It happens hundreds of times a day - mostly in
the afternoons and evenings - in hotel lobbies, on park benches and at
other public places. If you're not in the know, you won't even catch
on. It's the phenomenon of blind dates among somewhat nervous young
modern Orthodox (and many haredi) men and women interested in getting
married. They are absolute strangers except that they have probably
spoken a few times on the phone in preparation for their first meeting,
or were briefed on the potential marriage partner by relatives,
friends, rabbis or matchmakers who suggested the "shidduch."
secular, traditional and even some religious Jews who follow
less-rigorous practices, members of this sector do not "pick up" others
or get picked up at parties, bars or on the street, and the aim is not
having fun or going to bed. Everybody participating in this dating game
- in their late teens, early 20s and sometimes beyond - is serious
about getting to the huppa
as soon as possible.
It is said that 40 days before birth, God decides whom the person will eventually marry (bashert
). Making matches is also said to be as difficult as splitting the Red Sea.
What psychological, social and even biological influences affect
a decision to commit one's life to a stranger after a relatively short
period, without first even physically touching the other or being alone
in the same room?
Although this phenomenon has been chronicled in a top-rated Srugim
(Crocheted Kippa) TV series on YES, it took a 27-year-old, strikingly
beautiful but still-unmarried Orthodox woman doing a master's degree in
brain research to examine it through personal interviews and studies of
neurotransmitters and hormones.
RACHEL LANGFORD, who graduated from a Petah Tikva ulpana
(high school for religious girls) and now lives with her family in Bnei
Brak, has produced a 138-page Hebrew book on the subject.
Titled Darush: Nasich Al Sus Lavan (Wanted: A Knight in Shining Armor
and available at www.rachelilangford.com, it offers the blind-date
experiences of 11 single observant women and the author - out of 34
such women plus secular ones and religious men from around Israel.
These are interspersed with chapters about research on how the brain
influences such choices. Langford did not include the ultra-Orthodox
(haredi Jews), but she did interview young religious women from a wide
variety of backgrounds, schools and styles, from Bnei Akiva to Ezra
The author, a student at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical
School who is researching potential stem-cell treatment of mice and
chick embryos damaged by alcohol and narcotics, has an interesting
background herself. She comes from the showbiz and artistic Langford
family. Her grandfather Barry was a BBC and Israeli TV director; her
father Jeremy a ba'al teshuva
(returnee to Orthodox Judaism)
and glass artist; her mother Yael a chemistry graduate who became a
brainwave enthusiast; and her aunt Caroline an actress and former wife
of actor and director Assi Dayan.
Rachel (known to friends as Racheli), had a more conventional childhood as a religious girl who loved horseriding.
She concedes in an interview with The Jerusalem Post
the religious dating scene can be quite superficial. Numerous young
observant women will automatically turn down a suggested match if the
prospective partner wears his tzitzit
out of his trousers (or
not); has a beard (or not); wears jeans; is shorter than her; wears
sandals with socks (or without); lives in the settlements (or not)
wears a large (or too-small) crocheted kippa; is more than a couple of
years older; studies in yeshiva (or not); has served in the Israel
Defense Forces (or not); or has a car and apartment of his own (or
Many young religious men will turn down a suggested wife if she
is not wealthy and shapely; has a car or apartment (or not); is left
wing (or not); will wear the "right" head cover after marriage; has
sleeves and hemline that are "too short"; or if she is older than him.
The mind boggles.
There are some different criteria among haredim, she says, but
they usually require only a very few meetings before they decide to
marry, and some - especially hassidim - won't see each other again
until the wedding.
She begins the book with a scene in an ulpana
the news spreads that an 11th-grade pupil has gotten engaged. This is
openly discouraged by the principal and teachers, as girls are not
supposed to date until after graduation, even after national service.
But the fact that the girl will soon be married - and quickly pregnant
- gives the 17-year-old automatic prestige, she writes. "How romantic!"
her girlfriends swoon.
ONLY THE first dating story can be attributed to Langford, even
though she presents all of them in the first person without pseudonyms.
