Of late we have read full-page ads signed by scores of roshei yeshiva acknowledging the statistical disparity in the number of girls seeking boys to marry. The problem is too many girls in the market because the boys do not start dating until around 23, while girls send out résumés while barely back a few months from post-high-school education. Ergo the letter’s recommendation: let the boys start dating younger.
An equally logical solution for this arithmetical conundrum would be to discourage the girls from dating at such a ridiculously young age. Alas, we won’t, because of fear. The blame for this unpleasant situation we parents now face is of our own doing, or in the words of the comic strip Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Most of us laymen parents readily recognize the answer and viscerally do not agree with the letter’s espoused recommendation.
Why should our sons, many who only acquire the skills to seriously learn with a geshmak around the age of 20, be encouraged to father children and support wives when they have not learned more than a few Gemaras and small portions of halachah? As a father of three sons (two in kollel and one in beis midrash), I see how they became accomplished learners in their early twenties. They could not have acquired those skills with familial responsibilities thrust on them too soon.
Of the girls, we foist on them such weighty burdens: they are to make money while their husbands learn, run a house, and take care of children, all without even a bachelor’s degree let alone a master’s—and they marry with no savings to boot. Why don’t we give our daughters time to mature, and to figure out what they really want out of a husband and their lives? We too often see that young marriages lead to young divorces. I have repeatedly heard how last year over 30 gitten were written in BMG (Lakewood Yeshiva) for couples in their shanah rishonah. Let them grow up! Why not make a rule of no dating for girls under 21? That could alleviate much of the mess we have created as effectively as that endorsed in the aforementioned letter.
Abba S. Novak
Perhaps “the” reason for the shidduch crisis is not, as stated by the directors of the NASI Project, a numerical miscalculation. Perhaps the equation is as follows:
Woman + man + infinity = any shidduch happening at any time.
Hashem is infinite. If you include Hashem in your equation, then women are not punished for men who are learning Torah. If Hashem is not interested in making the shidduch, no ingenious mathematical calculations will result in a viable product.
Accordingly, perhaps the equation we should use is the following:
Shidduch crisis + divorce crisis + infertility crisis + children-and-teens-at-risk crisis + mental-health crisis + young Orthodox Jewish cancer crisis + Sandy crisis = a “Hashem is not happy with the current Orthodox status quo” crisis.
In order to make real, tangible changes in our Orthodox Jewish world, we need to diagnose the behaviors antagonistic toward Hashem that are prevalent in all of our communities, set a plan of correction communally, and follow it through to see that the changes are real and lasting. This should be the work of our gedolim, rabbanim, and community leaders, not self-proclaimed organizations who profess to have “the” answer.
The success of our community depends on you, dear rabbi. Each rabbi needs to work with other rabbis to achieve meaningful change in our community. Looking forward to working with you and anyone else to achieve this goal.
Moshe Yosef Werzberger, MD
The NASI Project Responds
Dear Dr. Wertzberger,
It was a bit surprising to read your letter. As believing Jews, we have no doubt that Hashem wants us to constantly improve our ways both on an individual and on a communal scale. What is difficult to grasp is the connection between that basic belief and what that has to do with the efforts of the NASI Project, which has identified a direct cause of the shidduch crisis—of our own doing, I might add—and is working to alleviate it.
Surely the notion that Hashem wants us to improve isn’t cause to close down organizations that address the other issues you raise. Shalom Task Force, Bonei Olam, ATIME, RCCS, Chai Lifeline, to name just a few of the wonderful organizations that would seem to deserve your ire being that they actively address the ills of our community that you feel would be better addressed by what you describe as the “need to diagnose the . . . behaviors prevalent in all of our communities, set a plan of correction communally, and follow it through to see that the changes are real and lasting.”
Clearly, there is no conflict. Certainly we must do individual and communal introspection to heed Hashem’s messages, and we need to be acutely attuned to what he is asking of us.
At the same time we, both individually and communally, are obligated to do whatever we can to assist our fellow brothers and sisters in any manner that we are capable of. This is our basic responsibility to acheinu B’nei Yisrael and this has been clearly laid down for us by the gedolim, roshei yeshiva, and rabbanim specifically with regard to the current shidduch situation. They have made their direction known in numerous public letters on this matter. This great sense of responsibility and care for our fellow Jews is the driving force behind the organizations mentioned above as it relates to the great communal challenges they seek to alleviate, and it is the same for the NASI Project.
We look forward to better understanding your position.
