Category: Jewish Dating

The Myths and Realities of “The Shidduch Crisis”

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.

The Statistics of Shidduchim – A Case Study In Futility

One man among a thousand I found,
but a woman among all these I have not found. (Kohelet 7:28)


There was a time on this website I used to write about my dating life, which as it turns out I haven’t really done since 2006. I think I’ve avoided doing so for a number of reasons, the main ones being my being in a long-term relationship (since ended) and now a relatively public figure as a pulpit rabbi. However, in two days time I will taking a significant step in the dating process by leaving the popular dating site Saw You At Sinai1 (SYAS) as a paying customer.

For those unfamiliar, SYAS is essentially an online implementation of the blind shidduch / matchmaking dating system. Users create profiles, but instead of searching for other singles users choose matchmakers who do the searching and suggesting for them. Some prefer this method to avoid being contacted directly by creeps, having a reliable person vet out the weirdos, or less cynically prefer to have a mutual acquaintance look out for the interests of both parties. The obvious limitation is that a user’s options are entirely dependant on the judgement of the matchmaker.

As of this posting, SYAS boasts 595 matches made and there are of course hundreds if not thousands of Jewish couples who continue to meet through the shidduch system. However, despite empty platitudes of encouragement, it is obvious that this system does not work for everyone, and I would place myself in this category. Thanks to the records of my SYAS account, I will prove mathematically just how ineffective and futile blind shidduch dating can be.

In the SYAS system, a matchmaker suggests a match which is then sent to either the man first, the women first, or both simultaneously (to avoid deadlocks the women make this decision in their preferences). Once a match is sent either party then “approves” or “declines” a match accordingly. If both parties approve, contact information is released and it is expected that they’ll call and arrange a date. Simple enough.

Now let’s start with my numbers. The first recorded match I have is in 2004 at which point I was still living in Chicago. That gives us about 7 years to work with, minus 2.5 years during which time I suspended my account while in a serious relationship. Here are the stats:

  • 711 suggested matches
  • 152 of which I accepted
  • Yielding 28 first dates
  • And zero (0) meaningful serious relationships

Breaking down these numbers, I approved approximately 21.37% of all suggestions and of those women whom I approved only 18.24% reciprocated. Out of all 711 total suggestions, only 3.93% resulted in an actual first date. As pathetic as these numbers are, they don’t even tell the full story. In the event a woman chose to receive the suggestion first, it would not necessarily appear in my list and thus I could be under counting just now many times I’ve been declined.

One could look at these numbers and say that I’m too selective even though my percentage of approving women at 21.37% is greater than the 18.24% reciprocity. From my experience, here are the main reasons why I declined matches:

  • Already Friends / Dated – I don’t have an inherent objection to dating people I already know, but I can tell if I’m not interested. If I’ve already dated someone, no point in trying again unless there’s a good reason. On the plus side, it does give me a sense if the matchmaker is on the right track.

  • Too Far / Distance – I’ve never done well with long distance relationships, and since becoming a rabbi I have neither the time nor money to travel. Despite saying this explicitly in my profile I’ve gotten many suggestions for people who live outside of my stated geographic range. (The most inexplicable one was London). A bad sign since it clearly indicates the matchmaker ignored what I had to say.

  • Personality – This is a little more complicated to quantify. As I discussed in my guide to online Jewish dating, writing profiles can be tricky. More often than not, women on SYAS write horribly generic statements which tell me nothing about themselves such that I have no idea how this person would match the personality for whom I am looking.2Even off the site I’ve found that many people find it difficult to answer the simple question, “how is she what I’m looking for and vice versa?” Just recently a good friend was pushing me to date a mutual friend of hers, however she was at a complete loss at how to describe her beyond the generic, “nice, sweet, pretty” bromides. Following what I’ve said years ago, I will only invest time, energy, and money into people whom I want to date. Meaning, there has to be a good reason for me to go out with this person as opposed to me justifying my reluctance.

I’d also add that I’ve periodically gone outside my range just for the sake of not being too obstinate, though the results have been the same.

Then of course is the actual date itself. In my experience, absolutely zero (0) blind shidduch date in any media has ever produced a meaningful serious relationship (though a few have resulted in good friendships). There are probably a whole slew of personal reasons for this, some of which I’ve explored at length elsewhere on this site. Both of the serious relationships I’ve had have come from meeting people in normal, if not optimal social settings.3

Has shidduch dating worked for some people? Absolutely. However, to insist that people continue to operate within the confines of a system which has clearly failed them is, as Einstein would put it, “insane.” One person is not a statistically significant sample, but I doubt my experience in the blind shidduch world is unique.

