The Center for Communal Research (CCR), the OU’s research arm, surveyed more than 2,300 Orthodox single men and women and conducted qualitative interviews with 41 unmarried Orthodox Jews in a large-scale research study of the shidduch crisis “The Challenges of Singlehood among American Orthodox Jews.” The study, available at research. ou.org/shidduch/, covered topics including dating, religion, socioeconomic status and health.
demonstrated most saliently that there are, in fact, two disparate crises. The “crisis of process” reﬂects the fact that the systems and procedures for ﬁnding a spouse in the Orthodox community fall short for some single men and women. The “crisis of experience” reﬂects the fact that single people reported feeling blamed or judged by their Orthodox communities and struggle to participate in Orthodox life.
The following article focuses on the crisis of experience. Speciﬁcally, it addresses: How do single men and women feel about themselves, each other and their communities? What do single men and women want from the community at large?
A more extensive study on the shidduch landscape, currently being worked on by the OU’s CCR in partnership with the newly formed Shidduch Institute, will yield data on the “crisis of process” in the months ahead. Speciﬁcally, the future study will address issues related to the systems and procedures for ﬁnding a spouse in the Orthodox community.
Access full report here: research.ou.org/shidduch/
Much of the study’s ﬁndings and recommendations may seem fairly obvious, but by publishing this infographic we hope to start a communal conversation about the experience facing Orthodox single men and women. Our goal is to have a positive, practical impact on the experiences of single men and women in the the Orthodox community.
A SENSE OF BELONGING
79% of survey respondents said that the treatment of single men and women is either somewhat of a problem or a serious problem.
more women than men perceive their treatment in the community as a problem.
Single men and women were very vocal about the lack of a place to belong within the Orthodox infrastructure. They reported this as a signifcant element of their struggle with singlehood, with women voicing this sentiment more than men.
Please note that the statistics in these pages are from the large-scale quantitative data from the OU survey, reﬂecting the responses of thousands of single men and women across America. The quotes, however, come from qualitative interviews of single men and women, primarily in their 20s and 30s, conducted to lend richness and depth of understanding to the quantitative survey data.
One participant referred to the period of adulthood while not married as an
BETWEEN IN STATE
where single people “lack a place in Jewish society.”
I think the crisis isn’t necessarily that singles aren’t getting married. The crisis is that most singles past twenty-ﬁve feel lost to the Orthodox world. Jack, mid-thirties, Los Angeles
The greatest problem with the shidduch crisis, other than the fact that some people are single, is that we lack a true identity. We lack a place in Jewish society. Our society is so family-oriented, and that’s beautiful. But where do we ﬁt?
Rochel, late twenties, Greater New York area
THE WAY WE SPEAK
For many female participants, the linguistic convention in the Orthodox community to refer to single women as “girls” epitomized the feelings of being discounted despite personal achievements. Overall, male participants did not complain about being referred to as “boys.”
I have a challenging job as a mental health provider in an inner-city school system. People often ask me why I don’t devote my professional career to the Jewish community. And even though that has always been one of my dreams, I give them my honest answer: “You know that no one will take me seriously since I’m single. Everyone would question my work with kids, with couples, with marriages. In my secular workplace, I’m seen as an accomplished individual. In the frum community, I’m just a girl.”
Sara, late twenties, Chicago
Many single men and women echoed the feeling of “not having a place.”
The most helpful and supportive resource for single men and women who are dating:
The emotional support that single men and women reported receiving from friends outstripped that of family, shadchanim and community leaders. Many single men and women also credited their friends with providing the most on-point dating suggestions.
Single men and women reported
SUPPORTIVE NETWORKS AMONG ONE ANOTHER. deep
They reported that their friendships help them stay resilient in the face of the regular setbacks of life and dating.
Having friends as a support group is the most important thing you could ever have while dating.
Chevi, mid-twenties, New York
GETTING TO KNOW YOURSELF
Single men and women told us that over the years they gained clarity on the few things that are really important to them.
Either saying “no” too often.
And the things they regret? NO
Or saying “no” too seldom.
Single men and women who
TO LEARN LISTEN
to their own inner voice and values fare better than single people who don’t.
TO SPEAK UP OR NOT TO SPEAK UP
Women expressed the need to remain silent in the face of community members’ hurtful comments. For some, this occurred when congregants at shul or guests at a wedding addressed them in a demeaning or insulting manner.
I would say to community leaders and community members: We do not want your unsolicited advice. We’re not interested in it. You don’t know what it’s like. You’re not in the trenches with us.
Chevi, mid-twenties, New York
BLAMED, LABELED AS BITTER,
In the face of insulting comments, many of the women interviewed felt it would be counterproductive to defend themselves or answer back, fearing that they would be seen as unmarriageable or would not be set up again in the future.
“How are you sti single? You’re such a catch.”
As opposed to men who reported ending a date early if they felt it was not going well, women said they felt responsible to remain silent while on a poor date.
Some of the women we interviewed relayed that
over their ability to meet potential partners often led to silence in the face of mistreatment.
When I have asserted myself with shadchanim, they just completely write me o and will never set me up again.
Leora, mid-thirties, New York
While some men recounted that if a matchmaker said something insulting they would stop using that matchmaker, women’s responses to hurtful comments by matchmakers differed greatly and usually resulted in
The majority of single men and women report that and over half felt that their shul is people at shul are friendly, inclusive of single people.
of men agree or strongly agree 88%
with the statement “people are friendly in shul.”
