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(05/28/2004) Send this articlePrint this Article Send this articleSend this article
Prominent Rabbis OK Orthodox Dating Site
Julie Wiener - Staff Writer

Responding to widespread concern about the plight of single Orthodox Jews, nine influential Orthodox rabbis have endorsed an Internet dating site.

The rabbis, who include two heads of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical seminary and the president of the Rabbinical Council of America, declared — which combines the Internet with traditional matchmakers — to be a “halachically permissible way for people to find their match.”

One of the rabbis, Hershel Billet, immediate past president of the RCA and the spiritual leader of Young Israel of Woodmere, added, “For religious Jews who consistently abide to a stringent level of modesty, the Internet-matchmaker combination bridges the gap between a traditional private approach and a popular modern trend that is widely gaining acceptance.”

The endorsement comes as EndTheMadness, a campaign “to alleviate the stresses and hardships of dating in the observant Jewish community,” is circulating a “code of responsibility” for matchmakers and talking to various players about creating a course or certification program for prospective matchmakers. Among other things, the code — which proponents say is being used as a “jumping off point for discussion” — asks matchmakers to advocate honest exchange of information, be open about fees and treat individuals with sensitivity and respect “regardless of their idiosyncrasies or seemingly undesirable characteristics.”

As with other Web dating sites, users on SawYouAtSinai, which was founded in November, submit profiles and pictures for potential partners to view. But they also meet with a matchmaker and provide references — and can only access profiles that the matchmaker sends their way. Founder Marc Goldmann, a 35-year-old entrepreneur from the Upper West Side, likens the SawYouAtSinai process to having an “agent” and notes that it protects users’ privacy more than typical sites in which profiles can be viewed by anyone surfing the Web.

Goldmann — who works with 90 matchmakers, all volunteers — said he is in discussion with EndTheMadness leaders about incorporating some sort of code of responsibility into his work, but they have not agreed on the wording or details.

The rabbinic endorsement is a major coup for SawYouAtSinai, since it caters to people who are highly concerned with halachic issues and the opinion of respected rabbis. Goldmann said he intends to seek additional rabbinic endorsements, not only among modern and centrist Orthodox rabbis, but among haredi ones as well.

“Once certain well-respected rabbis get on board it is easier to get others,” he said., the only other major North American dating site targeting Orthodox Jews, does not have any rabbinic endorsements and is not currently seeking them, said Derek Saker, Frumster’s director of marketing. The site is under Orthodox rabbinic supervision, but Saker declined to say which rabbis it consults.

“Frumster is not in direct ‘competition’ with SawYouAtSinai,” Saker added by e-mail. “We sincerely wish them best success in their endeavors. Frumster offers a completely different dating service model — that works! Frumster empowers single Orthodox Jews, both male and female to conduct their own searches and make their own judgments in a secure environment of anonymity — as opposed to the traditional reliance on other third parties.”

Founded in 2001, Frumster has 12,000 users and takes credit for 111 marriages. SawYouAtSinai currently has 3,100 users. Currently free, SawYouAtSinai plans to charge approximately $10 per month in a few months. Frumster recently began charging $8.95 per month for “premium” memberships; regular membership, which is free, enables users to post and view profiles, but not contact or be contacted by other users.

Of the rabbis endorsing SawYouAtSinai who agreed to speak with The Jewish Week, all praised SawYouAtSinai but declined to offer opinions about Frumster.

“I’m not saying other systems are no good. I just don’t know about them,” said Rabbi Kenneth Auman, president of the Rabbinical Council of America and spiritual leader of Young Israel of Flatbush.

“I’m not familiar with the other sites,” agreed Rabbi Billet. “I have nothing bad to say about them: I simply don’t know them.”

Other rabbis endorsing SawYouAtSinai are Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah of Endglewood, N.J.; Rabbi Mark Wildes, founder and director of the Manhattan Jewish Experience; Rabbi Eitan Meyer of the Jewish Center of Manhattan’s Upper West Side; Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the RCA; Rabbi Allen Schwartz of Ohab Zedek on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Rabbi Mordechai Willig and Rabbi Hershel Schachter.

Rabbis Willig and Schachter are both roshei yeshiva of YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. The two, who are widely regarded as being on the right-wing end of centrist Orthodoxy, both declined to be interviewed, citing longstanding policies of not speaking to the press. n

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