DO I HAVE A SHIDDUCH FOR YOU?
APRIL 1, 2022
As has been heavily discussed and analyzed, there appears to be an imbalance between boy and girls (men and women, for the less yeshivish) in the shidduch dating world. While I am not qualified to definitively determine the reason for this phenomenon, the fact remains that there are a greater number of eligible girls than eligible boys. Given that reality, and based on the law of supply and demand, boys can be much pickier in choosing whom they would like to date.
In addition to standard marriage traits, boys are afforded the luxury of filtering girls based on factors that have no bearing on being a good marriage partner, such as: number of siblings, girl’s parents’ net worth, height, yichus, etc. The question arises as to whether this is appropriate or not. On the one hand, why shouldn’t boys utilize their market advantage? On the opposing side, girls should not be treated like a commodity, chas vshalom, and this abhorrent attitude should not be tolerated regardless of sociological realities.
Reasonable minds do not differ. All agree that girls/women should not be treated disrespectfully and deemed “unworthy” for shallow reasons largely out of their control. At the same time, can anyone in good conscience advise a boy to not pursue the “best” girl he possibly can, according to whatever definition of “best” he may have. The issue in this instance is not with any individual boy acting in his own self-interest—it would be foolish for him not to. Asking a boy or “the boys” to forgo seeking out the best options available to them is nonsensical. Boys cannot be reasonably expected to sacrifice their personal interests for some greater societal good.
The issue is a cultural one. We have raised a generation of people with a skewed value system and imbalanced moral code who believe it is appropriate to assess the value of a life partner based on shallow, vain, and secular ideals. Stated bluntly, we should be ashamed of ourselves and ought to view this phenomenon as evidence of failed chinuch. How could our society, ostensibly based on lofty Torah ideals, give rise to a generation of lomdei Torah, that when given the opportunity, manifest a corrupt value system. What are we doing wrong?
Sadly, I believe that intuitively we all sense the answer and it can be summarized in one simple word: hypocrisy.
Our lives are full of contradictions. We preach kedushah and don’t necessarily align our lives with it. We preach Torah values, but don’t necessarily live them. In short, as a society, we are failing to achieve the ideals that we strive for. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, when our children pick up on the subtle message that we give them. Sure, we pay lip service to a menu of lofty ideals, but deep down, we don’t really live by them. Thus, when it comes to valuing qualities in a life partner, the same trend plays out. We pay lip service to elevating meritorious character traits—i.e. valuing the ba’alas chesed above all else—but when given the opportunity, we subtly give the message that more shallow traits are equally valuable.
I don’t believe that there is a simple fix; there is not. It requires us to reassess, at every level, and ensure that our public and private lives are guided by the values that we profess allegiance to. More than any other type of chinuch, a child’s value system is formed based upon observed behaviors of parents and teachers. Far more impactful than the spoken word is modeled behavior. It is for this reason that historical semicha required shimush, studying under the direct tutelage of a Rebbe. The written word can only convey so much; the nuance, energy, weight of authority, and perspective, require observation of a master at work. The onus of this “crisis” (ranked the most popular Jewish word of the last decade), falls squarely on us.
Our lives are a study in inconsistency but there are no contradictions to be found. We face a challenging reality and must delicately thread the needle between Torah values and modern living. Frankly, given the enormity of the challenge we do a pretty good job. Not perfect, but pretty good. We are blessed with many talented and forward-thinking teachers and rabbanim who help navigate the ever-increasing liberal culture that is wholly inconsistent with some of our core values. No, we don’t get it right every time, but that is understandable, and our mistakes are reasonably within an acceptable margin of error.
Nuance is critical to sophisticated living. While broad-stroked thinking makes for easy headlines and bullet points, the devil is in the detail. Therefore, I do not believe our society is at fault for the picky boys phenomenon and certainly is not to blame, wholesale, for skewed values. Ultimately, given the reality of supply and demand (or the perceived reality) the “market” is currently trending in favor of the boys. At some point in the future, that may shift and girls may have the opportunity to be pickier. In any marketplace, the side in the power position can dictate terms. That is the way of the world and shidduchim are no different. No one should be faulted for acting rationally.
