For Orthodox Jews, matchmaking (aka shidduchim) is as part and parcel with one’s maturity as one’s bar mitzvah or learning to drive. Young men and women who wish to fulfill the central aspect of Jewish life called marriage need to find a spouse, and when they are separated from each other throughout their adolescence, it makes sense that they would need some assistance. However, when nowadays not every community chooses to sequester young boys and girls, and when the institution of shidduchim appears to be undergoing “crisis,” many are opting, or at least considering, using other methods of finding their soul mate. However, by doing so, they will miss out an essential element of the road to marriage, one that helps to facilitate the development of the budding couple in its most vulnerable state.
The task facing a young married couple is certainly scary. To build a home and take on the vicissitudes of life together is no simple feat, especially when each is coming from his or her background with his or her unique perspective. Only with a standing emotional relationship will they be able to weather the differences of opinion that come up during the difficult periods of growing accustomed to each other.
While nobody can really know how their husband or wife will be once married, even if they knew them for many years, because by definition they never knew each other as husband/wife before getting married, this is certainly true for Jews who do not spend a long time with their fiancés before getting married (there are good reasons for this). How can they make such a commitment without really knowing with whom they are agreeing to work together with?
This is where shidduchim steps in. Besides for suggesting a match and arranging dates, the matchmaker works to guide the potential couple through the initial awkwardness of getting acclimated to each other. A good matchmaker probes them after each date to see how they are feeling towards each other—whether they are enjoying each other’s company, finding out admirable qualities, or potentially challenging qualities. With this information, matchmakers can then determine whether the couple’s individual feelings about each other are leading them towards each other or not.
Another great feature about the matchmaker is that they allow each side to be honest. It is natural for a person to alter or suppress his or her feelings based on how the other will be affected, but with the matchmaker in the middle, this is dulled. The fact that matchmakers act as a buffer between the emotions of the couple, especially in such a potentially stressful set-up, is of tremendous benefit in allowing the two sides to really be themselves. This is certainly relevant when there is a difference of opinion whether to continue or not; the disappointed party cannot try to persuade the other to reconsider without the matchmaker making sure it is to the best interests of both.
In short, there are wonderful things that matchmaking does to help out the shaky beginning of a Jewish couple. In future posts, I will discuss the nature of the emotional development of the couple through matchmaking, but at least this essay sought to give a background to the job of the matchmaker.
In addition to writing, I spend about a third of my hours awake learning Torah. In the other thirds, I edit for a book publishing company, imbue valuable life lessons to my adolescent children while attempting to mitigate their bickering, prepare our house for the arrival of the Shabbos Queen (this is a week-long endeavor), and try out new chulent recipes. Oh, I also drum on anything that makes a sound when banged.