By Shira Jacobson
Imagine a society in which people’s livelihood is determined by brokers. In this society, if a person is seeking a job, he must do so by means of a broker. These brokers are in charge of matching up all of the people seeking jobs with all of the jobs that exist. Every available job is controlled by these brokers, who are entrusted to find the best candidates to fill it.
When meeting with the broker, the job seeker is assessed and assigned a points value in the brokers head, largely based on external criteria such as family pedigree and how much money the candidates family has. The protocol in this society is that when the broker makes a suitable job offer, both the candidate and the employer will give a token amount to the broker based on what they can afford. Those who are likely to pay a higher fee to the broker naturally have a higher value to the broker .
By default, masses of people become dependent on brokers’ good graces. The thousands of job seekers, even if they are very qualified, may sit waiting for months with no calls of job offers because unbeknownst to them they have been assigned a low net worth by the brokers due to bad family history or lack of money. The brokers, meanwhile, are emboldened and empowered by this system. Only a minority of high scorers land jobs, while the numbers of unemployed keep growing.
Now, most people reading this narrative of a fictional society will scratch their heads and say to themselves that something is very wrong with this society because it would be unfathomable for people, thousands of people, who rely on much smaller group of people, who barely know anything about them, and in many cases don’t have any vested interest in them, to ensure their livelihood. In fact, most people would think it ludicrous that such a society would even exist because it is a system that promotes unemployment and would not be able to sustain itself. It is a society that would eventually produce a mass revolt: to remove the brokers and have the masses determine their own destinies.
As crazy as it sounds, this is exactly the kind of society we, the frum community of 2018, have created in recent years except that it is not job seekers at the mercy of brokers, but singles at the mercy of shadchanim that is the problem.
In recent years, we have created a system where the destinies of thousands of singles are in the hands of the few shadchanim. Many of the shadchanim are well meaning, but because of the large amount of singles, compared to the small number of shadchanim, they do not know the singles well, and have no vested interest other than the fee to be collected once a match is made.
Many singles wait for the phone to ring with a suggestion, but the calls do not come. In this system we have created, it is mainly the wealthiest and most prestigious who get worthy suggestions. All others are simply ignored or offered matches that are not suitable at all. The number of singles continues to grow and there are many older singles whose prospects of getting married get slimmer each year. Furthermore, because this has become the “norm” in our frum world, our singles have no choice but to subject themselves to this unfair system.
The problem has become so widespread that we have coined the term “Shidduch Crisis” and indeed it is a crisis of epic proportions. What I am saying is not news. It has been lamented and analyzed and reanalyzed for years now. Various suggestions have been made as to how best to deal with the problem, mostly by maintaining the current status quo but slightly changing the “rules” of this twisted system.
This has been a futile effort. The Shidduch Crisis still exists, and continues to loom even larger. A drastic change needs to take place very soon and if it does not the future of Am Yisrael is at stake. Power must be removed from the shadchanim to determine the destiny of single people, and the singles themselves must be given the right and the power to determine their own destinies by meeting each other in dignified ways.
Parties, events, and lectures where singles can mingle and meet each other naturally must become the new norm even for ALL singles INCLUDING yeshiva students. The only way for this to happen is for the leaders of our generation to take up this cry — both Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshiva. This is the only way to change a system that is only working for a small minority.
You may say that this is not kosher or frum; it is not the tradition or the Torah way. But this is incorrect. Yes, there is historical precedent in the Torah for a shadchan system, but in the Talmud, but there is also mention of singles meeting each other.
The Torah values marriage and family, and whatever method works to accomplish this is what the frum society should adopt. The advent of the shadchan as we know it today is a relatively modern invention, and it is clearly not working in our generation. We must implement a system that works for the Hamon Am, not just for the elite few.
Please do not say that we can have it both ways — we all know that if we say the elite will still go with the shadchan system but the others should go with whatever methods will work for them, then we will simply propagate the status quo.
Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshiva must make the new norm the norm for EVERYONE including the “elite”.
I know this may sound very radical, but it is no more radical than Sarah Schenirer’s plan in the early 1900s to create a religious educational framework for girls. Sora Schenirer was one of the few who recognized there was a crisis brewing whereby many Jewish young women were in danger of assimilation because they had no religious education. She realized it was an es laasos — a time to take radical action and went against the tide and fought against the backlash to for the radical solution to the crisis that was to change the Jewish future.
Many vehemently opposed her including rabbanim and leaders, yet she persevered, slowly gained support and managed to create a new societal norm which ultimately saved the Jewish people.
We are facing a similar crisis today. The future of Am Yisrael is in danger. We must act NOW. We must change the norm of shidduchim. Rabbanim must take a stand and encourage singles to meet and mingle on their own. This method of meeting must be encouraged and endorsed by our leaders for ALL singles. It should become the norm to have singles seated together at a wedding.
If our leaders will take a stand and change the norms to a system of mingling and meeting that worked very well for making shidduchim both in the days of the Talmud, as well as for our parents and grandparents we can avoid the disastrous direction in which we are headed, and we will ensure a better and brighter future for future generations.