Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Shidduchim Part III - Is the Yeshiva World Ready for Web Cam Dating?

The Eisek of Pirya V’Rivya

I entered Lakewood Yeshiva in Ellul of 1981 (it was allowed to come in Ellul then). I had two primary objectives in mind: To fulfill the directives of the gemara Shabbos – (1) קבעת עתים לתורה and (2) 'עסקת בפרי' ורבי.
After 4 ½ years at not excelling at either task, I was compelled to enter the workforce. I wound up being mekayem נשאת ונתת באמונה and צפית לישועה instead.

I learned one thing from the experience: עתים לתורה is something קבוע. But 'פרי' ורבי is an עסק (an ordeal). And what an eisek it is. Every date was a 24 hour affair. At the end of morning seder, the gemara was closed. The kvius was over and the eisek began. Lunch, a quick nap, obtaining a car, packing an overnight bag, showering, shaving, and then…shlepping. And shlepping. And shlepping. And shmoozing, and shmeicheling, and shpatziring. And then…more shlepping, some shluffing and finally, re-shuffling the deck. And for all this, we are shelling out. Sheeeesh!

Many things have changed since the 1980s. Many things haven’t. Some of the things that have changed are good. Others are not so good. Many things that have stayed the same are good. Others are not so good. In the early 1980s, we never heard of a Shidduch crisis.

That was good.

Now we do hear of one.

Not so good.

In the early 1980s there was absolutely no alternative to dating except to physically travel to whatever nook and cranny in the greater NY metropolitan area. Or to Baltimore, or Monsey, or Philadelphia, and on occasion to fly out to Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, Chicago, or Los Angeles.

Not so good.

Today, there may be one.

That is good.

I think it is worth checking out.

I opened this series of posts with a tongue-in-cheek critique on Parshat Chayei Sara. I noted that Yitzchok Avinu had the luxury of staying home in the "daled amos shel Halacha" while his well-to-do poppa fetched a wife for him from his hometown. What service! Just get your servant out by netz and – voila! – you'll have a wife in time for mincha.
Yaakov Avinu was not so privileged. He had to close his gemara and travel to one of the most depraved neighborhoods in the region to find a wife (or two). This took till way after maariv. And there were plenty of nisyonos (pitfalls) along the way.

While there are still some Chassidic circles that maintain the Yitzchok Avinu method, the misnagdisha crowd seems to have fallen in with the Yaakov Avinu method. And we face many of the same nisyonos. A brief listing of the pitfalls of the Yaakov Avinu method includes:

  • Bittul Torah – Like Yaakov Avinu, the gemara closes for up to 24 hours. And you know the old saying, "אם תעזבני יום, יומים אעזביך ".

    Back in my days in Lakewood, this anecdote was told (but probably never happened):

    One Sunday afternoon a non-local visitor to Lakewood wanted to have a look inside the Yeshiva’s Bais Midrash. When his eyes beheld a large proportion of empty places he was taken aback. He asked a nearby lone Talmid, “Where is everybody?”

    The Talmid perks up and says, “Just be thankful for Cherem Rabeinu Gershom or else half of the yungerleit wouldn’t be here, either.’

  • Great Expense – Yaakov Avinu's trip up north wound up costing him a bit more than he expected. By the time he reached the girl's house, he had spent so much on gas and "tolls" that he didn't have enough left for a glass of Coke. Fortunately for him, he had a very understanding potential mechutan who was willing to lay out the expenses for him to be paid out over time.
    When I was doing the Big Apple in the early 80s, a simple date ran a minimum of $50. Now, it's hard to beat $100 and it can easily run higher. That's a sizable investment to invest in a shidduch venture and it is quite taxing on the boy and his folks. It may be a contributing factor why girls who deserve second dates (and even first dates) don't get them. Especially those who live a little further out. And today's economic crisis is not helping. This may be one of the most serious issues that I need to address.

  • Personal Safety risks – Yaakov Avinu met up with some shady characters along the way. One in particular was ready to do him in but was nice enough to merely relieve him of every stitch of clothes which included his pockets and everything in them.
    Today, we have other dangers. One of my brothers in law had a very short tenure in Lakewood Yeshiva. After he was learning there for about 2 weeks, he was driving out to LW from NY and was a bit on the tired side. He woke up with his (father's) car wrapped around a pole and his right foot in the glove compartment. Boruch Hashem, that was the worst of it and we can laugh about it now. Things could have been worse. I have no idea how many serious incidents may have occurred over the past 20 years involving bochurim who over-exerted themselves, but any amount is too many.

