Monday, August 19, 2019

Much has been said in recent years about the difficulties many singles in the Orthodox Jewish community have faced finding their intended, with the often used term “shidduch crisis” sparking fear and hysteria in the hearts of many. Hoping to shed further light on the growing singles phenomenon, a group of independent researchers collaborating under the auspices of a Monsey-based institute is launching a multi-phase project that will include studies collecting hard data on dating and marriage in the Jewish community, so that the problem can be better understood. The first step in taking corrective action.

The Data Analytics Addressing Shidduchim project, also known as DAAS, is being conducted by the Institute for Applied Research and Community Collaboration (ARCC) which has been using rigorous research techniques to better understand and remediate health, behavioral health and social issues within the Jewish community. Under the direction of clinical psychologist Dr. Yitzchak Schechter, ARCC shines the spotlight on the religious Jewish community, a demographic that is typically ignored in studies of this nature. Among ARCC’s previous studies were an analysis of divorce within the Jewish community and a collaboration with Columbia University Medical Center on Orthodox Jewish women’s knowledge and attitudes about breast cancer risk and prevention. Schechter hopes that the shidduch study will, first and foremost, decide whether or not the much-ballyhooed crisis actually exists.

“We want to drive informed decision making for parents, for people getting married, for shadchanim and for rabbis,” said Schechter, who readily admits that he and fellow researchers have no idea what the study will reveal. “We did a study on marriage and divorce and one of the issues was do children of divorce have a higher risk of getting divorced, and we were shocked to find out that they don’t. That is the idea behind this—let our decisions be data driven.”

The DAAS team includes Schechter, and a pair of researchers working together under ARCC’s auspices: project leader Dr. Yosef Sokol and project manager Naomi Rosenbach, as well as a group of methodologists and research assistants. Their goal is to gain an understanding of the problem by getting a solid estimate of marriage rates by age, over time for men and women in order to formulate potential solutions, while also alleviating anxiety among those who are unmarried. Sokol acknowledged that while there are many individuals and organizations trying to help singles, DAAS hopes to take a step backward in order to achieve forward momentum.

“While we respect everybody’s concern and efforts to help, we feel we need more information to know how to best proceed as individuals and as a community,” said Sokol.

The specter and fear of a possible shidduch crisis has a far reaching impact, observed Rosenbach.

“Right now, we are guessing and guessing, and not only isn’t that helpful, but it is actually detrimental,” said Rosenbach. “There is a lot of hype and definitely a perceived crisis and we have mothers making their daughters crazy about what they are wearing when they are 11 or 12 and choosing schools that are good for shidduchim but aren’t the best choice for their kids. We want to send the message out that we don’t know if there is a shidduch crisis and we have to assess the facts.”

The first stage of the study, which has been under development for two years, will focus on what Schechter described as the “what” of the shidduch crisis, and will feature a relatively short survey consisting of just a handful of questions. Participants will be asked for a minimum of information including their age, gender and marital status and if applicable at what age they got married. In order to provide more accurate data, respondents over 50 will be asked to answer those questions for their children over age 18, while those in the younger age bracket will be requested to provide the same information for their siblings. The questionnaire will be distributed through social media, shul lists and other channels.

Once the first stage of the study has been closed, which Schechter expects will happen by Pesach, the data will be analyzed and used to formulate the next questionnaire, focusing on the “why” of the problem, before moving on to the final “how” problem solving stage of the project. Because the study is a by-the-community for-the-community effort, DAAS plans to share the data with community organizations in addition to analyzing it internally to determine how to remedy the problem and help a greater number of singles make their way to the chuppah.

In order to achieve the most robust results and better identify problems, the team is hoping to gather data from as many people as possible, from all across the religious spectrum, with a goal of over 10,000 responses. While many possible factors have been bandied about, such as the number of eligible boys versus girls, age differentials, young men who are ambivalent about marriage and a reduced dating pool because of boys who have left their religious roots behind, DAAS hopes to identify potential issues in the dating process, if they exist, and resolve them.

“Our goal is to get people to hear about this, to get a link to the study and then do it,” said Sokol. “Even if you don’t have any singles in your own family, people usually know someone who is single and we hope that they will participate in the study because it can hopefully help the situation.”

The study will also be used to shed light on marriage and divorce.

“The idea that there is an endless supply of girls is deeply problematic for boys, both before and after marriage,” noted Sokol. “We see it even in our community where people thinking ‘if I get divorced there is a smorgasbord of girls available.’ That is awful for people who are married, both the men and the women.”

“There are clinical problems that occur when there is a perceived notion that there are too many females,” added Rosenbach. “It doesn’t matter if there are too many or not, if that perception exists, then it can create problems.”

Schechter said that the study aims to move the shidduch crisis from a topic of discussion at the Shabbos table into quantifiable numbers that can be reliably assessed through rigorous research.

“We need to look at the data across the socio-religious spectrum,” said Schechter. “There is a perception that if a girl doesn’t get married by 25 she is doomed, but we don’t believe that that is true and we want the data so that we can know what the reality is. It might confirm things that we know or don’t know, but we can only make good decisions based on the facts on the ground.”

For more information on the study or to take the survey visit DAAS online at https://www.arccinstitute.org/daas/

By Sandy Eller

Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected]