New Hope for Out-of-Town Singles

There is no pleasure like the resolution of doubts, say Chazal. We have been hard-wired by our Creator to expect a certain order precisely because He created an orderly world, with rules governing both the natural and spiritual universe. And when the functioning of those rules cannot be discerned, when we cannot make sense of the data, we are unhappy.

Perhaps the most disconcerting experience of doubt is when something in the Torah does not make sense to us, since the Torah is Hashem’s most direct revelation of Himself. A breakdown of the laws of nature or our inability to discern the Divine Hashgacha concerning the Jewish people also occasions distress, since Hashem also reveals Himself through nature and the history of the Jewish people.

Accordingly, there is no joy like that experienced when all the pieces of the puzzle in a Talmudic sugya fall into place or one learns a Reb Chaim Brisker that resolves a series of seemingly irresolvable questions on the Rambam. When Yosef told the brothers, “Ani Yosef,” I imagine they experienced a certain relief, along with their fear — relief at the resolution of so many puzzling questions with just two words.

At a much lower level, we experience a similar pleasure when we chance upon a solution to a particular problem. To take a very mundane example: Can there be anyone who was not tempted to give a little shout for joy the first time they saw the Shabbos Lamp invented by a former Har Nof neighbor of mine. The elegance and simplicity of the solution to a problem that many of us might not have even known was a problem – how to read in bed on Shabbos — provided one of those moments when the penny drops, as the British say.

Few, if any, social problems admit of the same type of neat solution as that provided by the Shabbos Lamp. Social problems typically involve a balancing of many values that cannot all be maximized at one time. In addition, any proposed solution runs the risk of creating other problems worse than that being cured.

Recently, however, I learned about a potential solution to a very specific, well-defined societal problem that strikes me as almost as elegant, in its own way, as the Shabbos Lamp. The problem to which I refer is the difficulty experienced by frum singles living away from the highest concentration of potential marriage partners in the New York metropolitan area.

The problem is obvious. Each date for someone living out-of-the New York metropolitan area is likely to cost at minimum several hundred dollars and generally many times that. In addition, such meetings involve an immense investiture of time, and they often require relying on the kindness of friends or even strangers for lodging, meals, etc. Those alone constitute what the economists call significant barriers to entry, and help ensure that even the greatest out-of-town single will have far fewer shidduchim suggested and even fewer that reach the stage of actually meeting than she would have if she lived in the New York area.

Even when meetings are made, there is a greater feeling of anticipatory pressure because of the time and money invested, and a greater feeling of disappointment afterwards if things don’t work out.

As a consequence, many young women who grew up outside of the New York area, feel that they have no choice but to move there after seminary. But that solution is problematic for many reasons. First, as Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky said, the ideal is for a young woman to spend her last years before building her own family near her mother. Second, in New York the out-of-town single lacks the familiar social structure of her home community, and in many cases finds herself the low-woman on the totem poll when it comes to communal assistance in shidduchim.

It was the specific plight of an out-of-town single that prompted Jeff Cohn to devote himself full-time to his Make a Shidduch Foundation three years ago. A young woman close to his family in Baltimore traveled to New York for a shidduch. The shadchan had extracted a commitment in advance from the young man that he would go out at least twice, but after the first meeting, he refused to go out again.

Now, Cohn has come up with a solution for the plight of out-of-town singles based on video-conferencing technology widely used in industry today. His idea is to set up sites in major out-of-town communities and five or six in the New York area that would allow singles living outside of New York to meet those in the tri-state area, without having to make a major initial investment of time and money in travel. Indeed the technology will make it possible for singles in any two major Jewish communities anywhere in the world to conduct preliminary meetings at almost no expense. The technology is well-tested and well within the communal budgets of at least ten major Jewish communities outside New York.

True, meeting by videoconferencing is not identical to meeting face-to-face, and Cohn has no intention of making the former a substitute for the latter. He would limit the number of times a couple could meet by videoconferencing to no more than two. The goal is simply to reduce the high entry barriers and the unnatural pressures on long-distance dating that result in significantly fewer shidduchim for out-of-town singles. The cost of the meetings by videoconferencing, once the technology is in place, would be less than the cost of a couple of soft drinks at a Manhattan hotel.