  • Kedusha Issues - There are no shortage of spiritual risks as well. Some of the most common ones:

    A) Shemiras einayim and environment. Manhattan is full of so many wonderful sights and sounds and very colorful characters. Especially in the warm summer evenings. When I was going out, I made a note of which hotel lounges were staffed by more respectably attired servers and tried to stick to those. I used to quip that if my attention was more tuned to the server than to the girl, the girl is not for me. It really isn't funny.
    B) Yichud and Negiah: Though these are usually avoidable if we behave ourselves, they are not as avoidable if we do not.
    C) Kashrus: Watch out for those sliced lemons in the Cokes! Though this issue may be the least of it, going out on the town can cause many of us to make compromises – or mistakes – that we don't need.
And finally, one occupational hazard that we do not discuss much:
  • Lingering Intimate Feelings – Although Yaakov Avinu married the second girl he met, he just couldn't get the first one out of his head. Even though he had the option of marrying her, as well – a privilege we are denied – the relationship in his first marriage was a bit tarnished.
    When we go on a shidduch date, to some extent, we are "playing" husband/wife for 3 to four hours. Even though these short fleeting relationships become quickly buried in the morass of what happens next, they do not always totally evaporate. Old flame syndrome can crop up out of even a few dates because these dates were conducted as serious marriage evaluation. The brief meetings can forge a relationship that never totally dies even after the two go their separate ways. For more details, consult Willie Nelson.
Yaakov Avinu was able to stand up to his nisyonos (well, I am not sure about the last one). Then again, it's natural to have a more mature outlook when one is 77 years old. Since we generally take on these challenges at a much younger age, we need to be more cautious. הלוואי, we could rely on the Yitzchok Avinu system of staying put and letting our barsherts come to us.

Well, perhaps we can – thanks to modern technology.

To appreciate this idea, we must come to terms with some realities that we are already aware of:

  1. The Internet is here to stay.
  2. Most of us are connected to it.
  3. Those of us who use Internet for business and connectivity do so because the benefits are indispensable.

In other words, in spite of the acute awareness that the Internet is fraught with serious hazards, the benefits and productivity that can be realized from it are too valuable and too vital to be dismissed. In short, the frum society has reached a stage that forces us to face up to the reality that if the Internet can be used to reduce Bittul Torah, overwhelming costs, personal safety risks, spiritual safety risks, and help alleviate the Shidduch crisis, it may be irresponsible not to take advantage of it. Not only may the benefits be so valuable as to overshadow the risks, it may actually solve some longstanding issues of frum dating that have plagued us for decades.

My idea is to take something that is already being done in non-religious or non-Jewish circles and to formalize it for use within the Torah community. I am talking about using web cams for dating in the initial stages. This means to facilitate and encourage yeshiva bochurim to conduct the first few dates of every new prospect via a web cam. Only when the situation advances to stage 2, do they actually begin to see each other in person.

Obviously, this plan will require a lot of cooperation on the part of the major yeshivos and the yeshiva communities. In my plan, the yeshivos need not do anything themselves. Rather, they will authorize a resourceful Yungermahn to – under their guidance – establish a facility with video-enabled computer stations in booths. When a bochur is to conduct an initial encounter, he sets a time with the girl and goes to one of the booths to hold a web cam shidduch date. The bochur will pay a nominal fee for this service, let's say $25 per session, which will be a fraction of the cost of an actual date and a source of honest, kosher, and to'elles-diga parnassah for the avreich who is operating it. If, after 2 or three such dates, the couple sees potential for tachlis, then they procede to date the old-fashioned way and meet in person.

Of course, there will have to be a video-enabled station on the female side of the spectrum as well. So firstly, let me state what we probably all know, anyway, that a good many Bais Yaakov maidels are already on line with email and Facebook and if they don't already have a web cam at home, it's just a $50 part. Secondly, for אלו שאין להן , a local shul or community organization – perhaps the local branch of Agudas Yisroel or something similar – could oversee the establishment of such a facility in a kosher environment. And thirdly, one who does not have a web cam and cannot get to one is no worse off than not implementing this whole plan so there is no disadvantage in that sense.

