The myths and realities of “The Shidduch Crisis”

Guest Post by Rabbi Josh Yuter

There are few topics in Jewish society which can simultaneously evoke rage, empathy, and unsolicited opinions and advice as Jewish dating. To take just one example, my statistical analysis of dating prospects drew approval from other frustrated singles, criticism for contradicting the positive experiences of others, and suggestions as to other sites to try and even a few specific set-up offers. Aside from the blog posts here and elsewhere, there are numerous books on the world of Jewish dating including “Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures,” which ironically can be added to your wedding registry.

To be sure, I’ve done my share of personal reflections as a single – after all it’s great blog fodder. Longtime loyal readers may recall such classics as The Harm in Being Nice, Waiting on a Friend, The Mind of a Matchmaker , and Top 10 Dating Questions – all of which for the most part still holds up today. And I’ve been guilty of offering my own Guide to Jewish Dating and another one specifically for online dating sites. But fast forward several years, countless women, forgettable dates, even more encouragement, criticism, and unsolicited advice, I am still single. However in the past few years serving as a Rabbi I’ve also gained a much better perspective. While my community attracts young Jews, it is by no means a “scene” which means there is significantly less communal pressure for single’s to get married. Furthermore, I have personally adopted a “no dating congregants” policy, meaning my religious communal experience of synagogue attendance is uncharacteristically devoid of any pretense of trying to impress women.

Thus I write from the relatively unique perspective of being a single rabbi – aware of the struggles of others while experiencing the same challenges first hand. Consider it unintentional participant observation if you will. And with this dual perspective I have come to the following conclusion: the so-called “shidduch crisis” is a collection of myths which only exacerbate the social pressures and anxieties at the core of the Jewish single’s community, specifically the denial of individuation.

Let’s start with just one example of the alarmist rhetoric regarding Jewish singles. Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld writes on the Orthodox Union’s website:

Shidduchim – Singles
12. Treat the topic of singles like the crisis it is. This is a plague affecting all segments of Orthodoxy and threatens our very continuity. Synagogues and organizations must put this on the front burner. Singles themselves must change attitudes. Women must put marriage before career. Men must consider the woman as a valued helpmate not just as a means of advancing their own life goals, be it career or learning. There is more to a human beings worth other than their money or looks.

There are several assumptions embedded in this paragraph which I hope to dispell one at a time.

Myth: Marriage is a Communal Issue

One would think that getting married is merely a union between two individuals who make a lifelong commitment to each other – i.e. it is a personal decision. But for R. Schonfeld, the “plague” of the shidduch crisis “threatens our very continuity.” From a demographic perspective R. Schonfeld has a point; the later in life Jewish couples get married the fewer Jewish children will be born.1

Procreation is certainly important in Judaism as evidenced by the rabbinic dictum, “the world was not created except for procreation.” 2. But there is no indication that the intent is simply to produce more biological Jews, and I would suspect R. Schonfeld and others would not promote premarital sex with the intent of producing babies.

Yes there are demographic concerns when the average marriage age rises, but the implication is that people should get married “for the sake of the children” or alternatively, singles should “take one for the team” regardless of the implications for their own well-being.

Reality: No one should get married to meet the approval of others and certainly not out of a sense of communal responsibility. 3

Myth: Getting Married is a Goal

Related to the previous point is the sentiment that getting married is an goal in and of itself. One example from an Aish column states, “Admitting that you’d like to get married does not signal an affliction; it’s merely a defensible life goal.”

Getting married may be a strong desire for many people, but by no means should marriage be treated as a goal. The dictionary definition of “goal” is, “the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.” Following this definition, the “goal” of getting married can be accomplished simply by getting married disregarding any concern as to the quality of said marriage. If marriage is a goal then people should just marry the first consenting person who comes their way and as soon as the ring is taken mission accomplished.

Reality: Marriage is not an end but a beginning of a lifelong commitment to another person. The goal should not be to get married but rather to have a healthy marriage, which due to its innate subjectivity must be defined based on each person’s individual needs.4

After all, increasing the number of Jewish children in single-parent homes cannot be good for our continuity either.5

Myth: There are Plenty of Singles

One of the most vexing problems of the shidduch crisis is how could there be so many singles especially concentrated in one community? In New York alone, one friend of mine estimates 400 singles in Washington Heights and the Upper West Side likely houses hundreds if not thousands more. Surely the number of singles ought to increase the probability of finding a suitable mate, which after all is a main attraction of these neighborhood scenes. Thus if someone is still single, it must obviously be their own fault, either for lack of trying or for being too picky.