MARCH 4, 2022
Issue: The evolution of Jewish practice is truly fascinating. According to my research (including both revisionist and non-revisionist history books) Purim celebrations one hundred years ago did not include many of the standard trappings of our modern-day celebrations. Sure, the basic mitzvah framework remains unchanged, but the emphasis on elaborate costumes, and especially family themed costumes, does not appear to have been the common practice in Krakow in the early 1900’s. Indeed, I was unable to locate a single picture of the Kovno or Bialystok cheders’ annual Purim
costume competition and zero pictures of children from Lublin dressed as Marvel action heroes. From a review of the halachic literature discussing Purim issues, it seems that the most extravagant things got, was the occasional donning of a dress by a man. Our ancestors really knew how to party!
Fun and games aside, is there value in maintaining the same celebrations as previous generations did? Is the “modern” emphasis on costumes a positive or negative development?
Prevailing Perspective: We are people deeply rooted in tradition. Our entire religious lives revolve around carefully guarding the holy practices passed down from parent to child for generations. We obsess over the most nuanced issues, including, the appropriate days to consume kreplach, the (sometimes less than enjoyable) tunes for certain parts of davening, and the types of foods we wouldn’t be caught dead eating over Rosh Hashanah; the list of detailed minutia goes on and on.
Minhag Yisrael carries substantial weight and should not be easily discarded. Certainly, the Purim celebrations deserve similar treatment. Turning costume into the primary focus of Purim is akin to making Tishah B’Av all about the brand of non-leather shoes to buy. Yes, it is related to the day, but not the key focus.
Additionally, highlighting the costumes cheapens the authenticity of the celebration and distracts from the depth and meaning of Purim—appreciating G-d’s presence in the dark and bitter days of
galus. Focusing on the gimmicky aspects of Purim makes it feel like a commercialized and empty day devoid of the meaning that this special day deserves. We would be wise to look to our ancestors for guidance with respect to a proper celebration of the miracle of Purim and refrain from shifting the focus away from the meaningful aspects of the day.
Alternate Outlook: “Because that’s how they did it in the Europe” is hardly a convincing argument. Rather, it is important to distinguish between minhag and common practice as a result of current reality. Not every shtuss performed by a Jew older than you achieves the lofty status of minhag Yisrael. Case in point, open any historical or biographical work about eastern European Jewry and you will notice that no one is ever smiling in the pictures. Many of the books are filled with pictures of bearded men and modestly clad women who look particularly miserable and unhappy. Should we argue that this is the minhag—a true believer should refrain from smiling while having their picture snapped!? More likely, the long exposure times—the time a camera needs to take a picture—made it important for the subject of a picture to stay as still as possible, making smiling a difficult task. Thus, simply because something wasn’t done in a particular way, does not, on its own merit, have value.
Given the reality of the times from both a cultural and financial perspective, elaborate costumes were well beyond the means and world of the average Jew. Rampant poverty and limited availability were likely a key factor in the lack of costumes. Most importantly, there also appears to have been a dearth of available action figures to dress up as. There is another point here as well. The yomim tovim are specifically designed to utilize our emotions such that we exercise our full depth of emotion within the context of avodas Hashem. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that it is for this reason that we are obligated in “v’samachta b’chagecha,” rejoicing on our holidays, to realize our complete humanity within our avodas Hashem.
The emotional experience is a fundamental part of our nature and the yomim tovim are tailored to elicit a passionate embrace of our full range of emotions. We are meant to rejoice on Sukkos, approach Rosh Hashanah with fear and trepidation, celebrate our freedom on Pesach, and mourn our national losses on Tishah B’Av. Each holiday has an emotion associated with it so that we can passionately, with all of our being, engage in the worship of Hashem. Life is not meant to be monotonous, and neither is our relationship with G-d.
