if we are just redting more girls (75-plus per meeting) to the same number of available boys. Each boy will marry only one girl, which would eventually happen with hardly any effort at all… It seems that this solution is just arranging more dates for these boys with more girls before that happens.
It breaks the heart to see these girls—many of whom are talented, ehrlich, and successful and come from the best of families—getting older and older with no hope in sight. I think at this point everyone agrees that the cause of the shidduch crisis is the age gap, meaning that in the average marriage the husband is a few years older than his wife, making the pool of eligible girls bigger than that of boys. Over the last few years, much time, effort, and money have been poured into a campaign to try to convince bachurim to start dating earlier. While this campaign has seen some success, and there is a percentage of boys entering shidduchim and getting married younger, that percentage doesn’t seem to have increased in the last couple of years, and it seems that the success of the campaign has stalled.
I think at this point the logical solution would be for us to collectively try to start making close-in-age shidduchim, with boys dating girls who are out of seminary for a few years, closer in age to themselves. Aside from the obvious benefits for the shidduch crisis, often girls who are out of seminary for a few years have a nice sum of money put away which can help the couple in a big way a few years down the line. These girls may also have advanced in their careers in those few single years in ways that they couldn’t have been able to had they been married, and therefore, they may be earning a higher income. Additionally, many parents would love for their daughter to come home from seminary and settle down before entering the parshah but feel the pressure to start shidduchim right away. If boys and mothers of boys would give preference to girls who are a bit older, people would be more comfortable waiting a little.
As for those who might say that such girls are burnt-out from shidduchim, the reality is that most of them aren’t, as girls usually don’t date so often and have single friends to spend time with and enjoy. I think it is safe to say that often, a bachur who was in shidduchim for a few months is more burnt-out than a girl who was in shidduchim for a few years.
There are so many ads trying to convince people to redt shidduchim, but unfortunately, they don’t stress the importance of redting closer-in-age shidduchim. People must know that when they redt a 19-year-old girl to a 23- or 24-year-old boy, not only are they not helping the shiddduch crisis, they might actually be making it worse.
So please, shadchanim and mothers of boys, give preference to résumés of girls who are closer in age to the boy, who, besides the many ma’alos that they might have, have added life experience, maturity, and even money. Together, may we solve this shidduch crisis and create doros for every one of the Ribono Shel Olam’s daughters, b’siyata d’Shmaya.
Learning Veiter—After the Wedding
Our sons all want to learn and learn and learn and learn and sit in beis midrash for years before going to Eretz Yisrael to learn for at least one year there, and then they want to learn veiter for another four years in BMG…before even thinking of coming out of the freezer. Baruch Hashem for all that limmud haTorah. So, our sons are 28 or 30 years old when they finally decide to start shidduchim.
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, our daughters are 18 or 19, they just came back from one year of seminary in Eretz Yisrael, and they’re ready to begin shidduchim with the goal of marrying a “good learning boy.” But there aren’t any available because they’re all still learning, in “the freezer.”
Now, let’s create a brand-new parallel universe: The roshei hayeshivos are mesaken a new mandate: our yeshivah’leit must begin shidduchim at age 20, immediately after returning from Eretz Yisrael. Then, perhaps there’s half a chance of a proper shidduch happening between a 20-year-old bachur and an 18- or 19-year-old girl. But what about the boy’s learning? No problem! The couple have a beautiful Lakewood chasunah and then he continues his learning! For another eight years? No problem! At least they’re married now, baruch Hashem.
As for parnassah? Still no problem! As Lakewood, Jackson, and Toms River continue to grow, so does the Voice of Lakewood—and you give all the new young wives jobs at the Voice! Problem solved!
(And then I woke up and told my wife, “Ah, chalom chalamti—what a dream I had!”)
A Gezunte Krenk
I really enjoy your magazine. It certainly has enhanced our recent move to Lakewood.
I have baruch Hashem been involved in shidduchim for the past 31 years. The term “shidduch crisis” was coined about 13 years ago. I remember that my son, then learning in Eretz Yisrael, was reading one of our popular magazines. One week it spoke about the shidduch crisis; the next week it was more on the shidduch crisis. He was 20 years old, as were his roommates. All they talked about was how they were getting “farnerved” by the articles.