Dear Mr. Novack,
Thank you very much for caring enough to understand the situation accurately and for taking the time to write down your thoughts.
However, it appears that you are unaware of what has been taking place over the last five years to address exactly the points you raise. What follows is an update on the activities to address the shidduch crisis as well as the game plan for the next stage.
As is clear to all involved, in order to alleviate and ultimately solve the shidduch crisis we need to close the age gap by having girls begin dating later, boys begin dating earlier, or a combination of both.
Similarly, if we could successfully encourage boys, whenever they date, to date girls close to their own age as opposed to girls a few years younger than themselves, that would have a similar effect to girls dating slightly later.
The following are the steps that have been taken to address this issue:
Phase 1. Numerous media campaigns to raise awareness about the nature of the problem, followed up by implementing programs to encourage close-in-age shidduchim. This included an unprecedented letter that was released three years ago (and has been printed in this very paper numerous times) from 70 roshei yeshiva laying out age gap as the source of the problem. It called on boys, their families, and shadchanim to focus on and give primary consideration to young women who are close in age to the boys, and at the very least to give primary consideration in shidduchim to those who are 20 and up.
In addition, since that time, community-based programs have been created that generate massive attention for girls who have been dating for a few years, thus ensuring that they receive more attention and more dates—more close-in-age dates—and thus fewer dates taking place between boys 23 and girls 19.
The data, both anecdotal and researched, suggests that phase 1 has been highly successful in (a) breaking the stigma that previously discouraged boys from dating girls their own age or older and (b) generating far more shidduch opportunities for girls who have already been dating a few years, thus (c) extending the time for a young woman to continue to receive quality shidduch opportunities.
This information is based on a follow-up study to one done three years ago that tracked the graduates of 22 girls’ high schools across North America. We tracked graduates who were then 24–29 and still single despite having dated 5+ years. It showed significant improvement in three areas: (1) young women who were then single and over the past three years have gotten married; (2) the percentage of young women currently ages 24–29 who are still single from those schools as compared to the percentage of young women who were then age 24–29 and were single then; and (3) the age at which shidduch opportunities decline significantly: the data showed that the time line of quality opportunities for the single young women is being extended.
It is impossible to know exactly what has brought about these changes, but clearly the great efforts expended to break the stigma and educate the community about the issue has been a major contributing factor.
In addition, the programs that have been in place in numerous communities where shadchanim are appreciated and compensated for setting up dates for girls who didn’t just start dating has been very impactful.
Well over 1,200 dates have already been set up. The average age of the girls being set up is 24+. Well over 240 girls are dating seriously and over 75 engagements have taken place.
More recently, we have begun tracking six of the highest-volume shadchanim in the country in order to get a better grasp on what is taking place “in the field.” They submit to us the initials and ages of every young couple they set up on a date. In three months they have submitted close to 300 different dates, and the average age of the young women is 21 years old. That is very encouraging. We will continue to keep this tracking program in effect for the foreseeable future to continue to mine any useful data. However, the average age of the boys at date #1 is well over 23.5, and that leads us to the next phase.
Phase 2. The second phase deals with addressing the additional structural issues that created the problem. Specifically, we are working on the age at which boys begin dating. The current yeshiva system is such that boys return from Eretz Yisrael on average at age 22.75. If and when we successfully lower that age to 22 on average, we will be able to save 1,000 girls over the next 10 years. If we lower that age by even six months, hundreds and hundreds of girls will be saved.
The game plan to accomplish this is in two stages:
First, educating the masses via a marketing campaign about the urgent need to remove the systemic obstacles that prevent the boys from being able to begin dating at or not long after the age of 22.
Second, once the community is receptive to the idea, the minor changes that will help bring this about will be implemented. The specific tactics to make this happen are already on the table, but they can only be effectively implemented with the will of the people. This phase has the capability to save 1,000 girls over the next 10 years as well as solve the problem going forward.
Phase 3. The third phase relates to a much longer-term goal. As things are, it is not likely in the near future for girls and their families to willingly hold off dating. Therefore, discussions are under way to have the girls’ schools push back their cutoff date for enrollment into kindergarten by six months, thus ensuring, down the road, young women will at the earliest enter the dating scene six months later than they currently do now.
We value your input and participation. If you have any questions or would like more information or details please reach out to us. I would like to now address a few specific points in your letter.
