It’s not just demographics

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We will all confront the shidduchim process at least once in life as participants, and hopefully again as parents of those “in shidduchim.” So it was no surprise that a recent column on the “Singles Crisis” elicited an unusually large number of responses. Most of those who wrote disagreed with my focus on demographics, and pointed to other societal factors that have made shidduchim such a harrowing experience. At least some of our pain, they argue, is self-inflicted.

Already a half century ago, the Chazon Ish felt that the most important question was too often left out of shidduchim investigations. Someone once came to the Chazon Ish to sing the praises of a particular shidduch that had been proposed for his daughter. The young man in question was considered an outstanding learner and came from a distinguished and well-to-do family. “I couldn’t ask for anything better,” the man told the Chazon Ish, and asked for his blessing that the shidduch proceed successfully.

But the Chazon Ish still had one question: “Did you ask if he would make a good husband? If that quality is lacking, it is not a good match, no matter how many other positive qualities he possesses.” (As related by Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz in his memoirs B’Mechitzasam.)

PEOPLE START SHIDDUCHIM WITH A CHECKLIST, and they are makpid on every item on that checklist kala k’b’chamurah. If the girl has the wrong color hair or the boy’s maternal grandmother the wrong ethnicity, there is nothing more to talk about. Moreover, those checklists tend to be societally generated rather than tailored to the needs of the particular individual seeking a life partner. We worry not just about finding someone with whom our children will be happy, but about what the neighbors will say, or the boy’s friends in yeshiva.

There are tremendous metzios (bargains) in the shidduchim market waiting for anyone who is not swept up in the nonsense of the world. Want one of the best learners in Hebron Yeshiva, with a host of other positive attributes, for your daughter? He’s waiting. But only if you don’t care about his mother’s maiden name. (Cultural differences between families are a legitimate subject of inquiry in shidduchim. The problem is when we substitute hard-and-fast rules for legitimate inquiries about a prospective spouse and his or her family.)

A large number of letter writers mentioned the need to avoid becoming locked into fixed rules or a one-size-fits-all societal ideal. One couple I know has married three daughters in three years, without the benefit of either money or yichus. None of their son-in-laws is exactly from the cookie-cutter, but each one is, in his own way, a great “catch” — bright, committed to learning, dedicated to building a home filled with love of Torah, and, most important, well-matched to his wife.

At least three letters came from men who married women older than themselves – one a woman 6 years older, with whom he now has six children. All professed to be thrilled with their choice. (I’m prejudiced about such couples– my grandmother was five years older than my grandfather.)

Three women wrote that among their Bais Yaakov classmates the most happily married were those who married slightly later. (Yes, I know that the plural of anecdotes is not data.) As one of them put it, no matter how much babysitting a girl has done or how many younger siblings she has, the vast majority are better prepared for marriage and motherhood at a slightly later age.

ANOTHER PROBLEM WITH CHECKLISTS is that they tend to emphasize those factors that are quantifiable (or at least which we think are quantifiable) – e.g., how much can the girl’s family give for an apartment, where does the boy rank in his yeshiva — and leave out intangible factors that may be much more important. In particular, middos often get short shrift.

A rabbi once approached the Chazon Ish for advice about a shidduch for the daughter of a major Torah figure, who had been murdered in the Holocaust. The Chazon Ish rejected the names of several budding talmidei chachamim who had been proposed, and suggested a young man who was not considered outstanding in learning.

When the rabbi expressed surprise at the suggestion., the Chazon Ish told him that when it comes to shidduchim one must keep a long-range vision, and the fact that a particular bochur shows great promise in learning and is the son of a talmid chacham does not necessarily mean that he is best-suited to carry forth the young woman’s distinguished lineage.

“On the other hand, a young man who is sincere and G-d-fearing can be expected to establish a family of upright bnei Torah through the generations, even if he is not considered outstanding in learning,” said the Chazon Ish.

Middos have a lot more to do with the success of the marriage than the “objective” factors that are so emphasized. Even in terms of the ideal of long-term learning for the husband, marital happiness is often a better predictor of success in learning than youthful promise and talent. And it is certainly a better predictor of whether children will follow in their parents’ path.

COMMON WISDOM TODAY is that there are not only more girls than boys, as I wrote, but more “good girls than good boys.” Those who wrote to make that point mean that there are more girls who will only consider marrying a boy who is committed to learning “forever” than there are boys capable of doing so with a bren. That, however, is a comparison of apples and oranges. Commitments made in the flush of youthful idealism may have little to do with subsequent reality. Not all those who undertook to support a husband in learning and raise a family at the same time find that they are capable of doing so ten years later, any more than every young man who expressed a desire to learn “forever” is able to keep learning with bren after a decade in kollel.

What is true is that it easier for a young woman than a young man to earn superlatives. We have not yet reduced young women to their report cards. There can be many outstanding ba’alos chesed. But, by definition, there can be only be a few “best boys” in any yeshiva.

Moreover, young women have many more opportunities to develop themselves and more areas in which to do so. A young man’s are limited. As the Steipler Gaon, zt”l, used to say, “The shtender does not talk back.”

Shidduchim, as the Gemara tells us, will always be difficult. We need not make them more so by asking the wrong questions and treating today’s societal rules as Toras Moshe.

Originally published in Mishpacha.

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12 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Why not put aside all preconceptions about age and make decisions based on the maturity and other qualities of the people involved?

