Singles and Shidduchim: Crisis or Opportunity?


shidduchimBy Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld

Rahm Emanuel is well-known for a political judgment he once uttered: “Never waste a good crisis.” Perhaps in keeping with this way of thinking, we have become very comfortable in tagging various societal challenges as being a crisis. It is questionable though whether every challenge that we face rises to such a level. More importantly, do we profit as a group if we are quick to depict every challenge in such stark terms?

One of the terms we have become well acquainted with in recent years is the “Shidduch Crisis”. The number of Jewish singles is growing percentage-wise in our community and we need to strategize. We have meetings with Roshei Yeshiva, we provide incentives, monies are set aside, and articles are written. In this piece I would like to present a simple thesis. Whether we have hundreds of Jewish singles or tens of thousands of singles, we have an obligation to act as a community. However, there is likely no “magic bullet” and the challenges may not be imposed solely on a few individuals who we hope will save the day by utilizing remarkable talents and efforts. This issue needs to be addressed by one and all, and we have the ability to ameliorate the situation. We need not have large resources available to us nor do we need to possess prodigious talents. We simply need to work together, across all “party lines”, and act in accordance within the spirit of Torah, which embodies “Darchei Noam”.

There is a basic reason why I feel the issue of our singles requires a concerted effort of our entire community.  It is based on a story I heard years ago concerning the Chofetz Chaim and the communal leader, Harry Fischel. It seems that the Chofetz Chaim was at a meeting and made a passionate appeal for a Mikvah to be built in a far-flung community. Mr. Fischel was quite moved and after the meeting he presented a check to the Chofetz Chaim to underwrite the cost of the entire project. This offer was refused. A chagrined Harry Fischel asked why his largesse had been spurned. The Chofetz Chaim stated that the mitzvah of building a Mikvah is so great, it must be shared by the multitudes. Some mitzvos cannot be handled  in any other manner.  The solution rests with the community first and foremost. This is likely true with our efforts for Jewish singles.

We all can emphasize with the plight of Jewish singles. The status of being single in a society where much involves family life is obviously one with undertones of isolation and vulnerability. In order to reach out to as many individuals as is possible, we all need to be enlisted in the task. Not all of us are naturally drawn to a life of activism or speechifying. But we have a greater weapon at our disposal; we are “Rachmanim Bnei Rachmanim”. This is perhaps the greatest prerequisite to being able to assist in this area. I will outline some simple proposals below. If you are serious about helping singles, consider one, if not all, of these proposals. Keep in mind the teaching of Rav Yisroel Salanter; “Mir darf Tahn Un Nisht Oiftahn”. (We need to act; we need not be fully successful.) Every effort will be worthwhile and will allow you to receive much more than you give.

1. In my community, there are a few individuals who get together on a regular basis and exchange information about people who may be seeking a Shidduch. Information is exchanged, ideas are shared, and people become aware of who is “in the parsha”. Age of the candidate is insignificant as the idea is to reach out to as many people as possible. Recently, a woman in Israel wrote about how she and her neighbors spent the many hours in their shelter, this Summer, after the sirens beckoned them to safety. High on the list was a discussion among the neighbors regarding Shidduch needs. It was a beautiful insight into who we are as a people, but don’t wait for sirens to gather some friends for a discussion on this topic.

2. I was in a new Shul once on Shabbos. After davening, the rabbi said that he wanted two lines. All who needed an invite for a Seudah formed one line and all who were privileged to provide the same formed the other line. If you are waiting for singles to come to you and ask if they can join you for Shabbos, you may have a long wait. Many singles stick with their friends because they are not comfortable venturing out into the larger Shul population. Many may even fear their request will be rejected. Seek out the singles in your Shul and make them part of your family for a few fleeting hours. It will mean much to them. It will mean more for you and your family.

3. If you know of a single who is seeking a Shidduch, talk it up. When you speak to friends, mention whose match you are looking for. It will take seconds of your time. It will also sensitize others that finding a proper Shidduch for singles is a high priority.

4. Commit yourself to one, two, or many singles. It means more than asking others about Shidduchim. It means an occasional call to ask about their welfare. A single may be far removed from their own family. Allow them to share their news with you as well as their hopes and aspirations. A brief phone call to ask if there is anything you can do for the person will go a long way.