Reality: At the risk of depressing singles, the true dating pool is actually a lot smaller than you think. It’s not number of singles in your neighborhood, but the number of people who are interested in dating you.

When I lived in Washington Heights there were hundreds of single women around, but few could be considered dating options for the simple reason that most weren’t interested. I had no trouble asking out women, but I found only about 15% said yes.6 My experience in person is similar to what I found on Saw You at Sinai where only 18.42% of the women I accepted reciprocated. And this is only for going on a first date. There have been plenty of times I’d have liked to continue seeing someone only to be turned down.

This is not a call for pity – I’ve declined my fair share as well and knowing it goes both ways actually helps deal with rejection. I can accept someone turning me down because I don’t match what their looking for when I acknowledge I make the exact same decisions. We can quibble if our decisions are valid, rational, or appropriate but it does not change the fundamental facts of dating. Even if I fall madly in love with someone, if it’s unrequited, we’re not getting married.

Myth: Being Single is the Crisis

Which brings us to final and most dangerous myth of all – that being single is itself a crisis.

Reality: Being single isn’t a crisis, it’s a default. Certain cultures aside, we’re all born single. Are there difficulties associated with being Orthodox, Jewish, and single? Sure, but in most cases getting married won’t solve the problem and in many cases may make things worse.

  • Loneliness: Loneliness is a real issue, but it’s hardly unique to Orthodox Jewish singles. There are countless books, websites, or other resources which address loneliness. However, I have no doubt that the fear of being alone is a motivating factor for some people getting married or not leaving unhealthy (and sometimes abusive) relationships. Whatever the “cure” to loneliness is, rushing into marriage is hardly the answer.
  • Maturity: People operate on different timelines so “rushing” is perhaps too relative of a term. Instead, let’s consider getting married before one is “ready” either financially, emotionally, or whatever. Getting married is a huge responsibility and from personal experience I feel comfortable saying that not only are there very good reasons for some people being single, but they’re probably better off for the time being until their work out their own issues. And yes, I do put myself in this group for in retrospect I probably wasn’t ready to get married in my early twenties. We can debate if I’m even ready now, but I can assure you I’m in a much better state now relative to where I was.
  • Biological Drives: Assuming Orthodox Jews are strict in the laws of abstinence, the sex drive would be fairly high and women have the additional concern of a biological clock. But getting married for sex is an indescribably bad idea, especially when it’s not always so easy.
  • Finances: Raising any family is expensive and even moreso for Orthodox Jews who have to pay yeshiva tuition. Rambam in Hilkhot De’ot 5:11 writes that the appropriate order is to first establish a trade which can support him, then aquire a place to live, and only then should one get married whereas the “fools” get married first without any visible means of support. The harsh economic reality is that not everyone can afford a family and fewer still have the luxury of wealthy parents or inlaws. Pressuring singles into making financially irresponsible decisions – such as giving up a career when two incomes are almost a necessity – can only add to the stresses of marriage.

Regardless of how well-intentioned people are, asserting that there is a shidduch crises only serves to remind singles of their perceived innate inadequaces. They ought to be married, otherwise there is something wrong with them. In truth there could be hundreds of reasons why people are single ranging from personality issues to simply not finding anyone who is interested in them; often getting married comes down to a matter of pure luck.

If there is a crisis, it is with the Orthodox community’s obsession with getting married and defining people’s self worth based on marital status.7 We do not tell someone in an abusive relationship that they ought to stay there for the sake of being married, but we encourage them to find their own strength of self but we ironically have no problem negating that person’s sense of self when it comes to getting into that relationship in the first place.

Speaking as a rabbi and as a single the best solution I have to the shidduch crisis is to ignore any sweeping generalizations and focus on each individual. Every person at every stage in their life has their own needs and struggles. If anyone is interested in “helping” singles, first ask each person what those needs are, listen to their responses, and respond accordingly without the arrogant assumption that you somehow know what’s best for people.

Many singles are not facing a crisis of shidduchim but a crisis of identity, wrestling with existential questions most families simply do not have the time to consider. If we encourage singles to figure themselves out first as individuals and learn to trust their own intuitions, then perhaps we we not only have a stronger single population, but perhaps in the long run we will ultimately create stronger Jewish families.

