Matchmaking - or Something Infinitely Worse?

…Matchmaker, Matchmaker make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch… - Fiddler on the Roof

Our tradition teaches that even before a child is conceived, a voice in Heaven announces whom the child will marry, making each true match, a match made in heaven.

A match made in heaven! Could there be a more wonderful thought as we guide our children through their young lives than knowing that there is a Sarah for each Abraham, a Rebecca for each Isaac!

There remains, however, a challenge. We know that such a blessed match for each of us exists. The question is, How shall we ever find our match? After all, even when the world was a good deal smaller than it is today, finding our match was no easy task.

Enter, the matchmaker. The Shadchan. The kindly, old man or woman familiar with the community, the people in it, the one who is both revered and feared for his or her ability to bring together couples in marriage. The Shadchan is a character easily caricatured, a character straight out of folklore but who actually moved among us! A character who can fill us with hope and trepidation.

To have been successful, the Shadchan had to be known to everyone, to know everyone and, perhaps more importantly, to know everyone’s business! If not for the Shadchan’s integrity and judgment, he would surely have been considered disturbingly, annoyingly intrusive. He pushed and probed into each and every family, finding “hidden jewels” and identifying imperfections, information necessary to the task of creating perfect unions based on family pedigree, scholastic achievement and piety.

Knowing the standards by which the Shadchan would judge potential matches served to make families ever vigilant to make their children attractive and their families worthy; they guarded against any potential illegitimacy. More importantly, because spirituality and scholarship were valued in the community, they made every effort to encourage both – for the benefit of their children, their future unions and the Jewish community as a whole.

Community standards – moral, religious and scholarly – were foundational to the match. These values not only supported the community but were the pillars upon which a successful and good marriage was based. Indeed, this was the ultimate criteria for a match made in heaven, one that respected and honored these profound and eternal values.

Modern times, of course, have challenged this tradition of matchmaking. Families are now often spread out over communities, countries and continents. Many young men and women pursue higher education. They travel and see the world for themselves. They are raised with strong opinions about their own places in the world. In these matters, like all others, the influence of the world is ever more pressing. The ever-present power of the Internet and instantaneous communication has transformed the memory of the shtetl into a sepia-toned photograph.

A “match made in heaven” under these difficult and tech-driven circumstances is far removed from Abrahamic times when Abraham could send his servant Eliezer in search of a wife for Isaac. Now, there are computer algorithms, psychological assessments, J-date, Facebook… And yet, the task of finding a mate is too important to be left to chance, to the furtive glance over a computer screen; too important to be reduced to a left or right swipe on a dating service.

And so, the Shadchan has returned! Before those of us from the older generation allow ourselves a sigh of relief, we would do well to consider how the crassness of the world has infiltrated the ancient art of matchmaking!

First, let us be fair and acknowledge that no modern Shadchan could ever know all the possible matches available to young Jewish men and women like his or her counterpart in the Jewish communities of old. Many Shadchanim, it seems, know little more than superficialities about their prospective clients. The world is too dispersed and there are so, so many potential matches! So, we should not begrudge the Shadchan taking advantage of more modern tools for determining matches.

Rooting out information about potential matches is oh so much more difficult now. And so, Shadchanim have turned to a corporate model, the resume.

The “shidduch resume” ostensibly serves the same purpose as any other resume. That is, it conveys relevant information. When applying for a job, a resume conveys skill set, background, experience, etc. So too the shidduch resume.   Only the shidduch resume contains information that would be relevant to finding a mate.

Name. Age. Height. Yeshiva background. Extra-curricular. Family history. And, of course, references are a must.

With this information, the Shadchan creates a “data base” of potential mates and then goes about matching this one to that one, that one to this one.

The resume can indeed sound somewhat crass, especially to those of us who have lived during times when matches had a bit more of the “personal” touch, when opportunities to meet in normal social settings, were not frowned upon. However, as I noted, fair is fair, and one must always make accommodations to the best practices. So, despite the resentment that some young women in particular feel about the resumes, feeling that it objectifies them in a terribly superficial way, let us for the moment concede that in a world where there are so many possibilities for matches, finding the right one, the true one, requires as much organization as insight, particularly because the opportunities to meet socially are overwhelmingly unavailable.

So, it is not the fact of the resumes that is most troublesome. Instead, it is often the content and even more appalling, how it is used. So while we want to be “fair” to the way the art of creating a shidduch has evolved, let us, on the other hand, be very clear about what has become despicable about it.

