The Talmud and Midrash tell of numerous incidents when Rabbi Akiva was challenged by Roman adversaries concerning matters of Jewish faith. One such question, posed by one Roman noblewoman, relates to the delicate subject of shidduchim, matchmaking.

“Once Gd completed the creation of the world,” the woman asked, “what has He been doing?”

Rabbi Akiva answered, surprisingly, that ever since creation Gd is “busy” making matches.

This noblewoman, in an attempt to ridicule the rabbi’s response, wanted to show how easy matchmaking is. And so she randomly matched servants and maids in her mansion as marriage partners. The next morning, one had a broken arm and one a broken nose; another had wounds to the head, and the list of complaints brought to her knew no end.

She conceded to Rabbi Akiva that this job of matchmaking is not a simple one, and certainly requires guidance from the One Above.

Any serious discussion about the shidduchim process must begin with the realization that our Father in heaven is making matches constantly, and doesn’t rest for one minute.  He does, however, appoint shelihim, messengers, to help in this holy work. These messengers are commonly referred to as shadchanim (matchmakers), and they can be a friend, relative, a community rabbi, or anyone else who knows someone they think would make a great match for you.

History of the Shadchan

Historically, marriages were arranged by the couple’s parents. The Torah, in the Book ofBeresheet, tells how Avraham Avinu assigned his servant, Eliezer, the task of finding a suitable wife for his son, Yitzhak.  Eliezer prayed to Gd for assistance, and immediately thereafter, the right girl, with all the proper credentials, presented herself in front of him. Appropriately, in Sephardic communities,verses from this section are read following a groom’s aliyah to the Torah on his Shabbat Hatan.

Let us now fast forward a few thousand years from Avraham Avinu’s tent to the Syrian-Sephardic community of Brooklyn, NY.

History of Matchmaking in Our Community

My sources – community shadchanim – tell me that during the period from the ‘50s through the ‘80s, matchmaking was simpler than it is now.  The community was basically a homogeneous group, and the majority of  the SY’s, some already second and third generation Americans,grew up together with only three congregations: Shaare Zion, Ahi Ezer, and Beth Torah.  Special occasions and family gatherings were attended by all. Girls and boys of marriageable age went with the anticipation of having a good time and having an opportunity to socialize. Many couples met at these gatherings. Summers in Bradley Beach and Deal also provided a natural environment for meeting and dating. Sometimes a boy would ask a girl out without an intermediary, and other times someone close to them would facilitate an introduction, but the term “shadchan” was not then a household word as it is now. In fact, shadchanim were very rarely used, if at all. Even among some of the Rabbinic Syrian families, introductions were usually made through another family member.

The situation began to change in the ‘90s due to the combination of several factors. One was the influx of new immigrants from Syria, who generally preferred to make shidduchimwith the families they grew up with. During this period, the explosion of Torah learning began which led to the rapid growth in the number of religious institutions in our community. Many new synagogues and schools were built, and different subgroups began to form. This resulted in a far more complex social and ideological landscape, as the SY community now included a far more diverse population, making it much more complicated for community singles to meet potential marriage partners.And thus whereas years ago it was mainly the more “yeshivish” segments of the community who sought the services of professional matchmakers, in recent years, enlisting the help of a professional shadchan has become popular throughout the entire Syrian/Sephardic community.

Role of the Shadchan

Although it may seem a bit intimidating at first, one should not be afraid to go to a shadchan.  There are shadchanimrepresentingall the different segments of the community, so make sure to choose the one you feel most comfortable with.

The shidduch process usually begins with an initial call to a matchmaker by the parent of a boy or girl, or the by the actual person searching for his or her nasib (intended). Shadchanim generally prefer meeting the client in person for an informal, stress-free interview, in order to get a better idea of who they are and who among those they know might be a good match. (Good shadchanim are interested in getting people married, not just sending them out on dates…) A meeting is therefore arranged to allow the shadchan to get to know the young man or young woman.

The shadchan’s job does not end once a match is made and the couple starts to date.He or she will likely remain involved, depending on the parties’ need and interest, to provide guidance and coaching. A sensitive shadchan will never apply pressure if there are good reasons for the shidduch to not be pursued.

It is important to keep in mind that the process should be conducted with modesty and discretion. Information about the person one is dating, and the time and venue, should not be shared with one’s friends. Although these “walk by” stories are amusing, they can potentially destroy an otherwise promising shidduch. (When one wishes to confide in a friend, it should be done only if necessary, and with caution. It is recommended to consult one’s rabbi for guidance concerning the permissibility of sharing information.)

Common Misconceptions About the Shidduch Process

Understandably, those who are not familiar with the shidduch process may likely have concerns and reservations about its effectiveness, while others might find it arcane and intrusive. Let’s examine some of these concerns.

“It’s a blind date. I want to choose my own date.”

In truth, it is not a total blind date. A thoughtful, serious shadchan considers the different factors that might make this work. Remember again that shadchanim set up dates to lead to marriage, not to lead to more dates and parties with no end in sight and no goal. Shidduch dating is goal oriented. If you are not ready for marriage, don’t go to a shadchan.

