I have a friend who lives in a bad neighborhood with lots of crime. He hasn’t been a direct victim of crime, but he’s been exposed to enough crime and heard enough about it to become very cautious – overly so.
You see, this friend of mine has equipped his front door with numerous locks and other safety devices. Still worried, he decided that he would no longer admit anyone into his home; for fear that it might really be a burglar. In fact, he won’t even let his own mother into his home, because of the remote possibility that the person on the other side of the door claiming to be his mother is really someone else, despite all indications to the contrary. And even if he can somehow prove that it’s really his mother, maybe she has become desperate for cash and decided to rob him.
My friend is really afraid of this. After all, he says, things like this have happened. He’s right, too; things like this really have happened, and consequently my attempts to convince him that his paranoia is misplaced have thus far been dismissed.
I should also mention that my friend does not have any locks on his back door. As a result of this, a burglar still has easy access into his home, while his mother will still be turned away. My friend has achieved a slight degree of increased safety at a disproportionately excessive cost, yet has still failed to insure protection from that which he fears.
My “friend” in the preceding story is many thousands of observant Jews all over the world who would agree that the main character in this allegory is acting in an irrational and self-destructive fashion.
It’s true that we all live in a bad neighborhood with lots of crime. We have all been exposed to spiritual dangers and are not far removed from those who have succumbed at least in part or temporarily to these dangers. Perhaps we need look no further than the mirror. As a result, we have decided, through noble intentions, to keep these dangers far away from us. This is exactly what the Torah would expect of us.
Unfortunately, many of my friends, in a desperate attempt to protect themselves and their loved ones, have gone too far. They have created such an ironclad separation of the sexes that interactions which should occur, which would naturally lead to healthy relationships and holy marriages, have become nearly impossible, fraught will all sorts of man-made complications. In some cases they have forbidden young adults from even speaking with a member of the opposite sex, the penalty for which is expulsion from yeshiva and ostracism from the community. There is hardly a harsher punishment that could be administered – and this for something that is not even a crime!
More commonly, sincere religious singles who have been given the benefit of a lifetime of Jewish education are prevented from eating dinner together at the wedding of mutual friends. Presumably were they allowed to eat together in mixed company they would be overpowered with temptation and crash through all fences!
These friends of mine argue impassionedly that this separation is a necessary protection against improper interactions, which may lead to severe violations of the Torah. This is true in the sense that every fence provides a certain measure of safety, just as every lock on a door makes it more difficult for a burglar to enter.
On the other hand, fences placed haphazardly can destroy one’s property without even accomplishing the goal of safety, and additional security measures place an added strain on permitted guests and behaviors as well.
I was recently contacted by Renee Kohn, who introduced herself as the wife of a Sephardic Rabbi in Miami. She informed me that my articles on the subject of shidduchim have made a profound influence, and that “we know of at least one "frum" couple who made their wedding mixed seating as a result of your article in the Jewish Press. Three matches that I know of came out of that simcha (the couple are doing great too). The family took a lot of flack from the local Rabbinical community as you can well imagine…”
Imagine that. A young couple had the courage to withstand misplaced communal pressure to remove just one unnecessary proverbial padlock. As a result of this, three more shidduchim occurred, shidduchim that otherwise might have never occurred, or might have only occurred many years later with great heavenly machinations. Last year I wrote in the Five Towns Jewish Times, “every Jewish wedding of reasonable size could and should directly lead to another shidduch between single guests at the wedding.” Three shidduchim was beyond even my expectations!
Despite all that individuals and the community do to complicate shidduchim from occurring, thousands of weddings are made every year. These weddings are attended by many single relatives and friends of the chosson and kalla. Imagine how these singles feel as they witness the pure joy of the new couple as they begin a new life together. Sure, the singles are genuinely happy for them – but they are also filled with a terrible pain, a longing, a yearning. Perhaps a dozen people walk by and absently say “Soon by you too,” a well-meant wish that only pours hot tears into the inner void felt by the single. The local Rebbetzin or shidduch-group-wannabe, suddenly inspired, promises to set them up, most likely with someone from left field.
When all the smoke clears they sit down for a meal. The single men sit with the single men and the single women sit with the single women. Perhaps they can even see each other, if they are not at opposite ends of the room or separated by a partition. But there is no chance that they will meet one another. After all, there is a remote fear that if they were allowed to share dinner together they might decide to act inappropriately, and then the entire community would fall apart. So instead we also prevent the possibility of them acting completely appropriately, developing a liking for one another, and beginning a relationship that will lead to another holy marriage. All while the community is falling apart.
We fool ourselves. We claim that there are many ways for singles to meet, all of which are “supervised by a married adult” or “endorsed by a Rabbi”. We offer the segregated singles mystical crumbs like Challa, blessings, and chapters of Tehillim. What we don’t offer them is ways to meet, without unnecessary “supervision” or “endorsement”. Further, we take away whatever opportunities naturally exist.
Then we wonder why there are so many thousands of singles just waiting for the phone to ring. Maybe they are all too picky. Maybe they are all afraid of commitment. Maybe they have personality problems (as if all married people are so well-adjusted). Maybe they need to consult dating mentors or therapists to figure out what their problem is.
Or maybe we need to just leave them alone and let them meet people. And maybe we need to start doing this before exhausting all other “supervised” avenues of meeting.
I have a fine proposal to make my friends with too many locks where they don’t belong. The next time you have a say in the matter, make sure there is mixed seating at a simcha. Imagine if all the singles at all the thousands of weddings that are made every year shared dinner in mixed company. Just imagine how many shidduchim would naturally result from this, at no additional cost or effort to anyone. My friends in Florida took this small step, and three new couples found one another as a result, easily, painlessly, no segulos, supervision, or shadchanim required.
I further request that those with influence in the community speak out about it. If every Rabbi in the community would devote one Shabbos morning sermon to this, what a powerful impact that would make! I know from personal experience that many Rabbis do not take kindly even to respectful and well-intended suggestions (I’m not sure why), but the awesome implications compel me to speak out. What will those Rabbis in Miami say to the Heavenly Court when questioned about their attempt to force separate seating at this wedding, and thereby sabotage three shidduchim? Who wants to have to answer these questions? Not me.
There are many catering halls that will refuse to provide generously paid services to those who have mixed seating. These catering halls need to be informed by potential customers that this is going to cost them some business. If necessary, we will make weddings in our backyards, but we will not perpetuate a man-made shidduch crisis.
The culture of Judaism today is to be machmir for even a remote fear. I am very machmir as well. I am against separating singles at weddings and in other socially conducive settings, lest they lose an opportunity to get married and build a new Jewish home.
I am also machmir about inappropriate behavior, and therefore strongly discourage immodest dress and speech, mixed dancing, and licentious environments. That said, the greater problem facing religious Jewry today is not in these areas. We need to swing the pendulum back a bit.
Three couples met one another at a single wedding. Can anyone sleep at night knowing that they might have prevented the same thing from happening due to trivial social considerations or undue religious paranoia? We need to reconsider if we’ve locked our doors just a little too tightly and paid for slightly increased spiritual security by sacrificing tens of thousands of fine religious singles who may never get married.
Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness (www.endthemadness.org), a comprehensive campaign to rehabilitate the culture of shidduchim. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: In Igros Moshe, Rabbi Moshe Feinstien zt”l offered halachik support for mixed seating: the Paschal offering must be eaten in a single group, and may be composed of both sexes. There is no basis in Torah to separate men and women from eating together. Certainly, if shidduchim may spring from socializing, we must encourage marriages, and not add to the Torah’s laws, as God prohibits.