Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Parshat Chayei Sara: Part I - Shidduchim Then and Now

Parshat Chayei Sara is upon us. This parsha is traditionally acclaimed as the Torah's Guide to Matrimonial Protocol. We are expected to learn from Avrohom Avinu the ideal procedure for marrying off our sons. (In two more weeks, we will learn from Lavan HaArami the ideal procedure for marrying off our daughters).

Thus, we learn from this parsha that the ideal method of dating is that the boy should never leave the yeshiva. He should continue learning and merely send a servant with 10 camels and loads of gifts and jewelry to Boro Park or wherever the girl lives and cajole her to drop everything and come and move into the boy's mother's tent. We also learn that he should seek a beautiful virgin, the younger the better - as young as 3 years old - even if he is pushing 40. We also learn that the quaint trick of poisoning the servant and keeping the camels, jewelry, and gifts does not always work – though it may be worth a try.

Alas, circumstances have changed ever so slightly in just a mere 3,700 years whereas it may not be so easy to emulate the ways of our forefathers. For one thing, Camels now come in packs of 20, not 10, and most women prefer Newport Lights. Secondly, there are contemporary legal restrictions against pursuing 3 year old virgins. In fact, our rabbanim have been advising us to pursue older virgins as more and more of them are pushing 40. Thirdly, I have a premonition that one of the many great "changes" that we can expect from the upcoming Obama administration is that it may become a bit harder to obtain reliable Kanaani servants. And, finally, one ramification of the worsening economic situation is that we may have to cut back drastically on camels, jewelry and gifts. Let's face it, not all of us were "blessed with everything." Most of us don't even have enough to load up one pygmy llama – forget about 10 camels.

So now we do things differently – the particulars of which I plan to elaborate on in a forthcoming post.

Because of these slight changes, many claim that we have lost our sense of direction when it comes to pursuing shidduchim. And we are finding ourselves in the midst of a shidduch crisis. Or, at least, that is what everybody is calling it. And we are looking for ways to "fix" the system. Currently, we are getting all kinds of advice from every Jon, Shmilik, and Harry.

But is it really broken?

Jonathan Rosenblum doesn't think so. And neither do I.

To explain this, let me state that there is something deceptive about this debate and this is that the parties are oft-times comparing apples to oranges. This is because there are 2 distinct problems. There is (1) the singles problem that plagues the Westernized non-chareidi world and there is (2) the demographics problem that is plaguing the chareidi world.

The crux of the chareidi "problem" is that marriageable girls far outnumber the boys. As the Beach Boys (and Philly boys and Passaic boys and Fallsburg boys and Chaim Berlin boys and Telzer boys, etc.) so aptly put it:
And we're goin' to Surf City, 'cause it's two to one
You know we're goin' to Surf City, gonna have some fun
You know we're goin' to Surf City, 'cause it's two to one
You know we're goin' to Surf City, gonna have some fun, now

Two girls for every boy

Or, close to it.

This creates what every businessman knows is a "buyer's market". And a buyer's market can be cruel.

Accordingly, there is no problem with the "system" - it works fine. Boys are finding wives without much difficulty. And in the yeshiva world, most people who get married…stay married. All this talk about asking about dress sizes and tablecloth colors are meaningless but automatic symptoms of the buyer's market. People ask these questions because they can afford to. In the old days of pre-war Europe there were more Yeshiva boys than there were girls prepared to marry them. It was a seller's market. So, in a seller's market, no buyer can afford to be fussy about dress sizes and tablecloth colors. That is why so many Yeshiva men went so far as to marry women who were not amenable to covering their hair.

So, don't worry about the symptoms. If we can cure the disease (the buyer's market) the symptoms will disappear.

Unforunately, this is one aggressive disease. If anybody has read my baby-boom posts about Maayanei Hayshua and Kaplan (don't think that Shaarei Tzedek or Maimonides and Long Branch are hurting for customers, either) then we know that we will not solve the "buyer's market" problem in the foreseeable future.

This problem is a different one than the long standing singles problem that has been plaguing the non-chareidi world. This is what Shmilik is talking about. There, nobody asks about tablecloth covers or dress sizes and still there's a crisis. In this world, people employ a more Westernized system for searching for mates. This is not the system of parshat Chayei Sara. It is more the system that the Rambam describes as "before mattan Torah" (Hilchos Ishus 1:1). Though many will swear by this system, more will swear at it.

Thus while R. Jon(athan Rosenblum) is talking about one crisis, Shmilik is talking about another. And Harry is trying to mix everything together.*

Now, my proposed solution for the non-chareidi shidduch crisis is the simple pre-packaged one that nobody wants to hear (especially Shmilik):

Sign on to the chareidi system.

I don’t mean just for shidduchim. I mean for every facet of life. In more palatable terms, I mean stick to the prescription of Vayikra 26:3 or get with the “One Above” scene. (Details in my handy dandy manual).

As for the chareidi demographic crisis, finding a solution is much more challenging. Up until about 3 years back I could claim I was doing my part by fathering 50% more boys than girls. I even tried to widen the margin but, somehow, the girls managed to pull even. I should have listened to Forrest Gump’s mother (You never know whatcher gonna get.).

There is no quick fix to the demographic problem. And that, in turn, is creating a “buyer’s market” that impairs the shidduch system. But, intrinsically, the fault – in chareidi circles - does not lie with the “system.” Marriages abound. The system works. But I think that maybe we can make it work better. And maybe we can relieve some of the symptoms of the dreadful demographic disease. This is because we have some tools now that we didn't have 3,700 years ago.

I plan to discuss it but it won’t be shorter than this post and this post is long enough.

Stay tuned for: The Eisek of Pirya V’Rivya

*No, I did not read Dr. Michael Salomon's book. Perhaps, if more people bought mine, I could afford to buy his.

1 comment:

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

I simply can't imagine any quick fixes to the demographic problem.

What do you think about the recent attempt to reform the buyers' mentality through monetary incentives (bribes)?