Pseudoscientific coupling

It is definitely time to get out the Ouija boards or maybe the divining rods and use them to help make the latest marital matches. Maybe we can even hire some alchemists to help. If, as they claim, they can turn simple metal into gold then of course they too can help with a secret matchmaking formula. What? You say, don’t be ridiculous! You say. But I am not being ridiculous or foolish. I am, unfortunately, very serious. I am at least as serious as some of the finest matchmakers and rabbis in Israel and now in the US. Let me tell you why – they are suggesting a similar set of techniques to make a shidduch.

I have recently received several calls from individuals in their late teens and early twenties with very similar narratives. They were matched up with people that they dated six or seven times. They were not comfortable with their dates but had been encouraged by rabbis to keep trying with the same people. Despite the encouragement to persist they were hesitant to continue dating these individuals. They again consulted with their matchmaker or rabbi just to discuss the discomfort and move on to date someone else. They were, however, told that they must first see a handwriting analyst. If the handwriting analyst, after examining their writing, felt that they are a match for one another than, according to their rabbis or matchmakers,  they are obligated to continue dating the same person and to get married to them. Yes, I said a handwriting analyst.

It seems that there are a great many people who put stock in pseudoscientific myths. I am not speaking of normal religious practice where an individual makes a choice and belongs to a supportive like minded community. That is a belief or faith based system, it is not a charade. I am referring to using handwriting analysis to prognosticate what will or will not be a viable, healthy, nurturing relationship. This is at best a form of pseudoscience though personally I think it is much worse; it is more like avodah zarah, idol worship. Handwriting analysis is useful to determine if there was a forgery in a document or if a piece of art was signed by the real artist. Handwriting analysis does not, it cannot, provide an internal analysis of a personality or an individual’s hormone levels. The type of handwriting analysis recommended to these individuals is idol worship because it is believing in a falsehood, it is worshiping a deception, it is requiring them to commit their lives to something they do not believe in and for which there is no credible support.

How have we come to such a level of self doubt and disbelief that we stoop to this form of idolatry? In all honesty this approach is not new and the impact of the use of pseudoscience remains toxic. When I attended Yeshiva there were some students who consulted with a handwriting analyst to help them decide which school to attend or professional paths to follow. I contacted one of them and asked if he recalled the incident. He did and said “It was the dumbest thing I did. He gave me crazy advice.”

Was it all based on your handwriting I asked him? Did he perhaps have a degree in counseling? Did he ask you a series of questions?

“All he did was ask me to copy a few sentences and sign my name. He looked at it for a few minutes and issued his decision. I lasted at that school he recommended for three or four weeks. (It was) the absolute wrong place and career choice for me.”

Pseudoscience is a belief, or practice presented as scientific which cannot be reliably tested, and is often characterized by the use of vague, exaggerated or unprovable claims. A field of practice can be called pseudoscientific when it is presented as consistent with the norms of scientific research, but fails to meet the established norms of reliability and replicability (excerpted from Wikipedia). Maimonides, as both a physician and legal scholar, had a field day with pseudoscience. Even in his time he recognized the need to use science appropriately and railed against pseudoscience.   

Science has begun to unravel the biology of attraction and love. We now know that certain personality types are attracted to one another and when they meet there is a cascade of neurotransmitters that takes place in the brains of the two individuals who show an intense fascination with each other.  In effect, like attracts like and there is a science that can prove it. Many matchmaking services make use of this evidence based approach by using personality questionnaires to match potential couples.

Matchmakers on the other hand may or may not be knowledgeable about the importance of coupling individuals in ways that reduce the possibility of a mismatch. I have heard many matchmakers brag that they “have a talent” for knowing “which boy to match with which girl.” Maybe there is a talent to it, but I often question if these talented matchmakers keep on-going records of their success rates. They do not so we have no way of evaluating their success rate or their talent. But that is Ok because those who use the service of a matchmaker do not expect perfection with every introduction. What is not OK is the use of idol worship to bring people together and cause them ceaseless heartache. Does anyone still believe that there is no correlation between the increased rates of divorce and domestic violence and increased reliance on pseudoscientific coupling?


About the Author
Dr Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is a 2018 APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications) and "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America). His newest book is called "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."