The aim is to make the meetings via videoconferencing as close as possible to a regular shidduch. This is most definitely not some form of computer dating. Indeed the hope is to have the videoconferencing in private homes. Cohn is in ongoing consultation with leading Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbi Moshe Heinemann about all halachic issues connected to the project. In Rabbi Heinemann’s opinion, “ShidduchVision will revolutionize the world of shidduchim.”

A few weeks ago, the Novominsker Rebbe told me that he views the so-called Shidduch Crisis, as the most devastating problem facing the Orthodox community – a matter of “dinei nefashos.” Perhaps for that reason, the area has attracted some of the most innovative and imaginative practical solutions. That of videoconferencing for the initial meetings of out-of-town singles directly addresses at least one piece of the larger puzzle and offers hope of a solution that inspires us to shout “Eureka!”

This article appeared in the Mishpacha on Wednesday, 21 January 2009.

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18 Responses

  1. Yechezkel H says:

    I devoted a lengthy post on the issue of Video-conference dating in my blog.

    Subsequently, I discovered the ShidduchVision initiative and looked into it. Though I whole-heartedly applaud the basic idea and would like to see it come to fruition, I am not yet ready to scream, “Eureka!”

    The problem with ShidduchVision is that currently it is just that –only a vision. It is not yet in service and the reason is that, to avoid major concessions concerning Internet usage, it is not Internet based. It is meant to be a point-to-point cable hookup, not related to the Internet. The idea is to make specialized dating “studios” in Jewish communities to conduct the sessions. With this system, there must be studios at BOTH ends of the meeting.

    This causes severe limitations on the system. Firstly, it won’t work in any community that does not have a ShidduchVision studio. Perhaps Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and Toronto will have one, but will South Bend, San Diego, Vancouver and Indianapolis have one? Each “studio” will cost thousands of dollars to set up and could only handle one user at a time subject to its availability. Both sides will have to coordinate their personal schedules to the open hours one of the few (most likely the lone) studios. And you can bet that there will be a crunch during “prime time” dating hours.

    I advocated an Internet based system using controlled computer workstations at the boys side only. At the girls’ side, they use the nearest web-cam enabled computer which, most likely, will be located in her own home.

    This system can be up and running within a week, and it will have none of the above limitations. A boy from Lakewood can “date” a girl from Australia tomorrow (or yesterday depending on where the dateline is).

    The fly in the ointment is that the Gedolim will not be quick to endorse an Internet based system. I discuss this in my post. In light of that, I am very skeptical of Rabbi Heineman’s assertion that [a non-Internet based] “ShidduchVision will revolutionize the world of shidduchim.” At the very least, not until it is operational in at least 30-50 locations, which will not be anytime soon.

    If the Shidduch crisis is indeed a “dinei nefashos” as the Novominsker Rebbe, Shlit”a, maintains, I think we need to look into the power, flexibility, and frugality of the Internet. Until then, I am a bit reluctant at my “Eureka!”

  2. Bob Miller says:

    This article noted that “Indeed the hope is to have the videoconferencing in private homes.” Would this require the homes in question to have Internet access?

  3. L Oberstein says:

    As you have frequently pointed out, many chesed ideas come from individuals who are concerned about a specific issue. Another attempt to deal with the shiduch crisis by a Baltimorean involves paying a shadchan who lives in Lakewood to arrange dates for Baltimore girls. It seems that that is “where the boys are”. The people who know the reason for my use of quotation marks probably aren’t the same ones who want shiduchim from Lakewood.
    If it works, let’s try it. Jeff Cohn is l’shem shamayim as is Steve Graber, who organized the shadchan hiring. The crisis is real and we have to do something about it. The problem is not just that it is hard to get a date, but that there is a shortage of men who want to commit.
    Rabbi Hopfer has also spoken publicly about the need for girls to be willing to marry someone who intends to combine learning with earning, it isn’t a defect.

  4. Dovid says:

    As far as I’ve read, this all comes down to numbers. All other issues in the Shidduch Crisis are just side effects (such as described by J. Rosenblum last week) to the disproportionate numbers between men and women.

    Why don’t the rabbanim make a public statement that all young men should date women their own age or older?

