: שידוך, pl. shidduchim
שידוכים) is a system of matchmaking
in which Jewish singles are introduced to one another in Orthodox Jewish
communities for the purpose of marriage.
In strictly Orthodox Jewish circles, dating is limited to the search for a marriage partner. Both sides (usually the parents, close relatives or friends of the persons involved) make inquiries about the prospective partner, e.g. on his/her character, intelligence, level of learning
, financial status, family and health status, appearance and level of religious observance.
A shidduch often begins with a recommendation from family members, friends or others who see matchmaking as a mitzvah, or good deed. Some engage in it as a profession and charge a fee for their services. A professional matchmaker is called a shadchan.
After the match has been proposed, the prospective partners meet a number of times to gain a sense of whether they are right for one another. The number of dates prior to announcing an engagement may vary by community. In some, the dating continues several months. In stricter communities, the couple may decide within a few days. Also the age when shidduchim start may vary by community. In frum circles, especially among Hassidim, eighteen is the age when shidduchim start and shadchanim take notice.
Those who support marriage by shidduch believe that it complies with traditional Judaism's outlook on Tzeniut, modest behaviour in relations between men and women, and prevents promiscuity. It may also be helpful in small Jewish communities where meeting prospective marriage partners is limited, and this gives them access to a more broader spectrum of potential candidates.
Also, the decision as to whether or not the mate is good can be made with the emotional boundary of the shadchan who, if so desired by the couple, can call and talk to either side in the beginning stages of the dating to iron out issues that can crop up during the dating process. Usually as the couple see more of each other the shadchan backs away and lets the couple manage it themselves. It's expected that the couple keep the shadchan up-to-date on how the shidduch is going at regular intervals.
If the shidduch does not work out, then usually the shadchan is contacted and it is he/she that tells the other side that it will not be going ahead. If the shidduch works out then the couple inform the shadchan of its success.
The prospective partners either date each other or in stricter communities they go to a "bashow"
. A typical bashow
scene is that the boy with his parents goes to see the girl in her house to see if she is his basherta
. Both sets of parents talk to each other, and then when the setting is more relaxed, they go into another room, leaving their children in the living room to speak among themselves. Some use this opportunity to actually ask each other pertinent questions, while some just want to see if they like each other, relying more on the information they got from the shadchen
or from other people. The amount of bashow's
prior to announcing an engagement differ, as some have many bashow's while others have as few as one, which is typical among the children of Hassidic Rebbes.
The first recorded shidduch
in the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. Old Testament
) was the match that Eliezer
, the servant of the Jewish patriarch Abraham
, made for his master's son Isaac
Ch. 24). Abraham gave him specific instructions to choose a woman from Abraham's own tribe. Eliezer traveled to his master's homeland to fulfill Abraham's wishes, arriving at a well. After a short prayer to God for guidance, describing how a virtuous woman might act toward a traveling stranger at the well, Rebekah
appeared on the scene and did everything described in Eliezer's prayer. Eliezer then went with Rebekah to her family and appealed them for permission to take Rebekah back with him to be Isaac's wife. Once this permission was granted, Rebekah joined Eliezer on the road home to Isaac. Even so, Isaac gained his own impression of her before agreeing to marry her (Rashi, commentary to Genesis 24:67).
However, when Eliezer proposes to take Rebekah back to Isaac in Canaan, he is told by Rebekah's family: "Let us ask the maiden" (i.e. Rebekah). This is taken as an instruction for Jewish parents to weigh their child's opinion in the balance during an arranged marriage. Regardless of whether proper procedure is followed, this is not the end of the decision - it is believed by Jews that the final say belongs to God, who may have different plans (compare with the match of Jacob & Leah).
(tractate Kiddushin 41a) states that a man may not marry a woman until having seen her first. This edict is based on the Torah
statement: "Love your neighbour
) like yourself" (Leviticus
19:18), where the word "neighbour
" can be interpreted as "spouse". In other words, a marriage that is arranged
so completely that the prospective couple has not even seen each other is strongly discouraged, as it is possible that the couple won't like each other.
The etymology of the words "shidduch" and "shadchan" is uncertain. The Medieval Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (commonly called Ran) traces it back to the Aramaic word for "calm" (cf. Targum to Judges 5:31), and elaborates that the main purpose of the shidduch process is for young people to "settle down" into marriage (Commentary of the Ran to Talmud, Shabbat 10a).
Considering the prevalence of a number of genetic diseases
in both the Ashkenazi
communities, several organisations (most notably Dor Yeshorim
) routinely screen large groups of young people anonymously, only handing them a telephone number and a PIN. When a shidduch
is suggested, the candidates can phone the organisation, enter both their PINs, and find out whether their union could result in critically disabled children. Although occasionally receiving criticism, its construction has led to a sharp decrease in the number of children born with Tay-Sachs disease
and other genetic disorders.
The process of shidduchim
is the subject of some criticism, mainly for being "unromantic
" and too closely resembling the practice of arranged marriages
. However, this is rarely the case as there is no requirement in the Shidduch process to marry the person being dated. It is an arranged date, albeit one in which the parents may have considerable influence. It should be noted that those using this matchmaking process have a far lower divorce rate than the US standard. The numbers given are under 6%. One counter-argument to this, is that divorce is much more discouraged among Orthodox Jews than among the rest of the US population, with more pressure to work things out; so divorce rates are not necessarily indicators of marital success.
Sometimes named as negative aspects are the disadvantages to young people with medical or psychiatric issues, financial, family or sibling issues, chronic diseases, people with disabilities, people from broken homes, orphans, converts, and baalei teshuva (returnees to Orthodoxy). Often the disadvantaged end up being matched with people with other disadvantages. It can also reduce the amount of choice for the prospective partners themselves, as they are only exposed to what their family, friends and shadchanim see.
Cultural and literary references
In Fiddler on the Roof
, Tevye the Milkman's daughters have trouble finding a suitable match. The matchmaking is conducted by an old widow named Yenta
- Shani Stein. "The Survival Guide to Shidduchim". New York, NY: Feldheim publishers, 1997. ISBN 1-56871-132-8.
- Leah Jacobs, Shaindy Mark. "Shidduch Secrets". Shaar Press, 2006. ISBN 1-42260-220-6.