She met a young man named Meir, a horse lover like herself, and chatted
with him while on horseback, she in an appropriate skirt (for modesty)
rather than riding breeches; as a result, all she got was bruised
thighs. "I didn't hear heavenly music when I looked at him, and no
heart-shaped pink stars sparkled in my head..." she recalls in the
Langford has a wonderful sense of humor and a talent for detail
when she describes a woman's date with a young man who disappears from
their park bench when she looks in the other direction for a split
second. She searches for him for quite a while, thinking he couldn't
stand her. Finally, she finds him sitting under the leaves of a tree.
Embarrassed, he explains that a big dog had come near; since his
brother had been savaged by a dog, he is traumatized by them.
In another dating escapade, the young man insists on walking
kilometers to a "perfect place to talk," but the girl gets bogged down
in an dirt path that suddenly turns to mud; because of the rules
against touching, he does not extend his hand to pull her out, and her
clothes and limbs become filthy.
observant Jews are usually given books on dating written by rabbis and
other experts. But, like one young man who insists on accompanying an
"unsuitable date" to her bus stop even when she doesn't want him to,
"there are cases in which they learn the protocol but don't understand
it," Langford comments.
who has gone on "several dozen" dates over the years since competing
her national service, complains about the heavy social pressure to
marry as soon as possible. "I discovered that social pressure comes not
just from outside, but also from the brain," she says, getting to the
pure science part of the story.
When a woman smells a baby's head or skin, her brain is
affected by a pheromone - a chemical signal that triggers a natural
response. "Her brain tells her she wants to become a mother." Some
perfumes contain ylang ylang, which affects the brain and can ignite an
In a chapter of the book, she also notes that when a young
woman is at the acme of her menstrual cycle - when she is ovulating -
she becomes very critical of other females so as to overcome
"competition" from them.
She quotes studies showing that when you walk into a party
where there are several attractive men or women, your brain registers
your attraction for each one. Romantic love can activate brain activity
with a high concentration of receptors for neurotransmitters like
dopamine, which is linked to euphoria, addiction and craving, or
norepinephrine, which is connected to sleeplessness, hyperactivity,
heightened attention and goal-oriented behavior. Brain scientists have
compared brain scans taken of people in various emotional states and
found significant differences.
Beware: A surge in dopamine can make you be unable to think
logically for a while. Functional magnetic resonance instruments (fMRI
scans) can't actually read people's minds, but they can
display emotional complexity, the author notes. There are even genetic influences, she says.
NOTES that according to Canadian studies released last year, belief in
God can "help block anxiety and minimize stress," but plenty of stress
remains for observant daters. None of the 11 personal stories presented
married any of their dates, and many of those involved found their
experiences uncomfortable. "One of my points was to stress that it is
vital for people to improve communications skills, including non-verbal
ones," she says.
The author found that if she runs alongside a potential mate,
she feels better toward him than when she doesn't; the endorphins
released by exercise are apparently involved. If the young man's eyes
face upwards, "his brain is in a visual phase." If she does the same,
Langford maintains, "this can improve communications. This has been
If one has gone out for a few weeks but feels the relationship
has no future, Langford advises being polite but telling the truth.
"Don't ask why and don't argue," she advises.
She bemoans the fact that with increasing religiousity, there
are a dwindling number of places where eligible religious men and women
can meet. Many little boys and girls are separated in kindergartens,
she says, although she says it is preferable if they do not study in
the same schools from intermediate through high school. If one doesn't
find "the one" in a youth movement (many of whose branches are now sex
segregated), one needs other places in one's 20s. There is a Jerusalem
synagogue that periodically offers Torah lectures for men and women
sitting on different sides of the aisles without a physical divider,
she says, and this should be copied.
Langford concludes the book with this sentence (in Hebrew):
"Let us choose our way to chose a mate." Young people should not be
pressured and should want a shidduch
out of free will. There
are people who go out only to avoid the social pressure, not really to
get married. I say that only the person himself or herself knows what
is good for him or her."