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Just as the economy is headed to recession, the shidduch system is in crisis mode. Or so the rabbis moan, noting the surplus of women eager to marry and the corresponding shortfall in the quality and quantity of available Jewish men. It's not that there are more Orthodox women than men out there; experts instead attribute the shortage to the broader sociological trend of postponing marriage, which works to the disadvantage of women looking for spouses their own age or just a few years older. Men who are 30 will date women as young as 18 and may turn their noses up at dating any woman past the age of 25. The 20% or 30% of women who don't get hitched right away begin to worry they'll be left out in the cold for good.
Sensing this shift of power, mothers of sons who remain in the matchmaking system increase their demands: Any prospective daughter-in-law must be a size two, or a "learner" son must be supported indefinitely by the girl's parents. For men, "it's a buyer's market," says Michael Salamon, a psychologist and author of "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (2008). "And the pressures of dating are creating all kinds of social problems, such as eating disorders and anxiety disorders. It's frightening."
I used to shrug off this talk. Genocide in Darfur is a crisis; being single at 23 is not. But the communal pressure is hard to ignore. Orthodox Judaism, like most traditional faiths, is geared to families; singles lack a definitive role.
Then there's what social worker Shaya Ostrov calls the "popcorn effect." During the first two to three years following high-school graduation, 70% to 80% of Orthodox women get married; weddings then peter off.
Shidduchim have come a long way since Fiddler on the Roof--and it's not for the better.
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