Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Shidduch Crisis Solved! Vineyard Discotec!

I read this article on Arutz Sheva this morning (someone in our shul prints out their daily reports and sets them out for people to read - the news is a day or so old, so sue me) and it really made me think. I began to wonder: why did these women decide to make the festival of Tu B'Av into a big dance lesson instead of truly "renewing" the "ancient tradition of dance" as Chazal recorded it in the Mishna in Ta'anis?

The Mishna in question, found on daf 26B reads (from the Soncino translation available here):


Basically, these rhythmically inclined women missed the point of the whole toe-tapping experience, which was to find a husband for all the single girls out there. Strangely enough (at least according to our standards), the women would approach the men and provoke their interest in marrying them instead of our unfairly male-dominated shidduch system.

In case you thought this was only one little venue for matchmaking that wasn't such a big deal, check out what a Tanna states later on (31B) when explaining a section of that Mishna:

"THE DAUGHTERS OF ISRAEL CAME OUT AND DANCED IN THE VINEYARDS. A Tanna taught: Whoever was unmarried repaired thither."

Interesting indeed, "whoever was unmarried" would borrow their friend's white dress and go running out to the vineyard to catch herself a husband.

And guess what? No one was worried about all the stigmas that taint our overly complicated and much often misguided our search for spouses these days:

"THOSE OF THEM WHO CAME OF NOBLE FAMILIES EXCLAIMED, ‘YOUNG MAN etc.’ Our Rabbis have taught: The beautiful amongst them called out, Set your eyes on beauty for the quality most to be prized in woman is beauty; those of them who came of noble families called out, Look for [a good] family for woman has been created to bring up a family; the ugly ones amongst them called out, Carry off your purchase in the name of Heaven, only on one condition that you adorn us with jewels of gold."

So yes, while men still had certain things they looked for such as a gorgeous wife, a wife with impeccable rabbinic fore bearers, etc - even those who were "ugly" (though I've typically translated that as the "not-so-pretty" ones) were able to find husbands. I don't know if adorning them with gold (to enhance their appearance) would carry over to today's concept plastic surgery, but perhaps it would...

At any rate, it seems like this whole vineyard dance party was a pretty efficient means to marry off all the single daughters of Israel, and presumably each girl would "enter into the parsha" or in this case, the dance-off, whenever she was ready to get married (though I suspect it was a little more standardized than today) and would then find her husband without too much trouble. I doubt even the rhythmically challenged girls out there had a problem, since the dancing seemed to be a mere means of attracting the boys' attention, rather than determining who was really worth marrying. After calling attention to herself, she would give her little shpiel (a verbal profile?) and find her man.

Now to my point: So, why can't we do this?

Seriously, stop laughing for a moment. Think of it as one of these big annual conventions, like Comic-Con, except less geeky and more tachlis based. The main even would obviously be the dance off, but there would be other things going on as well - perhaps if we made it a several day affair, Taz B'Av could feature a convention center full of wedding planners, jewelers, dress makers, caterers, representatives from halls and bands, etc so the newly engaged couples could pick out the girl's ring and get a head start on the wedding plans. As long as we made sure the event didn't become cost prohibitive - this is for everyone, after all, regardless of the status of their personal bank account - such as providing cheap transportation (maybe commandeered/donated chassidic buses?) and accommodations at nearby hotels, I think this could be a big hit.

I wonder if this shindig should occur in more than one country, such as America and Israel, or if flights etc could be arranged, to have it in Shiloh as our ancestors did?

Granted, there would have to be an enormous amount of preparation beforehand (months of work, to be sure) registering participants, posting their profiles in advance so the guys could find out about the women who are going to be there (can't just marry someone because she can do the Macarena, after all). The whole system would create a large number of jobs, thus helping the economic status of many forelorn Jews who unfortunately don't have them at the moment, groups like Only Simchas and various caterers could serve as sponsors - and we'd have hundreds, if not thousands, of happily married couples each year.

