Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Today's factor in our lovely "cascade" mostly affects non-Orthodox women, but I think we can safely make some deductions that are relevant to the Orthodox community as well.

Fishman told me that among Americans generally, including Jews, women are more likely than men to describe themselves as "religious" and to believe that religion is important for raising ethical children.

American women (including Jewish ones) are also more likely than men to be close with their families and to prefer to marry someone who will please their family.

For both these reasons, Fishman said, Jewish women more actively seek husbands who share a Jewish background with them, while men widen their options by being more open to intermarriage. Remember, women and men intermarry at the same rates, but women do so later on average, indicating that their preference would have been to marry Jewish.

I'm going to go out on a limb and extrapolate that, perhaps, Orthodox men – who generally would never consider intermarriage – are more open to marrying women who are less religious than they are, while Orthodox women are more likely to limit themselves to men who share their "hashkafa" (particular religious outlook).

(I'd like to point out, also, that the more religious a woman is, the more time-consuming it is for a man to match her religious level. Keeping kosher, observing Shabbat, and dressing a certain way does not involve the same time commitment as going to minyan regularly and learning Torah x hours a week. The way a woman dresses might involve a certain emotional commitment and raises all sorts of questions about femininity and feminism – indicating a level of dedication to certain type of religious approach – but isn't as time-consuming as the demands put on men. I personally think it would help Orthodox women find good relationships if they had a little more open-mindedness about men who don't appear to be as religiously committed as they are – and boy do I wish I'd known this 15 years ago.)

Back to the subject of non-Orthodox communities, Fishman had a lot to say about why Jewish men aren't as committed as women to in-marrying. Remember we've already discussed her study showing that Jewish men hold active antipathy toward Jewish women. This is in addition to the fact that men are less likely than women to self-label as religious, and less likely to care about pleasing their families.

Another problem, Fishman said, for women in the Reform and Conservative movements, is that as they have become increasingly powerful and involved in those movements, the men have disappeared.

"Feminism has done lots of wonderful things to bring women to the center of Jewish life,” Fishman says. “But we didn’t notice that in the meantime, a lot of men were alienated from Jewish life.” In her monograph "Matrilineal Ascent/Patrilineal Descent" she writes: “Just as Jewish women were marginalized from the centers of Jewish life for much of Jewish history, for complicated social-psychological reasons, American Jewish men now feel displaced from Judaism."

According to studies cited in the monograph, American Jewish girls are more likely than boys to receive a Jewish education, especially after their bar or bat mitzvah. They are also more likely to join Jewish youth groups, participate in college Hillel activities, take Jewish studies classes, describe themselves as affiliated with a wing of Judaism, attend weekly worship services (except in Orthodox congregations), attend Jewish cultural events, partake in adult Jewish education, visit Israel, attend secular Jewish events and engage in volunteer Jewish leadership. In liberal synagogues, women constitute many of the rabbis, cantors, presidents and the majority of participants.

If women in general are more inclined to be religious, then perhaps there will always be a gap between the observance and affiliation levels of Jewish women versus Jewish men. But there is room for policy change as well. Perhaps solving the "singles' crisis" means looking at how we educate Jewish kids. The Reform and Conservative movements need to look at how to keep boys interested and engaged, so that they can't imagine themselves marrying someone who doesn't share their love of Judaism. And Orthodox leaders could help by letting teenagers and young adults know – especially girls – that people's religiosity can change over time, and that kindness, patience, and a sense of humor (for example) are more long-lasting than what sort of kippah a man wears, or how many hours a week he spends in shiur..

Friday, November 12, 2010


Hi, everyone. It's been a long time, I know. To those of you who do not know me personally, I apologize. To those personal friends who have been complaining that they don't know what's going on in my life, I have just one word: Facebook. And special thanks to Michael for encouraging me about this blog.

Continuing on with my series on "Fabulous Girls" in the Jewish community who are having trouble finding marriage partners . . . I know I promised to elaborate on the intermarriage issue, but have changed my mind for now (to quote Britney Spears, "that's my prerogative"). The great thing about blogging, rather than publishing in a paper, is that I can focus on areas that are of most interest to me because they pertain to me. For all the "shidduch" problems that hit Orthodox people hardest, intermarriage generally is not one. So I'm going to go on now with other factors that make it harder for Jewish women to get married, factors that hit me the hardest, unfortunately. Much of this appeared in my original World Jewish Digest story, but some is new for the blog.


Jewish women are even more likely than non-Jewish women to be caught in the “age squeeze,” the phenomenon of women in their 20’s who think they have plenty of time to get married, only to discover in their 30’s that men their age prefer much younger dates.

As women age, their dating pools become quantitatively smaller, while men's become larger. This is because women prefer to marry men around their own age, give or take a few years. Men, however, almost universally prefer to date women who are younger – often much younger – than they are.

“You have a Jewish man and a Jewish woman who are both 28,” Fishman says. “They are both in graduate school or pursuing careers. The women see that not all the Jewish men are married yet. They are not panicking. What they don’t realize is that in their mid-30’s, when the men decide to settle down, the men will not be looking at Jewish women their own age. Instead, they will be looking at two different populations: Jewish women who are 10 years younger than they are or non-Jewish women.”

Sara Brownstein, a matchmaker who worked with hundreds of Los Angeles Jewish singles until she moved to Israel four years ago, puts the age squeeze slightly later, saying that “When a man in his 40’s wants to get married, if he does not have children, he will look for a woman under 40 because he wants children. They do not understand that if a woman is 35, 36 she does not want to marry a man who is older than 41, maybe 42. If he is in his 50’s, if he has children he does not want new babies. He could marry a woman in her 40’s, but those women still want children. They feel the men are too old.”

(I wish to acknowledge here that men in their late 40's and 50's who wish to have biological children are in an age squeeze of their own, wherein women who are still fertile consider these men too old to date. Anecdotally, I've noticed that women in their late 30's and early 40's, and men in their late's 40's and early 50's, are rather "stuck" because of the issues surrounding fertility and the conflict between wanting biological kids and being rather old to become a first-time parent. In some ways it may become easier once one can no longer have biological children or has given up on the idea, freeing one to date people of all ages or to become more open to the possibility of step-parenting. Adoption, by the way, is a whole other story because older couples are often considered undesirable by adoption agencies, at least in Israel - I don't know about the US.)

(I wish also to acknowledge that the "Age Squeeze" factor opens up all sorts of Pandora's Boxes about women's value being tied up with their youth and beauty and their perceived fertility, men's value being tied up with strength and perceived virility, painful issues surrounding infertility and the biological clock, medical miracles, cultural issues that effect family size, etc. Most of these are beyond the scope of my series and I'm sticking to the notes I have from the interviews I conducted for the article.)

The “age squeeze” appears to be more pronounced among Orthodox Jews than other groups. Danielle Jacobs, the chief operating officer of SawYouAtSinai.com (a dating Website with over 25,000 Orthodox members) and the founder of JRetroMatch.com (a site with almost 10,000 non-Orthodox Jewish members) says “age is a sensitive issue in the Orthodox community, more so than in the secular world. Men are not as open to dating women their own age, never mind a woman who is older. A man is less inclined to date a 30 year old if he can date a 23 year old.”

When I asked interviewees what women can do to increase their chances of getting married, the most common answer was "be willing to date men who are 10-15 years older than you are." I'd like to think that if I'd also asked what men can do, the answer would have been "be willing to date women your own age or older."

Up Next (I think): Frummer Than Thou