What Jews really need: A matchmaker for every community

More than anything else, the Jewish community stands for closeness, cohesion and family. But it is high time the community addressed the abject loneliness of hundreds of thousands of men and women the world over who live solitary lives with little hope of ever marrying and finding happiness in a romantic relationship.

I speak of Jewish singles in general, and of Jewish singles over the age of 35, especially women, of whom there is a growing number. In the last month, I traveled yet again to lecture to Jewish singles, only this time the advertised age group was over 40. These events are invariably tragic and humiliating for the participants, since the ratio of women to men is normally about 10 to 1.

The women look flustered and regret coming. They well understand that there are no men there because a man who is 40 wants a woman who is 30. Coupled with this is the widely reported statistic that far more men than women marry outside the faith, leaving a gross imbalance in the number of Jewish men available for Jewish women.

Every Jewish community professional is aware of this problem, and yet few are doing anything about it. When I lived in England, a rabbi tried to set up a dating service for singles over the age of 35 but quickly abandoned it when more than 3,000 women quickly signed up, with less than 400 male counterparts.

If you visit Jewish communities throughout the world, you will discover that they are amazingly well-organized, providing for nearly every communal need. There are synagogues and cemeteries, ritual circumcisers and ritual slaughterers, Jewish day schools and summer camps. Social welfare services provide Passover supplies for poor families and scholarships for children who cannot afford a Jewish education. The elderly are looked after as well.

Amazingly, however, the one service that few Jewish communities offer is a means by which single Jews — both young and old — can date and meet each other in dignity. To be sure, there are many Jewish singles events, such as lectures and fund-raisers, organized by local communities. But important as these interactions are, they are mostly social events rather than real springboards for long-term relationships.

Parties and dances cater to the handsome, the pretty and the confident. People who have more subtle qualities, like character or compassion, are often overlooked. Women who are past 50 often feel stripped of dignity at these events because so few men try to speak with them, and they return home more dejected than before.

It should seem obvious that in an age in which fewer Jews than ever are actually marrying, the Jewish religion should set an example to the world by offering, as a central staple of every community, a low-cost, professionally run Jewish matchmaking service.

In the same way that every community has fund-raising databases, every community should create a central singles database, put together by local rabbis and communal professionals, of every available Jewish man and woman in the city.

Just as today people can approach their rabbi about finding a place to celebrate the Passover seder, an unmarried man or woman in a community should be able to approach his or her rabbi or other communally appointed matchmaker, state his or her intention of meeting a potential soul mate and expect the community to provide a minimum of three dates a month with a quality individual who is serious about marrying.

To be sure, there are many private, for-profit Jewish matchmakers, some of whom are successful. But by and large, these matchmakers work on their own and therefore do not have a large pool of candidates; or they work for profit, so their incentive is more financial than communal.

A single man or woman who believes that the community as a whole is making an effort to see him or her married is that much more inclined to tie the knot. Shallow and superficial criteria — such as a woman who is only beautiful and a man who is only rich — are often discarded as the warm feeling of a community that wants to see them build a home is created.

Well-intentioned but misguided programs like SpeedDating have only exacerbated the superficiality of today’s singles, since they offer a choice of many of the opposite sex in a short amount of time, instead of having the focus being on one candidate over a long stretch of time.

In my view, ending loneliness in the Jewish community is a priority second only to ending suicide bombings against Israelis. Thousands of Jewish men and women, many of them divorced with children, have told me how they hate going to synagogue because, surrounded by families, they are reminded of their single status.

It is indeed ironic that everything a Jewish community offers revolves around the idea of a family. Can there be the circumcision of an infant without a man and a woman first marrying? Can there be Jewish schools without Jewish families? Yet we provide no direct assistance for finding a soul mate.

Not having trained professionals who are working full time on behalf of single Jewish men and women to find a dignified and private way to meet the opposite sex is a glaring omission that should at once be rectified. Some will say that Internet dating fills that hole. But there is no substitute for a man and a woman being able to speak to a knowledgeable and caring counselor about the kind of person they would like to meet, and having that person serve as their advocate in making a match.

The religious imperative of imitatio dei beckons. The very first act God undertook for Adam after creating him was to introduce him to Eve.

Should we not emulate Him?

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of many relationship books, including “Kosher Sex,” “Why Can’t I Fall in Love?” and “Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments.” This column previously appeared in the Jerusalem Post.