While I’m not quite giving up on dating, I am acknowledging based on the empirical evidence that this method is not working for me and it would thus be foolish to continue actively pursuing blind shidduch dates, let alone paying for the privilege. Since I started dating I would not be surprised if I have received at least 1,000 total dating suggestions; but like Kohelet, I have not found even one.

As Kohelet might say in this case, this is a time to move on.

1. The site’s name itself is sort of an inside Jewish joke, referring to Midrashic statements that all Jewish souls were present at the reveleation on Mt. Sinai. See for example B. Shabbat 146a.
2. To be sure, not everyone can express themselves verbally, but as I wrote in the guide to online Jewish dating, if you cannot get your personality across in a profile, don’t choose this medium since your profile is all someone has on which to rely. Additionally, it is possible to write good profiles; compare for example random ones found on Ok Cupid with any of the exclusively Jewish sites.
3. One at the first Edah conference, the other at a Shabbat meal in Washington Heights.

Using Facebook For Jewish Dating

It’s no secret that people have been using Facebook not only to (re)connect with existing friends, but to make new ones, usually based on mutual acquaintances. Given sensationalist news stories1 about the worst that can happen from Facebook, some are reluctant to friend anyone they don’t know personally, just as they would not immediately share personal feelings with random strangers.

But the Orthodox Jewish social world is driven very much through intermediaries. Upon first meeting someone, it’s normal for people to play “Jewish Geography to see if there are any mutual acquaintances. Additionally, many Jews will infer an individual’s basic character traits based on where a person lives or went to school, fairly or unfairly relying on internal cultural stereotypes. In the realm of Jewish dating, I’d guess that most people are set up either through professional shadchanim or mutual friends, intermediaries who ideally know both individuals personally.

While there are in fact several shidduch groups on Facebook geared specifically towards setting up members, I’m curious how many times people use Facebook to set up two mutual friends, or at least find mutual friends on their own and ask for assistance. For example, at this time I have 1,258 friends (I started on the site back in 2004), and many of those people comment on various posts and links such that we get some great discussions going. Or someone may see that I commented on someone else’s post and will follow the link etc. The point is it’s very easy to peruse someone’s social network, either stalkery actively or just through normal usage.

So my question is, to what extent are people using FB for online Jewish dating, given that people often put up more current pictures and share more of their personalities than they do on most dating sites? I’d guess the risk of meeting a creep would be just about the same and you’d have the independent verification of a mutual friend.

It seems so obvious I think I’m missing something.

Update: Turns out there’s already a website geared to such things:

1. And this is all from the past month.

Religion, Romance, and Rebbitzens

In my recent post “Defending the Rebbitzens” I discussed some ways in which the rabbi’s wife may be taken for granted by a congregation in terms of her communal contributions. Beyond those examples cited, there are many areas in which a rabbinic couple faces unfair if not unrealistic expectations, not the least of which is their marital relationship. Like other public figures or celebrities, the rabbinic couple is the de facto familial role model for the community, and subsequently held to a higher standard than “normal” couples. For better or worse, a community may look towards the rabbinic example with the intent to mimic their matrimonial model.1

This expectation no doubt can put a tremendous strain on a marriage, which some rabbinical schools attempt to address as part of the training process. Most of my colleagues in Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school were already married, but I do remember being told that those who were still single should not only look for a wife, but also a rebbitzen. Perhaps more helpfully, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah includes spouses in the rabbinic training program itself:

…we have instituted a monthly support group for spouses. YCT realizes that the role of rebbetzin is a complex one. Women come from varied personal and professional backgrounds and anticipate different degrees of engagement in their husbands’ professional lives. The support group, facilitated by a rebbetzin who is also a social worker, allows exploration of these issues and provides opportunities for students’ wives to talk with other rebbetzins who come to New York specifically for group meetings.2

It is clear that in addition to normal marital difficulties, rabbinic couples often must face additional if not magnified tensions. One such overlooked area of potential discord is, ironically, the matter of familial religious practice itself.

Conventional wisdom dictates that a healthy marriage is based on mutual trust, understanding, and a sense of equality and partnership. But while both the rabbi and rebbitzen may be equally passionate about their observance, the husband – by virtue of his rabbinic education – will be more knowledgeable than his wife in matters of religious observance. Thus, any religious dialogue will necessarily be unbalanced.