Interestingly, I once heard from a rabbi who was dealing with the Ben Noahite movement (gentiles who believe in the authenticity of Torah, who worship Hashem, and who embrace the seven Noahide commandments) that the most challenging aspect of being a Ben Noahide, is the lack of holidays. Their calendar does not include any special days of celebration, nor does it include Shabbos. The days just drag on into years, nothing to prepare for, nothing to celebrate, and no excitement and passion. Conversely, the Jewish calendar is full of highs and lows that encourages a rich religious experience. (Parenthetically, I suggested to this rabbi that he could remedy their desire for holidays by instructing them to keep a few three day yuntifs, observe the restrictions of the Three Weeks and Tishah B’Avs, and to pay several hundred dollars for a citron.) Thus, while perhaps not the most important part of the day, costumes are a critical element of the joy of the holiday. Focusing on this minhag Yisrael fosters excitement amongst young and old and perpetuates the simcha of the day. While it is unlikely that Chazal envisioned scores of Jewish children dressed as minions or Marvel characters, fundamentally, the minhag remains an important one and ought to be embraced, encouraged, and supported.
February 25, 2022
THE ISSUE: Although the COVID crisis appears to be in rapid descent, many shuls countrywide continue to struggle with the aftermath of COVID—namely, the great decentralization of our community.
I understand that in some areas attendance at informal minyanim (i.e., non-shul-based minyanim) is greater than attendance at established shuls. Even in areas in which this is not the case, the challenge that established batei kneisios are experiencing from informal minyanim is at an all-time high. The draw to attend an informal minyan is self-evident. Generally, informal minyanim boast the following key features: quicker davening times, more elaborate Kiddush spreads, no officiating rabbi, no derashah (excluding the brief dvar Torah after davening to assuage the guilt prior to everyone stuffing their faces, l’kavod Shabbos, with food and drink), and an overall less formal environment. In an effort to lure mispallelim back to shul, shul rabbis, board members, and concerned citizens have been desperately brainstorming ideas to fill the pews. Shuls are scrambling to increase their programming, Kiddush spreads, and overall shul offerings. The “fill the pews” ideas range from the reasonable to the incredible. My personal favorite is based on the airline model, offering “first class” davening seats to frequent “daveners,” designated Kiddush lounges, and, of course, priority exit post davening.
The broad range of ideas gives rise to the age-old question of line drawing. At what point do we reach the red line that we are unwilling to cross?
Prevailing Perspective: The centrality of a beis ha’knesses is primarily a post-Churban concept. Upon the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the dispersion of the Jewish people into exile, the unity of the Jewish people was at risk. The shul was specifically designed to be a “beis ha’knesses” a house of gathering, to ensure unity and community. Thus, the shul is a galus invention, and an exceedingly successful one at that. The proliferation of Orthodox communities (and, unfortunately, the accompanying hike in real estate prices associated with living in such communities) is primarily attributable to the establishment of shuls and the need to be within walking distance of them. Considering the central role shuls play in our communal life and their vital importance to our unity, we must do all that we can to ensure their success and reestablish their primacy. As long as halachic guidelines are followed, everything is fair game. Thus, we can and should use our shuls as platforms for communal gatherings and initiatives. They should be leveraged to host political events relevant to our constituents, “kosher” entertainment for children and adults, and general social events. Our cohesiveness and power of community is dependent upon the success of our shuls and we should not rest until their primacy is fully reestablished, by any means available.
Alternate Outlook: Many times, while initially well-intentioned, the means to achieve a goal becomes a focus unto itself and results in a mockery of the goal it is designed to achieve. If we are not careful, we can lose focus of the actual goal—creating a mikdash m’eat, an oasis of kedushah, in an otherwise profane world. It is critical to ensure that the highest level of sanctity is maintained so that we do not turn our shuls into country clubs with a Jewish motif. Means are not always justified by their objective, and, left unchecked, the means can frustrate the objective.