1. The reason why a direct effort to “hold back” the young women is not being made is that it is unlikely to work. If you have an effective method to make it happen, please reach out to us. However, the research suggests that if one has a daughter who is 19–20 and a great boy was suggested and was interested in that specific young woman, parents and their daughter would not likely hold off pursuing the shidduch due to their concern for the needs of the k’lal. Therefore, all the efforts to raise the average age of the young women have been indirect, via efforts to encourage boys and shadchanim to recognize the wonderful qualities of the young women, and to realize that those qualities don’t diminish, and to the contrary they develop further as the young woman gains some life experience. Your suggestion to “make a rule” prohibiting a young woman who is under 21 from dating is unlikely to be effective, but you are welcome to attempt it.
2. As for your comment regarding specific boys and their need to learn more prior to marriage: That is a very individual issue. For many, many boys, including serious b’nei Torah, it is clear that the time they learned in their yeshivas in the U.S.—both prior to and subsequent to their stay in Eretz Yisrael—was more productive than the time they learned in Eretz Yisrael. This is well known to the boys and their roshei yeshiva. Are there some who do very well in Eretz Yisrael? Certainly there are. This is something that should be decided each boy for himself via serious discussion with his parents and rebbeim, and not via a follow-the-herd, do-what-everyone-is-doing, what-everyone-is-expected-to-do philosophy.
Debunking Hoffman’s Protestations
Regarding the arrest of Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall (cover photo, December 28): The words of Anat Hoffman speak of religious freedom, the ability to converse with G‑d in any way an individual sees fit. It is a very American form of Judaism. But this reformed Judaism is not native to Israel, where most individuals live secular lives while maintaining a strong respect for Jewish traditions and history.
For centuries, impoverished Orthodox scholars have kept a presence around Judaism’s holiest site, keeping it in the Jewish national consciousness long before Zionism provided a nationalistic meaning to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.
The Hebrew term for holiness is rooted in the term for “separation,” and in the Holy Temple, kohanim prayed separately from Levites, Nazirites, and Israelites; men and women were also segregated, as were Jews and gentiles; and the Western Wall itself served to separate the holy precinct of the Temple from the rest of the world.
The concept of egalitarianism within the prayer space has no basis in Jewish history. If Anat Hoffman does not adhere to halachah, could she at least respect the history of the site?
No Upgrade Needed
I enjoy reading Rabbi Yair Hoffman’s articles because they are scholarly, informative, and well written.
This past week he wrote an article entitled “Upgrading Our Kashrus,” which I believe is not necessary.
The reason for the prohibition of bishul akum is to prevent marriages with our gentile neighbors. The prohibition is applicable to homes in which a gentile is employed. However, the prohibition presumably was not intended to include restaurants, which did not exist at the time the prohibition was instituted. The patrons of restaurants do not know or see the chef who prepares the food. This is in contrast to the time of the prohibition, when eating out was limited to a bed-and-breakfast style of accommodation where the guest saw and possibly knew the chef.
I am not implying that the Rema’s opinion can be eliminated regarding cooked food in a restaurant. However, I believe that the leniency is sufficient and stricter standards are not required.
Furthermore, the previous generations were more pious, as well as more learned, than our generation. By “upgrading” standards it is implied that we are more “frum” than our ancestors, which is an affront to them and their memory.
I suggest that Rabbi Hoffman focus on the much-needed corrective measures for the ills that are plaguing our community.
I want to share with our community a disturbing fact regarding therapy in our neighborhood. In addition to the fact that many qualified therapists choose to service other neighborhoods, as the therapists in our schools earn less per hour than in Boro Park and Williamsburg, our district instituted a new policy this year that further reduces the compensation for our dedicated therapists. Children ages 3–5 must be serviced through an agency as of this September.
As a therapist who is happy to travel far and work under an agency that is guiding me through the beginning of my career, I value the work of an agency. However, this rule is unnecessary and damaging. We have therapists who have been working in our schools for years. We do not need an agency to recruit therapists for us, and the therapists do not need the agency to find them cases in a school with which they have had a positive working relationship for over ten years.
The only possible outcome is to cause these same therapists to leave our schools, leaving us with low-quality therapists. As a parent of a child who receives services, as a taxpayer, and, yes, as a therapist who would want to, in five or ten years, provide skilled services to my own community, closer to my home, I find this policy disturbing. Let us work as a unit, and let our districts know that we want to be part of the choice as to where our tax dollars are being spent. Is it to an agency so the owners can become wealthy, or is it to our neighbors, our school, and our children?
Call your district and contact NYS Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder at 718-641-8755 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Parent and Therapist