Sex and the Synagogue

Written by Tony Dokoupil, this article appeared in Newsweek on January 21st, 2008.
The rise of interfaith marriage is a sensitive issue among American Jews, and now two powerful forces in the religion are teaming up to do something about it: rabbis and JDate, the top matchmaking Web site for Jewish singles. For the first time in its 10-year history, the site is offering a bulk rate to rabbis who want to buy membership accounts for their congregants. According to Gail Laguna, JDate’s Vice President of communications, singles who sign up through their congregation get a slight discount on the site’s $149 six-month subscription fee. “This is a way for us to break down the walls of the synagogue,” said Rabbi Michael Cahana, who leads the Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, Ore. “We should use all the technological tools that are available to us.”

The rabbis who negotiated the bulk rate are also picking up the tab. Since September, Rabbi Donald Weber of Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro, N.J., has paid out of his own pocket for 24 six-month subscriptions. Cahana and Rabbi Kenneth Emert of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, N.J., who purchased a dozen three-month memberships, anted up for single congregants using money from their synagogues’ discretionary budget. “When I heard that another rabbi was putting his money where his mouth is, I did too,” says Emert, whose offer includes just one stipulation: “No mothers, no grandmothers.” Singles, in other words, have to sign up themselves. The financial aid is appreciated. If not for Emert, says 29-year-old public-interest lawyer Noah Mamber, “I would have had to choose between JDate and food.”

The rabbis say they felt compelled to act because of the gradual dilution of the faith through marriage. Almost half of American Jews marry non-Jews, a rate of exodus that has more than tripled since 1970. “This is about creating an opportunity,” says Cahana. Sometimes even Cupid needs a nudge.

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