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'Where have all the young men gone?" That line from a 1960s protest song may have been intended to decry the loss of young life in times of war, but it could very well apply to the severe situation in today's Jewish singles scene. By most accounts, there is a burgeoning surplus of eligible Jewish females looking to marry, and a major shortfall in available Jewish men.
"This is no longer just a concern," one rabbi involved in the matchmaking industry told me, "this is a full-blown crisis." Despite the advent of modern innovations such as speed-dating, Jewish dating fairs and singles' cruises; and the proliferation of creative organizations like JDate and Saw You at Sinai, large numbers of wonderful Jewish women are searching in vain to find their mate.
Attendance at many singles' functions can run 3-1 in favor of the women, and files of professional matchmakers are overflowing with young ladies looking for love, while precious few men bother to apply.
Understanding the basis for this phenomenon goes much deeper than birth-rates. Although female births do outnumber male births, the percentage is relatively close, about 51-49 percent. And while women tend to live an average of three years longer than men, by the time that statistic becomes relevant, it's way too late to start thinking about marriage.
So why the guy gap?
ANY NUMBER of theories has been suggested: Men can date a much wider age-range of women; Jewish men tend to marry out in much greater numbers than women. Conversely, more females convert to Judaism than do men. Homosexuality takes many more men out of the pool than lesbianism.
While women crave commitment and seek to settle down, more and more men are content to date casually while avoiding any long-term, relationships. With the divorce rate hovering at 50%, many younger men are less than anxious to repeat their parents' "mistake." Then there is the ebb and flow of population trends and baby booms.
"Populations tend to expand and contract throughout the generations," says statistician Steven Cohen, professor of Jewish social policy at HUC-JIR, "while male-female ratios change over the course of eras. There is no question that our generation is experiencing a clear numerical superiority of females over males."
Here in Israel, there are two other factors to plug into the equation. In the general community, we are still feeling the residual effect - at least in the non-Haredi community - of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, which left 10,000 Israeli soldiers - the vast majority of them young men - either dead or wounded.
And in the observant community, Jewish educators widely report that we are doing a much better job of educating and religiously sustaining our young women than our young men. So while the girls are either maintaining or increasing their spiritual level - attendance at women's seminaries continues to grow apace - the boys tend to drop out of the Orthodox world in much higher numbers.
There was a time when the male-female inequity did have at least one possible solution: polygamy. Jewish societies decimated by war or pogroms could even the odds by having men take more than one wife. But the famous edict of Gershom ben Judah - better known as Rabbeinu Gershom - changed all that over 1,000 years ago, when he effectively banned multiple-marriage, at least in the Ashkenazi world.
While the decree was certainly meant to enhance shalom bayit (peace and tranquility) within the home, it may have been the result more of external pressure than internal wisdom.
"The Church - celibate by nature - accused Jews of being promiscuous, by virtue of their allowance of polygamy," says historian Rabbi Berel Wein. Gershom's ban served to take away at least one of their arguments.
It is interesting to note that the Sephardic world, by and large, refused to accept Rabbeinu Gershom's edict. Part of their rationale was precisely because the women outnumbered the men. Rather than leave large numbers of Jewish girls unmarried and unprotected, it was not uncommon for Sephardic men to take several wives into their home, saving them from both poverty and the designs of the larger Muslim population.
And because it's a "buyer's market", I've even head anecdotes of men who ask their dates any question that comes to mind, from their father's annual salary, to the girl's - and her mother's - personal measurements. More than one family has either hidden away or institutionalized a disabled or retarded child, so as not to scare off potential suitors. I've even heard that some parents offer men large sums of money to marry their daughters.
Unfortunately, there is no way we can put more men into the pool. Our only option is to work with what we have. We must do everything we can to build strong marriages which will serve as role models to our children; emphasize to our young people the centrality of the family and it's priority in Jewish life; and actively help the singles in our community to find their bashert.
The fantasy expressed in the recent song by Paul Jabara and Paul Schaffer It's Raining Men, won't help end the dating drought.
It's up to us.
The writer is director of the Ohel Ari Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana. firstname.lastname@example.org
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