In order to convey this point, I will give a few general examples from my own experience in dating. In once particular instance I once found myself arguing over the proper use of a microwave in terms of kashrut. I was arguing my position based on my understanding of Yoreh Deah and she steadfastly held by whatever her rabbi said, regardless of whatever source I would happen to quote.3

In another relationship I found myself unable to even engage in the text themselves with my significant other. If I assumed a role of superiority I would come across as patronizing and condescending. On the other hand, if we exchanged as equals she would not be able to engage with sufficient textual and contextual background.

To be sure these exchanges may have been unique to my relationships, and I should remind the reader that I am still single after all. However I suspect these sorts of exchanges are not uncommon among other married rabbinic couples in some form or another.

Consider first that successful rabbis must already compromise on religious observance for their communities i.e. they know which stringencies and which leniencies are appropriate for their congregations. But at home one would suspect the rabbi would have some control over his own observance, if nothing else as a spiritually stabilizing element in his life.

Secondly, for a rabbi halakhic observance is not subject to negotiation like dishes, driving, or diapers. It is a way of life determined by ones understanding of technical legal sources imbued with religious significance, not to be traded for taking out the garbage.

Finally, even mature compromises will not prevent every possible conflict. For example, assume a rabbinic couple takes a position of respectful autonomy – where the husband and wife agree to follow their own understanding of Jewish law. This arrangement will only sustain until such time as one requires the other to compromise on their own expectation of religious independence.

Like any relationship dispute, the greater point of contention or seriousness of the dispute, the greater the tension. And just like “normal” marriages, rabbinic marriages sometimes do end in divorce. But given that rabbis and rebbitzens often live long and happy lives together, it is clear that none of these issues of religious tensions are necessarily insurmountable and that healthy couples can live together even with persistent religious disagreements.

I suppose the rabbinic couples may be considered role models after all.

1. In one extreme Talmudic example, R. Kahana spied (poorly) on his teacher Rav’s marital life on the grounds that even intimacy is a matter of Torah and must be learned by a teacher (B. Berachot 62a).
2. Friedman, Michelle. “Pastoral Counseling at YCT Rabbinical School.” Milin Chavivin vol. 1. (2005) p. 82-83. Despite this effort from the rabbinical school, there have still been multiple divorces and broken engagement, though it is difficult to tell if such rates are higher than those for other rabbinical students or the population at large.
3. There’s an often repeated story that R. Yosef Soloveitchik was once told by his wife, “you and your Shulhan Aruch are treifing up my kitchen.”

How to Handle

One of the reasons why I don’t post that often is because I try to let thoughts percolate so that I can post something more substantive than a reflexive rant. Last Friday I first found the OU’s new abstinence website and posted a quick response to one of their articles. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to read through all the articles on the site, and it appears I was inappropriately glib.

My argument was that the site was condescending towards teens in a painfully clumsy attempt at being cool and relevant. Other bloggers have similarly blasted the OU for either being naive or promoting an irresponsible health policy. But after carefully reading the entirety of the site, I have concluded that the problems are quantitatively and qualitatively far worse than initially reported.1 Sadly, the sanctimonious tone of the OU’s site is merely one example of a systematic disregard for teenagers and Torah.

YUTOPIA’s Guide to Online Jewish Dating

Given the accurate stereotypes of Jewish dating neuroses, it should not be surprising that JDate started way back in 1997. Since then a few more sites have popped up like Frumster which concentrates more on Orthodox Jews and SawYouAtSinai which combines modern technologies with traditional matchmaking.

Regardless of which site one choses, all dating sites involve somewhat impersonal forms of communication; all dating sites require a profile of some sort and with the exception of SYAS, an initial e-mail or response. Unfortunately, while the profile and e-mail are essential parts of online dating, it is apparent that people have no idea how to use them effectively. Profiles are trite and many initial e-mails are simply worthless.

That’s where we come in. After reading far too many profiles and e-mails from both myself and friends, we’ve decided to provide some simple tips in navigating the online dating world.

