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"Intimacy, Fantasies and Sexuality in the Religious Sector" is the racy name of a conference devoted to a decidedly respectable undertaking - encouraging modern religious Jewish singles to tie the knot.
On Tuesday, hundreds of young - and not so young - bachelors and bachelorettes descended on the Jerusalem International Convention Center to learn how to improve their marriageability.
Organized by Yashfeh, a non-profit matchmaker that deals exclusively with the modern religious crowd, separate workshops - one for men and one for women - taught singles how to hurdle the obstacles that might be preventing them from settling down with the love of their lives.
Participants learned everything from how to lower expectations for a prospective mate, to practical advice on how to strike up conversation on a blind date, to understanding how men and women view their sexuality. The conference organizers said they were answering a dire need among modern religious singles.
"Modern religious Israelis are getting married later than in the past," said Na'ama Vinograd, director of Yashfeh. "And the longer they delay, the harder it gets to find the right mate, because people get used to the freedom and individualism of being single."
According to Haim Falk, one of Yashfeh's founders, there are a total of 57,000 single modern religious men and women in Israel between the ages of 25 and 40 - and the majority of these singles, at 32,000, are men.
Falk claims that men have more excuses not to get married than women.
"They can always argue that an older woman is no longer capable of bearing children," said Falk. "Or that she is limited in how many fertile years she has."
According to Vinograd, it was almost unheard of a decade or two ago for a religious person to postpone marriage.
"It was the norm to live at home until the huppa. People did not develop careers until after they got married. They did not fit into a particular community," she said. "But today, religious singles are living alone, making large sums of money, enjoying their freedom. There are even entire communities of single religious people, places like [Jerusalem neighborhoods] Katamonim and Nahlaot, or Givat Shmuel [east of Tel Aviv]. And yes, there is even sex."
Vinograd said it was often difficult for religious singles to give up so much to start a family. At the same time, unlike their secular counterparts, religious singles cannot escape the family ethos that generates a nagging conscience to get married.
Vinograd said her organization did not try to convince religious singles to make the commitment to marriage.
"I'm no missionary," she said. "But if someone reaches the conclusion that he or she wants to have a family, Yashfeh is there to help."
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