By Avrumi Weinberger
In this short essay, I will not assault your senses with ominous graphs and dire predictions about the state of what has been dubbed the “Shidduch Crisis” that is currently plaguing the American/Yeshivish community. Rather, I would like to focus on a different community, namely the Chassidish community and explore the reasons why the crisis doesn’t exist there. Whenever there is a problem, it is always helpful to explore if there is a model of success one can follow in which the problem doesn’t exist and to examine the reasons for that and to hopefully utilize and implement them.
Much has been written on the subject in recent months and it is encouraging that so many people are contributing with so many different perspectives and ideas. Yet, it seems that the one avenue that should have been explored with more depth has been largely ignored. No doubt, a fear of the unknown and a natural aversion to foreign social changes have contributed to this lack of interest. But an honest community that wishes to save itself from this horrifying trend must confront the difficult realities that helped spurn it on and seriously contemplate solutions, however difficult they may be so as extricate itself from its visceral grip.
1) I would like to start with the misguided idea that has been expressed of late in many different venues, that “to become a true ben Torah takes several very solid years of learning at a beis medrash level (about five or six years post high school)”, not because it is the most important issue, but rather because it seems to be the most absurd. Aside for there being no historical or Halachic precedent (see below) for this idea, it is also factually untrue. I would encourage everyone to visit the hundreds of chassidishe kollelim that are scattered throughout the tri-state area and beyond, such as Skver, Belz, Vizhnitz, Satmar, Ger, Bobov and many more. There you will find thousands upon thousands of strongly committed bnei Torah whose extraordinary scholastic achievements are readily available in the form of hundreds of sefarim, Torah journals, kovtzim and periodicals. The vast majority of these young men were married by the age of 19-20.
Besides, to claim otherwise is contrary to daas Torah. The Gemara in Kiddushin 29b clearly states that one must not marry later than age 20. The reason given is that the longer one waits to marry the more prone he is to improper machshavos, and this has obviously never been more true than in our morally depraved generation. We see that Chazal prioritized quality of learning over quantity of learning. This halacha is brought down in the Shulchan Aruch (E”h ch.1 se.3). The only hetter given is if someone feels that if he marries he will not be able to learn because he will have to provide for his family. But that is largely inapplicable in today’s generation for two reasons, a) the Beis Shmuel (ibid.) rules that it is only true when one is certain that his yetzer hara will not get the better of him, which would be a dishonest and quite delusional assumption for any 20 year old to make in 2014 America and, b) all of the so-called “learning boys” demand full support from their parents and in-laws so they will not end up having to provide for their families anyway.
2) Another attitude which seems to be the conventional wisdom in the yeshivish community is that boys are just not mature before age 23. However, may I suggest that the reason that is so is precisely because they do not get married at an earlier age. You may be raising an eyebrow or two but any chassidishe young man or woman knows exactly what I’m talking about. The average 18 year old chassidishe bachur knows that it is but a matter of time before he is “on the market”. That thought alone can serve to thoroughly sober anyone up. As a result, even 17 year old boys are more serious because the idea of getting married is already on the not-so-distant horizon. I again invite you to visit a chassidishe kollel, for there you will find that the majority of the young men (ages 19 and up) are on the most part, very refined, responsible, disciplined and thoughtful individuals. Chassidishe Yeshivos (at least the ones I attended) greatly stress the importance of having respect for another human being and of having a significant but not too large a dose of self respect and to know that the eyes of the world are on an ehrliche Yid and that he has to conduct himself as such.
In addition, a chassidishe chosson goes through intensive pre-marriage counseling, is offered books and comprehensive lectures on the various pertaining subjects and thus enters the marriage with a heightened sense of awareness and responsibility. There are numerous workshops for chassanim that cover a vast array of topics, ranging from Shalom Bayis to economics.
However, if the boys don’t even begin thinking of marriage and responsibility until age 22-23 then yes, a 19 year old will be on the same maturity wavelength as a 16 year old. Hence my suggestion: stop treating your 18-19 year olds as two year olds and they will naturally reciprocate.
The oft repeated and uneducated refrain that making boys marry earlier may lead to shalom bayis related problems has finally been laid to rest in last week’s edition of Mishpacha Magazine (Issue 531 p.23). In a guest article, Rabbi Moshe Pogrow, Director of the North American Shidduch Initiatve (NASI) Project writes as follows:
“… I reached out to Shalom Task Force (an organization that deals with domestic abuse within the greater Orthodox community) and asked them whether, based on their vast involvement and expertise in dealing with shalom bayis issues, they would say that boys getting married at 22 are more likely to end up in marriages with issues than those who marry at 23. Their unequivocal answer was that they have absolutely no reason to think so and they had no reason to discourage the efforts for this adjustment in our community (emphasis is mine).”
Obviously, the NASI Project is attempting to implement small changes one step at a time, the point is still clear, and collective experience by the Chassidish community bears witness to that fact.
3) Not everyone is going to grow up be a “ben Torah”. That is just the way Hashem created the world. We in the Chassidish community try to raise our sons to be ehrliche Yidden for that is what Hashem wants of us. Therefore, we don’t prepare our daughters to marry the Reb Akiva Eiger of this generation as do the many seminaries that most American/yeshivish girls attend. Rather, we prepare them to be ehrliche, G-d fearing b’nos Yisrael who will be equipped to provide a safe, nourishing and homey mikdosh me’at in which they will be able to raise the next generation of ehriche Yidden. This approach, if adopted by the yeshivish community, will no doubt help alleviate the Shidduch Crisis. It will eliminate many of the unreasonable expectations that (many mediocre) girls have of (equally mediocre) boys, and it will allow mothers to stop pretending that their sons are anything but what they really are. It will also eviscerate the “two year” “five year” “ten year” learner labels that have no substantive value and will rather place the focus on the important issues such as yiras shomayim, middos, etc.
4) We in the Chassidish community have not allowed for non-Jewish dating practices to infiltrate our society and mesorah (such as romanticizing the dating and engagement process which some have poorly euphemized as “chemistry”, “proposing” etc.). This point cannot be overstated. These practices are tearing apart at the kedusha and innocence of our children. I need say no more. Any shadchan, though they may not overtly denounce these practices, will readily attest that that is ultimately the biggest hindrance and impediment to successfully concluding a shidduch.
I strongly urge that the leaders of the American yeshivish community consider these (not so radical) ideas and to make an honest cheshbon hanefesh as to the true reasons behind the Shidduch Crisis and how they can be fixed.