Much is made of the president’s use of his Twitter account. I mentioned over the High Holidays that as of 2016, 36 million Americans receive a daily newspaper and (a likely overlapping) 38 million receive the weekend paper. President Trump has 38.7 million Twitter followers and 24 million on Facebook, that’s 62 million people following him. That does not include his lieutenants and ideological compadres. Let’s not forget that every time the president ‘tweets’ the entire media covers it. So he gets his message out via twitter without the so-called Mainstream Media. When people think of Twitter, they must associate it with President Donald Trump, whether that is positive or negative. But what is also interesting about the president’s twitter account is that he only follows 45 accounts on Twitter. This means he uses Twitter to broadcast his ideas and thoughts; he really does not use it to obtain or assimilate information.
Compare that with his predecessor. Nine years ago this week, when Senator Barack Obama won the presidential election of 2008, the news reported that the Secret Service has informed the then president-elect that he will need to cease communicating via email and blackberry. Being dubbed the first wired President (Elect), the former Junior Senator from Illinois was connected by the hip – literally – to his blackberry. For those of us who now rely on wireless and electronic communication, we could not revert to conducting our business and personal lives without these accessories. There is no going back, just as we cannot use the telegraph instead of the telephone.
Looking back, what I found interesting is the reason for the request. The Secret Service, who ‘make a kiddush’ every night POTUS goes to sleep safely, are concerned with the ease with which technological wizards and pirates can hack thee president’s communications. They deem his use of these gadgets a security risk, both to himself and the nation.
When I first heard the news report, I hoped it would be for a different reason. The President of the United States is the most powerful human being in the world. Why should he need a blackberry; why should the news come to him through a gadget? The President can summon whom he wants when he wants. He should not need these devices to express his ideas and gather information. He doesn’t read the news; he makes the news. When I was a boy I always wanted to be a journalist. It appealed to me because it would put me in the middle of the action; I would have access to the movers and shakers. My father said to me, “Why report the news, when you could make the news?” But alas, this was not the reason; it was purely about national security.
Parshas Chayei Sarah represents the Biblical model for finding a mate. Although people today do not send their trusted servants to find a spouse for their child by blindly finding a nice young woman whose values resemble their own, the principles are the same. People speak of a ‘singles crisis,’ that our community has too many unmarried men and women. The singles struggle and suffer trying to find appropriate mates, and their pain is real and tragic. We must acknowledge the pain of those who desperately seek to marry, who have not yet found success in that critical quest.
I remember sitting in an undisclosed beis medrash minding my own business when I overheard the following conversation.
“You can’t date a woman you met on your own? The Gemara says that one should not marry without going through the shidduch (matchmaking) system.”
Here is what the Gemara really says.
"דרב מנגיד על דמקדש בשוקא, ועל דמקדש בביאה, ועל דמקדש בלא שידוכי, ועל דמבטיל גיטא, ועל דמסר מודעא אגיטא, ועל דמצער שלוחא דרבנן, ועל דחלה שמתא עילויה תלתין יומין, ועל חתנא דדייר בי חמוה" (קידושין דף יב:)
“Rav would give lashes for one who betroths a woman in the marketplace, for one who betroths a woman through cohabitation, for one who betroths a woman without first entering into an agreement to marry her (Artscroll’s definition of shidduchi), for a husband who nullifies a bill of divorce, for a husband who serves notice upon a bill of divorce that it is being written against his will, for one who harasses the court’s messenger, for one who remains in a state of excommunication for thirty days and for a groom who resides at his father-in-law’s house (for a specific lengthy amount of time) (Kiddushin 12b). [Rabbinic courts no longer administer lashes – Ed.]
The young man misinterpreted the Gemara. The contemporary use of the term ‘shidduch’ may mean relying on third parties/matchmakers to effect dating rather than meeting people on one’s own. The Gemara’s definition here means that it is inappropriate to marry someone before dating them, proposing marriage to them and making the appropriate arrangements. Rashi (Ibid 13a, bd’shadich) defines the term as:
"שדבר בה קודם לכן ונתרצית להתקדש לו דהתם כי שתקה משום דניחא לה הוא."
“He spoke with her beforehand (before effecting the marriage) and she expressed desire to marry him…” The Ran (Kiddushin 12a) notes that the word shidduch’s etymological root derives from the words peace and quiet, quoting the Targum (Aramaic translation) of a verse in Shoftim (Judges) which says ‘and the land was quiet’ (Shoftim 5:31). On the Hebrew word quiet, ‘vatishkot’ the Targum renders v’shiduchta. The Ran claims that the word shidduch means that the couple should get to know one another so they can live in peace and harmony.
Another translation according to the Aruch (a Talmudic dictionary) is to unite or mix, deriving from the Gemara (Shabbos 85b; Eiruvin 100b and Bava Metziah 91b).
The Gemara’s comment does not mean that singles should not meet one another for matrimonial purposes outside the framework of a matchmaker. How did Biblical characters meet their future spouses? Yaakov met his wife at a well, sans Agudath Israel’s Invei Hagefen program. Moshe met Tziporah at a well, without the intervention of Frumster or Saw You at Sinai, two of the Orthodox online dating sites.