No more worrying about the age gap problem that we've brough upon ourselves that has induced the current "shidduch crisis" - by bringing together the available young men and women, we'd be doing our hishtadlus to then allow HaShem to take over in His role as Master Shadchan to bring the appropriate couples together. No more wondering if you're going to bump into your bashert in shul, happen to meet him/her through some expensive shadchan, or wonder if you'll sit next to him/her on a flight to Israel. As we've heard many times in recent discussions regarding how the Gemara says it is "difficult" for HaShem to make shidduchim, I think it's time we put more effort in on our end to "help" however we can.

Ok, now that all the readers think I'm totally off my rocker, what do y'all think? Is there some merit to this idea, or am I certifiably crazy?

P.S. Did any of the female readership go dancing in the local vineyard on Monday? Any luck? :p

Sunday, July 18, 2010

As Difficult As Splitting The Sea And Self Improvement

Ever since I first learned the Gemara in Sotah (2A) that describes the process of HaShem's making shidduchim (the task the Gemara says He is most involved with since He created the world), I've always wondered exactly how to make sense of it. The explanation my bekiyus rebbe gave me all those years ago was that it was a "difficult" decision for HaShem to alter the pre-set course of nature in such a blatant way when He normally relegated it to a specific set of operational principles.

As any avid reader may know, I tend to read a lot of dating/marriage books, a habit I picked up while in Israel (and as a side note, anyone not married would benefit from reading the good ones that are out there). Most recently, I began reading Together We Are One by Rabbi Eliezer Medwed. On pages 12-13 of the first chapter titled "Marriage," Rabbi Medwed gives a very good explanation of this splitting the sea idea found in the Gemara (which he footnotes as coming from the Zohar for some reason - why not just cite the Gemara?):

Of course, we know the familiar statement of Chazal, "Making shidduchim is as difficult for Hashem as splitting the Red Sea." But what does that mean? What is the connection between the two? The Aruch l'Ner offers an enlightening explanation. Since creation, Hashem has His manner of dealing with the world. Generally, everything in the world runs according to the laws of nature. These laws too are an essential part of creation. Everything has its own cycle. Part of Hashem's desire is to allow nature to operate freely within its natural bounds. Thus, part of the plan is not to reveal the future.

At the sea, just prior to its splitting, an awesome trial ensued. Angels representing the evil Egyptians testified before the Heavenly Court: "Master of the World, why should the Children of Israel merit a miracle of the sea splitting apart? They are no better than the Egyptians. These worshipped idols and these worshipped idols..."

In order to appease the angels, Hashem not only revealed past events - that Egypt served idols willingly while Bnei Yisrael did so only under duress - but He went even further, revealing the future [something He doesn't often do]. Hashem showed the accusing angels how Yisrael would become a holy Nation, worthy of receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Therefore they are indeed worthy of such a miracle, one that goes against the natural order of the world.

And likewise, when Hashem makes a shidduch in Heaven, He looks into the future. Hashem contemplates all that may confront the couple, every situation and problem throughout all their years together, etc. Hashem then makes a shidduch based upon complete knowledge of not only the present, but also their entire future. A mate that is our bashert - predestined - under the chupah is just as bashert ten, twenty, and fifty years later. We know this to be true, for we know this shidduch was made in Heaven, by Hashem Himself!

Granted, this doesn't quite explain the notion that has been recently discussed regarding more than one potential soul mate that the Gemara in Sotah also talks about, but I think the concept presented here is worth contemplation.

Leaving aside my thoughts that I expressed in the above mentioned post and the ensuing responses, I want to extend the idea further for our those of us still in shidduchim. The exact moment and place when we are supposed to meet our heaven ordained spouse is already determined. Granted, we may be frustrated with where we are now, with the unproductive serial dating or drought we are forced to endure or perhaps even our dissatisfaction with our personal growth and observance at any given point in time. Despite our sometimes jaded attitude, we need to take to heart that there is definitely a greater picture of what our lives are meant to be like, and the reason why we don't get the results we expect now is because we aren't meant to have them just yet.

We need the period of being single to foster personal growth, work out our baggage - be it emotional, psychological, familial or spiritual - and make ourselves into the best person we can possible be. No one is problem free when they go into marriage, but that doesn't mean you or your future husband/wife have to suffer from issues not dealt with because of complacency or laziness. Marriage, as everyone says, is hard work - and being single is too! That doesn't mean we can't find the process of dating enjoyable, rather we should also keep a serious perspective on who we are, what we're about, and what we need/want in our lives.