  1. Since the shidduch crisis is typically cited in Orthodox Jewish circles I will assume lower rates of premarital sex – or at the very least out of wedlock pregnancies. ?
  2. M. Gittin 4:5. Though notably this statement is not particular to Jews ?
  3. See T. Sotah 5:1 ?
  4. See the classic Midrash in Bereishit Rabba 68:4 regarding the woman who attempted to randomly match up 1,000 servants. ?
  5. This is not a criticism of anyone who has gone through a divorce, with or without children. My argument is that viewing marriage as a finite goal and not an open process decreases the probability of having a healthy marriage. ?
  6. I gave myself at least 50/50 odds – I avoided asking out women who I could tell were disinterested. ?
  7. Even accounting for the question if marriage is a mitzvah consider B. Kiddushin 70a-b‘s discussion regarging marrying someone who is inappropriate. ?

More From YUTOPIA

Josh Yuter is an Orthodox Rabbi currently based in New York whose blogging interests include religion, politics, culture, technology. Rabbi Yuter develops his artistic/creative side through such projects as www.JewishGuitarChords.com, photography, painting, and some truly horrible esoteric puns. Click here to learn more about Rabbi Yuter or send him an e-mail using the contact form. You can also follow Rabbi Yuter on Twitter at @JYuter.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • WACKY MAC & CHOCOLATE PIZZA

    What you neglected to mention in your eloquent article is the fact that there are women who are pursuing money, and therefore, are rejecting you. Some of these women may be compatible with you, and may be single the rest of their lives, but insist on waiting for either a doctor or lawyer to be compatible with.

    I have a close friend who is a shadchan for older singles. I speak the truth.

    • Anon

      Is that so wrong, especially if the girl herself is a lawyer or a doctor?

    • editrix

      Conversely, men who choose to become teachers, social workers and rabbis have to expect that they are limiting their dating pool. It’s nice to be idealistic, but at the end of the day, these careers make less money then doctors, lawyers and bankers. This is not just a consideration for gold diggers. Women who want to spend a few years staying home with kids but want to maintain their previous lifestyle have the same considerations.

      • Puzzled

        Well, the issue is that such assumptions fail sometimes, and it’s hard to check out the individual cases. For example, I’m a teacher. If a woman is worried about being able to stay home with kids and maintaining the same lifestyle, she could marry me and not have to worry about this. This isn’t because I’m independently wealthy, but because of the unique nature of my particular teaching position. But you don’t realize this if you write off all teachers.

        I’m not complaining, mind you, and I’m sure I do the same in my own way. Just pointing out a problem with this strategy.

  • Yishai

    All I have to say is that your Jewish guitar chords site is awesome!

  • Dave

    Wow… the author’s experience and observations are eerily similar to my own personal experience and observations.

    The important thing for religious Jewish singles is keep in my hasgachah pratis, that it’s all for G-d’s plan. He has a reason for a person to be single or married at any point in time. The key is to find find and/or make a meaning for being single. If some good can come out of being single , then one can find purpose for the pain of loneliness and make it more tolerable, even the loneliness is not lessened.

  • A. Nuran

    An excellent, thoughtful article.

  • LBH

    I agree with you, but there is one point that you are glossing over. People who WANT to get married, and are looking, and cannot find success, do have a problem that they need to work out. Not a psychological problem, but just a problem.

    Those with experience helping coach them on things that matter vs things that don’t matter might actually help. Maybe they are actually being too picky. Or maybe not. But the thought isn’t crazy, and the same applies to other methods of helping singles. Saying there is a crisis is accurate if people who are looking and want to get married can’t find a mate. It’s not a crisis for the Jewish community. But it is a crisis for the singles out there and as fellow yidden we should help.

    That all said, I think most people who can’t find a mate have not come across the right one (and are not just ‘being too picky’.) Or they dont actually want to get married yet and are only dating because there is a crazy obsession with jews getting married at 20. I know plenty of people who would have waited until 30 if there was no social pressure.

    The real crisis is that we are pressuring young jews to marry before they are ready and under the pretense that they are not allowed to socialize with girls – they have to meet on a blind date. Its a high pressured recipe for disaster.

    What we need is for everyone to get off our backs. We also need a singles community that isnt UWS or WH. A frum singles community where people are happy being single and arent under pressure to marry. Nobody will stay single their whole life – when they are ready they will seek out a mate.

