When religious tradition collides with modernity

In many traditional cultures, marriages are arranged by the parents, often using matchmakers. Reader Tim sent along this link about a dating service in Israel aimed at ultra-Orthodox Jews that circumvents the traditional matchmaker’s role for those cases in which the young person does not fit the desired profile and is seen as a ‘difficult’ case, though the things that cause the problems are those that the rest of us might see as desirable qualities.

In the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, the men spend all their time studying religion while expecting the government and/or their wives to support the family, no easy task since they usually produce many children. Adding to the problem is that women and men are expected to stop even their religion-heavy education at the high school, leaving them with few skills to get decent paying jobs.

This leads to the peculiar situation where women and men with good secular educations and jobs are seen as somehow inferior and thus less eligible for marriage, making it hard for traditional matchmakers to find spouses for them. Given that they also move in a society that is highly segregated by gender (especially for unmarried young people), their chances of finding someone on their own to marry are next to none.

The article examines the plight of a 33–year old woman named Yael Mizrachi who not only is hurt by still being unmarried at her ‘advanced’ age, but also has bachelors and masters degrees, making her hopelessly damaged goods by the standards of that society. She wants to marry someone who has a real job and is educated and so has turned to a new dating service that connects people in the segregated religious schools in Israel.

The person who started this service is also an ultra-Orthodox Jew who studied things other than the Torah and thus was also less eligible in marriage, and was a difficult case for matchmakers. As the principal of his school said,

“What he means is, he wasn’t offered girls that would really fit for him,” he says. “Because he was not a regular boy, he was offered second-rate girls.”

The idea that being educated meant that you are not a ‘regular boy’ and that hence you would be offered ‘second-rate girls’ (presumably those who are educated) turns the social norms we are used to on their heads.


  1. jonP says

    Um. Wow. I got nothing. No snark is strong enough for this. Maybe you could discuss this god in your debate?

  2. says

    When I was working in Saudi Arabia one of my contacts there asked me if I was interested in getting married. Because he said there was quite a population of young, fairly wealthy, women who’d do anything to get the fuck out of there. In Saudi, education is free for citizens and there are a lot of upper class women with multiple PhDs they can’t use, who’d apparently leap at an excuse to leave.

  3. doublereed says

    I guess that’s why it’s “People of the Book” and not “People of the Books.”

  4. Timothy says

    Thanks for commenting on this, Mano. Fascinating.

    I also found it interesting for the young woman to refer to herself as a “modern ultra-Orthodox.” I heard that as similar to saying “I can go up and down the stairs.” Which absolutely confused me. I can go one way. Or the other. But both?

  5. AnotherAnonymouse says

    All the Abrahamic religions quiver in fear of any type of education, don’t they? The thing the Tea Baggers and Dominionists and Quiverfull fear most is a woman with an education…and it seems the Orthodox Jews are the same.

  6. Nick Gotts says

    All the Abrahamic religions quiver in fear of any type of education, don’t they? – AnotherAnonymouse@5

    Well the simple answer to that is “No”. The fundamentalists shun modern education, but in the light of (for example) the intellectual tradition of European and Euro-American Jews over the past few centuries, your claim is simply absurd.

  7. Mano Singham says


    I have known two women students who may fit the bill of being ‘modern Ultra-Orthodox’. They were both exceptionally good students who soon after graduation got married and started having children, though one went on to get her PhD. Actually, I am not sure about the ‘ultra’ part. Although I knew them well, I did not probe them about their religious beliefs and my labeling of them is by the way they dressed and behaved.

  8. anat says

    I think some parts of the Haredi world in Israel are coming to terms with the unsustainability of their lifestyle and social system, now that inheritances from their job-holding ancestors are drying up and government stipends need to be split among way too many families. Starting from this year the Ministry of Education is offering Matriculation exams that are adapted to Haredi students. Vocational technological schools are offering programs that will certify Haredi men if they manage to pass some basic exams in math, Hebrew language arts, English as a foreign language and 3 vocation-specific subjects (one of which is usually a basic science class). Eventually their society will change, but it won’t be easy.

    BTW: I had a look at the curriculum for the Haredi matriculation exams: They take the standard math and English exams, though usually at the most basic of the 3 levels available for each subjects, and specially adapted exams in language arts, Bible, a choice of Judaism or literature, history and civics. The amount of material required is not all that balanced, IMO, but to be expected considering the intended audience. Occasionally there’s a doozy such as the history curriculum, where the objection of Orthodox rabbis to Reform Judaism is referred to as ‘The struggle against the destruction of (Jewish) religion in Germany and Hungary.’

  9. Elaine Watkins says

    As the child of a Catholic mother and Jewish father, I quit Catholicism as a teen because it offended my apparently inborn feminist sensibilities. I then turned toward Judaism, being enticed by what appeared to be a progressive and pro-intellectual philosophy. Perhaps coincidentally, this was the late 1970s and early 1980s, when conservatism in all things seemed to be rearing its ugly head. While the Reform and Reconstructionist factions of Judaism were what I’d had in mind, the Conservative, Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox surged onto college campuses and before I knew what was what, male and female students were segregated at previously fun events and women were being shown videos about the joys of becoming Hasidic, donning a wig and bearing lots and lots of children. Apparently, Judaism as a more humanistic religious movement enjoyed a VERY brief moment in the sun. Now it’s virtually indistinguishable from the worst aspects of Islam.

  10. readysf says

    A friend of mine got a PhD then switched to divinity went to Israel got married had many babies.

    His two sons are both “studying Torah” he says. One is in his 20s, unemployed, living off the dole…my tax dollars and yours.

    Jewish madrassas breed terrorists who steal Palestinian land abuse them, just as Muslim madrassas create Islamic terrorists.

    One side just has better PR. Otherwise, no difference.

  11. anat says

    Elaine, to my understanding, in the US Reform is the largest Jewish denomination. And Conservative Judaism is on the progressive side, though the degree varies among congregations.

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