Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We Must Do Better- Saying "NO" to a broken shidduch sytem

“I thought of my daughter” the owner of the Ravens said, by way of explanation for why his team cut Ray Rice, who knocked out his wife with a punch, while fighting in an elevator. Ignoring the question of why it took seeing the punch on video to think of his daughter, there is something to be said for thinking of a victim of a crime, as if it had had happened to you personally. In fact, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l praises Shimon and Levi for feeling Dinah’s pain as their own, even if they expressed it the wrong way.

It doesn’t take much for me to think of my daughters when I think of the current system for dating within the orthodox world. I have heard horror stories from friends and families about shadchanim who ask the most inane and absurd questions, mothers of marriage-eligible “boys” (a contradiction in terms?) who have absurdly high standards, and the pain of women who can literally go months without being able to get a date. To top it all off, these women are expected to have a resume, accompanied by a picture, references and personal information just to have a chance at getting a first date.

Making things even worse, these women have been educated to have a laundry list of features that the right “boy” must have, including mode of dress, career aspirations (or lack thereof), and particular type of yeshiva. While it is fine and good to anticipate the Yad HaShem in finding the right spouse, we are obligated to put in proper effort, and limiting the potential pool of eligible husbands does not help matters. No less a figure than Rav Pam zt”l, when asked whether yeshivish versus frum-hesder was “lechatchila-bedieved or chocolate-vanilla”, said it was the latter. It pains me to see women discover only after many years of frustration, that they are comfortable with a wider variety of guys than they thought.

Instead of parents, teachers and rabbeim saying “enough is enough”, we talk about the “shidduch crisis”, offer more money for shadchanim based on some fairly arbitrary criteria, and use numbers to explain the problem. Years ago, I sat at a wedding and heard a rebbe at a boys yeshiva say that Rav Herschel Schachter spoke of having shabbatons for college aged men and women. For those who thought mixing in such a manner (I mean, my God, what do we think this is? TU B’Av?!), he replied that it is pikuach nefesh. While that might, at first, sound like hyperbole, for those who are alone, it is anything but.

So what can be done? First, it is time that we ask our daughter’s teachers to stick to teaching and not tell our daughters how and who to date. We are derelict in our duty as parents, when we relegate that role to others. Second, young men and women need to be given the opportunity to meet in normal and natural ways, rather than through the shidduch system. Studies have shown that men consider women who are nice to be prettier than those who are not. The current dating system makes physical attraction the first thing that is learned about a woman, both through her resume (really?!?) and when they meet. Finally, I would love to see women of dating age get together and refuse to play the game. If enough women, including those who are wealthy and from the “right” families decided to opt out until other options were available, things might change very quickly.

I’ve tried, in writing these words, to control my rage and pain that I feel when I think about the current system, but as a father of three wonderful daughters, I am angry. As someone who has seen friends and relatives in real pain over being alone (not just unmarried, but unvalued by the communities in which they live), I can no longer remain quiet. Think of your sisters and daughters and ask yourself if this is what you want for them. The frum community can and must do better.

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