The Rise, Fall and Subsequent Rise of the Jewish Matchmaker, otherwise known as
By Suzanne Zettel
It is official! – The Jewish matchmaker is back in vogue! Some people may be forgiven
for not realizing that the Jewish matchmaker, the shadchan, ever went out of vogue,
for the Jewish matchmaker is so synonymous with Jewish life it is hard to believe
that someone so vital and important can be forgotten. And yet, we also have to forgive
those who have never heard of a shadchan. My idea here is to introduce again the
lush history of the shadchan and explain how the shadchan slipped out of favor and
is now well and truly back into our lives again.
The first recorded shadchan
was G-d who made the match between Adam and Eve. Later on in the Torah we see Eliezer
as the shadchan trying to find a match for his master Avraham’s son Yitzchak and
of course he comes back with Rachel. We all know that G-d has our matches preordained
in heaven and yet our matches are not revealed to us, we are supposed to search
for our beshert. Apparently Rabbi Akiva responded to a similar question on predestination
– why do we have to go through a search process for something that G-d already has
set up for us? And the answer is, that “Everything is known to G-d yet free will
is given to man”. But when the road gets rocky and your beshert is hidden, a shadchan
can be your guide on this sometimes complicated and convoluted journey. As one person
noted in his postscript to Rabbi Beryl Wein’s “The Shadchan”, “I would have given
anything to have had a matchmaker find a mate for me. Thank goodness they are back
where they belong, they deserve all the respect they can get”. KD 09/08/2004.
If we track the shadchan from the beginning of time, we see an evolution in the
needs for the Jewish matchmaking process. In the very early days, the shadchan was
essential to keep splintered and isolated communities alive during the time of persecution
and pogroms around the medieval times. Shadchans risked their lives to travel treacherous
roads in order to reach outlying communities and to keep the fabric of society alive.
“G-d pairs two people even if he must bring them from one end of the world to another”
(Talmudic scholars as quoted by Rabbi Maurice Lamm,” Matchmaker Matchmaker”.) In
the time of the shtetels, the shadchan becomes forever etched in our memory as the
robust member of the community who knew everybody and everybody’s business as it
became the Jewish matchmaker’s vocation in life to match. Because the classic shadchan
has a long and honorable tradition in Jewish life, it wasn’t the simple ordinary
member of the community who could become a unifier of human beings. The shadchan
had to have deep personal integrity and balanced judgment to be entrusted with as
vital a task as arranging a permanent union. Because the shadchan would probe into
every family to make sure there was no imperfection, the shadchan pushed families
to aspire to greater heights in order that they did not miss out on the best match
possible. The shadchan kept families vigilant and phobic about intermarriage, illegitimacy
and scholarly achievements. The shadchan knew that the best matches were based on
the qualities of academics, scholastic and family pedigree. The idea that the couple
never met up until after the chuppah brought the most solid, reliable marriages
where love was learned, grew over the years and families were rooted and grounded
in the fact that the communities were being held together by shared values. The
shadchan was at the core of the traditional Jewish family life in the shtetel where
the laws of family purity, Jewish dating and marriage were irrevocably intertwined.
Jewish law prohibits mingling between the sexes and the Jewish matchmaker’s role
is crucial in their meeting and being supervised until the time of marriage.
Although the Jewish matchmaker’s role is still needed today, there are many criticism
of the shadchan in today’s modern world. The first criticism is that whilst the
shadchan appears to be the only viable solution within the orthodox world for couples
to meet and hopefully marry while adhering to the halachic strictures of Tznius
which limit male-female interaction, the Jewish matchmaker takes away romance. The
second criticism is that the shadchan keeps marriages away from disadvantaged people.
To this end there is a web site called “Endthemadness” which is trying to educate
the public as to the dangers of ostracizing people, for example, at the age of 26
labeling the females as over the hill. Rabbi Moshe Bellows Esq has set up a Shadchan
Code of Responsibility in order to regulate the way that the Jewish matchmaker uses
their very powerful role, because “the setting up of people for marriage is an important,
delicate Endeavour replete with awesome responsibility”. Endthemadness draws attention
to what can happen when people are pushed aside in the Jewish matchmaking world,
for example, if they are too poor, too old or have a disability. Rabbi Bellows specifically
takes this head on and reminds the shadchan to realize the “vulnerability of clients,
be sensitive to idiosyncrasies or seemingly undesirable characteristics which can
make a shadchan’s job harder”. Rabbi Bellows continues that shadchans should reduce
the number of their clients so they can concentrate on the ones that they have and
spend more time getting to know their clients. Also, the shadchan should realize
when their clients need to be passed over to health care professionals and to realize
that they don’t own the clients. It wasn’t only these reasons that pushed the shadchan
into the shadows, but also the changing needs of modern society.
We are living in a different world from medieval times with their splintered isolated
communities and we are living in a different world to the shtetel with all its simplicity.
Whereas shtetels revolved around Jewish law, today most Jews are assimilated in
big westernized cities. The values of modern society no longer call for a shadchan,
society is more egocentric, people are aspiring for bigger and better things and
people want to choose what they want and generally want it right away. Because the
nature of society changed, the idea of a Jewish matchmaker became demeaning. Using
a shadchan implied that a person was incapable of making a match without a shadchan.
However, there is an inherent irony in describing the current situation like this
and it has been recognized. It is precisely BECAUSE of today’s greater concentration
of Jews in an assimilated lifestyle that makes the shadchan so much more important.
It is precisely because the way the Jewish world is today, seeking desperately to
preserve itself, fearful of the imminent collapse of the host culture, decimated
by growing divorce rate, it is precisely for these reasons that the Jewish community
would welcome back, in a new guise, the old shadchan, “who traces his own lineage
after all, back to G-d himself” (Rabbi Maurice Lamm, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”).
Marriages are made in heaven, but we need the Jewish matchmakers here on earth.
Jewish matchmakers have played a pivotal role in Jewish dating and today they are
back in vogue in a new disguise. They have come back in the form of computer dating!
The shadchan used to be the most visible member of their community, busy around
the shtetel collecting their information and immediately putting it to use by being
able to match people up. Today the computers are our biggest resource, and the shadchan
is working very hard to sift through profiles in the dating service and bring it
to the attention of the members waiting to find their beshert. Just look at SawYouAtSinai
with over 300 Jewish matchmakers! According to a medieval Rabbi Nissim of Gerona-Ran,
the word shadchan can be traced back to the Aramaic word “sheket”, meaning calm
or silence (Targun to Judges 5:3). The term shadchan signifies tranquility or peacefulness.
The connotation is that the shadchan pacifies the parents who are anxious about
their child’s marital prospects. It also implies a sense of tranquil arrival for
two people, tired of the dreams, the frustrated expectations and long search for
a loving spouse. Welcome back in vogue, the Jewish Matchmaker, the shadchan!
Suzanne Zettel is a Jewish Matchmaker
on JRetroMatch and works with Jewish Singles all over the world. She has her Masters in Social Work from Leeds
Metropolitan University and has worked as a Family Guidance Counselor in Toronto,
Canada. As an employee of JRetroMatch, Suzanne is able to use her many life experiences
and challenges to truly reach every one of her members, opening up their hearts
and souls so they can receive and appreciate the many joys of Jewish dating and
marriage. She is now living in Israel.