Update on the Shidduch Crisis

The “shidduch crisis” is nothing new. Even as the debate continues to rage over causes and solutions, there is now a glimmer of hope that may bring an Intertops mobile casino jackpot win to the situation.

Background

Over the years an entire industry has arisen to address the shidduch crisis, dating mentors, marriage mentors, shaddchanim that specialize in specific age groups and populations and rabbis have joined forces to focus on the “crisis.” Are these efforts having the desired impact? It depends on who you ask but many observers say that, the more that the community places itself in panic mode, the harder it becomes for singles to embark on an easy and natural dating process.

Today’s shidduch crisis envelopes the entire Orthodox world, from the Litvish community to the Hassidic and most ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclaves in the tri-State area. The crisis, which has been a subject of much discussion for two decades, stems from the exponential growth in the Orthodox community and the differences in the ages of men and women of marriageable ages in those communities.

The situation, basically, comes down to demographics. Orthodox women are often ready to marry by age 18 or 19, sometimes after high school and, at most, after a year of seminary and some post-high school training to prepare them for employment. Young men, on the other hand, are generally not deemed “ready” to get married until they have finished several years of yeshiva – at the very least, age 24.

Since the number of marriage-ready men takes a few years to catch up with the number of marriage-ready women, when combined with the rapid growth rate of the population in these age brackets, every year, young women in their “prime marriage years” miss out because there are simply not enough men in their age groups to supply the entire young female frum population.

Many parents and shaddchanim are reporting that the shidduch crisis has shifted more power into the hands of the side of the potential groom. The families of the boys have more bargaining power and are demanding more from the girls’ families. They want a girl who can work and support the family along with, often, financial support from the girl’s family so that the boy can continue studying. Many girls and their families simply can’t meet those expectations and the girls “age out” of the marriage market. Families are also under pressure because any “blemish” can render their daughter “unfit” for some of these picky boys’ families – a sibling with a mental or physical disability, someone in the family who is off the derech, etc.

As young women age, their prospects dim. Many become less-affiliated with their communities, simply because they don’t “fit in” with their peers any more. While the girls that they went to school and seminary with are busy with husbands and children, they are on their own and are more likely to cast their nets further outside of their traditional communities.

Publicity

The publicity hasn’t helped much. One Orthodox magazine, Ami, called unmarried Orthodox women a “ticking time bomb.” A Jewish Press op-ed suggested that mothers see paying for surgical enhancements, like a nose job, for their daughters as an “investment in your daughter’s future, her life”. One publication called single Orthodox women a “demographic illness.”

It’s true that no formal studies have been conducted regarding the situation. Almost all evidence is anecdotal. But for many commentators – not to mention community leaders, shaddchanim and parents – that’s enough. A study conducted by a rabbi and an insurance analyst about 10 years ago, is often quoted, even though the research methodology seems questionable. That “study” predicted that up to 10% of young frum women wouldn’t marry.  While observations don’t seem to support those findings, it was enough to panic families and kick up talk of the “shidduch crisis” within the community a few notches.

Pressure

The pressure that the families of the girls are under can’t be emphasized enough. Marriage of one’s children is the most important goal for any Orthodox family. While being single is the norm in secular society, in frum communities, everything is about communal ties. It’s all about where you go to shul, which school your children go to, who you associate with, how much time and effort you put into your community, etc. If a young woman isn’t married and doesn’t have children, she is seen as, and sees herself as, a nobody — incomplete. Her parents are deemed to be failures for not ensuring her future partnership and status.

The reality of the shidduch crisis is attested to by the extensive coverage that it has received in the Orthodox press and within Orthodox communal organizations. Almost every Orthodox publication and organization has attempted to address the issue though, to date, no one has come up with “the solution” which, in reality, could only be truly solved if individual families agreed to abide by accepted norms that would prohibit certain dubious behaviors.

Solutions

There have been significant strides made to mitigate the difficulties of shidduchim to make sure that as many young people as possible find their beshert.

For one thing, dating “coaches” are now available to help parents and the young people themselves navigate the dating world. They give advice to the couple about what to discuss on a date, any danger signs that would indicate that the shidduch shouldn’t proceed, etc.

Frum publications have put a good deal of effort into shaming families who demand yichus, family ties, past school/seminaries/yeshivot and rabbis’/teachers’ recommendations and dismiss potential matches who have “something wrong” with someone in their family. These types put little emphasis on the yirat shamayim and middot of the potential match and Orthodox publications have been calling them out on that type of behavior.

A number of influential rabbis have called for the accepted marriageable age for men to be reduced or for men to be encouraged to consider “older” girls. This is still a discussion that will demand a significant change in expectations but at least the discussion has been opened.

Non-shaddchanim are being encouraged to get involved in making matches. The old network of “I know someone who knows someone who knows someone…..” can work and often does, but only if everyone sees themselves as a potential matchmaker.

Finally, shaddchanim are increasingly making use of technology to widen their nets to find good matches for clients. They are also more open to networking with other shaddchanim and sharing their databases for the benefit of all.

The “shidduch crisis” hasn’t gone away. But with a change in attitudes on the part of shaddchanim, families, communities and the young people themselves, the current levels of distress could soon turn into a manageable blip.

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