(December 12, 2021 / JNS) In an op-ed last week, I addressed the cataclysmic problem of assimilation and intermarriage in the American-Jewish community. Not enough can be said about this devastating and insidious scourge.
This week, I will try to tackle the next non-military crisis facing the Jewish people: the shidduch crisis. Although less of an existential threat than assimilation, the lack of Jews finding life mates is a serious problem that has to be dealt with vigorously. Every synagogue and major Jewish organization should spend more time, money and energy on finding a solution.
The ancient Jewish sages famously said that after the Creation, God spent time matchmaking. It is a lesson to all of us mere mortals to devote effort to this endeavor.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of life. It has contributed to the decline in marriage and child-bearing among Americans and within the Jewish community.
It is a blessing to get and stay married. It is also a blessing to bring Jewish children into the world and marry them off. Most members of the Orthodox community are fortunate to do both. But many aren’t so lucky. It’s therefore up to all of us to work together to make it happen for them.
According to Jon Birger, author of the 2015 book, Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game, there are 12 percent more available women in the Orthodox community than men. It is hard to get an exact figure on how many women and men remain unmarried in the Jewish world today, but I believe it is increasing at a high rate.
On a positive note, the pandemic has fueled a surge in Internet-based matchmaking. The shidduch has regained popularity not only among the Orthodox but also among the non-religious.
In a Nov. 25 article in The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan cites a study called “The Divided State of Our Unions: Family Formation in (Post-)COVID America.”
She writes: “When the pandemic came, marriage and fertility rates in America had already been falling steadily. Last year, the marriage rate fell to 33 per 1,000 of the unmarried population, and the lifetime fertility rate to 1.64 per woman,” which the study called “levels never seen before in American history … (Fertility has been below the “replacement rate” of 2.1 for more than a decade.)”
Since the pandemic began, 17 percent of Americans reported that their desire to have children had decreased. Noonan concludes, “As the pandemic lifts, the nation is likely to see a deepening divide between the affluent and everybody else, between the religious and the secular, and between Republicans and Democrats in their propensity to marry and have children.”
She had said earlier that the “the rich, the religious and Republicans have a “relatively greater propensity” to marry.
The Shidduch crisis is very real. We all have to do more to make it a thing of the past.
Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage Foundation.
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