Friday, June 23, 2006

Congregation Anshei Alone

JDate is an important social phenomenon because it points to three important features of American Jewish life. The first is that a large percentage of Jews at any given time, maybe 20%+, are seeking a mate. Second, it is difficult to find a mate no matter where you are in the life cycle. Third, much of the difficulty stems from the isolation that takes hold when you live essentially outside a community. I would say most non shul going Jews live outside a community.

Young people trying to date, and settle down, or just date and be with someone should have it the easiest. After all they are young, good looking, energetic and have their future ahead of them. Not so. The anxiety level is high in all communities, but especially in the Orthodox world. The Orthodox have gotten themselves into this pickle that a girl over 24-25 is an old maid, and is put into some sort of ‘rachmunis’ (poor girl what will be with her) category. A similar fate awaits a guy over 30. You can imagine what a 23 year old unmarried girl feels like. They act as if their biological clock is about to run out. Big pressure on the girl. Big pressure on the parents. And then they are all these yichus issues (pedigree and lineage), and kolel issues (post marriage Torah study), and dynasty issues. No fun. It would take a medium size book, Shiduchim (Matches) for Dummies, to explain all the nuances, do’s and don’ts of this dating space. All I can say is that I don’t envy a Tevye with 5 charedi, Ultra Orthodox daughters.

Much of this aggravation is of the community’s own making. Nobody, neither halacha nor common sense requires that marrying off a child should be a full time job requiring many years of preparation. The difficulty is that is impossible for just one family to get off the treadmill. It requires implicit cooperation of many, many other families. The temptation to cheat is so great it makes the system of cooperation permanently unstable, no matter how many times they play. Game theorists will see the analogies to what they call The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Divorced people also have it very difficult, especially when there are young children. There are money problems, custody issues, and most of all, the need to prove, especially to themselves, that the divorce was the spouse’s fault, and that one can be a good husband or wife.

Older people whether widowed, never married or divorced have other issues. The guys who never married are frequently thought of as creeps. The single never married women have the deep frustration of having waited so long, are now facing old age without children. There is the general problem that older people are definite; they have their distinctive way of life. It’s very difficult to fold into someone else’s life. Imagine having to decide at age sixty if you should leave your children and grandchildren and go off to a different state or country. Scary.

There is the Hobbes style joke….not only is life nasty and miserable, it’s too short. The clock keeps ticking and ticking.

Here are all these people seriously worried they will never meet anyone. Here are all these people who are seriously worried they will be alone. Alone when all their friends marry, alone while their children are growing up with a single parent, alone when their children leave the house, alone when the get old and sick. Alone. Half the people who are married will one day be single. Internet dating is much like the undertaker business. There is a guaranteed constant stream of new customers.

The crowning injustice of being alone is that it is virtually impossible to meet anyone without some marketplace for exchanging information. Enter JDate, and Match and Frumster and EHarmony and all the rest. Enter shadchunim and matchmakers. Enter Break the Fast Yom Kippur socials and single weekends. Enter Rebbetzin Jungreis and Dr. Phil. When all else fails, enter therapists and support groups.

Helping people cope with loneliness is big business. It is capitalism and markets at their best. First create the problem, in this instance isolation, destruction of community life, and then invent expensive solutions.

Congregation Anshei Alone is the largest Jewish congregation in the world. All the members are present morning, noon and night 365 days a year. You might say it has an unusually active membership, even if everyone is doing their very best to quit. At A"A each and every member is eager to say “I used to belong, but now b’’h I never go near the place.”

I have a lot more to say about dating and marriage. These topics are important, and few bloggers are addressing life cycle issues from an adult, male, Jewish point of view. (There appear to be no shortage of formerly frum permanent adolescents blogging about their sexual exploits. Infantile Sabbateans. I find those blogs gross and disgusting). I hope to return to these social topics in a while. Next week I want to start talking about rabbinical politics and theologies. These are serious and difficult subjects, definitely not for wusses, and I hope my nonexistent readers stay with me.


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