As an example of this, let me share a war story from the law firm files. Years ago, I represented a client who fell on hard times and whose (luxurious) home was being foreclosed upon by the mortgage lender. In an effort to prevent the foreclosure sale, I found a cash buyer for the home. Our firm submitted the offer to the mortgage lender, but since the offer was less than the outstanding balance due on the mortgage (i.e., it was a short sale), the sale required approval of several loss mitigation committees at the bank.
The process dragged out for several months. Finally, about three months after the offer was submitted, we received a form letter from the lender informing us that after substantial review the offer was rejected because it was submitted via e-mail and not faxed (an unstated requirement, and it only took three months to figure that out!). I immediately called the lender to obtain the appropriate fax number to rectify the grave sin of e-mailing vs. faxing. To my shock, I was informed that per CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) guidelines we could not resubmit the offer for another month. Apparently, in an effort to protect homeowners, the CFPB mandates that after a decision is reached with respect to a loss mitigation option (foreclosure, short sale, loan modification), the homeowner is granted a 30-day window to appeal the decision. During that time, no further action may be taken on the file in order to provide the homeowner the opportunity
to address and appeal the decision.
While the spirit of the rule makes sense—protect the homeowner from the evil financial institutions—enforcement of the rule in this context actually frustrates the goal. The potential buyer who wrote the contract was getting anxious and did not want to wait another month to restart the process. Thus, as a result of the CFPB’s rule to “help” the homeowner, the potential buyer retracted his offer, causing the home to fall to foreclosure. While the CFPB’s goal was admirable, without careful administration of the means to achieve the goal, the desired result was hindered.
Similarly, due care, sensitivity, and caution must be exercised when trying to fill the pews. Converting our shuls to event spaces and endless buffets impedes the holy atmosphere that a beis ha’knesses deserves and hardly appears consistent with “mikdashei ti’ra’u.” As we continue to brainstorm additional fill-the-pew ideas, we should remember the beauty of what a shul represents and exercise extreme caution and sensitivity, lest we unintentionally desecrate our holiest of communal structures.
February 18, 2022
GREATNESS OR GAAVAH?
Prevailing Perspective: Several years ago, my wife and I were approached to be the guests of honor at a shul dinner. Our initial response, like many others that preceded us was: absolutely not. No way. Period.
The dinner chairman, well versed in the subtle art of honoree coercion, immediately responded with the time-tested argument that we would be examples for others, and it was important for the
community. He further argued that we had a communal responsibility to accept the honor to encourage others to attend and donate. (He also proudly informed us that we would be the primary guests of honor and not merely the recipients of the keser shem fill-in-the-blank award). Ultimately, we accepted the argument and acquiesced to being the sacrificial honorees. Although, for
my own sanity, I insisted that we be referred to as the victims of honor and not the guests of honor.
Given the number of dinners and other events that successfully procure honorees and operating under the assumption that the majority of Klal Yisrael are not hopelessly vain, it would appear
that the argument of communal responsibility resonates with many people. While to many, the thought of a captive audience watching the ubiquitous video extolling one’s virtues seems contradictory to our core value of tznius, our personal inclination for modesty is trumped by the need to serve as a communal role model and inspire others.
Alternate Outlook: Although not dispositive, I am hard pressed to believe that the Chofetz Chaim (or insert your favorite tzadik) would be so easily convinced. Tznius in its true form, is a
core value. One of the defining characteristics of Klal Yisrael is that we are bayshanim, people who shy away from unnecessary attention. Modesty, as defined by the balei mussar, is a lifestyle
middah, i.e., a character trait that is so definitive as to impact every aspect of one’s life and become a mode of living. My great rebbe, Rav Nata Greenblatt, shlitah, a living example of haztneah
leches, taught me the importance of this middah. I was at his house several days before Sukkos and wanted him to thoroughly “check” my esrog. Instead, he gave it a cursory glance, handed it back
it to me, and declared that Reb Chaim Brisker didn’t have such a beautiful esrog. Eager to have him take a closer look, I said, “Rebbe—I paid $250 for this esrog and it is supposed to be alef alef, super deluxe mehadrin (and whatever other accolades it said on the box).” He turned and sternly looked me and shouted, “You are telling everyone what you paid for a mitzvah? It is no one’s business! It’s between you and Hashem and that is it.” The thought that a Yid would publicly disclose his personal observances was anathema to him and contrary to the very essence of Yiddishkeit and avodas Hashem.