To Abstain Courteously

Update: Also see the later and more detailed post How to Handle
SIW points us to the OU’s new site dedicated to abstinence with the redirected link
SIW himself is critical of the OU’s position on condoms:

Read through the literature on the abstinence movement making its way through public schools and other childhood education, and you’ll find that it leads to decreased condom use among the sexually-active, that self-proclaimed “virgins” frequently choose instead to engage in sexual activity that they simply don’t consider “sexual intercourse” and tend to do it in an unsafe manner, and myriad other issues. Now, if you were thinking that when Jewish groups, with so many health professional among their ranks having spoken out against these pro-abstinence tactics, would veer away from suggestions that could tempt Jewish youth into unsafe practices, you’d be wrong.

There’s an exchange I had with my Niddah Rabbi in smikha which may help explain the rationale. Given the increase in sexual activity in the Jewish community (especially among teenagers), I asked if at some point we should encourage women to go to mikvah even single to at least negate the issur karet. The response was that were that to be the policy the result would be an even greater increase in sexual activity and no greater likelihood of taharat hamishpacha. I’m guessing the OU is doing something similar here, advocating a stricter halakhic stance, because allowing for anything less would tacitly approve of sexual activity.

What bothers me here is not so much the content, but the obviously condescending and pandering tone. From the design of the site it seems clear that they’re trying to speak to the younger generation – e.g. a section called “Your Bod” – but such attempts are like your parents trying to act “cool” and “hip.” This approach never works because it’s artificial and eventually the charade will be exposed. Case in point, here’s one attempt at cultural relevancy:

Deciding to abstain can be easier said than done. In our society, sex is literally everywhere, from magazine covers to billboards and from car ads to beer commercials. “Back in the day,” only soap operas might feature sexually active characters. Lucy and Ricky slept in separate beds. All Greg Brady might get after a date was a peck on the cheek. When Natalie lost her virginity to Snake on The Facts of Life, that was huge – and it was only 1988! Now, shows like Friends and Seinfeld, whose characters routinely jump from bed to bed, are considered “quaint.” The personalities of characters on shows like Will and Grace, The OC and Sex and the City are virtually defined by their sex lives! All this makes it seem as if promiscuity is the societal norm. It isn’t, nor should it be.

Demonstrating moral decay from television shows is not a new argument. While they get points for knowing about The OC and Sex and the City, who under the age of 27 would remember a specific episode of Facts of Life let alone I Love Lucy? More importantly, what teenager would find this argument compelling?

Teenagers may be growing up faster, but that also means that they can expose and reject condescending tripe much easier. In other words, just as the behaviors and mentality of teenagers changed over time, the OU would need to adjust accordingly. I’m not arguing against the OU’s agenda given the alarming rise in sexual activity and the dangers involved, but there has to be a more appropriate and effective strategy to communicate and influence behaviors.

Dates To Forget

Years ago at the Shabbat table my sister and I used to tease my father’s “selective” memory with the old joke “the memory is the second thing to go.” What made this funny was not the joke itself, but the number of times we were able to successfully elicit the appropriate response of “what’s the first?” Our amusement increased exponentially each time.

Sadly, it seems that I’ve inherited the selective memory gene, or at least as it pertains to my dating life. I first noticed this on a flight to Israel for last pesach. Trying to be friendly, I introduced myself to the person sitting across the aisle only to be reminded (very gracefully I might add) that we went out once about a year and a half earlier. Only after a good 5 minutes of solid thought was I able to recall the date. During that stay in Israel, a friend referenced the fact that I went out with someone with whom she was indirectly connected. This time it took a few days to make the connection and remember that I did in fact go out with that person. A few weeks later I participated in a Hospitality Shabbat in Washington Heights. It turns out I had gone out once with the wife of the hosting couple, but I had no idea who she was until I noticed her maiden name on her diploma.

My memory is generally flaky regarding people. Sometimes I remember a name, other times I can only remember where we met, and often I just remember that I know the other person and can go on naturally. Or I can forget someone’s name but recall some peculiar detail about the person. While I suppose it’s normal to forget people from time to time it does bother me when I cannot reciprocate even basic recognition. It’s especially troubling when I’ve met this person in the context of a date in which the entire purpose is ostensibly to actually get to know the other person.

I don’t think it’s a matter of cognitive dissonance so much as that most dates were, to put it bluntly, wholly forgettable. If a date goes horribly then we have comical stories to tell our friends. While I have my share of those, the majority of dates haven’t been good or bad, they just sort of…were.

