How to get more Jewish singles married - opinion

Jewish marriage and birth rates are declining compared to the previous generation.

THESE WORDS are sung again at every single Jewish wedding, 2,600 years later. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
THESE WORDS are sung again at every single Jewish wedding, 2,600 years later.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Of all the challenges facing the Jewish community in our time, the greatest might just be the declining Jewish birth rate occasioned by delayed marriage on the part of Jewish singles.

By this, I don’t mean only in the less observant Jewish community, where the situation is truly dire, but even in the Orthodox Jewish community, which normally boasts a very high birth rate.

On Simhat Torah I went to Crown Heights, where I spoke at several shuls that boast large numbers of Chabad Jewish singles. Foremost among them was Chevra Ahavas Yisroel, run by Folli Tessler, and the Townhouse community, run by Yankee Pearson. Both had hundreds of people.

It was an eye-opener to see a Chabad singles scene. We were all raised in Chabad to have strict segregation between men and women, and matches were made by matchmakers. When I was in yeshiva, the thought of going to events with Chabad girls was a nonstarter.

But here’s the problem. In a community that is now absolutely colossal and global, with tens of thousands of young people who are the products, thank God, of that high birth rate, how can one expect matchmakers – most of whom are volunteers and work on commissions paid for successful matches – to ever cope with the numbers?

In addition, matchmaking, in the words of a friend of mine, is a rigged system. It highlights qualities like pedigree, money and beauty, which do not accord with Jewish values. It would be nice if we could always rely on holy attributes like character, refinement and goodness coming to the fore in arranged dating. Unfortunately, we can’t. The shidduch system, which I mostly believe in, has proven itself to be a hit-or-miss affair. It works for some. It doesn’t work for many.

On Simhat Torah night I spoke to more than 500 Chabad singles. It was amazing. I spoke of the three kinds of love.

The first and lowest is exploitative love. It’s where you love someone in a transactional way where each one gets something from the other. In dating, this represents people who marry based on similar education, background and future earning power.

 Mother with newborn baby in the nursing pillow (credit: INGIMAGE) Mother with newborn baby in the nursing pillow (credit: INGIMAGE)

The second kind of love is selfless yet selfish at the same time. You want to give to the other, but you enjoy seeing how your love impacts positively on them and how they appreciate you.

But the highest form of love is utterly altruistic. It’s where you love someone and receive nothing in return. You simply celebrate the fact that the other person is, which is why, on Simhat Torah, we dance with a closed Torah. We are not celebrating the fact that the Torah enriches us intellectually or spiritually. We are simply celebrating the fact that the Torah is.

In dating, it represents our desire to devote ourselves to a soul mate unconditionally and watch them flourish and prosper.

I admit that an Orthodox singles scene can also spill over into what sometimes looks like a secular singles scene, where the more outwardly attractive can get more attention over those with qualities that might be more internal or subtle. Still, religious singles have to meet, and the Orthodox Jewish community is not addressing the scale of the problem.

The secular Jewish community has mostly addressed it through online dating, and many Orthodox singles have also gotten engaged through online apps. But while they are effective in allowing people from all over the world to meet, they present their own problems.

The first is the massive scale and the variety of people you can find online. Strange as it may sound, too many choices can actually make it much harder to choose. Online dating can become its own addiction.

Then there is the fact that physical attraction is going to be the most highlighted of all qualities since online dating is a visual medium.

Which brings us back to the original problem. How do we get Jewish singles to date, get serious and connect through marriage?

I SUGGEST the following:

In the same way that an organization was created to get young Jews to visit Israel, Birthright, and in the same way that there is an organization that promotes Israel in Congress, AIPAC, and in the same way there is an organization to combat antisemitism, the ADL, we likewise need a Jewish organization that is dedicated exclusively to Jewish marriage. It seems incredible that it doesn’t yet exist.

Think about how every priority of the Jewish community is addressed with massive numbers of organizations, like those that fight antisemitism. Yet there isn’t one national organization designed to promote Jewish marriage, even though the absence of marriage represents an existential threat to the Jewish future. Judaism is not a proselytizing faith. Our numbers are dependent entirely on our birth rate.

Yes, I get it. Some, like Birthright, are hoping that Jewish singles will meet and marry when they go on trips to Israel. But it’s not the same thing. We need an organization dedicated to getting people to meet and marry.

I can envision a national organization that either arranges, or provides funding, for regular events around the country that will bring Jewish singles together, with special emphasis on those who wish to date not just casually but to marry. No doubt, levels of observance will factor into who attends which events. But the general idea will be Jewish men and women who want to marry Jewish and build Jewish families.

In the Torah reading a couple of weeks ago, Genesis, God Himself brings Adam and Eve together, serving as history’s first matchmaker. The Talmud says that God found it harder to make that match than He did to split the Red Sea.

Are you kidding me?

When I was studying to be a rabbi in yeshiva, I found that statement incredulous. How hard is it to have men and women meet and marry? What’s the big deal?

But once I became the father of nine children and, more importantly, once I started writing books on sex and marriage, and people came to me for dating advice and marital counseling, I began to understand just how challenging marital happiness really is.

A happy marriage is a miracle. It requires people meeting, being drawn to each other, successfully dating, overcoming commitment-phobia, prioritizing each other, keeping the marriage fresh, sustaining attraction, allowing the relationship to remain primary even amid the advent of kids, and to weather all the financial and health challenges that every marriage faces. Yes, it’s a miracle that any marriage is happy.

And yet, so many, thank God, are.

But we’re also taught never to rely on miracles. The Bible is clear: “God will bless you in all the things that you do.”

It’s time for the American Jewish community – at every level of observance – to focus on getting Jewish singles married.

The writer, “America’s Rabbi,” is the author of Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments and Why Can’t I Fall in Love? Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.