Unfortunately, shameless self-promotion is rampant. A brief review of my LinkedIn feed bears witness to the broad societal acceptance of self-promotion. Of course, it is generally thinly
veiled in fleeting expressions of gratitude (i.e., I am so grateful to have been honored by… or, I would like to thank … for inviting me to… etc.), but ultimately, between the lines, it essentially, reads
as: Hello everyone, LOOK HOW GREAT I AM! This attitude is particularly troublesome when ostensibly performed l’shem shamayim. Ga’avah thinly veiled as avodas Hashem is truly a turnoff.
None of this is to minimize the importance of serving as a communal role model and inspiring others, especially when it comes to tzedakah and support of our holy institutions, the backbone
of our communal life. That too, is an imperative, but at what cost to our own personal character? One who genuinely lives by the creed of hatzneah leches would shudder at the thought of broadcasting their personal observances for the whole world to see. I am not suggesting that when in conflict, the value of tznius trumps the duty of serving as a communal role model, rather, that to the extent the value of hatzneah leches is genuinely adopted, there is simply no conflict to begin with.
As noted, I did accept to be the victim of honor and am certainly not passing judgement on the many fine individuals who have similarly accepted such roles. However, as a community of bayshanim, would we be better served if the institutions that foster Torah values adopted other fundraising techniques that do not erode our historic and refined communal character of hatzneah leches im Hashem Elokecha?
July 2, 2021
Prevailing Perspective: ‘Tis the season to focus on the scourge of sinas chinam, unwarranted hatred of others. Indeed, many of the Tisha B’Av programs do just that. During this time we are particular cognizant of our interpersonal relationships and strive to ensure that our peers view us favorably. Many of us expend substantial emotional energy with respect to the way we are perceived by others. As the saying goes, perception is reality—and we yearn for a reality that elevates us in the eyes of others. This attitude is reflected in many of our life choices: the way we dress, our chosen pastimes, our interpersonal interactions, etc. We just want to fit in to the community and not stand out. To be mainstream, if you will. Like in many areas of life, we justify, and even conclude, that this effort is Torah-mandated.
Citing a hodgepodge of verses and other sacred texts, we convince ourselves of the importance of uniformity and of shalom, peace. For example, the famous Gemara, “lo sa’asu agudos agudos—do not create multiple subgroups,” appears to embrace this ideal. In addition to textual support, the words of our high-school rebbe droning on about achdus continue to echo in the back of our minds. Surely, constant concern with everyone else’s perception of “me” is of the utmost importance.
Alternate Outlook: The ultimate liberty is to live an internally focused life that is not influenced by the perception of others. I refer to this mode of living as “uber-shtoltz.” This philosophy has been developed over time in consult with many leading uber-shtoltz theorists, including my good friend and uber-shtoltz aficionado Mr. Shmuel Winiarz, Esq. To properly understand this
groundbreaking philosophy, an introduction is in order. “Shtoltz” is a concept popularized by the postwar Talmudic academies and in the yeshiva world is treated as a term of art. It is an all-encompassing idea that implies a degree of healthy arrogance coupled with a dose of grandiose dramatics and finished with an injection of confidence. It pertains to the overall way in which a person is perceived by his peers and can be used as a noun, an adjective, or a verb.
