“New Year, New Beginnings!” my Jewish mother gleefully suggested, quoting the old Jewish saying of “Change of Location, Change of Fortune” as a good omen for dating with my recent relocation to the East Coast. “And look,” she continued, “unnamed online Jewish dating service is having a holiday promotion — ‘find your besheret starting with Bereisheet!’” “How clever,” I groaned, “are they also offering a ‘get divorced by Devarim’ special, Mom?” Yet, I knew there was no arguing with my wonderful Yiddishe mama. While I can’t imagine anyone finds online Jewish dating to be a Garden of Eden, I figured this could be epic — even biblical – in its potential for humor and commentary:
I first journeyed to the internet portals of JDATE, the Abrahamic open tent of online Jewish courtship. The process is simple: answer some questions and scroll through hundreds (ye, thousands) of profiles of Goldbergs and those who provide user names like “CohenGetToKnowHim” and “BlowMyShofar.” [I can only imagine their female equivalents.] Waste time at work chatting with strangers, go on coffee dates, and repeat — ah, the cycle of Jewish single life. (Warning to the wary: you may also have to fend off some creeps since their screening software seems to do little to prevent octogenarians from contacting twentysomethings or initially blocking lewd propositions.) Yet, I felt some moral qualms with their selection criteria: if you are a card-carrying tribesperson (or apparently, just want to date Jews without actually being halakhically or otherwise self-identifying as Jewish?!), like Thai food, and hate kittens [ok, no one really admits in public that they hate kittens!], the algorithm predicts soul mates forever! Though they have surely found every Jewish couple with matching names (Michael and Mindy, engaged, 2012!) to promote as success stories, it raises deep concerns about the nature of Jewish identity and couplehood in modern America. Is Jewish dating and marriage just about enjoying a shmeer on your bagel while watching Seinfeld as Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz? While this signifies less about JDATE and more about generational Jewish trends and the site has many advantages in terms of openness and inclusivity, the content, richness, and religious practice of Jewish life seems to be profoundly and troublingly absent.
On the other hand, I sojourned over to I Saw You at Sinai and a variety of other online Jewish dating services for the observant crowd, where one encounters a different scenario. Here, your besheret is determined by practically Talmudic parsing of your level of observance (Orthodox modern? Orthodox middle of the road? Orthodox machmir? Carlebachy? Conservadox? And who/what exactly is yeshivish? Isn’t there an all/none of the above box?), your attitudes towards the sinfulness of pants, and your ranging proclivities toward sheitels, snoods (a chas v’shalom fashion statement!), hats, tichels, and uncovered hair. [Have no fear gentlemen, you can also debate the merits of various colors and shapes of kippahs, regularity of Jewish textual study, the acceptability of television-ownership, and if your dream girl could eat dairy and vegetarian outside the home.] Further, these services often require the intermediary of a matchmaker who sends you selected profiles for review, bringing the process closer to shadchan-style dating typically favored by the ultra-Orthodox. While these sites put greater emphasis on knowledge and practice, they seem to work best for those within mainstream Jewish communities, both ideologically and geographically. This only helps to perpetuate both the physical and spiritual isolation of faith-seekers and reinforces the rigidity of observant Jewish life today.
I recently heard about a new development in the online Jewish dating scene in Israel called “Laytim” (Hebrew for “light” in plural form) billed as meeting place for the those who self identify as ‘datlashim’ (dati le-sheavar, or the formerly observant) and the religious ‘lite.” Graphics on the website show women with low cut shirts mingling with men with jaunty colored kippot. While the Hebrew-language website doesn’t offer much information, one English language blogger expressed, “I go out with secular people and I feel like a frummy and I go out with religious people and I feel like an apikores. Now, people like me have one place where we can meet each other.” Yet, while labels can be an anathema, who are these folks and what do they want from themselves and others? Will it be a meeting point for the datlash to date the datlashlash (the formerly religious, once again observant) and the datlashlashlash (the ex-practicing baal teshuvah who is again non-religious, stay with me here!) to encounter the ‘dati lite’ all on one small block of Katamon? It’s too soon to tell.
While I hope we all meet our besherets either in person or virtually, I only fear that without some efforts at re-design, online Jewish dating today may only into a lifelong partnership with VISA and Mastercard payments — but B’Karov Etzlech American Express!