Review of The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures

By Rabbi Ari Enkin

That the shidduch world has gone mad is not news to anyone, but that there are competent and credible individuals within the frum world who don’t fear tackling the issue, might just be. Dr. Michael J. Salamon’s “The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures” takes a frank look at what young religious ‘daters’ are going through. From the nauseating questions that parents and shadchanim have no shame asking, to the real life shidduch experiences, this book is full of shidduch stories that should have been written in a fiction novel or a book of Jewish humor. Sadly, however, they are the true stories that so many young men and women are experiencing.

One of the many things that I was pleasantly surprised to see was that the author is not scared to encourage young men and women to meet through social activities and mingling: “The more social exposure we have, the more likely we are to find a temperamentally similar compatible partner.” While most shadchanim will certainly write him off as a heretic (if he’s lucky), most are not aware that there is rabbinic support for this position, as well. In a discussion on mixed seating, Rabbi Yehuda Henkin, a fearless, yet formidable posek, writes in one of his volumes of “Bnei Banim” that single men and women who are seeking spouses should be seated together at weddings and similar events.

And with this I retract what I wrote…that at weddings it is proper to seat single men and single women separately even if the married couples sit together. This is so with young men and women who are not yet ready to get married. However, regarding those who have reached that stage, to the opposite, it is a mitzva to seat them together so that they get to know each other in a place where there is no concern for yichud and each couple is not alone on a ‘date,’ as is done today.

The author fears no one and does not hesitate to say what has to be said. After illustrating the problem with the shidduch scene, the author arms parents and daters with tools, advice, and expectations that they need before heading off into the shidduch world. For example, let’s look at the “Ten Demandments” of dating:

In addition to issues of anxiety we have adopted a parenting style that has been referred to as the Ten Demandments. Parents are not necessarily the demanding ones, but parents have often trained their children to be. Although we are not sure where they originated, these “demandments” describe certain attitudes and behaviors of many young men and women in the shidduch scene, what they are looking for and how they intend to lead their lives.

The Ten Demandments are:

  1. Thou shalt make me happy. It is always your responsibility to see to it that I am happy.
  1. Thou shalt not have any interests other than me. I must be your focus constantly.
  1. Thou shalt know what I want and what I feel without me having to express it at any time.
  1. Thou shalt return each one of my sacrifices, no matter how minor, with an equal or greater sacrifice.
  1. Thou shalt shield me from anxiety, worry, hurt, or any form of pain or discomfort. Therefore, if I am in pain it is always your fault and I have the absolute right to blame you.
  1. Thou shalt give me my sense of self-worth and esteem.
  1. Thou shalt be grateful for everything I do no matter how trivial.
  1. Thou shalt never be critical of me, show any anger toward me, or otherwise disapprove of anything I say or do.
  1. Thou shalt be so caring and loving that I need never take risks or be vulnerable in any way.
  1. Thou shalt love me with thy whole heart, thy whole soul, thy whole mind, and thy whole pocketbook, even if I do not love myself.

Those of us who treat people psychologically or medically or who follow social patterns are not quite sure where these demands came from originally. Although we have modified them somewhat, they indicate a narcissistic approach to life that allows young adults to defer responsibility and create an environment of self-importance and grandiosity. This childish, narcissistic attitude extends beyond the nuclear family to the family that they seek to begin.

The only thing missing in the book is a strong response to those in positions of leadership and influence who allow the shidduch problem to ferment and exacerbate. Instead, the author focuses on helping to navigate the system. He does not bother much with the troublemakers, or stoop to their level.

The book is a quick, easy, and worthwhile read that I strongly recommend for anyone entering shidduchim. It is a book that everyone will benefit from, regardless of whether you are right-wing yeshivish, modern orthodox light, or Carlebach machmir. (and there is much discussion on this new type of labeling system that has been created!)

Shadchanim have their place, but they do not hold the keys to our happiness. Let’s not forget that only Yitzchak Avinu found his wife by means of a shadchan. Everyone else in Tanach seems to have done just fine without one.

This review originally appeared on Torah Book Reviews.

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