I freely admit that it often has to do with my attitude. Given the number od disappointments and inappropriate matches, I can’t really get excited enough to put in the time, money or emotional energy to do something special. But even as dates should just be “getting to know someone,” conversations are generally safe and bland and this too is largely due to personal or ideological incompatibilities (I’ve even had to adopt the policy of avoiding talking Torah on dates). Regardless of the reasons, the results are the same. What should ostensibly be a pleasant outing usually becomes what I tend to call a “Date By Numbers.”

Mind you this doesn’t apply to everyone. Despite the frustrations, the dating process has also introduced me to some incredible and special people, some of whom have become close friends. The point is that some dates have become so perfunctory and meaningless to the point where people are interchangeable.

Even adopting a more selective approach in accepting matches has not reduced the number of pointless excursions.

I’m not going to reduce this to yet another gripe session on Jewish Dating or about how this is just part of a process etc. (Remember, I moderate the comments). Perhaps it’s just natural or inevitable to forget people who haven’t had a lasting personal impact, sort of like most grade school classmates. Even putting in more effort in the date won’t help if the other person is disinterested in reciprocating and you’d likely never see each other again.

Then again on the plus side, it does make the memorable encounters all the more valuable. And who knows, maybe one of those will be special enough that it won’t be one to let go.
Now that would be a first worth remembering.

Seeing Red At Sinai

It seems that everyone’s favorite shidduch website Saw You At Sinai has been going through some changes as of late. On 1/16/2006 the SYAS support staff sent out the following in an e-mail:

    As of February 1st, all new Gold members can select two matchmakers, instead of the current three. This will allow matchmakers to have more time for each of their members allowing for improved relations and even better quality matches.
    We wanted to inform all our GOLD members in advance of this change. Should you decide at any point to cancel your GOLD membership, you would then only have TWO matchmakers upon upgrading to GOLD again. This change will take effect on February 1st.

There have also been some changes on the matchmaker’s side as well. According to my sources, matchmakers can no longer decline a single who requests them if they have fewer than 20 “clients” – regardless if the single is appropriate for that matchmaker’s network. There have also been issues with matchmaker’s offering suggestions on profile changes such that some are told to lay off critiquing profiles.

I’m going to guess that whatever official changes have been made were done in response to common complaints. The need for quality matches is obviously essential. Members lack the autonomy to conduct their own searches and are instead dependant on the judgement of others who may not know them or don’t take the time to read a profile carefully. Such suggestions can be very discouraging, especially to paying customers.

I’ve also heard some horror stories involving rude, pushy, or obnoxious matchmakers. Some matchmakers give very constructive advice about a profile. For example, blurry pictures ought to be replaced and profiles should be written using complete sentences. However, some matchmakers have been outright insulting, in one case telling someone that she’s single because she wears glasses.

Sometimes matchmakers take rejection worse than the singles and have berated friends of mine for daring to use their own discretion. For privacy reasons I won’t get into details here, but yes there have been stories even worse than my own experience.

The point is that there is definitely room for improvement. However, I am not entirely sure how the new policies will really help the singles find decent matches. Finding an appropriate match is a very nuanced endeavor, and I would think that from a significant quantity, the singles could choose their own quality. Also, there are quite a few profiles out there which could be improved and may help that person find for what s/he is looking by refining the content to attract the desired person.

From people with whom I have spoken, I’ve found that there is a great deal of frustration and cynicism about the site. One even made the argument that the site is more interested in keeping customers than getting them married. While this is an interesting charge against the overall business model of such a site, I’m not sure I’d go that far as to say the recent changes are intended to be subversive.

For the record, I haven’t e-mailed the site or Marc Goldman about any of these changes but I am curious if there are any single’s or especially matchmakers out there who can share their experiences with the site and its new policies.

Frumstats – 2005

A little over a year ago, I wrote the entry “Frumstats” in which I used the popular Jewish dating site Frumster to conduct socio-demographic research on the Jewish dating population. In that post I focused on the percentages of divorcees in the dating pool for two reasons. First, data on Jewish divorce rates can be hard to come by, but with dating sites like Frumster, the users themselves enter in their personal data thus making otherwise unattainable information available. Secondly, Frumster is after all a dating site so its usefulness for complete demographic studies is understandably limited.

I reran those searches from a year ago and conducted a few others as well. Again, the same disclaimers from last year apply. First this data must be taken in its context. Frumster represents only a small cross-section of the dating pool and an even smaller sample of the larger Jewish community.

However, even with these disclaimers some results are in my opinion significant enough to make people notice some of the ramifications of the modern day shidduch system.