Concern about shidduchim — arranged marriages — is common in the Orthodox community, where there is a stigma to remaining unmarried well into adulthood. But it is unusual for a non-Orthodox organization to sponsor a conference on “the shidduch crisis.”
That was the title, though, of a two-day program held last week at the Long Beach Hotel on Long Island and sponsored by UTJ, the transdenominational Union for Traditional Judaism. It focused on the impact of socializing, or the lack thereof, on intermarriage.
“I find the language of ‘shidduch crisis’ offensive, when you’re living your life and contributing to the world,” Sharon Weiss-Greenberg said during the first day of the program. The executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), Weiss-Greenberg, herself a wife and mother of two young children, shared responses from a social media-based survey in which she asked adult singles to share the good, bad and ugly.
Instead of a few dozen replies, she received hundreds, many sharing tales of ageism, racism and sexism, along with the inadvertent swipes that occur routinely at shuls, work and home. They range from complaints about synagogue dues that are more than half of a couple’s cost for a single membership, to being seen as a “nebech” for being unwed, to matching Jews of color with other Jews of color based solely on skin pigmentation.
Marc Goldmann, co-founder of the popular online dating service SawYouAtSinai, echoed a common sentiment — that men have it easier than women, saying there are approximately nine single men for every 10 single women, and many more women than men who are ba’alei teshuvot, or newly Orthodox.
He said men are not handcuffed by a biological clock and are more hesitant to commit. Other obstacles have contributed to the swelling of the Jewish singles population from 1.1 million in 2000-01 to 1.85 million today. (Single adults are defined as 18-plus, never married, divorced or widowed.) One challenge is more rigid religious differences than in decades past, which prevent couples from meeting. “If a man wants his wife to cover her hair and a woman says she doesn’t intend to cover her hair,” he said, “should that be enough of a reason not to fix them up?”
Gone are popular singles venues like Grossinger’s, The Concord and the Catskills scene. And forum speaker Neal Maron, a Brooklyn psychologist, spoke about the rise in “checklist” dating, where many singles basically mark off the attributes a marriage candidate may or may not have.
Journalist and Jewish educator Temima Goldberg Shulman drew a distinction from the common belief that marriage is the uniting of two halves. She cited how Adam and Eve drew close only after they were exiled from the Garden of Eden, when they each achieved a level of independence.
“The verse in Genesis about becoming one flesh is not about two halves coming together,” she suggested. “It’s about two wholes coming together. Both partners need to have a healthy sense of self to make it work.”
Among those attending on the second day there was a general consensus that a change in attitude was needed to face the ongoing challenge of rising intermarriage rates, which are at an all-time high of 71 percent across non-Orthodox Judaism. Steven Bayme of the AJC was quick to point out that the high level of intermarriage is not inherently a negative phenomenon, calling it “a statement of how well-integrated and accepted American Jews are in society.” Rabbi Asher Lopatin, who heads Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, cited Theodore Sasson’s analysis of a 2012 Pew Report, which showed that the Jewish community has grown from 5.5 million to 6.7 million over the past three decades as evidence that the situation was not as negative as it is sometimes perceived.
Nonetheless, all the speakers agreed that Judaism as a whole should do more, with the focus on two main fronts: promoting in-marriage and reaching out to those who did intermarry.