Now, let us review the pros and cons of this proposal. On the plus side:

  • Firstly, it will address every issue that was raised above – Bittul Torah, money, kedusha, and safety. The boys will not be required to leave the Yeshiva as often. The time and money invested will be a fraction of the norm and the listed "kedusha" and personal safety risks are totally eliminated.

  • Secondly, it will make location, which is so much a factor in today's system (hey, if there are so many good prospects in Brooklyn, Queens, and Lakewood, why schlep out to Monsey, 5 Towns, Philly or Baltimore?), into a non-issue. This alleviates a whole slew of location related issues, such as:

    A) A boy can meet a girl from Detroit, Los Angeles, Australia, England, Eretz Yisroel, etc. at no cost and no waste of time.

    B) Pursuant to the above, it will level the playing field for the girls. So many girls are disadvantaged at meeting boys because of their locations. With this system, there will be more opportunity and hope for girls who live in far out places, on the periphery of NY (who, ironically, may suffer more than out of towners who have lodging in NY – these girls fall between the cracks), and for girls who do not have favorable options for locating themselves in the East coast.

    C) Thirdly, it may help the survival of yeshivos and community institutions that have traditionally had trouble because of their unfavorable location. Also, it will help Torah Jews such as Rabbanim, Principals are the Roshei Kollels in places like Pheonix, Houston, Cincinatti, Richmond, etc. Choshuva people are reluctant to take positions in these places because they will become pillars of the communities and attach roots there and be unable to leave, but their daughters will reach marriage age and be in limbo.
    As an example, my wife's cousin is the Rav of an isolated community way out West. He is loved, respected, influential, and otherwise essential. Now, their oldest daughter is reaching perek HaIsh Mekadesh and they are at wit's end. Do they have to exile her to the five boroughs of Sodom to even have a chance? It is a tremendous sacrifice and it affects the possibility of getting qualified people to assume these positions.
    With a system like this, we can get qualified people to be more wiling to make these sacrifices.

  • Dates can be conducted at unusual yet practical time slots such as erev shabbos.

  • Nobody actually has to take a shower!

Of course, such a system is not without its hazards and drawbacks. But I think it is a list we can deal with. Here is what I came up with:

  • The Treife Internet: It means a more formal acceptance of Internet usage within the Torah community. This is a bitter pill to swallow. Nevertheless, most of us, including anybody who is reading this post on-line, are already there. The 2 biggest issues of Internet usage are Bitul Zman and Kedusha. My position is that with contemporary dating, bitul zman and compromising kedusha is a given – a ודאי. Misusing the Internet is a ספק. Actually, in a controlled environment (with filters and 2nd party monitoring) it is relatively secure. Consequently, אין ספק מוציא מידי ודאי .
    Incidentally, America was also known as the "treife medinah" but it saved Klal Yisroel (and it's still treife!)

  • Appearance of subjects: It can be claimed that a web cam image does not do justice to the natural chen of people who may not be so photogenic. Of course, this can work both ways – perhaps for some people, a web cam image will hide some blemishes. Also, the parties can (and should) work on an assumption that in real face to face –should it reach that stage – the other person probably looks even better.

  • Privacy issues – This is to me the most (or only) really serious issue. With today's computer technology, there is always a possibility of recording and distributing sessions. This can obviously be ruinous to people's lives. Imagine if an on-line dating session pops up after somebody is married (to a different person). In my plan, boys only conduct these sessions in official monitored facilities. This may alleviate the problem from that side. Still this plan has no provision for controlling the girls who may be at home. A computer savvy and unscrupulous maidel can make a big mess out of things – so for all those "buyers" out there: caveat emptor!

  • Cheapening the dating experience – The beauty of this plan is that it makes it cheap and easy for a boy to say "Yes". Unfortunately, it also makes it cheap and easy for the boy to say, "Let's try somebody else tomorrow". It can develop into a "speed dating" syndrome. Though this is an issue, I consider it a minor one in the face of it's advantages.

  • Reverse discrimination: May cause boys to overlook locals. Solving the distance barrier may come at a price to nearby prospects. The grass is always greener...But, you know what they say: Every problem has a solution and every solution makes new problems.

  • Girl has to buy her own Coke.

  • Nobody actually has to take a shower!

