Trying to tackle the issue of shidduchim in the observant Jewish community on a national scale can be very stressful, but also very rewarding if real change occurs.
There was a recent large-scale shidduch study, DAAS, which collected data on over fourteen thousand Orthodox Jewish members, primarily in the yeshivish and Modern Orthodox segments. In addition to capturing much qualitative data on singles’ experiences, the study also collated quantitative data on marital status by gender, the hashkafa (religious outlook / community identification) under which the participating singles were raised, their current hashkafa, age and their age when they married (if applicable). I was asked to help with some of the analysis.
When analyzing and summarizing this set of data, the statistics might be alarming. For those raised Modern Orthodox currently in the 25-29 age cohort, 32% of women and 42% of men have never been married. For those currently in the 30-34 age cohort, 18% of women and 23% of men have never been married. For those currently in the 35-39 age cohort, 13% of both women and men have never been married. Most of these percentages rise by several points when we include those who grew up in yeshivish communities or were non-observant and now self-identify as Modern Orthodox as adults. All these percentages are much higher compared to those who currently identify themselves as yeshivish. For example, in the current 30-34 age cohort for the yeshivish segment 9% of women and 9% of men have never been married.
The same study also provided a wealth of information regarding the experience of daters. Many participants felt that the system has become more superficial over time, with too much focus on physical attributes such as attractiveness, height, and body weight. Many also noted that they would have preferred more time to mature emotionally, develop their identity, and gain financial security before they had to decide whom to marry and start a family.
Additionally, many felt that the Orthodox community can use more programming to help individuals build relationship skills, and that the schools, seminaries and yeshivas can do a better job of preparing their students to build future healthy intimate relationships.
Before addressing problems in the shidduch system, it is important to first understand the contributing factors. The survey results show that there are many more men than women raised Modern Orthodox who eventually decide to become non-observant. There is also indication in this study and anecdotal evidence that there are more women than men who join the Modern Orthodox community as adults, as baalei teshuva (those who become observant). In other words, more men are leaving while more women are entering the community, which may be causing a gender imbalance. In addition, those who were raised Modern Orthodox are twice as likely to switch hashkafot as compared to those who were raised yeshivish. Further studies should be conducted to better understand when and why singles decide to become non-observant.
The DAAS survey did not address what I believe is another large issue. Based on my personal experience as a volunteer shadchan primarily for the 25-45 age group, it appears to me that there are simply not enough Jewish single men to go around who fit the qualities of what most Jewish single women are seeking in a spouse. There appears to be many more men than women who either have social challenges, don’t have a firm career path, or seem resistant to long-term commitment.
Based on numerous conversations with singles and reviewing dozens of shidduch resumes, emotional intelligence is the characteristic that stood out as the disconnect between what most women are seeking in a potential spouse but are often not finding. A 30-year-old single woman in NYC recently relayed to me that “finding a man who is emotionally available, emotionally aware, and emotionally intelligent has been the biggest challenge in my dating journey. There seems to be a lack of emotional maturity as well– for example, being able to communicate feelings with respect, handling conflict without getting defensive, and/or understanding their own inner world.”
On the flip side, many women I have worked with were not as open-minded about going on a first or second date if the man did not match all the criteria that they were seeking in a potential spouse. Many men have expressed frustration that they weren’t given a fair chance. I have proposed shidduch ideas to women of men I knew personally and had vetted, which were rejected by them because the guys were either baalei teshuva, had a slightly different hashkafa than their own, did not have a professional career, or were too short.
There are many things that could be done to help facilitate shidduchim, such as arranging more singles events, encouraging volunteer shadchanim, and having co-ed shiurim and chesed activities. However, these proposed ideas do not address the supply and demand issue. As a Jewish community, we need to find ways to keep more men in the religious community, as well as address any systemic issues that may impact some of these gendered qualitative differences, such as career paths and emotional intelligence.
I recommend that shuls and yeshivas appoint qualified mentors to help guide singles through the dating process. It can be very beneficial if mentors would have weekly sessions with a group of singles to discuss topics such as dating etiquette, noticing warning signs of abuse, conflict resolution, sharing values and goals, etc. In addition, for those Jewish schools that haven’t done so already, I recommend adding some form of social-emotional learning into their curriculum. I am hopeful that Jewish schools will spend some time during school hours to educate students on social skills, relationship building, fully respecting those of the opposite gender, career guidance counseling, and other items which may help students be better prepared for when the time comes to start dating for marriage purposes. Education and mentorship need to occur to help the current and future singles community. The time is now to enact real change.
David Katzoff is an operations research analyst, and can be reached at [email protected]