When I was growing up, which wasn’t that long ago, there was no such thing as shidduch resumes or profiles. Proponents of the “shidduch system” will one day argue that it was always done this way, dating back to the idyllic shtetls in Europe, where the Torah was given to the Jewish people and our traditions officially began. This is the way Jews always got married, we will be told. This is the way it is, this is the way it always was, and this is the way it must always be.
My memory serves me correctly. I did an online search, and shidduch resumes did not become widely used until 2004. Prior to 2004 there is nary a single online result to the term “shidduch resume” or “shidduch profile.” If shidduchim were always conducted this way — as so many proponents of the “system” would have us believe — one can only wonder why shidduch resumes didn’t exist 30 years ago, let alone 3000. They had paper back then, too.
The outbreak of the shidduch resume virus began a mere 14 years ago, but it has spread like wildfire ever since, and has overtaken virtually the entire Orthodox Jewish world. Whoever says the shidduch world cannot change is clearly proven wrong. It has undergone an extremely radical change (with shidduch resumes being only one part of that), in a relatively short span of time.
Virtually no parent of marriageable-aged children used a shidduch resume themselves. Those who pay lip service to “Da’as Torah” to stifle criticism of the “system” must acknowledge that no Rosh Yeshiva or Gadol has ever used one. The introduction of shidduch resumes into the “system” is actually more recent than my creating EndTheMadness to bring sanity and true Torah values back to the shidduch world. When I first began writing and speaking out about the shidduch world, shidduch resumes were almost entirely unheard of, if they even existed at all!
A mere 14 years later and you will be hard-pressed to find any Orthodox singles who do not have one. An entire generation is being taught that they must have a shidduch resume, and anyone who doesn’t might as well take a lifetime lease on a bachelor pad. Singles today under the age of 30 do not even remember a world without shidduch resumes. It is all they know and the only option ever presented to them.
Fourteen years represents a generation of singles, and it is ample time to determine the results of a social experiment of this magnitude. It is time to lay it all on the table and decide if shidduch resumes help the situation or hurt the situation — and if they should continue to be used, or eliminated. The decision our community makes will have life-altering implications for whatever can still be salvaged from the current generation of singles (whose hopes of marrying and having children dwindle with each passing day), the fate and fortune of the incoming generation of singles, and beyond. Those with flippant attitudes about matters such as these would be wise to take a more serious and thoughtful approach.
I will also emphasize that not making a decision, and taking the convenient path of inertia, is also making a decision. It is a conscious decision to stick with the status quo. Those who take this path have forfeited the right to ever complain about the shidduch world, for they have made their choice and chosen things as they are. Let them live with the consequences of their decision.
Here are some questions the community must consider after a generation of shidduch resumes:
1. Has the situation for singles improved or gotten worse during this time? There are numerous factors that come into play, obviously, but a radical innovation like shidduch resumes has surely had a discernible impact in the shidduch world. If the shidduch world has improved during this time, it would be fair to assume that shidduch resumes had something to do with that. If the shidduch world has gotten worse, it would be hard to argue that shidduch resumes have been a boon to the community, and that we would be even worse off without them.
2. Can we trace marked improvements in the shidduch world directly to this innovation?
3. Are there clear problems that can be attributed to this innovation? Does the benefit, if any, outweigh the cost? More significantly, does the benefit, if any, justify the perpetuation of shidduch resumes to another generation?
4. Are the thousands of singles who have been coerced by shadchanim and peer pressure to use shidduch resumes willing to testify in favor of this device? Will they proclaim that shidduch resumes have made them feel better about themselves? That shidduch resumes made it easier for them to portray their true selves to others, to better find potential matches, to go out on more quality dates, and to save that precious time that must be saved in one’s search for a spouse like in no other area of life? Would they urge those soon to enter the shidduch world that shidduch resumes are a wonderful idea and that the shidduch world couldn’t be better without them?
5. Has the “establishment” of rabbis, matchmakers, and others who generally control the conversation about the shidduch world asked singles how they feel about shidduch resumes? Were singles behind this innovation because they wanted it and felt they needed it, or was this innovation thrust upon them?
6. Is the “establishment” so sure that shidduch resumes are good for singles that it is comfortable with singles who don’t have one being told that “we cannot help you get a shidduch,” and that they are essentially doomed in the Orthodox world without one? Do we believe so strongly that this is the Torah way that we are willing to make it a near-absolute requirement for singles to have one in order to be introduced to other singles? If so, on what basis? And is it appropriate for singles who feel differently to be punished in a life-altering way for not submitting to this expectation?
