Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Orthodating gone meshuga?


The whole situation of division of the sexes in ways never even imagined by our parents and grandparents is a big problem. Even when the young men and women get together, they don't know how to talk to one another because they have NEVER been around a person of the opposite gender who wasn't related to them.

One who adds to Torah subtracts. In this case, they are subtracting far too many opportunities for successful Jewish marriages. There is no reason to sit apart unless the men are praying. Can we PLEASE get our young people together??? This whole thing is completely ridiculous!

Aug 29, 2007 20:46 | Updated Aug 29, 2007 20:46

'Rather than being selective about a potential spouse's values, ambitions and character," says EndTheMadness founder Chananya Weissman, "a growing number [of observant singles] are focused on things like what high school the person went to, or what the parents or siblings do for a living. This is not content that has any basis in terms of starting a marriage."

As a result, he claims, fewer and fewer are finding mates, and more and more are divorcing the ones they have.

This state of affairs has been a source of worry to Weissman - a 29-year-old unmarried rabbi and owner of an eBay company - who established his non-profit organization nearly five years ago to combat it.

At fault, he argues, are several factors converging simultaneously. One is a shift on the part of the younger generation toward more stringency where rituals such as modesty are concerned - which makes "normal" meeting opportunities between boys and girls scarce. Another, a byproduct of the first, is the increasing reliance on matchmakers. This wouldn't be so bad, says Weissman - a resident of New York, where the bulk of his organization's activities take place - if pairing up people for blind dates involved substantive considerations, rather than superficial ones.

In an hour-long interview in Jerusalem (where, earlier this month, EndTheMadness sponsored a two-part discussion series, in conjunction with Habe'er and Congregation Beit Yosef, on the challenges facing the Orthodox dating scene), Weissman urges people to get to know themselves before seeking a significant other. He also bemoans what he believes is a lack of faith in God in the realm of spouse-searching. "If we date in an ethical and healthy way," Weissman assures, "He will guide us through the process, just as He does in every other aspect of our lives."

Why "EndTheMadness"? What's the madness you're referring to?

It's the insanity that's taken over the Orthodox dating world. It's a corruption of Jewish values; a change of attitudes from the days when our parents and grandparents were dating. Today, many otherwise intelligent and reasonable people go about their search for a spouse in an abnormal way.

What do you mean?

Our parents and grandparents could meet socially in many different ways, even within the framework of Jewish law. They would meet in the synagogue, in school, in summer camp, at political rallies, wedding meals - perfectly normal and natural places for people to meet. Nowadays, a lot of those avenues have been closed off for singles.


Ostensibly because of modesty and Jewish law, but the pendulum has swung a bit too far. The price that's paid is that singles aren't meeting and getting married.

Are you saying that the younger generation is more frum [observant] than their parents?

Ostensibly, but this extreme behavior isn't really frum. There are rabbis married today who met their wives at social functions back then - so it was perfectly normal in the framework of Jewish law. But today it's being interpreted differently, which is why singles are not having the same opportunities to meet.

How did this happen?

What often happens in New York City, where I grew up, is that kids from Orthodox families might even attend a co-ed school for 17 years, and then they go to Israel for six months or a year and sort of "frum out" and change their whole value system.

Why Israel, of all places - which has the reputation of being not observant enough?

Many kids from Orthodox homes go to very sheltered yeshivas, where the influence of the rabbis is very strong. And while they're learning Torah, which is good for them, sometimes they simultaneously undo all the perfectly good values their parents have taught them. Young kids are very impressionable, and it's not healthy for them to be abandoning everything that they've been taught for the first 17 years of their lives in a short time span.

Do the parents of such kids generally disapprove when their kids go to Israel and transform? Or are they relieved that their daughters are staying away from boys?

A lot of them are torn. On the one hand, they see their children coming closer to their Judaism, and they're very proud of it. On the other hand, they might have issues with some of the changes they see in their kids. This is a very difficult situation, because there's a lot of social pressure on these kids, many of whom simply follow a path of Judaism that is expected of them, as opposed to one that's based on learning and research. And that's how they're making choices.

What kind of pressure is being exerted on them in relation to choosing a potential spouse?

One thing girls are often told when they're in Israel is that they should only look for a boy who's planning on learning Torah for the rest of his life. Some of these girls might have grown up in homes in which it was normal for both the husband and the wife to have gone to college and work for a living, and now they're being told to completely change their value system - to marry somebody with no plans of ever going to college or getting a job. Obviously, that lifestyle would be very different for them. That's one example of a radical change the girls are being pressured into.

Pressured by whom?

By their teachers in Israel and by their social circle. They see what their friends are doing, and they feel pressure to do the same things. For example, the girls will see their friends going out on dates and getting married, and they'll feel pressured to get married as well, even though they might not be ready for it. There's not a certain age at which people are ready to get married; it's a certain stage in life and growth. Some people are ready at 18 and some are not ready until they're in their 30s. But seeing your friends get married is not a very good reason for doing it.

What you're saying could be construed as contradictory. On the one hand, you're saying that Orthodox singles are finding it hard to meet and marry; on the other hand, you're saying they're liable to get married too quickly because they see all their friends doing it.

It's both. Because they have fewer opportunities to mingle, these people are relying more on shadchanim [matchmakers]. The shadchanim begin by nitpicking on the details of what constitutes a good match, and the singles themselves nitpick along with them. Now, if you are going to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you certainly should be picky. However, singles today are being picky about the wrong sorts of things. Rather than being selective about a potential spouse's values, ambitions and character, a growing number are focused on things like what high school the person went to, or what the parents or siblings do for a living - not content that has any basis in terms of starting a marriage with somebody. When a single chooses not even to go out with somebody on a first date based on such things, it's a big problem.

You make it sound as though this phenomenon only occurs in the Orthodox community. In fact, it's something you could say about all singles.

It's not necessarily restricted to the Orthodox. But I'm an Orthodox Jew, and these are the people I associate with most closely. And I see it happening a lot more than it used to.

What do you mean by "Orthodox"?

I'm using the term in a general sense. In fact, I'm actually starting a campaign to get rid of all the labels, since labeling is part of the problem. If a matchmaker asks a person what he's looking for in a potential spouse, and the person says, "I'm looking for someone modern Orthodox," what does that mean, really? It can mean 10 different things to 10 different people. I was once screening people for one of the Shabbat retreats we ran, and I asked participants to tell me a little bit about themselves, for the purpose of matching them up with hosts and meals, etc. Some gave me very thoughtful answers - about their personalities, their goals in life, different challenges they face, different qualities they're proud to have - indicating that they really know who they are, and the kind of person they would be happy with. Others gave me short answers like, "I'm modern Orthodox," to which I replied, "Excuse me, I've never heard that term before. Can you tell me what it means?"

One girl explained that it means she watches movies. So I said, "OK, why don't you just tell me you watch movies, then?"

When I probed a little deeper, people would really struggle. They got frustrated and upset, and couldn't really tell me anything. I actually advised some of them to go out on a date with themselves for a few hours and do some hard thinking about who they really are. If you don't know who you are, you don't have a very good chance of finding somebody who's right for you.

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