Some single men and women felt community members could do more. When asked whether they are invited to a Shabbat meal,
of women agree or strongly agree 81% of men said “yes”
60% of women said “yes”
Many respondents felt that a married status earns community members more respect as well as opportunities for involvement in their shul or community. Some even felt blamed for being single.
FEELING BLAME of men of women
34% 45% &
felt judged or blamed by their communities for being single.
There is a tendency to infantilize single members of the community. This manifests in various ways, including . . . socially (as a twentysomething medical student, I and a thirty-yearold widow were seated at the children’s table at a wedding; our similarly-aged coupled friends were seated together). I think that they highlight some misplaced values in our communities: being married is not an accomplishment and should not confer status.
Sara, early thirties, Chicago
Somehow or another, the community has managed to convince the singles community that if you’re not married by X-number, you’re a failure. I think a lot more people would be getting married if they felt better about themselves.
Jack, mid-thirties, Los Angeles
Interviewees explained that poor
EMOTIONAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL OR SPIRITUAL WELLBEING
were barriers to ﬁnding a partner.
Additionally, the experience of feeling “lost” or out of place in their communities was addressed by several interview participants. Feelings of loneliness varied by age, with single men and women ages 35-44 reporting the highest levels of
reported higher levels of loneliness than women.
This is one of the most trying and embarrassing times in our life . . . There is no way to explain the thousands of times we are discounted, rejected or overlooked while we try to ﬁnd our own purpose and meaning in life . . . We need to ﬁnd a place in the frum world for single people . . .
Sara, early thirties, New York
Most of the men and women interviewed felt that communal rabbis and leaders did not empathize with their challenges and should be doing more to help them fnd partners. As one female interviewee put it, while communities have developed greater sensitivity toward infertility, addiction and other challenges, “there’s none of that when it comes to singles.”
A few interview participants did share stories of being supported by personal rabbis and mentors and, at times, by matchmakers as well. The men we interviewed shared more of these stories of support than the women did.
I was talking to a shadchan, and she said, “It’s always important to get out and meet people. If you ever want to come to my house for Shabbat, come.” I think she understood that as people get older, they might feel isolated. I feel that way. And she was just saying, “If you ever want to come, change things up, be with a family, come for Shabbat.” And I appreciated that.
Yisroel, late thirties, New York
Something that changed my whole way of dating came from a rebbi of mine. He [suggested many dates] to me, and his ﬁrst idea was a woman two years older than me. And he said, “call her up.” And I was like, “What?” and he said, “You’re afraid to call her? Man up and call her.” It seems like such a little thing, but it had a domino e ect in terms of how authentic I felt I could be, and how I could just be myself. I turn to him now for a lot. He’s a big sounding board in my life. But he never tells me what to do, which is the reason I started speaking to him instead of other rabbis I’ve had in the past.
Yaakov, late twenties, Baltimore
Help with ﬁnding a spouse
To be accepted and not blamed
SINGLE MEN AND WOMEN WANT?
To be valued
More opportunities for meeting naturally
Welcome invitations to meals
Resources for healthy relationship building
WHAT WE CAN DO GET INVOLVED
The most common request from respondents was for more help in ﬁnding a spouse—some also speciﬁed wanting the community to create more “natural” or “organic” places for single men and women to meet one another.
NO UNSOLICITED ADVICE
Only o er advice if you are asked for it. Show more respect and appreciation for single men and women’s inherent value and dignity.
O er ways in which single men and women can be meaningfully involved and contribute to your community. Single men and women are often skilled professionals, and many want to contribute their proﬁciency to their communities.
Known for being inclusive, Ner Tamid, Rabbi Yisrael Motzen’s shul in Baltimore, has single men and women on its board and in other leadership positions. Additionally, the shul offers special membership prices for single men and women. Its very active Sisterhood is led by two young single women.
Having single men and women on the board and on committees that create events is critical. We don’t have unique programming for singles. Our model is more about ensuring that people do not only congregate with their own, and we have additional e orts to break down some of those natural divisions.
Rabbi Yisrael Motzen, Ner Tamid, Baltimore
At Manhattan’s Jewish Center, both married and unmarried members have served as president, vice president, offcers of the board and members of shul committees. The shul provides opportunities for everyone to contribute to the community through Shiurim, speaker opportunities and leadership roles. It offers some events and programs that are open to all, and others that are specifc to affnity groups.
There has to be a way to make sure everyone has a voice and there’s an opportunity for that voice to be heard. It doesn’t matter if you’re sixty or in your twenties, married or single or have kids or don’t have kids.
Rabbi Yosie Levine, The Jewish Center, New York
Invite single men and women at the same time and in the same way that you invite other guests.
I am a youth director of a shul that is growing. The parents love me, and I am very successful and valued there. However, in four years, not one person from the shul has set me up or invited me to a Shabbos meal. And they are very nice people. This is not okay. If they knew how I felt, they would be embarrassed, and I know for a fact that I would be invited for Shabbos meals and would get more dates. They just don’t realize what they are doing.
Female survey respondent, mid-twenties
There is a signiﬁcant lack of formal education involving relationship building and marriages, ranging from what to look for [in a partner], warning signs, how to resolve conﬂict, ﬁnancial management, compromise, emotional boundaries, etc. I wish there were formal workshops on these topics.
Female survey respondent, late twenties, New York
Some single men and women expressed a desire for more direction when it comes to healthy relationships. Several of those interviewed lamented the lack of caring mentors available during dating, and wished the community provided more resources for coaching and mentorship for young adults.