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How do Orthodox Jews meet their future spouse without inter-gender mingling?

by Rabbi Eliezer Gurkow

  

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The Short Answer:

The Matchmaker.

The Askmoses Answer: 

Had Isaac and Rebecca met in the modern age their courtship might have looked something like this. Isaac would notice Rebecca at the well and take in her good looks. From the corner of his eye he would fix her with a surreptitious gaze, which she would briefly acknowledge, then coyly turn away.

At that point I suppose Isaac would have sauntered over to Rebecca and invited her to a cup of coffee. After an initial blush she would shrug him off. No one likes to appear overly eager these days lest the feelings are not reciprocated. He would insist and she, secretly happy, would appear to reluctantly relent.

They would spend their first meeting making an impression. Isaac would appear gallant and hope to make her laugh while Rebecca would strike an interested, yet noncommittal pose. Each would wonder what the other thought, but neither would dare to ask.

The answer would come several days later in the form of a second invitation. Once again the invitation would appear casual, but would in fact be the product of much planning and agony. One date would lead to another. They would talk, dine and enjoy each other's company, but the uncharted waters of marriage would remain unexamined.

Did they love each other on their wedding day? No
They would go in circles. Each wondering what the other was thinking, but too scared to probe. Each focused on the other's feelings, but too hesitant to disclose their own.

People would ask Rebecca if she had a boy-friend and she would shyly smile and say, “Yes.” “Are you going to marry him?” “I don't know.” “Do you want to?” “Well of course!” “So why don't you?” “Well we don't speak of such things!”

People would ask Isaac when he was going to propose and he would say, “I'm not sure Rebecca is ready.” “Have you asked?” “What, you expect me to ask?” And so it would go, round and round for months, till one of them plucked up the courage and finally popped the question.

A Shidduch

Fortunately it didn't work out that way for Isaac and Rebecca. They were spared this agony when their parents treated them to a Shidduch. That's right, an arranged marriage. Eliezer, Abraham's servant, was a superb matchmaker. Dispatched by Abraham to find the perfect bride he returned with Rebecca in tow. They never hesitated and were married the very next day.

Did they love each other on their wedding day? No. They barely even knew each other. It was only later, after the wedding, when they moved in together, that they discovered their admiration for each other and finally, their love.1

Dispassionate? Unromantic? Maybe, but let's take a closer look at the Shidduch system.

The System

Young men and women submit their applications to a matchmaker who screens all applicants to determine their interests, characters, personalities and needs. Carefully matching up the parties, the matchmaker ensures that neither gentleman nor lady date those with whom they share little in common.

Footnotes

  • 1. Genesis 24. See also Rashi's commentary to verse 67.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Life Cycle » Marriage » Courting

Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Rebecca
Second of the Jewish Matriarchs. Wife of the Patriarch Isaac, and father of Jacob. b. 1675 BCE, d. 1553 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.