A young rabbi emailed me to ask if he could reprint one of my articles from many years ago. That was the extent of our correspondence. Two months later, without so much as an inquiry into my status, let alone a proper introduction, he emailed me a shidduch profile, along with a young lady’s picture, asked me what I think, and asked me to send a picture/details of myself. I wrote back: “I think shidduch resumes should be completely eliminated, and I don’t believe in sending or receiving pictures like this is some sort of beauty pageant.” He replied by calling me inflexible, and said that if I refuse to send him a picture he will not be able to help me with shidduchim. I replied that I never asked for his help with shidduchim or to be involved in my personal life (it’s incredible the way the personal lives of singles are considered to be public domain, and that strangers feel welcome barging in without grace or tact and expect to be thanked for it, too).
This is but one anecdote, but it is extremely common nowadays, except for the part where singles set boundaries into who may be involved in their personal lives and on what terms. There is much to say about this, but let’s focus for the time being on the matter of shidduch resumes. In most cases a photo is an absolute requirement — both men and women expect one and are expected to provide one. I won’t pretend for a single moment that physical attraction is unimportant, but is the community prepared to state that it is the Torah way for singles to be sending and receiving pictures, and for matchmakers to flip them like baseball cards? Is it tzanua for religious Jewish women to take glamorous, carefully manicured selfies, and have them sent to shadchanim, parents, and bachelors to be ogled and analyzed? Is it tzanua for anyone?
To all those who love hammering me with challenges of which Gedolim support my opinions, I would like a list of which Gedolim support THAT.
I would also like single women to stand up and tell everyone if they think this is an improvement to the shidduch world that their mothers and grandmothers did not enjoy, that they are comfortable with it, and that they would wish the same for their daughters, or if they feel overwhelming pressure to engage in a picture-oriented beauty pageant in order to get a date. (I will note that women have caught up to men in this regard, and are just as likely to demand a picture as a pre-date requirement for equally shallow reasons, but since there is always more sympathy for the plight of single women than single men, I pose the question this way.)
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The rationalization for shidduch resumes is that they “save time” by getting important information “out of the way.” This saves matchmakers from spending time getting to know singles, and saves singles time from getting to know one another. Surely all this time saved is being spent on far more noble endeavors, without anything lost from the shidduch process. Surely singles are getting married more quickly, more easily, and with greater success than before, and we have all that saved time in the bank.
One might expect that if an individual had one sheet of paper on which to describe himself and his qualifications for the “job” of spouse and parent, he would cram as much information about himself on that paper, with particular emphasis on what is unique about him and the partner he desires. He would use small print and single spacing, and would have no space to notate trivial facts about his relatives. His description would be a mini life story, deep and personal, honest and interesting. Not all of it would be flattering, but it would portray a real human being as much as a real human being can be portrayed in an artificial way. If we’re looking to save time and get down to business, it wouldn’t be any other way.
We all know that actual shidduch resumes are the complete opposite of this. The majority of information on the resume — sometimes 90% of the content — is about people other than the actual single being “presented.” We learn where everyone in the family goes to shul, who the rabbi is of the shul, who everyone married, where they all went to school, what they do for a living, and other such “vital” information. When it comes to the single, we are told their height, their educational and work history (apparently confusing this for an actual job resume), and an extremely brief “description” of who they are and what they are “looking for.”
Invariably we are told that the single is kind, caring, a good friend, family oriented, fun to be with, likes to laugh, enjoys walks on the beach, is spiritual but also worldly, likes to learn, likes to have fun, has a good personality but is also serious, wants to have children and a nice Shabbos table, and most of all, a Torah home.
Lest anyone be embarrassed that I am writing about them, don’t worry — all shidduch resumes use the same meaningless buzzwords and sound more or less the same. They are like horoscopes; carefully worded to sound impressively vague, or perhaps vaguely impressive. They apply to everyone, and therefore to no one. Shidduch resumes are intended to make singles sound like they fit in (nothing is more important in the Orthodox world) while standing out (a great catch). They are a perverse invention indeed.
As fun as it is to mock shidduch resumes, there are serious ramifications to all this. For starters, shidduch resumes afford an air of legitimacy to so much of what is wrong with the shidduch world: the dehumanization and commodification of singles; the emphasis on externals and dry bits of information; the categorization and — inevitably — the miscategorization of individuals; the pressure to conform; the need to be outstanding in every way, or at least pretend effectively. And that’s just what I came up with off the top of my head.
But at least we made the shadchan’s job easier. Match up age and height, Bais Yaacov girl with Lakewood boy, YU with Stern, poor girl with handicapped boy, and we’re good to go. With such a well-oiled machine, it’s a wonder there are any older singles and that anyone is getting divorced!
Of course I must mention that every shidduch resume comes complete with “references,” usually four to six former teachers, employers, or friends who can vouch that the single is not one of those ubiquitous axe murderers everyone is afraid of meeting.
I’ve always been baffled by the whole reference business. First of all, one can only expect hand-picked references to say exactly what the single wants them to say, which obviates the purpose of the reference. We must assume that the person calling the reference is an expert interrogator, knowing just the right questions to ask and how to read between the lines to glean the true bits of information they are after (which is essentially what “problem” is being concealed).