  • Pingback: Dating! « Abrahamic Notebook

  • Yirmiyahu David

    As a 33 year old single Orthodox man living in a small community this “crisis” is making me nervous. There’s too much pressure for me to date and marry from the community. I’m older, a Music Teacher (therefore poor), and in a small community there isn’t much of a pool to draw from. All that pressure makes me too nervous to be charming around the few women there are anyway. I’m starting to dread hearing the Rebbeitzin say “There’s someone who I think you should meet”. It will happen when it happens!

    • Alta

      Y.D. please don’t pass on her. you don’t know if she will be ” the one”.

      • Yirmiyahu David

        Alta, sound advice. Thank you.

  • http://www.frumfemale.blogspot.com frum single female

    cool post

  • S. Tefilinov

    Speakingo f single rabbis, is Chananya Weissman married yet?

  • RivkieZ

    So as someone who actually went on a date with you, I found you to be pretty narcissistic. You spent the entire date talking about yourself and worse yet, talking about your recent weight loss and diet regime down to the price you pay for tabachnick soup. You also spent a great deal of time talking about your master’s degrees and the PhD program you were hoping to get into — some Ivy league school I think. When the date was over, and it was at least 90 minutes, I doubt you had gleaned any information about me, who I am, what I like etc.

    I will give credit where it’s due. You are smart. You have one heck of a mind. You are intellectually gifted. But you weren’t a very good date. I would like to say that I think I got a skewed version of you but I’m pretty good at reading people and between our date and reading your blog and tweets I think I’m spot on.

    Care a little less about how awesome you think you are and stop needing to show everyone how awesome you are and you may actually find the love of your life.

    All that being said, you know how to write well and this was a thoughtful and reflective article (even though I disagree with some of the points).

    • A. Nuran

      That’s an unflattering appraisal. But it sounds balanced and honest.
      The author would do well to take it to heart.

    • ipitythefoo

      You are way out of line posting that on a blog.

    • editrix

      I don’t think it’s out of line at all. After reading some of the author’s other posts, I’m not surprised at Rivkie’s assessment.

      Josh, you can intellectualize the hell out of this topic. But it’s not going to get you married any faster. Some good cheshbon hanefesh, taking into account some of your date’s critiques, might do a better job of getting you to your “non goal” goal.

      One hint after being married for 10 years: You get more out of a relationship being a giver and a listener rather than a taker and talker.

    • Ansy

      umm, probably the wrong place to post something personal – thats some serious mevayesh berabim-age. Kind of thing that you email to someone, not tell the world, notwithstanding the fact that any other girls who would be prospective dates for him that are reading this now have an extremely colored view of him and wont judge him objectively, despite whether your description is accurate today as it may have been on the day of your one date you had with him.

      You should ask Hesh to take down your post before more people see it and should ask mechila directly from Rabbi Yuter.

      • joe

        I agree. But i also think Rivkie is bluffing and never dated him. Maybe its even a guy using the handle “Rivkie.” Anyone reading – ignore Rivkies comment as nonsense. If the rabbi really dated her he will recognize the name and make the decision himself on how to adjust. If he doesnt recognize the name he can determine for himself if he even needs to work on those areas. (I dont know him.) But regardless, he should do that privately and everyone else can assume the comment was fake.

    • http://frozentorah.com Hillel Deutsch

      RivkieZ,
      2 points:
      1) There are obvious halachic and moral/common decency problems with posting something like that in public. (If you want to say something to R’ Yuter personally that’s one thing, but in a public forum? That’s highly inappropriate.)
      2) It’s a more than a little shameful that you’re saying something negative about someone who put their name on the article while you hide behind anonymity. Your willingness to duck behind a wall and throw stones says a lot more about you as a person than anything you wrote about R’ Yuter.

      • http://www.bing.com/ Addy

        It’s much easier to urndestnad when you put it that way!

    • Yossi Mandelbaum

      RivkieZ,

      First, Josh is not narcissistic, not even close. I have been friends with Josh since the mid 1990’s and lived with him for 3 years. I have found him to be an excellent listener, has wonderful advice and insights, is always helpful, and very empathetic. You may be great at “reading people” but I actually know him. And so in light of your unabashed sanctimonious post I’ll just request that no matter how powerful a “reader” of people you are, please don’t go off on someone in public based on nothing more than your 90 minute “read” of them while on a first date.

