Tu B’Av, the 15th day of Av, is approaching as I write, and Yom Kippur is not far behind. These were joyous days in ancient times as the girls went out to the vineyards in borrowed white dresses and danced, exhorting the young men to choose their zivug. We don’t make shidduchim that way anymore – for better or worse! – but I have been making shidduchim long enough to have seen many other changes over the years of my “career.” So, taking a break from the usual question-and-answer format of this column, I will instead try to answer a question I have been asked many times: How has the shidduch world changed?
Let me start by describing the frum community through the eyes of a girl born in Ohio. It was very different from today. Cleveland was a midbar (desert) in the years of my youth, as were all the cities in the United States except for New York. The frum population was extremely small, with few eligible boys or girls in town.
At the age of 14, I started working after school and on Sundays at the Telshe Yeshiva, and had the opportunity to observe the interaction between the roshei yeshiva and their talmidim. During those years, I saw how the boys would go on dates and come back to be meyashiv (discuss) them with their roshei yeshiva and rebbeim. The rebbeim did not tell them what to do. For instance, I have heard of rosh yeshivas nowadays telling boys not to marry this or that girl because she would not be able to support them. This never happened in the past. Not everyone in those days learned in kollel, but the roshei yeshiva realized that they were planting a new derech hachaim (way of life) for the American frum community, and they carefully guided every bachur who came to them. My family members, z”l, and my husband, yb”l, who went to Mir, were among the bachurim who received and were always grateful for that type of hadracha (direction).
Many of these boys traveled far and wide, because there were no girls in Cleveland at that time. And it was accepted that the boys were the ones who had to travel. They would not go for just one date but would stay a few days to see if the shidduch was appropriate for them. Many boys would also set up meetings with a few girls during their time away from yeshiva.
As you read this, you are probably raising your eyebrows wondering how frum boys could do such a thing. However, it was common, since the economic situation did not allow for constant traveling back and forth. The time had to be utilized to best advantage, and they did what they had to do.
Another difference was that not everyone covered her hair at that time. Women who did were few and far between. It came to the point where a yeshiva (not Telshe) that made many demands on their musmachim said, regarding shaitlach, “Attempt to have your bashert cover her hair.” Most times it happened, but not always. I believe my generation of women will go down as the generation that brought the tznius of covering the hair back to the Litvishe Torah world. Today, we are not confronted with that issue, because the girls have learned that they have to cover their hair.
It goes without saying that we did not have the internet with the email exchange of pictures or finding a picture of a girl on Facebook. The only way you could find out what she looked like ahead of time was if you had access to a girl’s graduation picture in a yearbook. But most people did not use yearbooks and had no idea what their date looked like until they met.
Another thing: most young people were in their 20s, not their teens. They were very mature and ready to get married. This made a major difference in the role of the shadchan. The shadchan did not have to talk to parents about the maalos of the proposed shidduch but, rather, spoke to the individuals themselves. The young men and women normally made the decisions, not the parents. There was no list of references, no profiles or resumes, and no “FBI investigations.” You called one or two people who knew the family to find out if the shidduch was shayich. That was it!
Again, I am sure that people are wondering how this could be; how could the parents allow it? It was because parents trusted their children to make the proper decision, and the children married for what they wanted, not for anyone else’s idea of the best shidduch or lifestyle. Today, I continue in that “old fashioned” way. Sometimes, when I try to redt a shidduch to a boy or girl, they tell me, “Speak to my mother, because she makes the initial decision, and I don’t know enough about the world.” I tell them, “If you are old enough to get married, you are old enough to make your decisions without your mother calling for you.” I refuse to work with such singles, because I automatically know it won’t go anywhere.
The proof that the system worked is the difference in divorce rates. In those days, if we knew a couple in the frum community that got a divorce, it was usually the only one anyone could remember. Nowadays, I often get calls from mothers looking for a shidduch for a divorced daughter, age 21. I ask them, “Why didn’t you check it out?” The common answer is “I did, but they were full of lies”!
There is a lot more to say on these topics, but on the lighter side, I have been asked how I got into all of this? My first shidduch was actually just a thought and was made when I was in my teens. The boy, whom I knew, traveled to New York from a distant city to date someone else, and it did not go. Since I was also living in New York, I said to him, maybe you want to go out with my friend, and sure enough they hit off! Mind you, they had lived in the same city all their lives but never knew each other.
About 12 years later, I made my second shidduch. There was a young chazan in our shul. A young woman came to visit one of the frum families, and I had the idea to “fix them up.” So, b”H, it happened. Being that they were in their late twenties, they made all the decisions, and except for the introduction, I had nothing to do.
More (but not very) recently, a young woman called me, who had just broken up with someone that night and said to me, “Where, in Hopkins, am I ever going to meet another frum guy?” The next night a young man who had just come back from Israel, having spent time in a baal teshuva yeshiva, came to see me. It was obvious from the way he presented himself that he had grown in his frumkeit and ruchnius. He was attending one of the law schools in Baltimore, and I said to him, “I have a girl for you.” I called the young woman and said, “I have just met your chassan. When do you want to meet him”? They met, and they have just married off a daughter! Somehow or other, Hashem gave me this chush (feeling) for putting couples together at the drop of a hat.
These types of shidduchim rarely happen today, because that is not the “modus operandi” in our world. As I have said in my articles, we make our own crises. It would be great if all the narishkeit (foolishness) would stop and we could go back to making shidduchim happen, no matter which way. When there are shidduchim that do not develop, I often get the feeling it is because of the investigations, the pictures, the profiles, the parental control, and the attitude of “what will my friends say if I marry this person,” etc.
So these are the big differences between the shidduch worlds of yesteryear and today, although I really can’t put a finger on when our current “customs” started! I can say that I have great satisfaction from helping in the holy task of bringing people together in marriage and from being a “great-grandmother” many times over from all my “dividends” my shidduchim have produced.
I hope you enjoyed these few thoughts. I wish everyone bracha vehatzlacha in his or her shidduch pursuits, and may the Ribono Shel Olam, Tu b’Av, and Yom Kippur help you in your quest.
I always enjoy feedback about my articles. You can contact me through the Where What When: firstname.lastname@example.org.