One should also wonder why the references themselves don’t need references. After all, information is only as reliable as the source. Who is to say that the references can be trusted any more than the shadchan or the single? Since everyone here is acting a part in a ludicrous play, why should we believe references more than anyone else? Shidduchim are like a complicated plot of spies and intrigue, only the spies are amateurs and the people are not very intriguing.
If people really wanted to get accurate information about singles, they would hire a team of private investigators to follow them around and report how they conduct themselves in their daily lives with their guard down. Again, I’m not recommending this and don’t consider it a romantic way to begin a relationship, but it would be more effective than calling references during dinner and probing for bits of juicy gossip amid the platitudes. It might even be more romantic.
What I find most tragic about the proliferation of shidduch resumes is that singles have allowed themselves to be reduced and objectified without protest. They have meekly submitted and even convinced themselves that it’s better this way. After all, shidduch resumes remove from singles the burden of knowing oneself, what one brings to a marriage, and what one is looking for from a partner. We don’t have to know our souls or bare them in the search for a soulmate, and if the price for that convenience is selling that very soul, so be it.
It is much easier to list our worldly accomplishments, pretending we are so much more excellent and outstanding than everyone else, and then describe the excellent and outstanding person we are shopping for. We justify our narcissistic shopping list by first flashing our degrees and awards, our impeccable pedigree, and whatever clever phrases we devised to describe how wonderful we are.
Woe to those who are merely average in any way, which, by definition, should be virtually all of us. Woe to our society if your amazing, accomplished, fabulous daughter is really just another girl, or if your prodigy son who was the best boy in so-and-so’s shiur is really just another guy. Woe to those who don’t know how to play make-believe for shidduch purposes, and those who are against the whole idea should stop being frum if they ever want to get married.
This is what the shidduch world has become in the last generation or so. This is what shidduch resumes have represented and encouraged since they became widespread in 2004.
In the olden days, if singles wanted to do hishtadlus, they met people and went out on dates. Now that the Orthodox world has made that virtually impossible, hishtadlus now means changing the picture on their shidduch resume and coming up with a more clever phrase to “describe” themselves and what they are looking for. Those who criticize the system are told the Chassidim have arranged marriages, it works like a charm, and everyone is happy (a lie if ever there was one, and irrelevant besides).
Some of you will say things cannot change. Nonsense. Things are always changing, and they had to change a great deal to reach this point. There is no reason why you and I and everyone who feels the same way can’t grab the reins and make some changes of our own. Besides, defeatism is not a very attractive quality. Would you be attracted to someone who is stuck at a dead-end job because he doesn’t feel he can do better and won’t bother trying? Well, if you think the shidduch world can’t change, and you aren’t willing to try, then you are that person, and it’s not very attractive.
I encourage singles to do something decisive and change the rules of the game. The first thing I would like you to do is take your shidduch resume and light it on fire. I’m serious. If you need more time to think about it, burn it with your chametz this coming Pesach. Take a picture or video of your shidduch resume burning and share it with others proudly. This simple act will make a powerful statement: you are a human being. You have a mind, a heart, and a soul, and you will not allow yourself to be reduced to a silly profile. You’re taking your humanity back.
The next time someone asks you for your shidduch resume, tell them you don’t have one and that this little social experiment is over. They are going to have to be old-fashioned and get to know you. It’s going to take time, too. There are no shortcuts. If the matchmaker is too “busy” or otherwise uninterested in getting to know you, why would you want that person leading a search for your soul mate? How illogical is that?
Eventually matchmakers will come around to this better way of thinking, even if that means working with fewer people and focusing on quality over quantity, or they will go out of business. Either outcome is a major improvement to the status quo.
While all this is happening, singles will be forced to get to know themselves as well, which to this point they have been completely discouraged from doing. This is also a very healthy step forward and is sure to only help in the search for a partner.
All those who think what I have outlined is an absolutely horrible idea, impossible, or against the Torah way are welcome to continue with the system as it is. I am not interested in arguing with them, and wish them the best of success, in spite of all they are doing to prevent that. My only request is that they stop complaining about the shidduch world and looking for scapegoats like the Internet, the secular world, and heavenly decrees. The problem is no further than the nearest mirror. They have made their choice.
Those who wish to see things change have to step up and be part of that change. No one can do it for you, nor should they.
One final thought. This essay, outlining my arguments against shidduch resumes, is nearly 10 times as long as an average shidduch resume, whose purpose is to outline a human being and his potential spouse.
Need anything more be said?
Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness and the author of seven books, including “How to Not Get Married: Break these rules and you have a chance” and “EndTheMadness Guide to the Shidduch World.” Many of his writings are available at www.chananyaweissman.com. He is also the director and producer of a documentary on the shidduch world, Single Jewish Male, available at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/singlejewishmale, and The Shidduch Chronicles, available on YouTube. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.