    As a young man new to the dating scene, most of the shidduchim being passed to me are girls younger than I am. So do I have an obligation to only date someone my own age/older, or not??

  5. Observer says:

    Your article sounds wonderful. What they have on the website is interesting. But, the only way such a system can be practical is if it is internet based. Anything else would be prohibitively expensive to run, even in cities just the right size to keep one or more studios busy close to full time. Don’t take my word for it – talk to anyone who specializes in video conferencing.

    Which points right back to the “Out with the new” post of several days ago. I’d like to ask the makers of the “takana” in Beitar Illit, and all who support it, which they choose:

    1. We deny a potential solution to a situation that is “Dinei Nefashos” because it uses the terrible internet.

    2. We allow the use of this solution, but ban the children of the people who actually offer their homes to make this happen.

  6. Ori says:

    Dovid: As a young man new to the dating scene, most of the shidduchim being passed to me are girls younger than I am. So do I have an obligation to only date someone my own age/older, or not??

    Ori: How about you tell everybody who is likely to offer you a shidduch that you don’t have a problem marrying a woman who is slightly older than you are?

    BTW, wouldn’t a woman who was older, and more advanced in her career, be a better match for somebody who wants to study Torah? She’ll bring in more money, letting the husband stay out of the workforce for longer.

  7. Garnel Ironheart says:

    As someone used to the high quality of Rav Rosenblum’s writing, I have to say that I am EXTREMELY disappointed with this column.

    Are Orthodox Jews salmon that they MUST mate in one place, New York? If a person living in “the Boonies” (read: outside the Metro New York area)is shidduched up with a person living in the Big Apple, is there an actual obligation that the hick must come to the big city to meet their potential mate? I mean, where’s the reference to Orach Chayim (or maybe I’ll find it in Yoreh Deah?)

    At the same time that the Chareidi community is dealing with
    a) a huge financial crisis caused by a generation of young adults raised to be non-earners who now find their previously expected funds drying up
    b) a huge snobbery crisis in which guys choose their girls based on waist size and how many years out of grade school they are while girls choose their guys based on the size of the brim of their black hat and where they went to yeshiva
    are we now to believe that in addition to all the meshugas afflicting the community there is a new chumrah: thou shalt date only in New York?

    Please. It’s hard to have sympathy for a community that claims to be at such a high level but which insists on shooting itself in the foot every chance it gets.

  8. cvmay says:

    Dovid, Yes, date girls your age or older.
    In my personal and extended family, we have four couples out of seven who married women older than them, they are happy, satisfied, and all helped the shidduch crisis (some without even knowing).

  9. Chaim Wolfson says:

    “Why don’t the rabbanim make a public statement that all young men should date women their own age or older?”

    They have.

    “The cost of the meetings by videoconferencing, once the technology is in place, would be less than the cost of a couple of soft drinks at a Manhattan hotel”.

    With or without the cost of Manhattan parking?

    “A boy from Lakewood can “date” a girl from Australia tomorrow (or yesterday depending on where the dateline is).”

    Great line! And they wouldn’t even have to miss night seder!!

    The name Jeff Cohn rings a bell. I am not from Baltimore, but I recall hearing his name in connection with some other chessed initiative. Is he the one behind NASI?

  10. Dr. Yitzchok Levine says:

    I must say that I find this idea behind the times. Once the two people have been introduced, they could communicate with each other via video from their own computers. All one needs is a video camera and the appropriate software. Why bother to set up these centers? I guess just for those who do not have Internet access at home. But how many of the young people today who would use this method of communication will not have Internet access at home?

    I have no data, but I doubt that it is all that many.

  11. tzippi says:

    Dovid (#4), you have an obligation to date someone with whom you see building a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael. I am not enamored of the NASI initiative though I have great respect for the people who endorse it, and understand where they’re coming from. But once we reduce one crisis to numbers, we can reduce other crises to numbers, like, say the tuition crisis. Talk about social engineering.

    What I have heard suggested, that sounds logical, and that you may have heard too, is that the first few girls you date should be your age or older. After that, don’t box yourself in to such a narrow age requirement.