5. If you are in a leadership position, use opportunities before groups, classes, etc. to speak about the need to reach out to our singles.  Advocate that programs and special events always consider the needs of our singles. We have set up invisible barriers at times between those married and those who are not. It is time to lower those barriers.

6. Yom Tov time is a difficult time for singles. A few years ago I read an ad by an area Rav. He invited all single women in his area to his Purim Seudah. Some had children and some did not. Is such outreach not the highest manifestation of a true Purim Seudah? This holds true even more so for Yom Tov and Shabbos meals when feelings of isolation are at their greatest.

7. Try to get to know some of your local Shadchanim. Engage them in conversation. Find out what they do, how they do it, which populations they serve, etc. Then if you find someone who needs some assistance, you can better go about the business of serving their needs by proper referrals.  Perhaps you yourself might consider being a Shadchan, volunteer or otherwise. Some Shadchanim work jointly with their spouses. It will be a wonderful mitzvah to do in joint concert with your life partner.

8. Read about the issues involving singles, talk about the issues, and share good ideas with others. Create a “kol” that this is a priority you have assumed.  Perhaps you will be able to draw others into the undertaking, as well, through your efforts.

9. I do not have all the answers to the challenge we are facing. By writing this I am hoping that others will use the comments below or Emails to me to provide additional, more effective proposals. No one person can do all the work that lies ahead, but as Pirke Avos reminds us, neither are we free to beg off from our commitment. Assisting those who are single is a great challenge, but the rewards for those who try to help are great as well.

Rav Yisroel Salanter once remarked that when it comes to our own needs, we must be “Maminim”; Hashem will help. When it comes to the needs of others, we may need to appear as Apikorsim; i.e. if I don’t help, it will simply not get done. As a community, we have met challenges on many fronts. May we work together to extend the hand of Chesed and activism to those who will rarely ask for our help but who will be most grateful when we come forward to be counted.

Note: The author is most grateful to TS for providing many thoughts that became part of this article.

Rabbi Rosenfeld is a Family Mediator in Fair Lawn, NJ and can be contacted at Rosenfeld@Juno.Com.

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  1. Some good points, I also would add that we should stop assisting the yetzer hora in breaking families. This would also lesten the amount of singles. We are more likely to help a divorce than to bring a couple together, since the yetzer hora is assisting us. As my mashgiach once said, whenever we feel a burning desire to do a mitzvah, it probably isn’t a mitzvah!

  2. all great ideas but so long as the age gap issue is not solved there will still be a crisis as there is not enough men. If we make the two populations equal things – will have a way of working themselves out much better. as the supply will equal the demand.

  3. This is a crises bigger than anything since the world was created. We must put everything on hold and deal with this overwhelming problem. Chanukah vacation should be canceled.

  4. While I appreciate the need for more involvement in shidduchim, the author is missing an important – indeed, the most important – nekudah. This is not a mikvah that can be built by others. These are people, and many of them (though not all) need to do the changing themselves.

    Ask anyone who has gotten involved in fixing up older singles. They started with a lot of passion; very quickly their bubble was burst. Singles (both boys and girls) may demand more than they ought to; singles (both boys and girls) turn down a date or a second date for the flimsiest of reasons; singles (both boys and girls) refuse to accept that the dating pool has shrunk and (very often though not always) the best shidduchim are already taken.

    I want to emphasize: This is not true of ALL singles, but of a significant enough number that it must be factored in.

    My wife has been “representing” an older single for a few years. She talks her up wherever she goes and whenever she can, particularly when she meets new people who might have “fresh” names to add. When she brings this to the girl, the girl nixes many of them. After all, an older single boy should be married by now. What’s wrong with him? The boys she is interested in aren’t interested in her. They are busy chasing girls out of THEIR league.

    This young woman continues to blame everyone else for her singlehood – insensitive shadchanim, boys who refuse to grow up, friends who won’t “help” her – everyone but herself! She refuses to settle. But at a certain point you have to, because that’s all that’s left! (Maybe that’s why it’s called “settling down”?)

    Yet everyone feels entitled to a lechatchilah shebelechatchilah, when in fact the pool has shrunk to bedieved shebedieved (with OF COURSE some exceptions).

    Listen, the same is true with MARRIED people. There are so many more divorces because everyone feels ENTITLED to the spouse “of their dreams.” Maybe they thought they found it and were sadly disappointed. Maybe they compromised and now regret it. Either way, getting divorced allows them to dream again! How many of those dreams come true? Some, but very few.