      I was also struck by your presumed sense of entitlement. Was Josh “not a good date”? I’m sorry, but the purpose of a date isn’t for the poor shnook who got badgered into dating you with (doubtlessly exaggerated) talk of your amazing middot tovot, to entertain you. It’s to get to know the other person. It’s unfortunate that you waste the guy’s time judging the living daylights out of him, instead of being in the moment and trying to build a relationship.

      I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you are not married. (Of course you could be married and trying the worst possible method of cheating on whatever unfortunate looser happens to be your husband, but I’ll be gracious and give you the benefit of the doubt.) Has it occurred to you that maybe some of the reason why you are not yet married might be your fault? My point is that you are not in a position to criticize, certainly not publicly.

      But mostly, I’m amazed by the pure viciousness of your post. I’ve read Josh’s piece several times now, and I cannot detect any hint of a personal attack on anyone. He does not blame the women he has dated, he doesn’t insult anyone, he doesn’t even bring up the actual dates. It’s just a clear headed analysis of an issue. I can see no reason for the very personal nature of your attack. If you want to disagree with him—go ahead—I do it all the time. But your post is not only completely uncalled for, it lacks common decency.

      Nor did he discuss why he personally has not found a wife. Which leads me again to conclude this was nothing but pure cruelty, written for nothing more than your own cheap, cruel pleasure.

      It’s real easy to hide behind a computer screen and call someone out. But there is a real person who had the character and courage to carefully, thoughtfully, and bravely share some of his thoughts. You only saw it as a forum to attempt to publicly humiliate someone.

      And unlike you, I believe enough in what I am saying to not hide behind a pseudonym.
      Yossi Mandelbaum

  • Aha!

    I guess there is a reason why some frum people need a dating coach. Hatzlacha to all.

  • Baruch

    Nice job rabbi. You are a reasonable voice in a sea of black hat nonsense spouters.
    Shidduch crisis? It’s not a crisis. A tsunami is a crisis. This is Boring middle class people who prefer themselves, to spending their life with someone who they can’t stomach.

  • Mike

    I think the whole thing is a bunch of crap. I found my soul mate easily. Three times in fact! And I’m not done yet. I’m not trying to get it right. Just getting it is enough for me.

  • http://www.midrashicmusings.blogspot.com Seriously?

    I have no patience for all the “I am/was not ready because I don’t/didn’t know myself yet” line of horse manure.

    Marriage is about *two* people, growing *together*. It is not about two finished products finding each other.

    Single people are not finished. What they are (as they get older) is increasingly self-absorbed in every respect. It is worse than not healthy. And then they write posts like this that show a complete misunderstanding of what life and marriage are all about, deceiving others into thinking that somehow one must be “ready” for marriage.

    Complete hokum. One is never “ready” for something one has never experienced. If you work hard, you grow into it. If not, you fail. True about most things worth being.

    Sorry for the harshness, folks. At least I know what became of all the poorly-raised, spoiled rotten selfish brats I knew when I was a kid.

    • Yirmiyahu David

      Seriously?,
      I’m sure that you understand that there are more variables to consider than one can briefly reply to on a blog post, however…good point. How can one be ready for that which they have yet to experience? From my personal experience, you are also right about us older single people becoming increasingly self-absorbed. My lifestyle is modest but comfortable (see my original comment above), “comfortable” being the operative word, making it easy to NOT try. It is indeed selfish and negligent to the community, and all Am Yisroel to postpone indefinitely. Right? At least I hope you’re right. The woman in question is a 33 yr old Mizrahi vision who happens to be finishing her Masters degree in music and I’m a shy Litvish nerd. I should be stoked that she would even want to meet me! Ugh. “Thanks for encouraging me to think about it in more detail!” I say facetiously.

      • http://www.midrashicmusings.blogspot.com Seriously?

        Go get her!

  • Devora

    Maybe we’d have been that way had we gotten married as well. And that would be bad for us, our spouses, and the kids we would have had G-d forbid.

    • http://www.midrashicmusings.blogspot.com Seriously?

      Maybe. But the alternative – never having that kind of relationship, not having the unbelievable joy of children, not being able to have that level of relationship with G-d — makes the upside risk seem pretty insignificant by comparison.

      No older single person I know uses simple Expected Value (look it up) to make a decision. If they did, they’d be married.

  • Aaron

    Yossi, way to bust out the can of ass-whooping! It took a lot of courage for Rabbi Josh to write this letter. Kol hacavod!

    • Yossi Mandelbaum

      Thanks!