Such a plan will not come without resistance. Especially from the female side of the mechitza, many of whom do not appreciate the investment of time and money as well as the physical and spiritual risks that a ben Torah must undertake for each and every date. When I mentioned this idea to my in-the-parsha daughter, she recoiled in shock before recovering with the standard "No way, Jose!" response. But, as telephones stand silent and Sunday nights stand unbooked for longer spells, the attitude may change.

Doubtless, personal dating is still necessary but why not push it off a bit until it the prospect is more l’maaseh?

I am not trying to fix something that ain't broke. We do have a shidduch crisis on our hands. As I said earlier, the crisis in our circles is primarily one of demographics (imbalanced gender population) complicated by geographics (location) and economics (gelt). This system would solve the geographic issue and lighten the economic issue which may, in turn, alleviate the demographic one. Add to this the physical and spiritual safety risk issues which are becoming increasingly more severe.

Yes, we need hadracha from our Gedolim in terms of what is acceptable in the eisek of pirya v'rivya but, clearly, for many years we have been “looking the other way” with regard to the current system despite many aspects שאין רוח חכמים נוחה מהם. My dating career was in the pre-Internet 1980s and, for the most part, there was nothing we could do about them. Web cams give us the opportunity to avoid many of these issurim and nisyonos.
Why not take advantage of them?

I sincerely think that we need to take a serious look at such a system. My instincts tell me that I am not the first person to think up something like this though I have never seen it suggested in a Torah-oriented forum. My instincts also tell me that in the course of time, this method will come to fruition in some form no matter what I write. The circumstances are all but demanding it.

And let's keep those Bais Midrash seats filled on Sunday afternoon.

It is time to change the "eisek" into an "eis laasos".

13 comments:

G said...

already exists...it's called Shidduch Vision

see here www.makeashidduch.org

G said...

I assume of course that you have run this idea past daas torah.

Yechezkel said...

>> already exists...it's called Shidduch Vision

Firstly, thank you very much for bringing this to my attention. As I wrote at the end of my post, I didn't expect to be the only person to suggest this.

I checked up the web site. It is obviously a fledgling startup. It offers very little informational material. Nothing as to where it is based, when it was founded, who is running it, how many people on staff, nor a word about any Rabbinical endorsements or affiliations with recognized organizations.

Currently, the Shidduch Vision program does not seem to be a reality, just a plan.

All in all, it is nothing more than a ghost web site.

Anyway, I am not talking about merely using this technology as an alternative dating method. I am talking about the chareidi /Yeshiva world implementing it as a standard.

>> I assume of course that you have run this idea past daas torah.

I don't see Rabbi Eidensohn too often as we live at opposite ends of Har Nof. I have only had 2 conversations with him to date. One was about Slifkin and the other was about self-publishing books.

More seriously, I am not an askan and from my perch here in Jerusalem I am not in a good position to implement this, only to advocate it. I will leave it to the askanim to deal with the powers that be. If there are no askanim willing to undertake such a project there is nothing to discuss.

BTW, are you married?

Best,

Chezkel

Anonymous said...

Which askanim have you contacted?

Zadok said...

The Treife Internet: It means a more formal acceptance of Internet usage within the Torah community. This is a bitter pill to swallow. Nevertheless, most of us, including anybody who is reading this post on-line, are already there.

That point is completly invalid.It's true that I need internet access at work, but there is no way I would want my son in Yeshiva to have internet access.According to him even though blackberries etc. are easy to come by, no serious bocher he knows has internet access in BMG.Lets keep it that way.

G said...

If you are honestly interested I can get you contact information for those responsible for both the website and the program.

If there are no askanim willing to undertake such a project there is nothing to discuss.

???

BTW, are you married?

Why? (I have no problem answering, just curious as to reason for the question)

Patricia Batton said...

It can be claimed that a web cam image does not do justice to the natural chen of people who may not be so photogenic. Of course, this can work both ways – perhaps for some people, a web cam image will hide some blemishes. Also, the parties can (and should) work on an assumption that in real face to face –should it reach that stage – the other person probably looks even better.

How is this any better than the old fashioned phone? Ok, you want a phone and a picture? No problem but I can't for the life of me understand what's so great about webcam dating.

Nothing you said here adds to what we already have and if you want cheap, making sure we all use the same cell company makes it free!

Yechezkel said...

>>Why? (I have no problem answering, just curious as to reason for the question)

It is natural curiosity more than anything else. If you ever did read my book and got to page 252, I discuss the value of "Getting to know your customer". I secretly wish I could send out a basic "vital statistics" questionnaire to all of my readers, though it is obviously quite impractical. I am sorry for "picking" on you :-) but you have distinguished yourself as one of my most regular customers (which I appreciate).

