Tu b’Av is yesterday’s news and we are back to the shidduch catastrophe. I first posted this REBS Rate article back in November 2009. But some things don’t change and Mishpacha Magazine just recycled the issue along with some hagiography about Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz.
For those not in the know, the shidduch crisis is a state of the art term in the Ultra Orthodox world for the fact that a number of old maids (over 22 years of age) cannot find suitable mates. The ideal suitable mate is a male immersed in Torah learning, and willing to let himself be supported by all and sundry. These prize catches prefer younger women (e.g, less than 22, preferably 18-19). If they had their way they would also get the taller women shortened because it turns out yeshiva men honor the Torah by not letting woman tower above them. In fact it is an unstated piece of yeshiva lore that eye-to-eye is an indecent position between husband and wife. They also feel entitled to wealthier women with distinguished lineages (which pretty much precludes a convert or a baalat tshuvah).
The great rabbis of this world have declared this a crisis. They have proclaimed days of prayer, urged greater modesty, told women to be less picky, and of course promoted the cure-all, learning. However, they are not content to rest on their laurels because, alas, the problem persists.
Eureka! The New York Post has revealed their latest initiative in its article, irreverently titled, Dreidel Robbers. They issued a directive to matchmakers to stop letting younger girls hitch up with older guys. Their ways are discreet. Sixty of them signed and it was privately distributed. How could they know that Yenta the matchmaker would betray them. But we now have a copy of the text.
The rabbis can ban things to their hearts’ content and their followers usually fall in line. But weddings are an arena in which they have less impact. When was the last time an excessive wedding led to shame for the wealthy sponsors or was not graced by droves of influential rabbis? A measure they impose on matchmakers is a sham. It will not be carried out.
There is something they could do. They could just issue an injunction to girls/women in their schools: don’t get married till you are 20 years of age. They could give the proclomation some teeth by refusing to attend any wedding of a woman under twenty. With enough women removed from the marriage pool, the crisis would be resolved. Sooner or later the bochurim would marry older girls, perhaps even women.
They could implement the decision by creating a rate similar to the Fed rate for interest. They could announce the allowable marriage age on a quarterly basis. The group implementing the rate would be called the REBS, short for Rabbinical Education and Bans for Shidduchim. To assist long-term planning they could signal anticipated changes by announcements in Hamodia’s financial section. Picture the headline: “Harav Unterfeerher announced 1 month drop in the marriageable age.” The rate would be based on leading indicators including catering reservations, real estate transactions, and purchases of rings, watches, silver ritual items, and complete sets of shas. The calculation of the REBS Rate would also draw on the results of a quarterly shadchan survey.
There is another solution. Girls could be educated to grow up into women with a stronger preference for men who support themselves. They could also educate boys and young men to aspire to be self-supporting and dramatically reduce the sizes of their yeshivas. Perhaps they could fulfill koveiah itim for parnassah as practiced by rabbis such as the tanah Yochanan Hasandel (shoemaker), the kabalist R Kaduri (bookbinder), the Ari Hakadosh (spice trader) or the Rambam (physician). The only negative effect would be less income for roshei yeshiva and kollel heads.
Then the disgrace of manipulating marriage matches for financial advantage could be ended and more dollars would flow to support a smaller number of students genuinely suited to become Torah leaders.
Oops! I forgot that very few leaders, including roshei yeshiva, advocate practices that reduce their own influence and income. Besides, with extra time before marriage the women might accumulate too much money (no problem) and too much learning (big problem). What happens when Channie listening in rapture to her prize kollel boy corrects his grammar or recall of a biblical verse? This could damage the social structure.
No, it would be better to pray, mandate longer skirts, criticize picky women and deliver directives that no one will obey. Oh yes, also announce that our rabbis have taken bold actions, which they cannot reveal. Unmarried woman should remember they are blessed with great ones who worry on their behalf. Alas, no REBS, and no chance for one of these older women to become a rebetzin. Finally, no way to End the Madness.
Postscript- A poignant example of the issues on which rabbonim work so hard was reported by a kiruv worker who had amazing success with several girls’ basketball teams. Under his influence they all converted or became frum. Alas they were also poor, tall and old (i.e., > 20). The kiruv worker proposed setting an example for the community by having the rabbis arrange shidduchim for these girls with their grandsons and their talmidim. The rabbis were very moved and wrote the girls a strong letter of chizuk. They then hastily signed another letter to matchmakers.