“Do I have to accept a shidduch that is suggested to me?”

It is not the job of the shadchan to force anyone to go out with someone, and no one should ever feel forced to go out with someone if they don’t want to. That being said, one shadchanit told me that she advises those who have still not found what they think they are looking for after two years, to open themselves to possibilities that they may not have considered previously. We have all heard stories of happily married couples who, for whatever reason, did not want to have anything to do with each other one, two or three years previously, but when the shidduch was suggested again by someone else (or even by the same person), everything seemed to fall into place. What is the reason for that? Perhaps it just wasn’t the right time, or one or both of them was simply not ready. The fact that two people could not make it work a couple of years ago does not mean that it cannot work now.

“Since this is a ‘business,’ how can I trust that they are looking out for my best interests and not just trying to earn a living?

The shadchanim in our community have emphasized that their services are done as a hesed (kindness). These men and women who give their time are happy to bring couples together to create more Jewish families and children. They will not take money, although a small gift (not monetary) will be accepted, as such gifts are considered a segulah for the couple to have children.

Remember, a serious shadchan generally does not even suggest a shidduch if he or she does not think it has a reasonable chance of succeeding. Of course, no one is perfect; the shadchan is human and capable of making mistakes like the rest of us. However, a shadchan who is truly a shaliah (messenger) of Hashem tries only to help and to avoid steering someone in the wrong direction.

The “Shidduch Crisis”

The shadchanim I spoke to want to alert the community to the unfortunately large number of singles in our midst, and to urge the community to come up with viable solutions. In addition to the problem of eligible singles who have not yet found their nasib, we are also witnessing a high rate of divorce and strained marriages, corresponding to the increasing rates of these phenomena in the general society. These painful and tragic trends demand serious attention and carefully-devised, effective strategies.

Why are there so many eligible, older, never-married singles? Is it fear of commitment? Pickiness? Are they passing up suggestions because they might have to travel to date?

Needless to say, there is no single, clear answer, and this unfortunate phenomenon is likely the product of a combination of different factors. One shadchan noted the fact that  people are refusing good shidduchim because they are focused on hitzoniyut – externalities – as opposed to penimiyut – what’s inside a person. In addition, the community is no longer bound by the borders of Flatbush. People feel the need to explore the wide variety of options spanning the ever growing spectrum of the Sephardic community.

Another problem is that many people approach dating with a preconceived image of their nasib. Before they even begin to date, they draw up a list of traits and qualities that their nasib must have, and refuse to consider a match with somebody who does not meet these specific criteria. Often, this list is based upon their understanding of what they think they need and what they think they want. And unfortunately, this type of thinking is how many people make their first huge mistake in searching for their match. They are not able to find their true nasib because they have committed themselves to the imaginary nasib in their minds, and their goal is to find the one closest to that image.  This method rarely, if ever, works. People who approach dating this way are generally unable to find the “right one,” because they are not looking for the “right one.”

Possible Solutions

Community shadchanim urge individuals interested in solving the problem to organize shidduch meetings for singles of all ages and situations. It was actually through these types of meetings that many of the community shadchanim got started in their avocations and many successful matches were made.

More people are needed to get actively involved in creating a wider network of shidduchim. Matchmaking is a great responsibility, which is why many people, understandably, shy away from it. We must remember, however, that each time we help to bring two people together to build a Jewish home, we become partners with Gd in this sacred work. The Almighty very much wants us to become His partners in this endeavor, and therefore grants His blessing and assistance to those who get involved and join the ranks of shadchanim.

Additionally, as one shadchanit emphasized, no parent should assume that the local shadchanim know you have a child ready for marriage if you don’t approach them. Whether you have a son or a daughter ready to find his or her partner, the shadchanim would love to hear from you and meet your child. Matchmakers have reported that too often, parents of boys assume that their son’s Rosh Yeshivah is working on finding a match, so they have no need to consult a shadchan. When it comes to shidduchim, one is best advised not to make any assumptions.

Another crucial aspect of the shidduch process that must be emphasized relates to the sharing of information about a potential shidduch. One must exercise extreme caution to ensure that any information shared is both accurate and relevant. Divulging imprecise or unnecessary information not only threatens to interfere with what might otherwise be a viable match, but also constitutes a Torah violation. It is important to consult with one’s rabbi for guidance on this matter.

Finally, we cannot overemphasize the vital role of tefilah (prayer) and bitahon (faith) in the process of shidduchim. As mentioned earlier, it is Hashem who is the real Matchmaker, so pray that He will send you the right one at the right time,and pray for your friends and relatives who have the same need.  When Hashem sees that we think of others, He thinks of us. Helping others find their nasib will help one find his or hers.

With the proper combination of effort, reasonable expectations, prayer, faith and patience, those looking for their other half will, in due time, find themselves under a huppah and on their way to building a beautiful Jewish home, forming yet another link in the glorious chain of Jewish tradition.