So all of us still not yet engaged or married realize that there is no reason to give up just yet. The time you have been given as a single person, even if it is longer than you planned or wanted, is very valuable and should not be wasted. As much as we all need to learn about proper dating etiquette and how to treat our suitor/date, we also need to turn inward and improve ourselves, for our own sakes as well as those we date and will eventually marry. Wallowing in self pity for extended periods of time because of dating woes helps no one, least of all, you.

And just because you've got one, or two rings on your finger (or have given those rings) doesn't mean you shouldn't ever think about perpetual self improvement, either (hence the book, Together We Are One, among others).

May we all take to heart the lesson of self-improvement (and everyone has something to work on) and become the best future husband/wife we can be! Your spouse, may you meet him/her soon, will be ever grateful.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Her Mother Was A WHAT!?!?

For readers who are fans of Monty Python, the answer is not “a hamster.”

A rather crazy notion recently came up during my night seder chevrusa, where we happen to learning Masechta Sotah. On 7B, the Gemara discusses the a contradiction of a braisa to the mishna under examination regarding the beis din trying to intimidate the suspected adulteress into fessing up to her crime, if in fact she was guilty. This was done in order to prevent the erasure of G-d’s name in the creation of the potentially deadly potion that would cause any true Sotah to explode shortly thereafter (or following a delay, but that’s a whole different discussion).

The contradictory braisa that the Gemara quotes says that the beis din would try to intimidate the woman in the opposite direction, namely that she should drink the Sotah water. The Gemara then resolves the seeming contradiction by saying that the beis din tries to intimidate her not to drink before the shem HaShem is erased, to prevent such drastic measures. But once the name has already been erased into the Sotah’s beverage, then they do their best to make sure she does drink so that the erasure of G-d’s name was not done for naught.

Rashi there writes that one of the things the beis din would say to the woman to convince her TO drink was mentioning the concern that she might cast aspersions on her children if she suddenly decides not to drink at that last minute (IE they might be the product of an adulterous relationship and thus mamzerim).

My immediate response (thanks to years of reading Bad4’s blog) was that Rashi was basically saying “it’s bad for shidduchim!” After both my chevrusa and I calmed down from our fit of laughter, we wondered what if such a thing was really an issue nowadays, and how that would dramatically impact the “research” that people do into potential shidduchim candidates.

Forget “her parents are divorced,” “her grandmother was a convert,” “her mother was chozer b’teshuva in college,” and even “her mother doesn’t cover her hair.”

What about: “her mother was a sotah, and y’know… exploded.”

Presume that the suggestion in question was born halachically fine without any problem of mamzerus. Talk about yichus problems...

Think about it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Shidduch Bloggers Dating Service: A Proposal

For the record, when I mentioned way back when I started this blog last September that the first post I added was not the real first post, this is that first post. Enjoy this unreleased blast from not-too-distant past, slightly modified/updated.

With the plethora of dating/shidduchim blogs of there in the world these days, would it make one modicum of sense to make an attempt to set up the frustrated bloggers with one another? Seemingly, (and I could be completely in the wrong here, being somewhat new at this blogging business), it could be a productive venue for matching up those enmeshed in their personal shidduch crises who have been inspired to write about their musings and dating adventures/failures.

There has to be some other positive benefit to this whole venting process other than distanced socializing with others experiencing similar woes. True, there is a significant psychological benefit to realizing that you aren’t alone in still being single - whether artificially concerned while in the early to mid 20’s or realistically worried in the 30’s or older. There have been precedents of bloggers getting married (see here and here) and bloggers even getting engaged/married to readers (see here). So why not try and make an official sort of system?

True, there is that creepy element of someone following your postings learning a lot about you, not just personally but intellectually and hashkafically in the process of rapidly and excitedly consuming every sentence you release into the immortal World Wide Web. But it’s entirely your decision to participate in this public forum, for whatever reason has spurred your inspirational muse to start typing away and sharing your mind with the world at large. I’m not trying to point a finger of blame at anyone, but try to understand the underlying point here.

