Many ultra-religious Jews follow a strict set of laws from the Talmud when it comes to dating. Actually, dating is probably not the proper term for what happens. Here’s a glimpse into what it looks like.
Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me A Match
Typically, a matchmaker (or the Rabbi, the Rabbi’s wife, a family member, or a friend) will choose to set a couple up (“make a shidduch”) after putting much thought into the match. Many factors are considered, including which family each single individual comes from and how religious they are. Once both families agree to the match, the pair will usually meet in one or the other’s home while their parents also get to know each other. It’s at this meet-and-greet that the man will decide if he wants to meet the woman again. Just as a matchmaker can hurt their reputation based on failures, so will a woman who gets rejected by too many men. A religious woman past a certain age (early 20s) begins to carry with her a figurative scarlet letter. But a matchmaker who has a good success rate is in high demand!
You’re Going To Wear What?
Once the couple decides to see each other again, they will meet a few times in public places and get to know each other better. Questions abound at these meetings: Do you plan to continue your education? Do you plan to work? How many kids do you want to have? How religious of a home do you want? Honest and straightforward answers are expected. Women dress modestly (tsnius) rather than sexy, and want to be seen as a respectable woman who would help hold up her husband. Of course, there’s the element of attraction, but as research has shown, couples who begin a relationship based on lust have a high rate of failure, with the attraction dissipating over time. Meanwhile, relationships that are set-ups based on commonalities have an attraction that grows as the relationship strengthens and the success rate is higher.
U Can’t Touch This
Another element to the meetings (eh, dates) is negiah – no physical contact. Religious singles are not to be intimate with each other until their wedding night, not even with a kiss. We’ve all heard the stories of the white sheet being taken to the Rabbi’s wife for inspection after the wedding night (gee, thanks) and that’s because one of the matchmaker’s responsibilities is to ensure that the women she is setting up are pure.
Many of the rules of dating when you’re ultra-religious seem to fall on the shoulders of the women, and I’m not going to pass judgment on a tradition that isn’t mine. That said, less- and non-religious Jews can still adapt many of these ideas to help them in their own dating lives. These rituals lead to extremely low divorce rates within the Orthodox community (though that may be because divorce is strongly frowned upon…), so perhaps these concepts are not so far-fetched.
Could you date according to the Torah? Even if it seems a bit strict for your tastes, you can still apply some of the above by being open to being set-up by anyone who thinks you are a catch. Take it as a compliment and see what happens. Think about your families and if they would get along; believe me, it is an important aspect to blending two families! Women can choose to show less skin on dates while men can refrain from making sexual advances. Both can ask the important questions and not be afraid to answer them. Really get to know each other and let the attraction grow rather than the other way around.
You may also be interested in 4 Reasons To Let Your Jewish Mom Set You Up This Summer