In short, rather than used with integrity and genuine humility, these resumes are, in fact, too often used to highlight the most superficial of characteristics, inviting parents of potential grooms to “shop” for the “best” match for their son, “best” being defined by socioeconomic background, yeshiva-school pedigree, etc. In short, not to find a match “made in heaven” but one that will pass muster on the “society” pages of …!

I have heard from friends and colleagues describing the process as painful and all too often degrading. These shidduchim all take place in communities where there is a professed commitment to the highest level of spirituality and yet, more often than not, the shidduchim seem focused on the girls’ looks, dress sizes and the financial background of their families.

There is little “natural” or “comfortable” in the process because so much of it is impersonal (at best!)

Because there is no standard or certification for Shadchan, the bad in the process is inevitably magnified while the potential is minimized. There are too many charlatans involved in our children’s matches, and not enough fear of Heaven!

As I suggest, the problem may not be the resume. The problem is the information these resumes ask for and how it is used.

Consider the “resume” Ben Rohr would like when seeking his “match made in Heaven”. In a blog, he confesses that he is ignorant as to how the resume gained its current standing. So am I. He goes on to note the real problem with the resume – it seems to imply that a person is the sum of the schools she attended, her parents’ professions, shul affiliation, etc. In other words, he suggests that the picture the resume presents of a potential mate is superficial at best.

He lists the things he would want to see on a resume. Not surprisingly, they have little to do with the superficialities of these other resumes but everything to do with a prospective mate’s qualities. He would want the resume to include, What are your unique values? What makes you…well you? What goals are you working on? What is your personality like? What are you deeply passionate about? How did you get to where you are? How did you become who you are?

That’s it.

Before dismissing Mr. Rohr’s “resume” suggestion, we would be wise to ask which “resume” is more consistent with the ideal of a match made in Heaven? In comprising his list, he is aligning with a long tradition of wise matchmakers.

* * *

There is a story of a Jew who traveled from Jerusalem to B’nei Brak to speak to the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh, Rav Shmuel Rozovsky z”l about a boy in the yeshiva. His daughter had reached marriageable age and he was anxious to make a match. He was probably looking for “the best boy in the yeshiva”. Don’t we all?

Ushered into the rabbi’s study, the man asked after the boy, how many hours he learned, if he was prompt, whether he was diligent or wasted time, was he on time to minyan.

All good questions, which the rabbi, because he knew the boy well, answered readily. When the man exhausted his questions, he thanked the rabbi and began to rise to leave. But the rabbi stopped him.

“You have asked me many questions. May I ask you a couple?”

The man sat back down. “Of course, rabbi. Of course.”

The rabbi noted the man’s questions and discerned that he was interested in a shidduch for a daughter. The man nodded that yes, that was indeed his purpose.

The kind and wise rabbi held the man’s gaze for a moment. Then, in a quiet voice, he said, “You seem happy with the report I gave you, that the young man is a good and diligent student. But let me ask you, might your daughter not want to know if this boy is a mentsch? If he is a ba’al chesed? If he is considerate? ”

The rabbi believed that it is not enough to look for diligence in study and prayer when seeking a match; one must also understand someone’s character. Rav Shmuel Z’l bombarded the father with questions he thought were even more important to ask: How often does he brush his teeth? How does he behave in the company of others? Does he arrive the first in the dining room and take the biggest portion? Does he ever go into the kitchen to thank the staff for preparing the food? Does he eat the food even if he doesn’t like it? Does he make his bed and keep his things neat? Rav Shmuel continued non-stop with questions having little to do with the boy’s formal learning and finally exclaimed, “Will your daughter be happy that her father checked this boy out with the rosh yeshiva who told him that he knows every Ketzos and Rabi Akica Eiger? Will she say, ‘It’s true that he has no manners and no social skills, but I respect him anyway because he knows the sugya of the bees and the mustard in Bava Basra?’

The man hung his head in shame…

* * *

Can any of us imagine that Rebecca, “a rose amongst thorns”, the daughter of the pagan Betuel and sister of Laban, notorious for his dishonorable character and his deceptive habits, would have garnered a second glance at these modern resumes? Do you know anyone in our frum communities who would have agreed to go out with Rivka bas Betuel? However, a resume like Mr. Rohr’s could have uncovered her goodness and holiness, despite living in Haran, “the place of God’s wrath.”

It seems that we need Shaddachim now more than ever if our children are to find their matches made in Heaven. If that is true, then, we will have to relinquish the harsh and superficial criteria that seems to drive too many parents and communities – and therefore Shaddachim – in forcing matches.

If we are to bless our children with mates that God has destined for them, we would be wise to insist that Shadchanim (and parents!) look deeper than the superficial and transform making shidduchim into an art and not the mere aggregation of assets.