Think about the process of reading several years’ worth of posts, and being given the ability to see how the thoughts and feelings of a person, whom you’ve never met (in most cases), develop and mature. I know people who kept regular journals/blogs during their year(s) in Israel. It is rather interesting to follow the development of their person hashkafic journey as they studied and grew in their understanding and appreciation of Judaism. To be a witness to the evolution of their unique approach to Avodas HaShem is certainly an opportunity that most people don’t get to see on a date, or two, or three. The same applies to a backlog of posts going back a few years.

True, not everyone really reveals the entirety of their personality and mindset on their blog, unless they are totally public about their identity, and even then they don’t tell the readers everything. Nevertheless, unless the blogger has been lying through his/her teeth since day one, there is probably some decent picture of who they are and what type of guy/girl they are looking for that can be pieced together amid the mosaic of little crumbs found throughout their blog.

What I’m proposing is some sort of program wherein married bloggers take charge of helping/directing their still-single-blogger-brethren. They would have access to profiles of those participating, and would share information between the two interested parties until a decision is made to go out, and then they would subsequently serve as the shadchan/go-between.

The biggest problem with this is that it will, to a degree, eliminate anonymity among bloggers. I do think that the bloggers themselves are honorable enough to maintain the secret of who’s who, in order to maintain their own private identity. Perhaps this could somehow be arranged via a terms of service contract of sort that will entail punishing violators of this policy of secrecy with revelation of their own identity on other’s blogs? I’d hate for such petty things to occur, but I think the mere threat itself would be enough to deter most people from even contemplating that betrayal of trust. I guess there would have to be some other system for public bloggers… though there don’t seem to be too many of those who are unmarried at any rate…

I’ve been sent suggestions from readers before, though I’ve either been busy and unable to follow up, or plainly saw that the suggestion wasn’t quite going to work. This project would be a more concentrated effort instead of random ideas thrown out there by someone who has read two posts on a specific blog. If one blogger is interested in another, why not make it possible for them to potentially go out?

So what do the readers and other bloggers think?

Monday, July 5, 2010

"But The Silence Was Unbroken, And The Stillness Gave No Token"

Bonus points to whoever can tell me where the title of this post comes from without Googling it.

I think one of the most dreaded moments on any date - especially a first or second date - is the moment of awkward silence when conversation grinds to a halt for one reason or another.

The question to ponder is: do these bits of silence mean anything negative?

I’m not referring to the prolonged silence that lasts for minutes upon minutes with both people squirming and wishing to be elsewhere. Rather, the occasional pause where you just can’t find any words to bring forth into the conversation.

I’ve read/heard very different perspectives on exactly what these quiet moments mean. The general consensus is that sitting there dumbfounded is not the best thing to happen. A more yeshivish dating advice book that I was perusing recently basically said to avoid silence at all costs, and that quiet spells indicate DOOM (yes, all upper-cased).

I’m not so sure I can agree with that. From my own experience, it seems that there are quiet times where discussion fades off and that occurrence is totally natural and normal. Such silences are not necessarily harbingers of death (for the relationship that is).

But then again, sometimes they are.

I was once on a date where these pauses arose a few times toward the end of the evening, first at the very end of our meal, and then slightly more extensively when I was walking my date back to her apartment. I reported back to the shadchan that I was a little concerned that she might not be interested in another date. The reason this idea even arose in my mind was based on two previous experiences where such little moments of silence appeared during a date (in one case a second date, and the other at the conclusion of a first date) wherein the girl ended things in an abrupt fashion immediately thereafter. I had seemingly developed a sense of paranoia for these bits of quietude. However, even in spite of those two short-lived shidduchim, my fears were for naught, and I was granted another date.

In retrospect, I’m surprised at myself for losing sight of the fact that short, quiet moments are not inherently bad.

I once was going out with someone who was quiet in the extreme. Almost every outing made me feel like I was having a one-sided conversation. The typical short periods of silence were rather extended, very much akin to the real ill-natured, awkward silences that indicate a lack of connection. I was initially frightened by this, also taking it as a sign of disinterest, but the shadchan assured me this was just her nature. I grew to understand that the shadchan was indeed correct. The person I was going out with was simply a very thoughtful, intelligent person who took time to measure her words carefully and very rarely said anything that was half-processed or simply thrown out to continue the conversation.