Shidduchim has never been easy. “Kasheh k’krias Yam Suf” didn’t start recently. I remember my mother a”h telling me how in her day, shidduchim was definitely a challenge. She was from a wealthy Polish family from Chrzanow, Poland. She waited for her siblings, and she got engaged on September 3, 1939, when she was 27. Unfortunately, the war had broken out two days before.
Girls from poor families often married an alman with kids, boys didn’t get married at a very young age, etc. The difference was that someone in Chrzanow, Poland, didn’t know what was going on in shidduchim in a town in Hungary or even in the next town. There wasn’t instant news, and there was no texting, WhatsApp, email, etc. The numbers didn’t loom so large because most people didn’t hear about them. Clearly, the shidduch situation was no different than it is today. It wasn’t easy—not for the poor, nor the middle class, nor the rich.
When I first started redting shidduchim, the community was much smaller than it is today. Information was easier to obtain, and people knew more about each other. There weren’t any résumés, people didn’t check into the other side for a week or more, and our community was definitely less complicated. Baruch Hashem, our community has grown, people have larger families, etc.
What we do need is more people involved in redting shidduchim. We are short on manpower. We also have things to learn—our expectations should be more realistic, we need to be less judgmental… Yes, the parshah is a challenge—it’s a “krenk,” but clearly a “gezunte krenk.” Let’s be positive. Let’s leave the word “crisis” out of our lexicon. Let’s increase our emunah. Clearly, the Ribono Shel Olam wants kiyum Klal Yisrael, and no shidduch will be left behind.
Although I have tremendous respect for your dedication to community service for so many years, I beg to differ. While it is certainly debatable (and possibly even provable) that we have far more older single girls today than ever before, that’s beside the point.
Does leaving the word “crisis” out of our lexicon make it less of a crisis to the large number of single girls? Does the fact that a problem existed for a long time mean that we shouldn’t attempt to do something about it?
A Framework for Older Girls
While I don’t have any new ideas or insights into the current shidduch crisis (and yes, there is one; anyone who denies that there is a problem should speak to a few girls who are actually in the parshah before they declare that everything is fine), I would like to commend Ari Berkowitz for bringing up this important topic. The problem seems to be getting worse with each passing year. In my three years home after seminary, I went out with three boys—that’s one boy per year! And these three boys are the only three yeses we have gotten.
The school system for girls was created through 12th grade/seminary with the expectation that they will then get married, but because this is currently not the case for many girls, something must change. If girls are not able to get dates, we must create some sort of anchor or support system in the years following seminary. Just as we wouldn’t expect a bachur to be out in the world on his own and still maintain his standards, there is no excuse for allowing our girls to be on their own and still hope that they will maintain their hashkafos and idealism that their parents and mechanchim worked so hard to instill in them during their school years.
A single girl
I read your column with interest as I have quite a few relatives who are older singles. There are many reasons for the so-called “shidduch crisis,” and each of those reasons is debatable. However, there is one explanation that I haven’t seen much publicity about, but have seen it play out many times as a cause for people not getting married: Many girls and boys don’t really know anything about building a Torah-true marriage. They want to get married because that’s the next thing to do, so they create a mental “shopping list” of qualities their dream spouse should have which is really not realistic. Also, many feminist ideas have influenced our way of thinking and acting, and a lot of non-Jewish ideas have influenced our ideal picture of marriage. That being said, the girls and boys go out with a very different outlook than that of previous generations.
In past years, there was an idealism of “I want to get married so I can build a Torah home and build Klal Yisrael.” That mindset doesn’t allow one to focus on all the details that don’t truly impact marriage. I think that if we start teaching and guiding our teens about the Torah way of life and the priorities of a Torah marriage, they may have more idealism and they may have an easier time jumping into a shidduch that doesn’t quite match their “shopping list” but is still a perfect shidduch when viewed with idealism and a willingness to work on building together.
While it wouldn’t be fair for me to comment directly on the merits of your points, I would still suggest that this wouldn’t explain why there is a larger number of older single girls than there are older single boys. It would seem that even if every girl would drop every item on her “shopping list,” no more marriages would result…with very few remaining boys to match them to.