  2. Michoel says:

    I posted on the previous shidduchim discussion that the idea of telling girls to start shidduchim later was a very bad one. I’d like to retract that statement in light of the many women that have posted explaining the advantages of being more mature. However, I still maintain that for those that have the maturity, earlier is better. Also, I strongly disagree with Fern’s assuming that socialogical studies are necessarily relevant to the discussion of Orthodox shidduchim. In the general society, a very large percentage of very early marriages are not what we would call “stable situations” to say the least.

  3. David says:

    Steve Brizel made reference to a tape by Rabbi Paysach Krohn on the subject. I highly recommend it. He has some terrific anecdotes that underscore how priorities have gone haywire in the world of shidduchim. One in particular is very relevant to the point Rabbi Rosenblum makes in this article: A woman called Rabbi Krohn to inquire about a bochur was was suggested for her son, and he told her that he is a very fine bochur, learns well, middot, etc. she then asked, “But is he a mechadesh?” Rabbi Krohn exclaimed, “How many chidushim is he going to say when he’s up at 3 in the morning with a crying baby?!?”

  4. Fern R says:

    Like Mison, I am very glad to see that people recognize that women (in general) make better wives and mothers at a slightly older age. I know this from my own personal experience as a woman and from observing other women.

    For example, I know a very lovely woman now in her fifties. People who knew her when she was a young mother would hardly recognize her today. She got married at 18 to a man who was 20. They, not surprisngly, didn’t have very much money, but had three very rambunctious boys, back-to-back right away. The stress of being poor and inexperienced with three little boys got to her. She screamed at her children and husband daily and all three boys remember being hit with a belt on a regular basis. When the mother had a disagreement with the family’s rabbi, she demanded that they leave the shul. That was the end of the family’s involvement in any sort of Jewish community. If she had been just a little more mature, and if the family was on a little better footing when it came to finances, I think things would have been much different.

    It’s not just anecdotes though. Every sociological study done on this matter has shown that very young mothers are more likely to abuse their children, and that the children of very young mothers are more likely to have delayed cognitive development. Of course this is not to say that there aren’t many wonderful mothers who had children when they were 18 and 19 years old and the children grew up to be wonderful adults. But if we’re talking about broad ideals for an entire community, then we really should think seriously about encouraging girls to wait until they’re in their mid-twenties before getting married and having children.

  5. de la costa says:

    it should also be said that ther is a place , along the religious spectrum, for boys who do not want to sit and learn, and for girls looking for earners rather than learners. i hope the system has a place for these 2nd class ‘rejects’….

  6. Dati Leumi says:

    “Even in terms of the ideal of long-term learning for the husband…”

    Why is this THE ideal and not an ideal? This sentence flies in the face of an otherwise very insightful article.

  7. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    My wife and I met on frumster.com. We had a lot in common, but we had checked different hashgafas on the profile. Fortunately we did meet and we turned out to be very compatible. Had we treated the profile as a checklist, we might never have met. It is bad enough that quantifiable matters can disqualify a shidduch before the couple ever meets, but for something as vague as the definition of “modern orthodox — machmir” to do so?

  8. HILLEL says:

    The Shidduch problem reflects the totally unrealistic, materialistic orientation of far too many young people, who have been hoodwinked by the gentile environment of romanticism and materialism.

    We need to reject the false and totlly unrealistic secular propaganda that constantly assails us, and to reconnect with our true Torah values.

    We need to readjust our thinking and priorities to reflect what HaShem wants us to accomplish in this life.

    Only then can we properly assess who is really suitable to help us accomplish our Torah goals in life.

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    Kudos on a superb column on an issue that generates much unnecessary pyschotic behavior within all of our communities. R P Krohn has a wonderful tape recorded shiur on what is important and trivial in this regard.

  10. Michoel says:

    Since Rabbi Rosenblum mentions the Steipler and the Chazon Ish in an article on shidduchim, I’d like to share a peripherally related thought. The story of the Steipler’s meeting the Chazon Ish’s sister is often quoted to show how awesome the Steipler’s yiras shamayim was, refusing to sit on safek shatnez (so the story goes). I think another important limud is that the Steipler traveled a very long journey to meet her. It has become quite common that boys with “lists” expect girls to travel to them for a shidduch. Parents that allow or even encourage their son’s to do that are doing them and their future daughter-in-law a disservice. In the course of my (over)involvement in Torah and Science issues, I saw recently that the Torah Sheima brings a medrash that is m’dayik in the lashon of Parshas Noach: “Zachor v’nakeiva yehiyu, if the the zachor is chasing after the n’keiva, let them in to ark. If not, do not let them in.” I don’t have the sefer in front of me but the clear idea (maybe the medrash says it or maybe it is Rav Kasher) is that if the femal is chasing the male, it is a sign of moral corruption. Obviously there may be circumstances where it is appropraite that the girl travel but it should not be the general rule.

  11. mison says:

    “the vast majority are better prepared for marriage and motherhood at a slightly later age.”

    Bingo. Glad to see we’re finally recognizing that this is true, even if our entire framework for dating/marriage is based on social constructs from hundreds of years ago (I see this as the case in all sorts of UO to MO circles, albeit to varying degrees). With that in mind, shouldn’t something be done, or at the very least discussed, to make it easier for singles to be single (VH’MY)?

  12. Shlomo says:

    You should take your own advice that “Orthodox posters are reminded that familiarity with cultural references and Hebrew terms are not pre-requisites for reading Cross-Currents.”