For example, one may comment that Tom has shtoltz, Tom is shtoltzy, or Tom shtoltzed out Sam. While primarily used as an accolade, it may be used pejoratively as well, as in, “Tom’s shtoltz is excessive.” (Parenthetically, I understand that shtoltz is a desirable quality in a prospective shidduch, although it ranks below yichus and earning potential.) Uber-shtoltz, as its name implies, is an enhanced and upgraded form of shtoltz. It pertains to an individual who has integrated classic shtoltz into his or her persona to the extent that he is no longer sensitive to, concerned with, or seeks the approval of others. His innate confidence has been developed and fortified to allow for complete independent, unfettered action free of social inhibition or fear of consequence. Although I am hesitant to blame all great ideas on the Maharal, I believe the Maharal actually suggests this idea in his work on Pirkei Avos. On the famous Mishnah describing true strength as conquering one’s own desires, “Eizehu gibbor ha’koveish es yitzro,” the Maharal comments that the point the Mishnah is making is that genuine strength is measured internally, against one’s own personal struggles, and not vis-a-vis someone else.
Thus, only one who is capable of conquering his own desires genuinely possesses the character trait of strength. Strength measured against someone else is relative strength and not inherent strength. Similarly, an uber-shtoltz perspective requires one to look internally and not be influenced by the fear of perception or misperception of others. In the hands of an individual with a properly calibrated moral compass, it is a powerful tool for success. So, yes, achdus and shalom are wonderful communal ideals, but we should be careful not to confuse unity with conformity.
June 25, 2021
OF FATHER’S DAY
Prevailing Perspective: What a wonderful day! Fathers countrywide finally receive the appreciation they deserve! In our community, fathers shoulder the substantial stress of providing for their family’s ever-costly needs and wants, attempt to instill good values to their children, and try to be a Romeo to their Juliet, all while trying to continue some form of learning and spiritual connection of their own. True heroes. Finally, a day to recognize their efforts! How could anyone disagree with a day about hakaras ha’tov, an important and critical character trait we preach about regularly?
Additionally, as opposed to other “secular” holidays, there is no hint of any religious undertone; even the biggest machmirim should not have an issue with this day! And finally, any day that effectively mandates a barbecue ought to be wholly embraced by all.
Alternate Outlook: Once something is institutionalized, it loses its value. In theory, a day of hakaras ha’tov to dads countrywide is benign and perhaps even wonderful. Considering its origins, or lack thereof, however, it appears cheap, forced, and fake. A genuine display of gratitude must be self-initiated and arise out of a spontaneous sense of gratefulness. While any forced emotional display feels contrived, it is particularly true of gratitude.
Reb Moshe Shapiro, zt’l, used to say (heard from Rabbi Yehoshua Hartman, shlita) that the word “modim,” to thank (as in, “modim anachnu lach”) and the Hebrew word for admit, “modeh” (as in, “modeh b’miktzas”) derive from the same root word. This is because the essence of a genuine thank-you is an admission that the other person was critical and that you would not have been able to accomplish without him or her. Thus, just as an admission under duress is not valid, a forced thank-you is not meaningful. The key ingredient of a thank-you—the embedded recognition of someone else—is absent.
It is comparable to a car without an engine. From the outside it appears like a car, but if you try to drive it, it will not go anywhere. The substance is missing. Recently, my toddler has taken a liking
to pouring out the contents of any cup he can get his hands on. He has adopted a nondiscriminatory policy with respect to the contents of the cup and the surface upon which he chooses to empty the contents. For example, he does not differentiate between pouring Macallan 18 onto our white rug and emptying a cup of water onto the kitchen floor. While his equal treatment of all beverages and surfaces is admirable, it is exceedingly frustrating. So, we have undertaken the time-tested (and, frankly, ingrained from our own upbringing) approach of demanding that he apologize and say the magic word “sorry.” As you can imagine, his apology appears to be lacking in sincerity, particularly considering the limited time between his apology and the next spilling incident.
Each time he mutters the magic word, I can’t help but think of Father’s Day—a day on which the substantive efforts of dads countrywide are recognized by a forced and commercialized thank-you
card written by someone else.
Happy [belated] Father’s Day!