I asked the question now because when talking about the Jewish shidduch scene, marrieds and singles invariably view it from different perspectives. I just wanted a better picture as to where you are "coming from".

Incidentally, I have been questioning my own judgement (an exceedingly rare phenomenon) if I should have asked this question. Do not feel obligated.

Kol Tuv,

Yechezkel

Yechezkel said...

>> How is this any better than the old fashioned phone? Ok, you want a phone and a picture? No problem...

Currently, nobody (in Yeshiva circles ,at least, and I don't think in any circles) considers an initial "old fashioned" phone conversation as the embodiment of a "date". If I am studying in Lakewood and somebody wants me to meet a girl located in, let's say, Chicago or even as close as Baltimore, I do not have much incentive to travel to these places on a blind date. I would also not likely conduct dates just using old fashioned non-video telephone communication. An audio-only encounter does not even simulate a real date but a video encounter does.

>> ...but I can't for the life of me understand what's so great about webcam dating.

Your blogger name suggests that you are female. Traditionally, females are not concerned about the cost of dating sine they do not foot the bill. Likewise, they do not decide who to date based on location, since the boy traditionally comes to them. They also do not figure travel time into dates and it's toll on the daily work or learning schedule. Also, although physical appearance is important to both genders, it is much more of a crucial deal breaking aspect from the male perspective.

Because of this, I don't expect all women to be able to understand for the life of them what is so good about it.

That is why I wrote, "Such a plan will not come without resistance. Especially from the female side of the mechitza,..."

Hatzlacha


YH

Patricia Batton said...

I love it. It's going to be great. The guys are going to waste even more time. They are going to "weed" girls out through a webcam which will not give a true presentation of how a girl looks so it won't be any better than a phone. It'll be a mess guys will dump girls they may have married and date girls who look and act nothing like they did on the cam.

Have you ever watched a movie and then seen the actress in person? Do you think that movie gave a true representation of the person?

Why not have the mothers meet the girls a lot of them do it. I think it's a terrible idea but it's a weeding process like anythign else.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

It'll be a mess guys will dump girls they may have married and date girls who look and act nothing like they did on the cam.

How genuinely do people act on a first or second real date? People can act as artificially on a real date as in front of a cam!
I can easily rephrase your comment by replacing the word "cam"with the word "date".

But I think that the cam-meeting experience will make a first date even more wooden and stiff than it already is live.
I don't think people will enjoy using it despite all its advantages on paper.
If this idea does catch on, I think people will dread it more than live dates and it will just become a passing fad...

Anonymous said...

I believe it will be hard, if not impossible to 'get to know' someone on a webcam. It is difficult to be intuitive when you can't see the 'whole person' - all the mannerisms etc. And focusing on a computer screen for three hours...will likely cause headaches (and maybe heartaches too).
However, your points re economic and other advantages are all valid.

Bz said...

I think part of the problem is that current webcam technology is just not good enough yet. There is no doubt in my mind that a $50 webcam will make this a very unpleasant experience.

Assuming both sides had proper equipment over dedicated high speed internet lines with dedicated video servers, there may be a chance. One of the biggest problems is that each person is looking at the screen and not at the cam, so it feels like you are watching the other person, not talking to the other person.

A proper setup would be a significant size screen (most likely in the 40 - 50" range) and and professional camera equipment....

From what I understand (and I work in the technology field), $25 per session will unlikely cover the cost, and there will be a requirement for both sides to have the same high quality equipment. The gelt benefit is unlikely, but other benefits should be had.

If done properly, the experience can be nearly as good as a real date, and of course part of the package could be that the guy pays for the date for both sides, and a drink is included too...

This can also be run as a franchise kind of thing - The maind company creates the product and setup, and anyone can open their own Virtual shidduch shop on their own using the preconceived setup, and charge admission. - The reality is that only places with significant amounts of daters would be able to pay their bills - which brings me to another idea - the actual cost of equipment and setup would probably be in the range of $1000 - 3000 - Anyone in any city would be able to purchase it and it can be run on a gmach basis - admission is charged until the point where equipment is paid for.

ok I'll stop blabbing now, but I think this requires more polished technique tan $50 webcams if this ever will have any chance of materializing