I learned that moments of silence can be quite natural and not disconcerting one Shabbos morning when I was walking to shul with my father. Coincidentally, this happened to occur during a school break that interrupted the aforementioned “silent type” girl I was going out with. Of course, my father and I chat a good bit whenever I’m back in town, and when we’re walking to shul for shacharis, is a time when we can have some father-son bonding time. The cool morning air, sunlight shining everywhere, and birds flitting to and fro chirping from the nearby trees creates a peaceful atmosphere conducive to conversation.

As we walked along, I realized that our dialogue was beginning to peter off, and momentarily worried about the silence that would follow. When we actually ceased talking and simply continued walking side-by-side, I realized that this quietness wasn’t really awkward at all. I was perfectly fine simply enjoying being in the presence of my father and observing all the flora and fauna around us. I simply took a deep breath of fresh morning air and released all the built up tension I had been expecting.

I knew then that the same thing applies to dating. Not every minute has to be filled with words, especially if you have to spout meaningless dribble to maintain an ongoing conversation. When the break was over and I went back to my shidduch, the quiet spans no longer bothered me as much, and sometimes not at all. Granted, this girl was definitely far less talkative than pretty much any other person I went out with, but learning this lesson during a more “extreme” case of recurring moments of silence certainly helped later on with other dates. After that point, I began to appreciate the bits of quiet that cropped up here and there during time spent on shidduchim.

Even in marriage, you won’t be talking constantly, and it is a pleasure to simply enjoy the other person’s presence, knowing that he/she is there beside you. There is a sense of comfort and belonging knowing that you can be with that other person and not need to continually throw out conversation starters merely for the sake of preventing gaps without any talking. If you can be at ease with a person in these moments, and learn to properly appreciate them, especially as the relationship develops (and excusing the few awkward ones at the start of a courtship) I think you’re on the road to discovering how well you really enjoy merely being with that person.

That is definitely a necessity for marriage – since interesting and engaging conversation isn’t going to happen all the time in real life anyway.

So I vote that we should welcome bits of silence, quash feelings of awkwardness, and see if we can appreciate the feeling of being accompanied by someone we can, and should care about. That unspoken emotional connection is very important.

May we all find that special individual for whom silent moments are not a burden but a pleasure!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Soulmates? Bashert? What's The Deal?

It seems like the concept of finding one's soulmate or bashert is on people's mind's these days. First was Sterngrad with "Soul Mates" and now a piece on JPost called "Dating Games: '1 beshert, 2 beshert, 3 beshert, 4'" that almost seems like an outgrowth of Sterngrad's post and my comments there (particularly some interesting ideas from Sotah 2A), which I won't rehash here.

I definitely think everyone's bashert is out there somewhere, and if I recall hearing from serveal rabbeim, you always get the chance to meet him/her. What you decide to do then, in terms of actually ending up married to him/her or not, is entirely up to you. That's where the element of free choice comes in. Particularly if people are motivated by other factors that can negatively influence a person's choice, such as money.

There is a famous story that is quoted regarding the Steipler wherein an older yeshiva bochur came to ask for a bracha to find his bashert. The Steipler replied that this not-so-young man didn't need such a bracha, since he had actually already met his bashert. But, the Steipler continued, the bochur thought her nose was too long and thus passed on the chance to marry her (evidently she had married someone else). This very interesting, long post about Finding the Bashert cites Peninei Rabbeinu KeHilos Yaakov, 1986, p.36 as the source, though the author relates a more generic version of the story. I heard the one about the nose, and although it's a bit more dramatic, (and possibly embellished a little) I think the effect is greater.

I remember reading in a dating/marriage book (I forget which one, since I've read quite a number of them), that when you finally decide to marry the person you think is "the one," even if they aren't, you can make the conscious decision to "make" him/her into "the one," by cultivating the relationship and nurturing it into that perfect-as-can-be marriage. It's an interesting concept. Even if it isn't true in it's entirety - I certainly think everyone would certainly benefit from adopting that mindset when they get engaged and married. We'd certainly have fewer early divorces.

Anyway, may we all find the right one for us - regardless if they are announced via bas kol or we find him/her in some other fashion - soon!