Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Shidduch Crisis


Today's news is full of stuff about the Shidduch Crisis. First, on the side of not marrying young, is "Yael," who writes in YNET that "Marriage can wait" and discusses the problems she has encountered as a young married woman in a traditional relationship. On the other side, wanting his daughter to marry right now, is Shmuley Boteach, who writes in JPost about how every man should be a matchmaker.

They are both right and they are both wrong.

First, there is a HUGE shidduch crisis, and its reasons for being are very complex. First, I would argue, is the problem of separation of the sexes, even during times when it is not required (like meals at weddings), and from early childhood in school.

How will our children grow up with healthy ideas about the opposite gender if they are never around them? My son, who goes to a mixed Modern Orthodox high school, discussed this problem with me recently. He said he attended a Shabbat luncheon at a local family's home. At the luncheon were girls from the segregated girls high school, and girls from his high school. He told me the girls from the segregated high school just stared at him and never talked to him. It was, according to him, very uncomfortable.

How will these girls ever talk to a boy--even one they are married to?

On the other side are the boys who attend the boys high school who won't even look in the direction of a girl, let alone sit at the table with one. I wonder what they will do when it comes to meeting a girl or talking to one--even one they are married to?

My younger sons attend a school where they are subjected to punishment if they even say hello to a girl in school (save your breath, we don't have a choice here!). Even if the girl is their sister, they cannot address her in school--and this is the policy from the time the children are in first grade. My sons are friends with girls outside of school, and I have received phone calls, and was called to meetings by the administration of the school because they are friends with girls outside of school. The community has also passed completely false stories about my sons (for example, saying that they call another boys house and "patch in" girls on a communal line so that they can talk to girls too--when we don't even have that feature on our phone and they don't have a cell phone.)

There is a strange, unhealthy fear of boys and girls friendships going on--and I can clearly see how the shidduch crisis starts. The boys and girls are taught to fear each other until the moment of a shidduch, and when they meet, they have nothing to say--they just stare. They have never been permitted to talk to a member of the opposite gender before, why should we expect anything now?

Then there is the problem of the men wanting to wait before they marry. They want to wait for school, then for a career, then because it is easier to be unmarried and "play the field." Finally, at about 30, they start looking--and they want a 20-year-old! They don't find one, so, at 40, they want to "settle" for a 25-year-old. At 45, they want a 30-year-old. Oh, and by the way, she must look like Barbie and have a rich father.

The girls want to marry a "Yeshiva Bocher" with the best family, and won't settle for less than top-of-the-class whose family is "prestigious," and whose parents have never divorced, there are no disabilities in the family, and he can provide a six-figure income (at 20!). At 30, they will settle for a learned guy with a great bank account. At 40 they will settle for anything; unfortunately, that guy is out looking for 25 year-olds.

It's a sick situation all around. Perhaps there wouldn't be such unrealistic thoughts if they boys and girls would just meet one another at luncheons and be friends. Perhaps the men and women could sit together at wedding dinners and Shabbat luncheons, and we married-folk could initiate a conversation on their behalf.

Rabbi Boteach is right--the married folk need to start being match-makers, but we need some help from the community. I've seen the pictures of the members of great families meeting and sitting together at parties. I have read all about the dancing and recreational activities our religious elders participated in. We can be religious AND let our youth meet.

Our people depend upon this. When will our Rabbis stop being silly and start insisting upon our children and our young people mixing in appropriate surroundings? We need some leadership here, or a generation of young people will never find their mates.

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