There are those who will argue that men and women should not be socializing. For this reason our community has options for separate-sex schools, separate seating at certain simchas (when the families opt for this), and we even can find mechitzah buses transporting workers in New York’s diamond district back and forth to their homes in the suburbs. Each community must ask shaylos (halachic questions) of its poskim to determine what is halachically and culturally right for their community. But the Gemara and halacha (Even ha’Ezer 26:4) mandate marrying someone you have gotten to know. Those in communities which do not sanction any forms of interaction between men and women outside of structured and highly chaperoned meetings, need to adhere to those standards. The rabbis who support that way of meeting are in the best position to evaluate if they ought to be changed. In other communities, more liberal in terms of interactions between unmarried men and women, we all must work aggressively to help singles meet.
I am not aware of any magical solutions to the ‘singles crisis.’ Perhaps it has to do with men marrying women closer to their age, as has been suggested (that the Orthodox community is growing by 4% a year. So if there are 100 twenty-three year old men, there will be 112 twenty year old females, so 12 will be left out unless men consider dating women older than themselves…). Perhaps in our pampered lives, we are unwilling to let go of our “wish list,” and we need to guide those not-yet-married as to the difference between wants and needs.
Too often we have heard about people refusing to date because of the background checks, to make sure that the hashkafos (religious outlooks) match. Let me address this matter. First off, see what Rashi says about the term hashkafah.
"כל השקפה שבמקרא לרעה חוץ מהשקיפה ממעון קדשך (דברים כו טו) ..."
(רש"י לבראשית יח: טז )
“Any ‘gazing’ (hashkafa) that is mentioned in Scripture is for the bad, save for ‘Gaze from Your Holy abode’ (Devarim 26:15). While I only mention this somewhat humorously (as the meaning of Rashi has nothing to do with creating ‘hashkafic’ checklists), we must ask ourselves how much the two outlooks need to be fully compatible. Certainly, the couples’ very basic religious values must match. They must discuss the type of home they yearn to create, the type of education they want to provide to the future children they pray to have, their basic positions regarding mitzvah observance, how much of the outside world they intend to embrace, in what types of neighborhoods they would want to build a home, and these types of questions. But so many people can personally attest to the deal-breakers that are often unwarranted and even tragically silly. The Gemara (Yevamos 73b) offers the following advice for marriage-seekers. “One should marry someone of exemplary personal character and integrity. One may check into the character of the members of the family as well.” Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha’Ezer 119:4) codifies this passage and adds that people who exemplify brazenness, cruelty and hatred of creatures should be avoided. No mention of shaytels, shabbos table furniture, televisions, types of livelihoods, black hats, knitted yarmulkes, commitments to live in Israel, or professions of relatives. Why do people not ask about the chessed of the individual and their family? This needs to be the first question asked; in some cases, perhaps the only question. Do we think that we are frummer than the amora’im in the zman haGemara (more pious than the rabbis in Talmudic times)?
When it comes to investigating the family of the potential mate, Jewish law states (Even Ha’Ezer 2:2-3 based on Rambam Issurei Biah 9:17 and Kiddushin 76b) that every family is deemed worthy and acceptable, and there is absolutely no need to investigate any further, unless one has a good reason. According to the Chazon Ish (R. Avraham Yishaya Koreletz, halachic sage of the early 20th century –died in 1953 in Bnei Brak), even families from foreign countries, with whom no one is acquainted, are deemed worthy and acceptable without any further research. Imagine that!
President Obama’s wires were pulled. Perhaps the real reason revolved around his and our nation’s security, but I still feel that a president can govern best when having personal discussions and briefings, not receiving and transmitting information digitally, through the distance of email and cyberspace.
Couples need to interact in person as well. The marriage of one male and one female is difficult enough when they know and love each other. Every culture must find the appropriate mores for matching young men and women. But the more we communicate in person and recognize what is important in a mate – and what is not as important – the better off we will be. We need to communicate and educate the young men and women as to the values one should seek in a life-partner. We need to find appropriate venues for young men and women to meet each other. Each and every one of us must create a list of eligible young men and women and actively think and head-hunt on their behalves. Every young eligible young man or women reserves the right to accept or reject an offer we make and we must respect their decision if they chose not to meet the person we suggested. Our response must be to continue to offer them names.
I know plenty of people who would never have met were their ‘resumes’ compared on paper. My wife and I are most certainly in that category. If we allow them to meet each other, the lists often change, since the chessed – the most important value according to the Gemara - becomes apparent. We need for people to meet each other and get to know one another without their lists, their pre-conceived requirements and obviously, with a lot of prayer. We learn this from our holy patriarchs and matriarchs. Were this not the case, Ma’aras Hamachpelah would only have 4 instead of eight inhabitants, for Yitzchak would never have met Rivkah and Yaakov would never have been born. Imagine that!
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