Secrets of the shidduch
Dating for Orthodox Jews
By Cindy Mindell
WEST HARTFORD - How do rabbis date? This is the email invitation that brought a group of Hartford-area Jews to the home of Rabbi Shaya and Shayna Gopin last month for a special screening of “Match and Marry,” a new documentary by Suzannah Warlick that explores the ancient tradition of matchmaking in modern-day Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The Gopins head Chabad of Greater Hartford. Audience-members, Jews of all stripes, were a mix of singles and couples, and parents of marriageable children considering the services of a matchmaker.
They wanted to know whether matchmakers work with Jews from all denominations and the divorced and widowed. Someone asked whether there is real love in such a seemingly contrived system, and how one can jump into marriage after a relatively short dating period. “And, of course, people asked how my husband and I met,” says Shayna.
“In traditional Jewish circles, there isn't the mingling between guys and girls,” she says. “So it is necessary for mutual friends, family, or a professional matchmaker to set you up.”
A good matchmaker does a lot of research, often with the help of the potential couple’s families and mutual friends. “This is a very important part of the system. You make sure your values and goals are compatible before you become emotionally involved with a person,” Shayna says. Once the couple starts dating, their dialog is serious about potential marriage.
“The shidduch movement is so important because marriage is so important in Jewish life,” Shayna says. “The peace, love and physical affection between a husband and wife are very dear in God’s eyes. It is a big mitzvah for anyone who is involved in helping two young people build a solid Jewish home.”
It must be noted that an “arranged” marriage doesn’t mean “coerced,” says Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe of Congregation Agudas Achim in West Hartford. In most traditional cultures, past and present, the young woman has had no say in her choice of marriage partner. “However, Torah law and Jewish custom have always frowned upon this practice, even in ancient times,” he says.
“In fact, the opposition to coerced marriages was prevalent in Abraham's family even before Judaism. In the Torah's account of Isaac’s marriage (Genesis 24), when Abraham’s servant Eliezer proposes to take Rebecca back to Canaan to marry Isaac, he is told by Rebecca’s family (Abraham’s cousins, who were not into his new religion): ‘Let us ask the maiden.’ From here the Sages derive that no one may be married against their choice. This indeed has always been the practice within the Jewish community since its inception.”
Rabbi Yaffe opines that the matchmaking method has proven most effective for a Jew seeking a marriage partner, because “one starts off meeting someone who is at least somewhat compatible, rather than meeting people at random. As a matter of a fact, many thoroughly modern Jewish singles have discovered that the random roll-the-dice approach isn't finding them a mate, and have returned to the traditional model.”
The Gopins don’t know of any local matchmakers. “But an official matchmaker is not necessarily the best way to find a shidduch,” says Shayna. “It's about confiding in a friend, mentor, or rabbi about your wishes and dreams for a spouse, and all of us keeping our eyes, ears, and hearts open to set up our friends.”
And there’s always the super-modern take on the ancient tradition: the Orthodox versions of JDate, among them, www.frumster.com (“Jewish dating for marriage”) and www.sawyouatsinai.com n “a very poignant name,” says Shayna. “We believe that all souls were at Mt. Sinai when we received the Torah. So the name of this website represents one soul looking for their soulmate that they have already seen at Mt. Sinai thousands of years ago.”
To learn more about “Match and Marry,” visit www.matchandmarry.com.