    To Rabbi Rosenblum: you know in your heart of hearts what’s wrong with the system. We are producing excellent, excellent girls. We need to produce boys worthy of them, and not to shortchange the girls. We need to preserve the dignity of the bas Yisrael. I like Jeff Cohen and envy his zechuyos. Hatzlacha!

  12. tzippi says:

    And if I may add this to my former comment: As an out-of-town mother I am grateful that someone has rachmanus on us (BTW, boys spend also, even if the mountain comes to Mohammed.) But let’s not forget the in-town girls who are languishing too due to the deficiencies of the system.

  13. Avi S. says:

    For the sake of accuracy: “There is no pleasure like the resolution of doubts, say Chazal” is often quoted. Apparently, Chazal never say this anywhere. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong. According to some, the first time this expression is recorded is in a Shut Rema.

  14. Saadia Simon says:

    I’ve been following this proposal for a few months now and was excited to see it being aired in a mainstream forum (Mishpacha that is – I’m not sure Cross-Currents quite qualifies as mainstream). Although I think it’s a wonderful proposal, I’m much more uncertain about it’s potential ‘on the ground’. My informal poll of marriageable age Bochurim (who will of course play a key role in this project) (in a Yeshiva reputed to be relatively open-minded) has resulted in reactions ranging from ridicule to shock. For some the term ‘video-conferencing’ conjures up the idea of a pixellated face in a small box a la Skype, whilst for others the whole idea of dating via technology is anathema. Most reactions seem more emotional than logical, and I haven’t yet been able to verify opinions on the other side of the Mechitza (where perhaps there is more empathy with the problem, but gut reactions will probably be quite similar) but until this barrier is surmounted, I think the concept will unfortunately struggle to take hold.

  15. bad4 says:

    Um, how about the little detail that nobody is ever flattered by a webcam? Yuk. I’d rather just do a phone call.

  16. L. Oberstein says:

    I asked a yeshivish woman to read the original article. Her initial reaction was that she would be suspicious that others were watching her on the video cam, even if they were off camera to her. In other words, she would be watched by a bunch of guys, not one bochur or by the boy and his mother and sisters,etc. Therefore, she was cool to the idea. This had not occured to me but it shows that a woman might see it from a different angle.

  17. Yechezkel Hirshman, 1A7B says:

    I had the privilege of being the first commenter on this thread. My original submission to Cross Currents included a link to my write up on this subject. This write-up was published over 2 months ago. In keeping with their policy, which I indeed respect, C_C omitted the link URL from the post. Just now, I have added a second post on the subject which is a direct response to this writeup by Rabbi Rosenblum . If readers wish to find the posts please Google: “Achas L’Maala Shidduchim III” and “Achas L’Maala Shidduchim IV”.

    In these posts, I address many of the issues that are discussed in this thread. The main focus is, as I wrote here and commenter #5, as well, the system must be Internet based.

    As a response to Dr. Levine (commenter #10), we all acknowledge that any two people, once acquainted, can carry on a relationship via a web cam using their own resources. What this initiative is trying to do is to promote the idea of using tele-video technology to initiate the “unborn” relationship. The idea is that the first 1-3 dates will be conducted via tele-video and the investment of face-to-face dating will only carried out once the Shidduch gets “past first base”. My personal perception is that this should become a standard such that a boy who is learning in a Yeshiva such as Lakewood will be requiredto conduct 1 or 2 dates via tele-video before he is authorized to take out Yeshiva time to date outside of Lakewood itself.

    In relation to commenters 15 and 16, I discuss in both posts that the female side of the mechitza will not be quick to embrace this method. That is one reason why my personal objective is to make this a standard method. If this should happen, the ladies will be a bit less reluctant to participate.

    May we see a quick ישועה for all of k’lal Yisroel.

  18. Ori says:

    Garnel Ironheart: Are Orthodox Jews salmon that they MUST mate in one place, New York? If a person living in “the Boonies” (read: outside the Metro New York area)is shidduched up with a person living in the Big Apple, is there an actual obligation that the hick must come to the big city to meet their potential mate?

    Ori: It’s simple economics. The person living in “the Boonies” doesn’t have as many options as the person living in New York, so s/he is more likely to pay more for the date, such as the cost of travel.

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