Marriage and Matchmakers: Can We Learn From Orthodox Jews?

There are hundreds of young single Messianic Jews in Israel who are praying and waiting for God to bring them a spouse.

By David Lazarus |
Photo: Shutterstock

Some have attempted to use social media to find their significant other, but the young adults I interviewed say these efforts are not working. More often than not, young believers remain single for many years, some never get married, and others end up in unwholesome marriages.

Perhaps it is time for Messianic Jews to consider the wisdom of our ancestors, who for centuries practiced the art of matchmaking. A fascinating new study on arranged marriages gives wise counsel on how we might be able to help our young folks, too.

“Arranged marriages are far more likely to lead to lasting affection than marriages of passion.” That is the conclusion of a major research project directed by Robert Epstein, the Harvard-educated Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology. “Those who have had their partner chosen for them by a parent or matchmaker tend to feel more in love with time, whereas those in typical marriages often feel less in love over time,” concluded Epstein.

With divorce rates soaring, it is clearly time to rethink our approach to love and marriage. In the US, it is estimated that over half of all marriages fail. While it has long been claimed that the Jewish divorce rate is substantially lower, reliable data has been hard to come by because many Orthodox Jewish communities doggedly protect their privacy.

Epstein’s findings, which are the result of 35 years of research, show clearly that couples who allow conscientious parents, rabbis or other qualified “matchmakers” to help them choose a spouse are far more likely to commit for life. Those who marry for love, on the other hand, are often blinded by passion, and when the pressures and unavoidable challenges of family life crop up, they crumble.

Epstein demonstrates that feelings of love in Western marriages fade decidedly in the first 18 months, while love in arranged marriages tends to grow gradually, surpassing the love in non-arranged marriages at about the five-year mark. Ten years on, the affection felt by those in arranged marriages was typically found to be twice as strong.

Epstein believes this is because Westerners leave their love lives to chance, like meeting someone in the supermarket, or at work, and often confuse love with lust. Orthodox Jews look for more than just passion. “I have seen in arranged marriages in the Orthodox Jewish community that the parents very carefully look at compatibility – it is not left to chance. They do their homework on their characteristics, their values, morals and life goals. Arranged marriages work because culturally they see marriage differently. We have a very romantic view of marriage. Theirs is more pragmatic,” he says.

And that has proved in many cases to be a more stable foundation for a committed marriage. “In the West marriages are easy to get out of. But in arranged marriages, the commitment is very strong. They get married knowing they won’t leave, so when times are harder – if they face injury or trauma – they don’t run away. It brings them closer,” Epstein points out.

For those interested, this is how it works in typical Orthodox Jewish communities. The parents, or a matchmaker, will suggest a “shidduch date,” an opportunity for a young marriageable couple to talk and get to know one another. The couple can then decide for themselves if they would like to continue meeting. The assumption is that after a dozen or so such “dates,” the two will be ready to decide whether or not to marry.

This is of course a very different arrangement than forced marriage, which is illegal in many Western countries. “In arranged marriages, there is a choice, and it is respected,” said Epstein. “The parents and the son or daughter make the decision together; everyone is interested in everyone else’s benefit.”

This article first appeared in the November 2016 issue of Israel Today Magazine.

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