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.
- 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.
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:
- The Internet is here to stay.
- Most of us are connected to it.
- 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".