    The author wants to believe that we need more meetings – that will solve the crisis. I’m all for more meetings, but if you haven’t been to one yet, make sure to check your enthusiasm. My wife went to a meeting. Several married women were there. Everyone “pitched” a person they knew and people had to come up with ideas for each one. They came up with so many ideas! The women were elated. They began to call the single. Every single one said no. Not for me. I heard things about him or her. Went out with her once twelve years ago. He’s too short. She’s too old. He’s too young. He’s too bald.

    Not one date came out from this meeting. I didn’t say “shidduch.” Not one date! And these were girls rejecting boys, which we are told doesn’t happen.

    My cousin, who got married in her late 20s and is sensitive to the plight of older singles, tried her hand at shadchanus (and still does). She tells the story of trying to fix up a 32 year old girl with a 38 year old guy. Both said no. The boy won’t go out with anyone over thirty, and the girl won’t go out with anyone over 35! Guess what? Both these people are still single.

    The upshot is this: Yes, the community should do as much as possible. Yes, people should try to make as many introductions as possible. Yes, we should be sensitive and not make singles feel unwelcome.

    And yes, I realize that there are some that get no dates. Zero. No interest at all. They would marry (almost) anyone if anyone came along.

    BUT, with the majority of singles, the buck stops with THEM THEMSELVES. They must recognize that you don’t always get what you want. You don’t even get what you (think you) need! Some people are unemployed. Some have serious illness, r”l. You can’t feel so entitled!

    If you want to get married, marry what’s available. It will not be what you wanted at 18 or 21. But I guarantee you will be as happy as most other married people are today. Which isn’t saying much. It’s up to you.

    Don’t blame me.

  5. Re Curious:
    I will go back to Rav Yisroel Salanter for a quick comment. “There is no rule without an exception and this rule is no exception.” Yes, some people are too picky. Some people are too unrealistic. Some people…some people…I for one do not want to be in a position to judge each single and try to assess how their foibles have led them to their current state. If a person is single because of poor judgments and it is now Yom Yov, are we less bound to invite them to share a bit of Yom Tov with them? Are we less responsible to share in their life events, both positive and negative?
    Curious brings up some valid points, and his rational and clinical analysis is greatly appreciated, but there is nothing in his words that is inconsistent with the thrust of my comments. I invite Curious to continue the discussion off-line because he raises some important points.
    M. Rosenfeld

  6. Rabbi Rosenfeld,

    Thank you for your feedback. I agree with you totally.

    My view, however, is that it goes beyond “some”; I believe that the majority of singles (maybe it’s the ones I know personally) are more to blame for their status than the “velt” or the “system.”

    I believe they need more mussar, life-coaching and reality checks; not more shadchanim and more singles events. Too many singles continue to look for the perfect or semi-perfect person, whom they have been after for ten or twenty or more years. Who can blame them? They’ve waited this long, they should compromise now?

    My answer – my sad, difficult, anger-inducing answer – is YES. Yes, compromise. Yes, settle. Yes go with bedieved because that’s all that there is out there! The other side considers you bedieved also!

    One thing that will not be bedieved is iy”H the CHILDREN you will produce no matter who you marry.

    But too many people will die single, alone and childless because they refuse to compromise (and I mean SERIOUSLY COMPROMISE) who they are willing to marry. So they get nothing.

    And then they blame you and me.

  7. Anonymous #5, I was disappointed to read your post. I thought Curious’s post was great. Words that needed to be said, and words that need to be read- by older singles, both men and women, and by people who care about them.

    The frustration experienced in trying to get older singles to go on a date is unbelievable. Note- I’m suggesting they go on a date, not get married to just anybody. The level of pickiness, the endless nitpicking- a lot of it by the young and not so young ladies in whose name we’re declaring a “crisis” – is enough to turn the stomach of any well meaning person trying to come up with shidduch ideas for them.

    Yes, Anonymous, singles must be treated with kindness and decency like any member of society. Inviting them for a Yom Tov meal or a Shabbos meal, or extending any courtesy, is a fine idea.

    But we can’t solve the shidduch “crisis” for them until someone is brave enough to state the facts that Curious spelled out clearly. And until the singles themselves decide to participate in their own rescue by taking those words to heart.